Wondering Aloud About Efforting

What, let’s gently think about this, do Daoists mean when they speak about wu wei, or “effortless action”?

I’d like to come to effort and set aside action.

We could begin by wondering about when effort arises. It seems to arise often (always?) in the context of action. I make an effort in order to complete an action that is, perhaps, in line with a goal I’ve set. Let’s make it even simpler: I (always?) make an effort whenever I want to get somewhere (or be someone or something) that I am not.

Effort, then, is about the force necessary for me to travel out there to meet or be it.

Sometimes we say that “thinking is hard” or that “one must make an effort to understand,” but today anyway I find this a bit confusing. Taking thinking to be hard seems to borrow its meaning from cases of action: thinking is said to be hard whenever one must travel somewhere else in or by means of thought to get to that place. I needn’t “make an effort to understand” except when I believe that I don’t currently understand what will require some force from me to reach the point at which I’m able to understand.

Effort is born of desire and, as such, is hitched to desire.

But now I wonder: is it really necessary to center my life on effort? Sure, sometimes effort will be required. Yet must I place effort at the center of thoughts, feelings, and actions?

After all, we don’t speak of “making an effort” when a sensation happens to arise. What if, in a similar vein, thoughts and actions also were to arise (as, frankly, they actually do)? Or what if we needn’t make an effort just in those cases where we’re not “going out” but rather “recognizing, right now, that we’re already home”?

It feels to me, just now, that efforting implies a kind of confusion. Without strain, things can, and often do, just happen: actions do unfold, thoughts do arise. I type without knowing what will happen, just now, perhaps my fingers pause without there being anything that needs to happen, and then the clacking of the keys resumes.

Wondering, I assure you, is not effortful. Can we drop the model of life which suggests that we must get somewhere or be something else? Could life be bathed in the waters of grace? If so, life would be all honey water: sweet like honey, flowing like water.