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A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity — an ancient Chinese ideal that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand — and why it is so essential to our well-being Why is it always hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity — an ancient Chinese ideal that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand — and why it is so essential to our well-being Why is it always hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian whose jokes fall flat or an athlete who chokes? In all of these cases, striving seems to backfire. In Trying Not To Try, Edward Slingerland explains why we find spontaneity so elusive, and shows how early Chinese thought points the way to happier, more authentic lives. We’ve long been told that the way to achieve our goals is through careful reasoning and conscious effort. But recent research suggests that many aspects of a satisfying life, like happiness and spontaneity, are best pursued indirectly. The early Chinese philosophers knew this, and they wrote extensively about an effortless way of being in the world, which they called wu-wei (ooo-way). They believed it was the source of all success in life, and they developed various strategies for getting it and hanging on to it. With clarity and wit, Slingerland introduces us to these thinkers and the marvelous characters in their texts, from the butcher whose blade glides effortlessly through an ox to the wood carver who sees his sculpture simply emerge from a solid block. Slingerland uncovers a direct line from wu-wei to the Force in Star Wars, explains why wu-wei is more powerful than flow, and tells us what it all means for getting a date. He also shows how new research reveals what’s happening in the brain when we’re in a state of wu-wei—why it makes us happy and effective and trustworthy, and how it might have even made civilization possible. Through stories of mythical creatures and drunken cart riders, jazz musicians and Japanese motorcycle gangs, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to show us how we can live more fulfilling lives. Trying Not To Try is mind-expanding and deeply pleasurable, the perfect antidote to our striving modern culture.


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A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity — an ancient Chinese ideal that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand — and why it is so essential to our well-being Why is it always hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity — an ancient Chinese ideal that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand — and why it is so essential to our well-being Why is it always hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian whose jokes fall flat or an athlete who chokes? In all of these cases, striving seems to backfire. In Trying Not To Try, Edward Slingerland explains why we find spontaneity so elusive, and shows how early Chinese thought points the way to happier, more authentic lives. We’ve long been told that the way to achieve our goals is through careful reasoning and conscious effort. But recent research suggests that many aspects of a satisfying life, like happiness and spontaneity, are best pursued indirectly. The early Chinese philosophers knew this, and they wrote extensively about an effortless way of being in the world, which they called wu-wei (ooo-way). They believed it was the source of all success in life, and they developed various strategies for getting it and hanging on to it. With clarity and wit, Slingerland introduces us to these thinkers and the marvelous characters in their texts, from the butcher whose blade glides effortlessly through an ox to the wood carver who sees his sculpture simply emerge from a solid block. Slingerland uncovers a direct line from wu-wei to the Force in Star Wars, explains why wu-wei is more powerful than flow, and tells us what it all means for getting a date. He also shows how new research reveals what’s happening in the brain when we’re in a state of wu-wei—why it makes us happy and effective and trustworthy, and how it might have even made civilization possible. Through stories of mythical creatures and drunken cart riders, jazz musicians and Japanese motorcycle gangs, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to show us how we can live more fulfilling lives. Trying Not To Try is mind-expanding and deeply pleasurable, the perfect antidote to our striving modern culture.

30 review for Trying Not to Try: Ancient China, Modern Science, and the Power of Spontaneity

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie *Eff your feelings*

    I did not experience flow while I read this book. I picked this book up after I heard this author interviewed on NPR and the book sounded interesting, but it really wasn't. I'm fascinated by the concept of flow, which was what this book was supposed to be about, and it was...a little. Mostly it read like a history book about ancient Asian religions, which I'm also interested in, but the book was dry, flat and boring. I read this as an audio book and I was trying not to stop listening to it. Then I did not experience flow while I read this book. I picked this book up after I heard this author interviewed on NPR and the book sounded interesting, but it really wasn't. I'm fascinated by the concept of flow, which was what this book was supposed to be about, and it was...a little. Mostly it read like a history book about ancient Asian religions, which I'm also interested in, but the book was dry, flat and boring. I read this as an audio book and I was trying not to stop listening to it. Then I tried not to try and get through it. That didn't work, so I tried really hard to listen and pay attention. That wasn't happening, so I just let it play because I refused to give up on it and from time to time there was something kind of interesting of which I would respond with an audible "huh". I don't know. Maybe I wasn't in the mood.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peter Clothier

    Okay, I know that's a cliche. Worse, perhaps, it's a cliche born of a sneaker commercial. But how often do you hear some other person--or yourself!--say something like this: "I'll try to make it by eight o'clock," or "I'm trying to lose some weight," or "trying to write a novel/finish a painting/make a fresh start"...? The truth is, the longer you keep trying to feed the dog, the sooner the poor creature starves. Trying, in other words, doesn't hack it. It doesn't get the job done. You say it be Okay, I know that's a cliche. Worse, perhaps, it's a cliche born of a sneaker commercial. But how often do you hear some other person--or yourself!--say something like this: "I'll try to make it by eight o'clock," or "I'm trying to lose some weight," or "trying to write a novel/finish a painting/make a fresh start"...? The truth is, the longer you keep trying to feed the dog, the sooner the poor creature starves. Trying, in other words, doesn't hack it. It doesn't get the job done. You say it because it gives you the wiggle room you need to let yourself off the hook. To actually do it--whatever "it" happens to be--requires intention, commitment, follow-through, completion. This is not quite the idea behind "Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Chinese Art and Modern Science of Spontaneity", by Edward Slingerland. But it's related. Slingerland sets out to explore the thinking of four different ancient Chinese philosophers on the concept of wu-wei (pronounced "ooo-way" and translated roughly as "no trying" or "no doing") and de ("duh", "virtue", "charismatic power"), the quality possessed by those who master wu-wei; and to illuminate these concepts in the light of newly emerging modern scientific concepts of spontaneity. He begins by examining the perplexing--and by its nature irresolvable--paradox of wu-wei: between the spontaneity that defines it and the hard work and effort required to attain it. It's a tool that's indispensable to any creative person (we talk about "being in flow"), but one that is acquired only by what it takes to get to Carnegie Hall: "practice, practice, practice." With sometimes jaunty and refreshing good humor, a good number of insights drawn from personal experience and, given the complexity of the philosophical concepts he explores, mercifully readable prose, Slingerland walks us through four phases of early Chinese thought: Confucianism, which preaches "carving and polishing"--the long, painstaking work of cultivating manners (for the gentleman) or craft (for the artist), until perfection can be achieved with spontaneous ease; the Daoism of Laozi (Lao-Tzu), favoring the "uncarved block" or, as the author puts it in a succinct appendix summary, "stop trying immediately, go home"; Mencian Confucianism, "try, but don't force it"; and the Daoism of Zuangzi, "try to forget all about trying or not trying, just go with the flow." Interspersed with the insights gained by the empirical work of modern neuroscientists, brain researchers and social scientists, Slingerland points, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the durability of the paradox he starts out with. Our understanding and action in the world is a delicate and ever-shifting balance between the "hot cognition" that draws upon the forces of the unconscious mind, the body we inhabit, and the inheritance of the blood that courses through our veins; and the "cold cognition" that proceeds from rational thought, analysis, and so on. Those of us who till the creative fields know something about the paradox of wu-wei. We have delighted in the ecstatic experience of being in flow, when everything comes naturally, without stopping for thought or reflection, and comes just right; and when, indeed, stopping for thought or reflection puts an end to flow--and how frustrating that is! We know that flow reliably refuses to come along when we ask it to, no matter how hard we "try" to get there. But we know from experience, too, that flow in itself is rarely enough: it must flow forth from a resource of knowledge of the world out-there, from a deep well of emotional experience, and from a practiced understanding of the medium in which we are engaged. The quality of de shines through the work we do. It's hard to define, but easy to recognize (in wu-wei moments) by its absence. Call it integrity, authenticity. We may not be able to put a finger on it, but something tells us when it's there: implicitly, instinctively, we trust the voice we're hearing or the vision we're invited to share. It pulls us in. And, as in life, when confronted with a person we have never met before, something tells us when it's missing. Interestingly, as Slingerland's book tells us, there is currently a lot of ("cold cognition") research into precisely this ("hot cognition") phenomenon. But as the author is at pains to point out, if you try to get de, it will probably elude you. It's something you can only get by--you guessed it--"trying not to try."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kricket

    I am the least spontaneous person I've ever met, so I felt I could learn something from this book. I found the introduction very dry, but soldiered on into the first chapter. Then I injured my toe by spontaneously dropping a can of wine on it, and spontaneously decided to read something more fun while I recuperated. Meanwhile every time I saw this book on my table I felt bad feelings of guilt. My friend suggested that if I truly wanted to be spontaneous I would return it to the library unfinishe I am the least spontaneous person I've ever met, so I felt I could learn something from this book. I found the introduction very dry, but soldiered on into the first chapter. Then I injured my toe by spontaneously dropping a can of wine on it, and spontaneously decided to read something more fun while I recuperated. Meanwhile every time I saw this book on my table I felt bad feelings of guilt. My friend suggested that if I truly wanted to be spontaneous I would return it to the library unfinished (pretty rare for me.) So I did. And that is how this book taught me to be spontaneous. *bows*

  4. 4 out of 5

    Debbie "DJ"

    Won through Goodreads First Reads.Thank you! This book is outstanding. When I first read the title I thought maybe this was yet another book on "new age" thought. I couldn't have been more wrong. What the author did was guide me through Ancient Chinese thought from Confucius to Zhuangzi. His book gave me a clearer understanding not only of the historic time period, but also how and why these texts were written and the powerful influence they still have today. This idea of "trying not to try" is wh Won through Goodreads First Reads.Thank you! This book is outstanding. When I first read the title I thought maybe this was yet another book on "new age" thought. I couldn't have been more wrong. What the author did was guide me through Ancient Chinese thought from Confucius to Zhuangzi. His book gave me a clearer understanding not only of the historic time period, but also how and why these texts were written and the powerful influence they still have today. This idea of "trying not to try" is what Ancient China called "wu-wei", our idea of being in the "zone". If one possessed "wu-wei", they had "de", a charismatic sort of presence which we would define as being genuinely who we are. The author uses terms such as cold and hot cognition meaning whether we are coming from our slower consciously controlled selves, or quicker spontaneous ones. From Ancient China until today spontaneity remains elusive to define as it involves our character, values, and how we each view life itself. Why are some more at ease in life than others? How do we know if someone is lying to us? How do we find our "sweet spot"? How can we really try not to try? Each is a paradox leading us in circles. Do we just kick back and be? Or, do we train ourselves so well that it becomes a natural part of who we are? The questions are endless, and this book was a very interesting look at the multitude of ways one try's or does not try to achieve a state of "de". A philosophers dream! There is so much packed into this small book. I really enjoyed it!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chiwulun

    Overall, it’s a good read that I enjoyed, but it falls about 75% short of its target. Its value is in still having flown 25% of the way in the right direction. An interested reader can pick up the trail and walk the rest of the way himself. In detail: It’s a good overview of the main bullet-points of the major Ancient Chinese philosophers/schools of philosophy (though by no means exhaustive as far as each school is concerned — I think Zhuangzi has suffered a lot). It gives a decent treatment of ea Overall, it’s a good read that I enjoyed, but it falls about 75% short of its target. Its value is in still having flown 25% of the way in the right direction. An interested reader can pick up the trail and walk the rest of the way himself. In detail: It’s a good overview of the main bullet-points of the major Ancient Chinese philosophers/schools of philosophy (though by no means exhaustive as far as each school is concerned — I think Zhuangzi has suffered a lot). It gives a decent treatment of each school’s highlights and some nuances and “gotchas” present with the school. It also gives a somewhat extensive treatment of the concept of wu wei, from both historical and psychological/cognitive neuroscience perspective. All of that is not bad, especially as a general overview, which is no more than a book of this size can claim to be. What is definitely missing is the practical application of a lot of these concepts to everyday life. (The same goes true for Michael Puett’s The Way.) I have a colleague whom I am collaborating on a project with. He is brilliant but disorganized. I need to stay on top of him to get anything done in a proper time frame. He doesn’t like being controlled, but without constant stirring, the project will never get done, and we’re under a deadline. What do I do in this situation? There is no specific advice that I can derive from the book, although “going with the flow”, “using every things’s nature to achieve your goal, rather than fighting the nature”, and so on — all the aspects of wu wei — would find a good application here. Examples like this are lacking (some are present, but not nearly enough, in my opinion). A more practically useful book would reduce the proportion of space devoted to history, would avoid the repetitious neuro-porn descriptions of the interactions of prefrontal cortex and other limbic areas, parallel memory systems, parallel loops of executive control, and all that stuff (and by the way, as a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, I don’t think the author’s overview of the state-of-the-art knowledge was flawless), but instead briefly summarize them and focus on some specific examples of direct applications of wu wei to one’s life: business management, relationships, etc. Those are given, but very superficially and minimalistically. Some people complained that the book was too academic. I don’t think the complaint is fully justified. I personally don’t mind the academic background per se. But, as mentioned above, I do mind that it took the potential space of a) more in-depth textual discussion of the texts (some overviews of Zhuangzi, for example, gave little justice to the extremely rich and diverse jungle of thoughts and points of view in that work), and/or b) more specific applications to everyday life, as mentioned above. I would not mind if the book was twice as long with each chapter having a more academic/scientific background and a more applied bit. What is more annoying, however, is that the author could not resist getting sucked into American academic naval-gazing and leftist points of view. The role of wu wei explored from evolutionary sociological point of view might be interested to a Humanities academic. It is much less interesting to me, as are most discussions from the “policy” point of view. I get it that the Academics love “policy” discussion, since their ability to pay mortgage depends on how good they are at convincing some bureaucratic organization to grant them tenure (and/or award a research grant). But it’s much less valuable to most people with normal jobs whose life consists of a series of voluntary mutually-beneficial interactions with other individuals. Again: I wouldn’t care so much if that was mentioned in passing or as one of the items of discussion. But the book reads a bit like a thesis or a mystery novel. Sage A got almost all right, but some bits wrong. Sage B improved on those bits, but still got something wrong. Sage C tried a parallel approach, but there is still that annoying recurring dilemma. Finally, the modern science of evolutionary coexistence can answer the question beautifully by explaining why we have to be hardwired with the paradox of trying not to try: because it’s a litmus test of our genuine commitment to the society’s values that we always carry with ourselves, like a little Red Book. Great; I am so happy I am evolutionarily programmed to be a good little cog in the machine. How does that knowledge help me deal with that annoying co-worker? To explain love in terms of its evolutionary purpose or the neurotransmitters involved is the typical modus operandi of an academic in love with the academic naval gazing. I think perhaps that’s the flavor of what people felt when they were annoyed with the book being “too dry”. It’s annoying not because it’s scientifically wrong. It’s annoying because it’s off-topic. I would avoid such an acidic critique if the author prevented himself from descending into political discussions. But no: the Conservatives are apparently the “grumpy pessimists of human nature”, while the Liberals are “cheerful optimists who believe in the human goodness and love to leave things be spontaneous and natural”. (And, of course, political views are inherited, because being a Conservative means you’re hard-wired to be a grumpy pessimist. Being a Liberal is an inherited evolutionary step-up, like being a Cro-Magnon vs. a Neanderthal. Nobody ever changes political views after exploring them intellectually.) Because nothing says “faith in human nature and spontaneous order” like a policy of forced taxation aimed at redistribution of wealth through centrally calculated schemes. Nothing says “grumpy pessimism” like a belief that humans should be left to their own designs and spontaneous interactions driven by mutual needs, whose totality will result in greater societal wellbeing than some centralized scheme calculated “scientifically” by a few bureaucrats. (Sarcasm intended.) So, this bit may or may not be annoying depending on how sensitive you are to the patronizing droning of an American leftist academic. Add to this mix the fact that the author is an atheist, and you get the additional bit of patronizing treatment of any traditional religious views of values. And a bit of somewhat off-putting innuendo. (I don’t mind at all — not being a conservative per se myself — an open discussion of sexuality. But the whole nudge-nudge-wink-wink seemed a bit… immature?.. in the general context of the book.) Overall, those are minor (but annoying) details, however. I was more disappointed by the general scope of the book: lack of practical approach justified, seemingly, in the author’s mind, by describing how it all “fits together” from a bird’s view. tldr: a good book to give a general, albeit superficial, overview of the major views of Warring States Chinese thought, especially relating to the concept of wu wei. Good if you want a quick overview to get the general flavor of the problem to see if you want to dig further by reading the original works and commentaries on them. (Or go to specific mentors/practitioners who might implement wu wei in their training/counseling.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Willy

    The content deserves a 5/5 but the author's voice is too smug for my liking, so the result is a 4/5. The content: An overview of ancient Chinese (with a dash of Japanese Buddhism) thought focused on spontaneity. Cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience make appearances, mostly to support the ancient texts the author cites, and about midway through the book the author also injects some shallow anthropology to provide some context. So its a book with a lot of ground to cover, and to his credi The content deserves a 5/5 but the author's voice is too smug for my liking, so the result is a 4/5. The content: An overview of ancient Chinese (with a dash of Japanese Buddhism) thought focused on spontaneity. Cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience make appearances, mostly to support the ancient texts the author cites, and about midway through the book the author also injects some shallow anthropology to provide some context. So its a book with a lot of ground to cover, and to his credit, he does it well. He combines Confucian thought with fMRI studies and willpower experiments on children into a balanced exploration of a really important part of the human condition-- trying not try, being in the zone, flow, effortless charisma, wu-wei, etc. There's an absence of substantial practical advice, which is a both a relief and a shame. He avoids the common pitfall of good popular science books degenerating into shitty self-help books but misses an opportunity to display more of the wonderful Confucian gems he sprinkles throughout. The science he presents seems broad and mostly well-supported in my amateur opinion but his anthropology is sparse. He misses an opportunity to work in some great new work on religion and human society and instead sticks with old standbys like Durkheim-- read Bellah's "Religion and Human Evolution" (epsecially the preface and 1st and 2nd chapters) or "Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity" by Rappaport to get a nice perspective on religious states, flow and their role in civilization that this book barely touches on. My gripes with style: The author is compelling and great at synthesizing a variety of different kinds of sources but does so smugly. Some of the jokes and references, the way he quickly dismisses Singer and Utilitarianism, just don't sit right with me. A more thoughtful and measured approach would have won me over completely to a 5/5. Overall, I recommend this book highly.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    From the title of this book, I thought it could go in many different directions. And where it went, I hadn't guessed. This is a description of different Oriental religions through the ages and how they suggest that people reach their own state of flow. And more. The descriptions are wrapped in questions of whether trying to reach this state is good, or if trying is bad, or if trying to build the tools to reach this state is good, and the ancient books he describes give different answers for all From the title of this book, I thought it could go in many different directions. And where it went, I hadn't guessed. This is a description of different Oriental religions through the ages and how they suggest that people reach their own state of flow. And more. The descriptions are wrapped in questions of whether trying to reach this state is good, or if trying is bad, or if trying to build the tools to reach this state is good, and the ancient books he describes give different answers for all of these questions. The author also ties in scientific research to validate parts of the ancients' recommendations. While I hate to give away what a book is about, those questions are answered in the last chapter with a qualified "it depends", or better, "sometimes this is right, sometimes that is right". This is a reasonable conclusion given the thousands of years of thought that have gone into these questions without definitive answers. Paradoxes are at play here. The author's voice comes through in this book. He is funny and playful and insightful in the right combination, making this a very easy book to read given the difficult concepts brought forward. I found the book challenging, but that is because I have no background in the Eastern religions discussed. I will look forward to upcoming books by Slingerland. An advanced copy of this book was provided through Goodreads First Reads program.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Wow, what a book... Full of philosophical ideas from early china and psychological studies from today this book comes together to make an amazing read. Focusing on 4 ways to living our lives and finding happiness we see the good and bad to each, pointing out the benefits and flaws to all of them, this book just flows. Although the topics covered steal the show, I have to mention the writing style here. Edward Slingerland does such a great job leading us through these complex ideas and topics and Wow, what a book... Full of philosophical ideas from early china and psychological studies from today this book comes together to make an amazing read. Focusing on 4 ways to living our lives and finding happiness we see the good and bad to each, pointing out the benefits and flaws to all of them, this book just flows. Although the topics covered steal the show, I have to mention the writing style here. Edward Slingerland does such a great job leading us through these complex ideas and topics and leaves you with a feeling of just hangout out with a friend and learning something new. Filled with humor and info this book really made me inspired to get out there and be spontaneous. Wu-wei and de have found a permanent place in my vocabulary. I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fredrick Danysh

    The author discusses the idea that by not concentrating on a task but actually trying to relax the mind the desired outcome can be achieved more readily. He attempts to encourage the reader to free the mind from distractions as outside influences are reduced. This was a free proof copy and does contain a very interesting [to me] concept.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Guy

    When he was a teenager, we all noticed that my nephew Charlie was surrounded by beautiful young women, though he seemed less accomplished than his older brothers (he wasn’t; he was just younger). You’d go over in the morning and one girl would be hanging around, playing chess, go by in the afternoon and another was there. It was like a beauty pageant. We were never sure what was going on, but they were around, and obviously liked Charlie. I of course thought he was a great human being, but felt When he was a teenager, we all noticed that my nephew Charlie was surrounded by beautiful young women, though he seemed less accomplished than his older brothers (he wasn’t; he was just younger). You’d go over in the morning and one girl would be hanging around, playing chess, go by in the afternoon and another was there. It was like a beauty pageant. We were never sure what was going on, but they were around, and obviously liked Charlie. I of course thought he was a great human being, but felt that way about all three of my nephews. What was it with Charlie and all these girls? Finally I asked his sister Tade, the oldest of the siblings. Her face broke into a big smile. “Charlie has so many girlfriends because he doesn’t care,” she said. So that was the secret! I’d spent my whole adolescence thinking girls wanted me to care. They probably did! But the guy they kept hanging around was the guy who didn’t care. I can see how that might be more relaxing. Maybe they were trying to get him to care. Various of my friends and I noticed the phenomenon in early manhood that, once we were spoken for, women suddenly seemed interested in us. It was as if they had a sixth sense. As soon as I had a wife, they were much more relaxed around me, even flirtatious. Then when I got divorced—how did they know?—their guard came up. I must have been giving off vibes. Edward Slingerland investigates this whole phenomenon in his fascinating book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity, which I have now read twice. Slingerland is a professor of Asian Studies, and approaches this issue from the vantage points of the Chinese ancients, not just the Daoists, whom we might have expected, but also Confucius and Mencius, both of whom I knew little about. All of these thinkers were interested in two concepts, wu wei (which translates literally as “no trying” but which Slingerland would render as “effortless action,” or “spontaneous action”; Alan Watts talked about doing without doing) and de (which could be translated as “virtue,” or “charismatic power,” but which really means being in accord with the Dao, the way of heaven. That’s where the power comes from). I’d had the impression that only Daoists were interested in these concepts, but that was incorrect. Though Confucius seems more conservative and traditional than the other thinkers, his whole aim was to be at one with the Dao. He happened to think that acting with decorum and accepting your place within the hierarchy was the way to achieve that. In a way, of course, he was right. Slingerland is talking about the kind of skill that a great athlete exhibits when he is in the zone; he is also talking about a kind of man who attracts people because he is in touch with some fundamental energy. The example he uses, since he didn’t know my nephew Charlie, is Picasso. That great artist was in some ways a monster to women, had a tempestuous career with them, but it was because he was so devoted to his work, so in touch with his creative energy, that he attracted them. Creative energy is the Dao. I of course am interested in both of these subjects, especially inasmuch as they apply to writing; like all writers, I’ve felt the spontaneity of writing and wondered how to access it when it wanders away. Nevertheless, I immediately focused in this book on the spiritual traditions. And I was stunned by how the thinking of these men, Laozi and Zhuangzi, but also Confucius and Mencius, is behind the practice of Zen Buddhism, my spiritual practice now for twenty years. The heart of the practice is rooted in their teaching. I was especially struck by the influence of Confucius. Zen is definitely hierarchical, with the abbot (in my case the abbess) and the priests and a whole slew of positions below them. The key, of course, is not to take any of that too seriously, to realize that your position, however lofty, is not who you fundamentally are. It’s just a function in the organization. Confucius believed deeply in acts of decorum—there’s a certain way to treat a guest, a certain way to greet an elder—and Zen is full of that as well. There’s a way to do literally everything in the zendo, and we make every effort to get all that right. Some people go crazy with it. The genius of such behavior is that it makes you present with your experience. Decorum is the way of heaven not because there’s only one way to do things (human beings made all that stuff up), but because it compels your attention. Even once you know rituals by heart, in your body—the only way to know them—you still pay attention to everything you do. It’s like Father Vincent conducting the Catholic ceremony in Lost Christianity, or the housewife Needleman describes who has an extreme economy to her movements in the kitchen. There’s something about that work, he says, that is deeper than other kinds. That’s because it connects you with the Dao, the way of heaven, the energy of the universe. “More important” work doesn’t necessarily do that. But it is the way these notions apply to sitting practice that really struck me. Anyone who has meditated for a long time—that might be years and years; it might be decades—finally realizes that what meditation is actually about is doing nothing. Teachers give you techniques, they sometimes tell you to master them, but they know that, eventually, the student will give up (perhaps without telling the teacher) when he realizes he simply can’t do the damn thing. There was a long time when I figured I was a total klutz, meditation was one more thing I couldn’t do (like all the other things in my life). But sooner or later everyone realizes that meditation, as Larry Rosenberg used to say, is the art of doing absolutely nothing. That seems to be the one thing most people can’t do, especially these days, with all these devices around. People work every minute. They text as they drive 90 miles an hour. Yet all the benefits, I would say, come when you learn to do nothing, just to sit there. Or perhaps I should say, to the extent that you’re able to do nothing (does anyone really do it?) you taste the joys of meditation, and the joy of life. This is what Krishnamurti ranted about his whole life, banging his head against a wall, trying to find a new way to say it (he should have sat there in silence). It’s what Ramana Maharishi was all about, sitting in a loincloth in that cave. He wasn’t doing anything. That was his greatness. He hadn’t accomplished anything. He hadn’t tried. This is the subject of my favorite koan in all of Zen literature. As far as I’m concerned, you can throw the rest out. It is the enlightenment experience of the teacher Joshu, who was a teenager at the time and then lived—according to legend—to be 120 years old. It’s no wonder. Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way” “Ordinary mind is the Way,” Nansen replied. “Shall I try to seek after it?” Joshu asked. “If you try for it, you will become separated from it,” responded Nansen. “How can I know the Way unless I try for it?” persisted Joshu. Nansen said, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?” With these words, Joshu came to a sudden realization. There is much to notice here; you see more the more you look at it. I will point out two things; when you’re searching for the way, “If you try for it, you become separated from it.” That’s the dilemma we all struggle with. That’s why that priest in Lost Christianity had that air of surrender. I understand that the word Islam itself means surrender. I’ll also note that “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing.” We want to know everything. That wanting is an obstacle. Edward Slingerland does a wonderful job of showing us that all of these ideas have their roots in ancient China. The writer whom he thinks is the most interesting—actually the greatest writer of all time, according to him—is the one who is in many ways the least comprehensible, the most inscrutable. Zhuangzi. His writing reminds us, again and again, that it’s not about knowing. And it’s not about trying. We need to live these teachings in our bodies. There are things that sound like paradoxes when you say them, but you’re able to do them with your body. www.davidguy.org

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    This book’s paradoxical title is perfect for its paradoxical subject matter, which is famously expressed in such quotes as, “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone” [ver. 48 of the “Tao Te Ching.”] Slingerland lays down the ancient Chinese wisdom of “wu-wei” and “de,” but provides something novel by putting it in the context of the positive psychology and neuroscience of today. “Wu-wei” literally means “no doing,” but can be more meaningfully defined as “effortless action.” “De” (pronounce This book’s paradoxical title is perfect for its paradoxical subject matter, which is famously expressed in such quotes as, “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone” [ver. 48 of the “Tao Te Ching.”] Slingerland lays down the ancient Chinese wisdom of “wu-wei” and “de,” but provides something novel by putting it in the context of the positive psychology and neuroscience of today. “Wu-wei” literally means “no doing,” but can be more meaningfully defined as “effortless action.” “De” (pronounced “duh”) is a charisma seen in people who have mastered the effortlessness and spontaneity of “wu-wei.” While the book is built around the varied approaches of four Chinese philosophers—two Confucians (i.e. Confucius and Mencius) and two Taoists (i.e. Laozi and Zhuangzi)—the author relates this philosophy to the present-day thinking found in Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s conception of Flow, and the neuroscience of the subconscious. The book consists of eight chapters. The introduction and the first two chapters outline the concepts of “wu-wei” and “de” using both Chinese and Western stories and examples to help clarify these arcane ideas and put them in the context of the social and spiritual spheres. Chapter 1 offers an extensive discussion of the operation of the brain as it relates to the discussion of effortlessness and spontaneity. Chapters three through six make up the core of the book, and present the approach and thinking of Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, and Zhuangzi, respectively. This “boy-girl-boy-girl” Confucian-Taoist organization offers the reader sound insight into the varied approaches and allows one to see the evolution of thinking. Confucius gets the first cut, but his approach to effortlessness and spontaneity involves a great deal of effort and planning. It might seem that Laozi’s approach--which does away with effort and planning--might be more apropos, but it’s hard to imagine anything of benefit actually being spawned by such a loosy-goosy approach. The more nuanced approaches of Mencius and Zhuangzi offer additional insight, but do not eliminate the paradox. It’s this paradox that’s the subject of chapter seven. The final chapter examines what the reader can take away--given that the paradox of “wu-wei” seems inescapable. The author proposes that, paradox or not, there is value in pursuit of effortlessness and spontaneity, and progress can be made by understanding and accepting said paradox. The book has no graphics, but is annotated and has a bibliography--as well as an appendix table that summarizes the various approaches to “wu-wei.” I enjoyed this book and found it fascinating. It’s highly readable, having humor and a wide range of examples from ancient myths to pop culture. The book offers a great value-added by considering the relevance of modern science and psychology to this ancient concept. I’d highly recommend this for individuals interested in Chinese / Eastern philosophy, as well as anyone hoping to bring a little more effortlessness and spontaneity into his or her life.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Originally posted on bluchickenninja.com. This book will not teach you how to be more spontaneous. Because of the very nature of spontaneity it is not something you can learn from a book. However it does show how not concentrating on a task will help achieve the desired outcome. This book also explores the meaning of the Chinese concepts of wu-wei. The book is full of examples of the action-less doing of wu-wei (being in the zone) as well as examples from contemporary neuroscience. It even goes as Originally posted on bluchickenninja.com. This book will not teach you how to be more spontaneous. Because of the very nature of spontaneity it is not something you can learn from a book. However it does show how not concentrating on a task will help achieve the desired outcome. This book also explores the meaning of the Chinese concepts of wu-wei. The book is full of examples of the action-less doing of wu-wei (being in the zone) as well as examples from contemporary neuroscience. It even goes as far as comparing wu-wei to Luke Skywalker using the force in Star Wars. This is not a self-help book, it doesn’t have a simple step-by-step guide on how to be more spontaneous. However it does have concepts that you can put into practice in every day life to try and be more spontaneous. Whether that be in sport, art, blogging or just falling asleep.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Janes

    Gateway drug to Chinese philosophy (unfortunately and somewhat misleadingly packaged as a self-help book) that now has me wanting to read Zhuangzi, whose work is evidently filled with "talking animals, mysterious leviathans that transform into huge birds, witches, hunchbacks, ghosts, talking skulls, and ancient sage kings brought back to life." Sold! Gateway drug to Chinese philosophy (unfortunately and somewhat misleadingly packaged as a self-help book) that now has me wanting to read Zhuangzi, whose work is evidently filled with "talking animals, mysterious leviathans that transform into huge birds, witches, hunchbacks, ghosts, talking skulls, and ancient sage kings brought back to life." Sold!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Siska

    A wonderful idea backed by vast knowledge in Asian philosophy, the discussion lacked of experiential accounts and linked to only few scientific research. Being Asian, the philosophy facts were not as fascinating, as they are not new, and so the book turned rather boring except for the beginning and ending.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    I won this book through the goodreads giveaway program. The book was interesting (although I was bored in some places because it felt like the same things were being repeated). I did like learning about early Chinese thinkers and relating those ideas with my experiences with my Chinese in-laws.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Upjohn

    The concepts in this book are interesting and useful but I did not finish it. I kept thinking the author was making the same point over and over. Perhaps if I’d stuck with it I’d have gained more. Perhaps I was trying too hard. I listened to it in audio book format.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Servaas

    I perceived the book as a bit long winded and somewhat chaotic. The topic and the core concepts are definitely interesting, but I did not really enjoy the execution...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Feng Ouyang

    This book discusses the universal and long-standing paradox: how to work on being spontaneous? The book examines four schools in ancient Chinese philosophy to explain the paradox. In the last two chapters the author offers his own view, and his recommendations on how to achieve spontaneity in both moral behavior and in skills. I don't think he provided a good solution (nobody can). However, the whole discussions are very interesting to me. Besides, the language of the book is very enjoyable. The This book discusses the universal and long-standing paradox: how to work on being spontaneous? The book examines four schools in ancient Chinese philosophy to explain the paradox. In the last two chapters the author offers his own view, and his recommendations on how to achieve spontaneity in both moral behavior and in skills. I don't think he provided a good solution (nobody can). However, the whole discussions are very interesting to me. Besides, the language of the book is very enjoyable. The author's understanding of Chinese ancient philosophies and their connection to modern research results in psychology and sociology is very accurate, as far as I can tell. It is a book worth reading again. The following is a more detailed notes. The following is a more detailed notes. • Introduction o Goal: pursue happiness and interact with people without conscious stress o Learn from the ancient Chinese philosophy and skills to achieve a natural mind-free state • Chap 1: What is Wu-Wei o The story of the skillful Butcher Ding 庖丁解牛:  Cutting the ox without fighting, move the knife in space without resistance.  A learned skill from a lot of practice  Ultimately, abandon conscious intervention and just follow the feelings. o The story of artisan Chin 鬼斧神工  Follow the nature, don’t fight it.  It’s more of a mindset than skill. o In ancient Chinese philosophy, wuwei is mostly promoted by Zuangzi and Laozi, who represented the Dao (way) school. However, in the Confucius school, wuwei is still the ultimate goal. As Confucius said himself, when he reached 70, he could do whatever he desired without violating any social norms 为所欲为而不逾矩. o This state of Wu-Wei (achievements without conscious effort) agrees with modern neuroscience, which shows only a very small portion of human activities are under direct control of conscious.  The famous two-mind theory, rephrased as “cold mind” (rational) and “hot mind” (intuitional).  The famous “flow” theory is related to this.  The idea of total abandonment as reflected in the old Star War “depend on the force” is similar to wuwei. • Chap. 2: Wuwei and Society o Wuwei leads to “de”, (德), which is attractive personal characteristics. o So Wuwei is not just individualism or “do whatever you want”. It is connecting one to the surrounding: the society at large and the nature. o This is different from the “flow” theory. Flow is achieved with a proper level of challenges. So as one’s skill improves, more complexity and difficulty in tasks are required to maintain flow state. However, wuwei can be achieved in static settings. It is more about a mindset. • Chap 3: the way to Wuwei (1) o In Confucius school, wuwei is a learned skill. o Conscious mind is very important in life  It allows us to acquire knowledge beyond personal experiences.  It is needed to deal with things that the “hot mind” cannot handle: long term goals, conflicts between multiple instincts, etc. o Intuition and subconscious behaviors can be trained by ritual and music and other practices. This is not only on the personal level, but also on a society and cultural level. That’s why Confucius things rituals 礼 is critical in his social engineering. o Learning is an important component of growth. You cannot figure out everything by yourself. Instead, you need to learn from the classics. o The drawback of using rituals and “way” teaching to “train” habits and reach wuway is that it can be disingenuous. People may be well-versed in rituals, yet does not accept way as the cornerstone of their values. Confucius was well aware of that and warned about such danger in many ways. He stressed that accepting way by heart is as important, or more important, as practicing rituals and obeying social norms. • Chap 4: They way to Wuwei (2) o In Lauzhi school wuwei is the nature o People are born with good qualities, until the society and education ruins them. o We should follow our instincts. Analyzing and verbalizing our thoughts just make them confusing or even misguide us. o Happiness is an elusive goal. It is more about mindset than material wellbeing. To work hard is not a way to pursue happiness. It gets you on a treadmill. Any success only brings you short-term happiness. o When things go to extreme, it goes to opposite. So if you keep pushing things to the extreme, you get unstable oscillations. The better way is wuway: do nothing. Let everything stay in their natural states. o Modern researches confirm that for many things, the harder you try, the less you will achieve, because trying brings stress and distraction, which prevents you from achieving your goal. o Virtue is the same. If you try very hard to be good, you will become a hypocrite. Considering oneself “highly moral” leads to self-righteous behavior. o How to achieve “natural state”? Laozhi suggests “downsizing” in material life, and some forms of meditation. Modern researches show that suppressing frontal lobe functions through meditation, heavy sports or even drug and alcohol can bring a “flow” like state. o There are problems in Lauzhi’s visions.  If you need to urge people to give up material comfort and modern society, it means these moves are not “natural”.  Lauzhi’s theme is you can achieve things by not trying. But wanting to achieve things is already violating the wuwei principle. So there is a big paradox here. The only true wuwei would be sincerely not wanting anything. While this brings consistence, it is not what many people are looking for.  Mencius’s critic of Lauzhi: • Chap 5: The way to wuway (3) o In Mencius ‘ view, wuway is a combination of nature and nurture.  You cannot act against nature as Confucius suggested. This would lead to opposite results. 揠苗助长. It’s a mistake to give up on human, it’s also a mistake to force human.  On the other hand, Lauzi’s idea of returning to primitive is not that natural after all. Yes, human uses to be in those primitive states. However, it is also human nature to grow out of them. o The idea of purely rational administration is not a good idea. It is very difficult and unpleasant at personal level, and unsustainable at society level. We must consider human nature when designing society. o Mencius believe that men are born with good senses. We just need to cultivate them. This has been proved by modern researches, as well. o The story about 孟子见梁惠王. Mencius show that  The king has kindness in his heart.  But he needs to direct the kindness to his people, in forming favorable policies.  He can start from something he is familiar with: treating his own family well. Then he can extend the same feeling to his people. o One cannot force the nature, because the ability of rational thinking is very limited. Without cooperation from the subconscious, you cannot achieve the feat. o On the other hand, you need conscious to guide the nature. You need to bring out the nature and give it a chance to grow. In many cases, it’s not you cannot do it. But you need to try first. • Chap 6 The way to wuway (4) o Zhuang Zhi is similar to Laozhi, but with some difference.  Zhuang Zhi does not agree on the primitivism. He thinks that to achieve wuwey, you can work on it in any environments. The focus is one’s mind. o Zhuang Zhi uses Confucius as his spokesperson, although these stories are probably made up. o He advocates forgetting about sensory inputs or anything from outside. Remain an “empty mind” to allow the subconscious to work. o His book was quite cryptic on ways to achieve that mental state. It probably involved using alcohol and drugs. o Zhuang Zhi does not specifically address how to govern a society, as Lao Zhi did. However, he believes that his way of wuway would make everyone happier, and thus the society would be more harmonious. He also tells stories of reforming criminals with his wuway. So it could be beneficial to society. o Zhuang Zhi teaches his ideas with weird stories and paradoxes, similar to the Buddhism practice of 棒喝. It shocks one’s logic and reasoning, to show that these things are not reliable and should be abandoned. o But Zhuang Zhi still cannot escape the paradox: if wuwei is natural, why is it so hard to achieve? • Chap 7 More about the paradox: spontaneity and trust o The basic paradox: Wuwei is good, and it leads to effectiveness and De 德. However, it only works if you are not trying and if you don’t desire the results. o This paradox is universal in other cultures. The basic question is: if De is natural to people, then it should not need any effort to achieve. If it requires effort, then it is unnatural. In this case, why should we desire it? o In early Chinese literature in Sang, there was the wise king who was at the pinnacle of De. He made a lot of sacrifices for his people and were greatly worshiped. But the question remains: how can you do all these without even trying? o In modern Western literature:  The traditional view is that human nature is tuned to have successful life in small communities. People have the instinct of moral values that work well in small groups. However, when it comes to large societies, we need social contracts that are enforced by the governments. This is more rational than instinctive. So code cognition overrides hot cognition.  However, recently researches show that code cognition is very weak and is easily exhausted. So we cannot rely on it alone.  Game theory view: the only rational way to counter powers such as the ultimatum is irrational revenge (lose-lose option). However, this must be truly irrational. This is another paradox. o In early Chinese literature, it was recognized that maintenance of social norm cannot be based on power and punishment alone. After all, there are many aspects of social cooperation that are beyond the realm of law. These activities rely on people’s natural value such as trust and honesty. o In game theory, we can view a society as a balance between cooperators and defectors. You cannot have too many defectors, or the society will collapse. But the cost of weeding out all defectors is also too high. So you need some mechanisms to maintain a balance. o For this reason, human has developed superior “lie detector”. One can easily tell whether you are sincere or pretending. This includes signaling such as unreasonable commitments, micro facial expressions, and willingness to give up frontal cortex functionality (such as drinking alcohol together). Therefore, trust can be earned only if you are not “trying” to be someone else. In situations where impression is important, “not trying” is the best policy. • What to do o So how do we deal with this paradox? It depends  For moral behaviors, we should always be sincere. Do not force yourself to act.  For skills, more practice leads to natural habits.  So 庖丁is actually not a good model for moral 德, because his skill comes from practice. o On the other hand, environment interacts with human mind and shapes mindset. Therefore, you should try to have the right environment. Insists on being civil, kind and considerate. This will lead to a better “self” when you are not trying, according to Confucius. o Don’t have too much introspection. You won’t feel happy if you keep asking if you are happy. Abandon and enjoy.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Omar Delawar

    I am fascinated by the concept of wu-wei or "trying not to try". We live in such a competitive, dog eat dog society. We are always looking to be bigger, better, faster. Our daily life is often frenetic and rushed. There is always too much to do. And there is so much pressure (often self-induced). I often talk with my buddies and family about slowing down, breathing, being grateful, being present in the moment. Figuring out what they love - what they do best - how they want to live out this one l I am fascinated by the concept of wu-wei or "trying not to try". We live in such a competitive, dog eat dog society. We are always looking to be bigger, better, faster. Our daily life is often frenetic and rushed. There is always too much to do. And there is so much pressure (often self-induced). I often talk with my buddies and family about slowing down, breathing, being grateful, being present in the moment. Figuring out what they love - what they do best - how they want to live out this one life they have in front of them. Slingerland touches on all of these ideas as he explores the pursuit of wu-wei and the magical presence of people who possess "de" aka "charisma" aka "purpose" aka "drive/motivation". How do these people have it? Why are we so drawn to them? How can we get it for ourselves? When I think of people like this I realize that they are usually doing something they love - something that comes so naturally to them. I think about brilliant doctors who immediately put you at ease, my mother who effortlessly commands people's attention, my friend who is a film-maker, music artists who knock you off your feet and carry you along for the ride. I'm in wu-wei when I am programming. You may have heard of the concept of "flow" which is very similar to wu-wei but the difference is "how to get there". Flow is achieved by concentrating on a difficult task while wu-wei is achieved by a sense of "ease". Slingerland incorporates ancient Chinese thought, neuroscience, cognitive science, philosophy, psychology, religion, music, astronomy, and even parenting techniques as he explores this topic. Anyone reading this book will find something to connect to - Slingerland discusses musicians (from jazz to Led Zeppelin), master butchers, carvers, Michelangelo, soccer moms, Greek hedonists, tortured artists, Descartes, Woody Allen, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Star Wars, Thoreau, Picasso, the benefits of alcohol for inducing wu-wei, and the importance of manners. Despite the depth and intensity of some of the ancient Chinese text, Slingerland's ability to intersperse present-day examples and humor make this an easy, flowing read (no pun intended) for anyone. And the humor often comes when you least expect it, which is refreshing. Slingerland sounds like a cool dude - someone with whom sharing good food and wine would be great fun. Bottom line - do what you love and what feels natural. Be a good person. Be good to others. Listen to those who came before us. Connect with people and places. The de will come and the wu-wei will follow *cough cough* I mean "flow" ;-)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pete Wung

    I casually ordered this book because I had read an article in Nautilus magazine of Butcher Ding and his effortless and unselfconscious way with a meat cleaver, having dispatch an ox smoothly and efficiently for the emperor. I thought this was an eastern spin on the idea of flow, a concept that Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi established in western psychology literature. While Csikszentmihalyi approached it from a strictly western way, using neurosciences and psychology to try to teach how to get flow in I casually ordered this book because I had read an article in Nautilus magazine of Butcher Ding and his effortless and unselfconscious way with a meat cleaver, having dispatch an ox smoothly and efficiently for the emperor. I thought this was an eastern spin on the idea of flow, a concept that Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi established in western psychology literature. While Csikszentmihalyi approached it from a strictly western way, using neurosciences and psychology to try to teach how to get flow in all that we do, Slingerland took a decidedly eastern route, and I found his approach completely satisfying and indeed, I found it inspirational. Slingerland is a professor of Asian Studies in the University of British Columbia, it is not surprising that he would take the Asian route. He is in fact a very astute scholar and teacher. Slingerland tells a great story, with a scholarship and attention to detail that is rare to find these days, especially given the immediate gratification oriented ethos of our culture. He does, however, have a sometimes unfortunate and sometimes welcomed quirky propensity to use slang terms in certain portions of his explanation. It was sometimes distracting, yet also is a sometimes welcomed digression. The book is broken up into eight chapters, each of the first two chapters set the stage for explaining flow, or wu wei as well as de. The next four chapters explains how each of the major Chinese school of thoughts, divided between the Confucian and Daoist schools. We are introduced to Confucius, Mencius of the Confucian school; with Laozhi Zhuangzhi presenting the Daoist schools. If this sounds kind of long and boring, be warned, it isn't. Slingerland has a wealth of understnading of Chinese religious and philosophical schools. More importantly, he is quite at ease explaining these convoluted and coupled approaches to the idea of wu wei. In fact, it is almost as if he was demonstrating how to work in a wu wei manner while explaining the wu wei concept. The last two chapters explains the contradictions embodied by wu wei and finally, what do we do with the concept and how do we can attempt to reach a state of wu wei ourselves. The entire idea with wu wei is very strange, or shuen, in Chinese. Slingerland was able to encircle the vast amount of tendrils that makes up the idea, sort and separate each one, and present the essence without making it dumbed down or diminished. It is, in fact a bravura performance and fascinating. In a way, as a Chinese person, I felt almost ashamed that it took a Canadian academic to show me the essential philosophy of my culture. But that shame went away quickly, as my joy of having finally understood the idea made me overlook the discretion. Another fortunate characteristic of this book is that it does not promise a quick and easy formula, something most popularizing books try to accomplish. There is a belief that what the reader is looking for is not a deep understanding but a quick application. In this case the loss that would have been incurred on the body of knowledge would have been too great and take away from the richness of the history and philosophy. What Slingerland did was to be quite Confucian: carving and polishing the topic for us. But this is not just an exercise in aimless pedagogy. The idea is to draw parallels between Asian history and philosophy with the latest in neuro science and mind research. I feel that goals was also met successfully. Slingerland pulls ideas from Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow, as well as many other western research in mind psychology to round out an excellent presentation of wu wei.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Teo 2050

    2016.02.02–2016.02.03 A welcome blend of Taoism and modern dual-process theories of cognition (like Kahneman / Haidt / Greene / others I don't know of). I thought about rating it a 3, but it was fun to listen to and kept my attention, and since I'd already rated the [much/even] lighter The Tao of Pooh with 3, have a 4. This goes through some of the scientific results quite fast, but then again for references the author does refer you to his academic works including perhaps Effortless Action: Wu-W 2016.02.02–2016.02.03 A welcome blend of Taoism and modern dual-process theories of cognition (like Kahneman / Haidt / Greene / others I don't know of). I thought about rating it a 3, but it was fun to listen to and kept my attention, and since I'd already rated the [much/even] lighter The Tao of Pooh with 3, have a 4. This goes through some of the scientific results quite fast, but then again for references the author does refer you to his academic works including perhaps Effortless Action: Wu-Wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China (to-read). Contents Slingerland E (2014) (08:52) Trying Not to Try - The Art and Science of Spontaneity Introduction • Wu-wei ("Ooo-way") and De ("Duh") • Ancient China meets Modern Science • Contemporary Insights from Ancient Philosophy • Rediscovering the Value of Spontaneity 1. Skillful Butchers and Graceful Gentlemen: The Concept of Wu-wei • Your Brain on Wu-wei 2. Drunk on Heaven: The Social and Spiritual Dimensions of Wu-wei 3. Try Hard Not to Try: Carving and Polishing the Self • Hot Is Not Enough: Why We Have Consciousness and Culture • Cold Can't Go It Alone: Building Cold Into Hot • Trying Not to Try: Artificial Naturalness • Confucian Wu-wei: At Home in Civilization • Beware the Village Poseur 4. Stop Trying: Embracing the Uncarved Block • Down with the Man (and Madison Avenue): Social Knowledge and the Hedonic Treadmill • Grasp It and You Will Lose It • Return Home, Embrace the Uncarved Block • How Can You Desire Not to Desire? 5. Try, but Not Too Hard: Cultivating the Moral Sprouts • Against the Rationalists: Cold Can't Go It Alone • Against the Primitivists: Cultivating Your Moral Garden • Giving In to the Beat: Mencian Wu-wei • Why Is Being "Natural" So Much Work? 6. Forget About It: Going with the Flow • Forget, Let Go • Wandering Free and Easy • Why Is Our Self Something That We Need to Lose? 7. The Paradox of Wu-wei: Spontaneity and Trust • Straight from the Earth: The Paradox of Wu-wei on Bone and Bamboo • Tattoos and Shibboleths: In the Body We Trust • It's a Real Paradox: Wu-wei and De 8. Learning from Wu-wei: Living with Paradox • The Paradox of Introspection • Taking the Body Seriously

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Floyd

    The thing about ancient Chinese philosophy is, it's ancient. As relevant as the core teachings might still be, the original context and many of the metaphors suffer from such an enormous time gap that many modern-day folks (myself included) simply can't relate, and therefore miss the message. These days one typically isn't faced with dilemmas such as how to most elegantly butcher an ox for ceremonial offering, or what to do with a crop of comically oversized gourds. And from a Western point of vi The thing about ancient Chinese philosophy is, it's ancient. As relevant as the core teachings might still be, the original context and many of the metaphors suffer from such an enormous time gap that many modern-day folks (myself included) simply can't relate, and therefore miss the message. These days one typically isn't faced with dilemmas such as how to most elegantly butcher an ox for ceremonial offering, or what to do with a crop of comically oversized gourds. And from a Western point of view, the other thing about ancient Chinese philosophy is, it's Chinese. That is to say, it's incredibly foreign. Many Westerners (myself included) sometimes struggle to understand even modern Chinese culture, simply because Western and Chinese cultures differ so greatly. The two take radically different approaches even to something as fundamental as language: non-tonal pronunciation versus tonal, a phonetic alphabet versus a complex logography, etc. These represent two considerable hurdles for the modern Westerner interested in ancient Chinese philosophy. However, Edward Slingerland overcomes both of these hurdles seemingly with ease in his book Trying Not to Try. With an extraordinary understanding of ancient China and its great thinkers, Slingerland excels at "modernizing" their teachings — explaining the original meaning and context in ways that instantly click. He then goes one step further, backing up these ancient teachings using examples from modern science, focusing on fascinating topics such as charisma (bombing an interview versus nailing it), high-level performance (being "in the zone" versus choking), happiness (why trying to be happy usually fails), and many others. Slingerland's fluid and engaging writing style held my attention all the way through, and even though I'm not particularly interested in philosophy or ancient China, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Don O'goodreader

    Ideal companion to the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014. Like the Chinese philosophers over 2,000 years ago, Olympic viewers are stuck with the paradox of spontaneous versus meditated behavior. Do we root for the natural skier or the one who approaches the moguls like a physicist. Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland combines the ancient Chinese philosophy with contemporary neuroscience to address the paradox of the timeless debate of trying versus not trying, thinking versus not thinking, learn Ideal companion to the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014. Like the Chinese philosophers over 2,000 years ago, Olympic viewers are stuck with the paradox of spontaneous versus meditated behavior. Do we root for the natural skier or the one who approaches the moguls like a physicist. Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland combines the ancient Chinese philosophy with contemporary neuroscience to address the paradox of the timeless debate of trying versus not trying, thinking versus not thinking, learning versus not learning, natural versus artifice. After thousands of years of investigation and debate, and modern neuroscience research, the paradox survives, and every event in your life and at Sochi only serves to reinforce the paradox. In the end, this book provides a perspective on the Olympics, and all human activity: professional, social and solitary. For more: http://1book42day.blogspot.com/2014/0... I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on December 15, 2013. I received this book on January 3, 2014.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    Trying Not To Try provides a general background to eastern philosophy in the context of "flow" and the paradox of virtue. I found the book to be confusing, without a clear point until the very end. I feel some sort of introduction that provided an overview of the author's direction would have improved the book greatly. I also noticed a couple of the scientific studies were poorly explained, although a citation is provided in the back of the book if anyone is interested in finding the truth. For Trying Not To Try provides a general background to eastern philosophy in the context of "flow" and the paradox of virtue. I found the book to be confusing, without a clear point until the very end. I feel some sort of introduction that provided an overview of the author's direction would have improved the book greatly. I also noticed a couple of the scientific studies were poorly explained, although a citation is provided in the back of the book if anyone is interested in finding the truth. For me, that lowered the credibility of the book. I also found the author's personal interjections off putting. I can see why they are there, but sometimes they made the book too casual and silly. All that said, I do have a deeper appreciation for the origins of being genuine, achieving flow and why when not trying we can reach success. I did lots of reflection during the read as the book provides a lot of jumping off points for this activity. I'm not disappointed that I read it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jason Gregory

    Edward Slingerland has synthesized Chinese thought, cognitive science, and ancient culture like no other in this amazing book. It is refreshing to see a scholarly work on Chinese thought and the great philosophers of the Warring states period of China. He articulates perfectly the philosophy of all the great Chinese philosophers and how their approach to wu-wei differs and also how this relates to inducing different cognitive states. If you have been interested in the effortlessness of wu-wei an Edward Slingerland has synthesized Chinese thought, cognitive science, and ancient culture like no other in this amazing book. It is refreshing to see a scholarly work on Chinese thought and the great philosophers of the Warring states period of China. He articulates perfectly the philosophy of all the great Chinese philosophers and how their approach to wu-wei differs and also how this relates to inducing different cognitive states. If you have been interested in the effortlessness of wu-wei and how by being in that state unites you with something much larger than you (Tao) then this is the book for you. It is also a fun read with a lot of lucid humor which mimics the great Chinese philosophers temperament, especially Zhuangzi.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andee Marley

    The first two chapters of this book were hilarious and interesting, and everything I thought this non-fiction find would be... After that, it turned into a history of ancient Chinese philosophy. Slingerland is a professor of the topic at Vancouver University. I read through other reviews, and some people think its okay and some people feel bamboozled. Honestly, I'm in the second camp. There was no indication this book would be mostly about Confucius. I read and enjoyed the entire book, but remain The first two chapters of this book were hilarious and interesting, and everything I thought this non-fiction find would be... After that, it turned into a history of ancient Chinese philosophy. Slingerland is a professor of the topic at Vancouver University. I read through other reviews, and some people think its okay and some people feel bamboozled. Honestly, I'm in the second camp. There was no indication this book would be mostly about Confucius. I read and enjoyed the entire book, but remain frustrated as I am not a citizen of warring China.

  27. 5 out of 5

    ياسمين خليفة

    I expected a lot from that book because I heard the author talking in a podcast. But in the end I didn't learn how to be spontaneous because I discovered from the book that the matter is complicated. so there is no magic way to have all that you want without trying. I enjoyed some of the stories about ancient china, but the book isn't great as I thought it would be I expected a lot from that book because I heard the author talking in a podcast. But in the end I didn't learn how to be spontaneous because I discovered from the book that the matter is complicated. so there is no magic way to have all that you want without trying. I enjoyed some of the stories about ancient china, but the book isn't great as I thought it would be

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pam Mooney

    This book was very enjoyable to read. While comprehensive it is written in such a way that it doesn't feel like a text. I loved the stories that went along with each topic and the underlying theme that was easily followed throughout. A fun, interesting, thought provoking book and a good read. This book was very enjoyable to read. While comprehensive it is written in such a way that it doesn't feel like a text. I loved the stories that went along with each topic and the underlying theme that was easily followed throughout. A fun, interesting, thought provoking book and a good read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    Edward Slingerland is not the first thinker and writer to have noticed that the modern field of neuroscience, on the one hand, and the ancient schools of thought from Asia such as Daoism, on the other hand, sometimes talk about the same topic, just using different vocabulary. He is not even the first person to attempt to translate one into the other, or both into something an ordinary human such as myself, neither a neuroscientist nor Laozi, can understand. He is, however, the first writer I have Edward Slingerland is not the first thinker and writer to have noticed that the modern field of neuroscience, on the one hand, and the ancient schools of thought from Asia such as Daoism, on the other hand, sometimes talk about the same topic, just using different vocabulary. He is not even the first person to attempt to translate one into the other, or both into something an ordinary human such as myself, neither a neuroscientist nor Laozi, can understand. He is, however, the first writer I have read who does such a good job in discussing the ancient tension between the schools of thought now usually referred to as Confucianism and Doaism, and explaining what it all might have to do with me and my life, and what recent findings in neuroscience might have to add to the conversation. It almost sounds like a ridiculous premise. "Confucious, Laozi, and a neuroscientist walk into a bar." It turns out to be fascinating reading. The most interesting thing to me, reading Slingerland's book, was how modern the questions seem to be, how timely. Where does virtue come from? Where does excellence come from? How do we achieve either one? What can or should society do to make either one more likely to be achieved? While our understanding of, say, how to fight infectious disease, or grow enough food to eat, or other material questions may be enormously advanced in the last few thousand years, there is a great deal of subtlety and insight in the source materials he introduces us to that modern texts rarely achieve. To illustrate this, consider how much bewilderment exists in the modern world at what a hateful place the internet has turned out to be, despite the best of intentions at its beginnings. Neither the Confucian nor Doaist traditions would be the slightest bit surprised that a primarily textual medium with an emphasis on pseudonymous commenting would turn out not to encourage our best behavior. Our understanding of ourselves as humans, and how we operate (on ourselves or on each other), is not nearly so advanced. This is not the same as saying nothing of interest has been learned, of course, and this is where the neuroscience comes in. Are humans more likely to do the (ethically) right thing when they act quickly and instinctively, or when they take time to consider their actions beforehand? The former. This not only accords with the ancients, but also with the evidence from brain scans. There are different parts of the brain involved in the two activities (ethical empathy vs. rationalization), and they act at different speeds. If you give the slower, more logical and verbal part enough time, it will interfere with the rapid, instinctual, and more often ethical response. How did Chinese thinkers from thousands of years ago arrive at the correct answer, when many modern western intellectuals would probably not, if they hadn't read about the experiments that demonstrated it? This is one of many interesting examples on how a writer such as Slingerland, who is well read in two very different fields, can bring the insights of one to bear on the analysis of another. It is also interesting to see the intellectual ferment in China in the times Slingerland tells us about, because they also seem in some ways very modern. One is reminded of the generational changes in modern science, when each new group of thinkers is essentially spending their life in what seems (from a distance) like a prolonged rebuttal of what the generation before them has said. Skinner's behaviorism makes more sense, if you know something about the Freudian ideas he was rejecting. Neoclassical economics makes more sense, if you know something of the Keynesian economics they were rejecting. Laozi makes more sense, if you know something of Kongzi (aka Confucious). The central question is, essentially, how to become the sort of person who does the right thing, whether viewed from an ethical or practical perspective, instinctively and with minimum effort. Given that we know that trying too hard can be counterproductive, how can one "try not to try"? What if not trying, for you, just results in sitting on the couch and watching TV all day (or Facebooking, or maybe both simultaneously)? How to reconcile the contradictory goals of practicing, and acting naturally? As befits a book much concerned with ancient Chinese wisdom, or for that matter a book much concerned with the findings of modern neuroscience, the thesis of Slingerland's thesis is not easily summarized. You can't read the last chapter and get much out of it, unless you have read all the chapters to get you there. It is also the sort of book which is best read with a break after each chapter, to let the ideas and stories in it settle into your brain for a while. I am not sure that we have achieved much of an advance over thinkers such as Mencius and Zhuangzi, but we may be about to reach the point when you can benefit from "trying not to try" if you are more of an ordinary mortal, not so likely to be remembered in stories millennia after your death. If we do in fact get such a result from modern neuroscience, it will be in no small part because thinkers and writers like Slingerland are making a concerted effort to bring such wisdom within our fallible, imperfect, all-too-humanly-trying grasp.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Don't read this book without checking out the MOOC he runs on EdX, 'Chinese thought: Ancient wisdom meets modern science'. It's 5 stars, no, 6 stars. This book reads like he had to mix up his material so it wasn't exactly like his lectures, which are excellent. GO SIGN UP TO THE MOOC! Don't read this book without checking out the MOOC he runs on EdX, 'Chinese thought: Ancient wisdom meets modern science'. It's 5 stars, no, 6 stars. This book reads like he had to mix up his material so it wasn't exactly like his lectures, which are excellent. GO SIGN UP TO THE MOOC!

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