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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 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 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 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 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 the 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 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 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 #READ E-PUB ê Trying Not to Try ì 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, 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 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 Fulfilling Lives Trying Not To Try Is Mind Expanding And Deeply Pleasurable, The Perfect Antidote To Our Striving Modern Culture 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 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 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 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 specific applications to everyday life, as mentioned above I would not mind if the book was twice as long with each chapter having a academic scientific background and a applied bit.What is 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 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. 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 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. Succeeding without tryingIf you ever had a sleepless night, then you will perfectly understand why trying to fall asleep does not usually work Instead, by making yourself fall asleep, you became awake and soon began to ruminate how much time had been wasted and how dreadful the next morning would be The moment when sleep became a deliberate and effortful action, sleepiness vanished, leaving us wide awake There is one defining feature about sleep it is totally spontaneous We simple do it and we do not know why and how If you ask a good sleeper how they fell asleep last night, they would probably be stunned and speechless We sleep when we are tired We eat when we are hungry It is as simple as that However, to insomniacs or troubled sleepers I was once one of them , sleep is a constant battle We do every thing that should help we make sure bed is only used for sleep, we do not eat or exercise before going to bed, we avoid caffeine, we try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, we take care of noise and light, but despite all these efforts, we went to bed with full hope but only to find ourselves lying awake The you try, the you bet on sleep, and the frustrated you will become when you cannot fall asleep Here is the trick for good sleepers, sleep is such a natural and spontaneous activity like breathing, but for troubled sleepers, sleep is an effortful and delicate exercise that is no easier than working out a math problem We cannot help but ask why effort is not translated into success This is exactly what Slingerland tried to answer in this book He reviewed four different schools of early Chinese philosophy, including Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, and Zhuangzi, and how they proposed to attain spontaneity and reach the state of wu wei Yes, you heard me right Confucianism was considered by Slingerland as a system to promote wu wei, just like Taoism Here is his argument Whether Confucianism or Taoism, the goal is quite alike to achieve order, to relieve suffering, and to reach a balance between individuals and between states.The end state is no different between Confucianism and Taoism spontaneous conducts that promote peace and happiness Slingerland made an excellent summary of each philosopher s approach Confucius try hard not to try by stringent education, acculturation, and rituals Mencius try, but not too hard we only need to identify and promote the sprout Laozi stop trying by giving up and unlearning what we have acculturated, let things happen Zhuangzi forget all about it there is no trying, nor is there not trying Forget everything and everything will be yours I prefer Zhuangzi over all others there isn t any good justification but my natural disposition and temperament How beautiful was his stories How nonchalant but wise he was How adorable is his love for pleasure and imagination and his contempt for rules and dogma The essential message is, no matter which school of philosophy you follow, trying something deliberately does not often lead to success dating, sports, cooking, just to name a few Instead of trying, we might consider the opposite try not to try, so we try to be spontaneous and try to be less effortful, although such a statement is fundamental self contradictory The fact is clear being spontaneous is often successful and attractive However, the solution to being spontaneous is entirely unclear From philosophy to psychology to neuroscience, we are all puzzled by this paradox We want to become spontaneous, but by trying to be spontaneous is already not spontaneous To me, too much trying is also the reason for many psychological problems We try too much, so we worry about future and ruminate about past We focus too much on the outcome, while we ignore the process We try to make things happen, but we forget that at times, what we could best do is to let things happen To end this review, there is one interesting strategy for your troubled sleepers Try to stay awake as long as you could Then you will find yourself falling asleep without even knowing it. 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. 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 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. 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. 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 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 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