wu-wei poetry

2 posts

The Benefits of Laziness


Whether you are Protestant or not, you’ve probably fallen victim to that “Protestant work ethic” thing. You know. The one where, as a kid, your parents or teachers or other adults berated you for being L-A-Z-Why Not. The one where, as an adult, your spouse, your friends, or your boss take over.

Please. How do they expect you to daydream? To ruminate? To wonder? To cut to the quick, how do they expect you to create?

Just because the body is doing nothing doesn’t mean the brain is lying fallow. In fact, the brain sometimes does 100 push-ups with one arm best when the body is at rest. The Chinese call it wu wei, which means “non-acting” or “non-doing” or, if you must, “acting without purpose,” all of which undercut what’s actually going on.

I mean, really. Unless you’re dead, something’s always going on upstairs, praise be. Writing doesn’t come in two days from Amazon, after all. Or from a pill, either.

It’s all on you. And though writing itself may be deemed “action,” the necessary first step is ideas—ideas that make you shout (like you discovered it), “Wu wei, this is fun!” because you’re doing a whole lot of “nothing” (accent on quotation marks, thank you) in style.

Raymond Carver knew. He was of the brotherhood. Read “Loafing” below and see what I mean. Yep. One of us!


Raymond Carver

I looked into the room a moment ago,
and this is what I saw —
my chair in its place by the window,
the book turned facedown on the table.
And on the sill, the cigarette
left burning in its ashtray.
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I’ve set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.



With poetry, inspiration often comes from small, unexpected sources. And ironically, it often comes when you are actively engaged in doing nothing, which speaks to the wisdom of leaving the race to the rats, the type personalities to the A’s, and the technology to the phone addicts.

Exhibit A: Last summer, while lying on a dock floating on a Maine lake, I simply stared over the edge, down into the water. That was my occupation for an hour or maybe more, who knows? Deadlines were dead, after all, as was the urge to check any messages or address any “Honey-do” lists. My partner in crime? The sun–lovely and warm on my back.

Soon I saw floating some six feet away a moth stuck to the still surface. It fluttered its wings, but wings on water are ineffectual. Instead, the moth became the epicenter of a small drama, sending an almost imperceptible ring of ripples to broadcast its final story. Only who would hear this story, I wondered?

This moment of “doing nothing” became the mortar and brick of something. Something called a poem, haiku-like in its brevity as nature poems often are. It appears in part two (“Second Search”) of my current book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness.

In our ways, we are all moths excited by the light of life. Some days we are down–stuck to a lake surface–but escape. And one day, we will not. But that is as it should be, because life’s great affinity is the circle, which figures prominently (in its quiet way) here:

Another Calling by Ken Craft

A moth, heavy
with water-
wings, fluttering
on the lake
as if the surface
were hot.

It sends
circular sonar,
saintly halos
of life
to the distant
bass of its

© Ken Craft, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, 2018 Kelsay Books