It has been so long since I sat down and wrote something for this website. My world has been so consumed with work, with relationships and self-examination that I lost the habit of writing here. In some ways, not needing to have my thoughts be profound enough to be shared with the world was a practice of releasing ego’s hold on me. In other ways, it allowed that egoic grasping to take me into the realm of action. I was focused on doing things to change the world.
There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Just like I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with ego. It is a tool. It can protect us from a world that says we are nothing. If we listen to it, it can reveal what unmet needs are arising and what hurts need tending. Yet when we forget it is something outside of us to listen to, when we think it is us, we get in trouble.
Speaking your truth into the void and delving your hands into the earth to plant and water seeds are both worthwhile tasks. Yet they both have the capacity for overindulgence and ego. Thinking that my brilliant writing would change the world had a very similar energy to planting seeds frantically hoping to grow a forest that topples empire. I have come to believe that both fundamentally misunderstand how change happens.
Both see human agency as something that can transcend nature. Human agency is the conscious thing. We can figure out how to counter the waves of history and the natural world and direct them as we will it. All that is needed is an understanding or decisive collective action. They both see change making as a struggle. An active fight over power against the forces that oppose us.
Yet what if that view, of the necessity and centrality of struggle to change, is wrong? What if we don’t need to always be struggling to be free? What if struggle is secondary to movement rather than its impetus? What if we moved with the current instead of struggling to swim upstream?
I have a sense now, not an analytical knowing but a sense. I can sense now that change is not a linear process. It cannot be directed to a specific, pre-determined end. Change is a constant force to dance with, lean into, co-shape, to nudge, to nurture.
In Taoism, there is a similar belief in the idea of Wu Wei or non-action. It’s a concept I am leaning into. It is, in many ways, antithetical to how I am used moving in the world. Honestly, it causes me a lot of anxiety because it requires giving up my sense of control that is so baked into my sense of security. Because of this, I can’t say that I fully understand it. Yet I feel invited in this moment to practice it. To try it. To see what it can teach me.
From my very limited understanding, Wu Wei does not have one meaning in all Taoist texts. The aspect of Wu Wei I am talking about here can be summed up by this description of Bruce Lee’s Wu Wei Gung Fu, a fighting art that expressed his ultimate philosophy:
“Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget technique.” At the highest level of this discipline (as well as other martial arts), the warrior becomes one with the flow of reality around him. In that state of oneness, he is able to act without the necessity of volition. To the bystanders, he doesn’t seem to do much, and yet he delivers the exact minimum of impact at the exact right time to accomplish what needs to be done and not one iota more. —Derek Lin
Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget Technique.
It is about allowing what we learn to be so incorporated into our being that we do it naturally as the need arises. We do not need to seek out opportunities to prove it. We merely view opportunities were the technique might be useful as an invitation to practice. We practice until it is how we move through the world. The goal is to move the through the world skillfully rather than to transform it actively with a predetermined plan.
What if this is how we thought about liberation. What if we actively tried to learn it. Practice it with each other and then embodied it so thoroughly that it becomes as natural as breathing?
We are practiced at struggle. We know how to do that. You cannot survive within capitalism without learning struggle. Wage labor is struggle. Even capitalist learn to struggle against their own empathetic humanity. But what if started practicing what we actually want?
In a recent romantic break-up, my ex and I were discussing our relationship. She was explaining the pain that arose from some of the dynamics in our relationship. I wanted her to see how much I loved her in that moment. I felt a strong desire to interrupt her and correct her perception. To struggle with her, the very thing she was naming as hurtful. “You don’t understand what I was trying to do in that moment!” I wanted to scream. “You have to understand I was just afraid. I just wanted you to really see me!”
Instead of battling it our with her, I cried, I reflected back what I saw as her perspective though it was not my own. I acknowledged the harm she felt and explained how, in my perspective, I was reacting to her pulling away from me. I acknowledged how much I loved her, wanted to be with her, and just need her to know that. Rather than refute a perception of me that I thought wrong, I affirmed what I thought was good and right and spoke my truth. By being loving and gentle towards her, I changed her perception of me in that moment and got the human connection I wanted.
Within the practice of loving each other and connecting we could have the space to see all the truths and perspectives of our past disagreements. We didn’t have to struggle or contend with our different truths. I also didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t hurt by her perception or that I viewed it the same way she did. Because winning the struggle wasn’t the goal, proving that I was good guy and she was mistaken wasn’t the goal, being seen and connecting was.
It still saddens me that it took being broken up for me to realize that. That you can just love. You don’t have to scheme or try to argue with people to love you. If we practice loving we can embody Love.
Lao Tzu is quoted as saying “Be like water, nothing is weaker, yet nothing is better at overcoming the strong.”
I know many of you think, okay, you can do that in a loving relationship, but politics is different. Yes, politics is different, which is why I’m starting to think it might be more effective there. In politics, the oppressed have nothing to lose from speaking their truth to power. The state is going to kill them anyway. In intimate relationships we have whole worlds to lose. I care more about what my ex thought of me than I care what the police think.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we go bear our soul to the cops or hug Nazi’s. Rather, I’m suggesting we think about what we actually want and try to learn how to get it, and practice it until we embody it. Is what we want to shut down a highway? Is that our true goal? Or is the goal to make the wound visible? To have our society grieve for the loss of life? To be seen by the powers that be as a force to reckoned with?
If our goal is for society to grieve the loss of life, are we actually, consciously allowing ourselves to grieve? Are we re-learning how to grieve? Are we practicing it, gently holding our selves through anger, bargaining, denial, depression and acceptance? If not, how are going to expect society to do it? Why are struggling to get people to do something we ourselves won’t do?
If we practiced grieving in our lives and communities we might learn some more effective techniques to do it at scale. We can master inviting society into our grieving process. What if America actually grieved the killing of Black people? How would empire change if it had to come to acceptance of what it has done?
Is our goal to be a power to be reckoned with? If so, are we actually building power? Are we practicing the wielding of power or we just critiquing it? If we have power, do we need to argue with the state or can we just wield it to get what we want? Why do we feel we need power that the state can understand?
Wielding power on the small, organizational scale was an eye-opening experience for me. As local community leader, I realized how difficult wielding the small amount of power I had according to my principles was. It allowed me to see how much material, spiritual and emotional infrastructure needed to be in place to wield power well. That understanding sharpened my critique of the state. It is simply not set up to wield power in the ways we want. By actually practicing wielding power, I realized my fundamental assumptions about power had to change. Now I focus on embodying my true power, which for me, is based in love and compassionate understanding.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Do We Have An Alternative?
Why not get real about what we want? If we really want liberation then let’s practice it first. Let’s love each other without grasping or policing how that love needs to be received or repriprocated. There is struggle in that believe me. Its taking me years to understand that, to heal enough to even attempt that.
If we want joy then let’s practice it! Struggle should not be the impetus for movement. Liberation is a much better one. If struggle is necessary for Liberation then let’s struggle, but how can we know that without practicing it?
Have we asked ourselves…what if we win? What if we overthrow the Trump administration? What if we overthrow capitalism? Have we practiced an alternative enough to embody it when things get rough? Will love, self-determination and abundance be as natural as breathing when the collapse comes? If we freed all the children in the detention centers tomorrow, do our communities have to process to heal children on that scale? Do we have an alternative to policing and drug wars that are fueling this crisis?
We live in a world that is dying, a tower that is crumbling from neglect, an empire that refuses to look in the mirror. We can struggle with it, to try and overcome the reigns before it falls over the cliff or we can remember that Empire isn’t what we wanted anyway.
What if our movements were like water? What if we went with our own flow? What if we practiced loving each other and finding belonging as the world ends? What if we practiced a form of humanity in which we saw each other as an invitation to remember that we are Love? What if we practiced finding refuge by offering to others?
Honestly, all I want to say is this:
What if we tried being Liberated first and saw the opposition to our freedom as an invitation to heal each other? What if Liberation didn’t have to be so hard? What if we looked at our family who disagreed with us, who asked us to go slow, to not cause waves and asked them, what hurt stops you from wanting to be free? How can we care for each other in this moment? Maybe we would be surprised by the result.
I’m not suggesting that shut down’s are not necessary. I’m merely inviting us to think about what would be different if we only did BLOCKing actions to create space for BUILDing the world we want in order to BE Love?
I’m inviting us to think about what we are practicing.
I’m inviting us to consider seeing opposition as an opportunity to heal.
Mostly, I’m inviting myself to remember to keep practicing love.