On Natural Solutions

Submitted by c0c0c0 on Sun, 01/15/2017 - 14:11

"If it ain’t natural, it ain’t worth a damn." - Ray Wray

Taoism has an interesting concept called “wei wu wei”, which means something like  "action without action" or "effortless doing".   There are very large books written on what that means, practically, but the simplest and most useful Western term I would translate it to is, “Go with the flow.”  Like much of Taoism, it sounds pretty passive, and I wouldn’t implement it in my life in its most literal reading.  But there is a sense where I definitely would.

I envision wei wu wei to be embodied in a stream finding its way down a mountain.  Along the way, it encounters rocks and trees and other impediments.  And yet, seemingly effortlessly, it finds a course over and around these impediments and reaches its goal at the bottom. I often suspect that, when faced with a challenge, it might be helpful to ask myself, “what would a stream do, here”.

Most problems have multiple solutions.  Some are direct, others less so.  The best ones, in my mind, are the ones that take into account the “nature” of the challenge, and incorporate that into a solution that will sustain itself.  These are usually less direct.

Consider the task of house-training a dog.  One approach would be to loudly berate the animal every time it left a mess on the floor.  This approach assumes the dog is aware of its moral failure and associates its act of half an hour ago with your current anger.  But that isn’t thinking like a dog.  Another approach ignores the failures and simply gets the dog into a habit of frequent and predictable trips outside where it can follow the call of nature in peace.  That tends to work faster, and with a lot less noise.

All the universe will support a natural solution, while an unnatural one is sustained only by force of will.   Like that stream rushing down the mountain, a natural solution will encounter and account for each and every variable with thoughtless ease, forging the path forward that, on the whole, results in the least resistance.  Better to guide a process with subtle deflection and reason, rather than oppose it with force and fury.

The head-on solution will often be the no-nonsense path.  Knock it out, get ‘er done, move on.  But it’s not really a solution at all if you are constantly having to go back and maintain, refresh, renew, rebuild, whatever.  You have to use Judo.  Ideal solutions guide the problem to take care of itself.  They tend to take a bit more time and a lot less ego.  You have to stop thinking about what you want, and start thinking about the nature of the challenge.  You have to look for a harmonious path for all involved.
No doubt it’s more work.  But problems fixed this way tend to stay fixed.  And with less impact on your blood pressure.

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