Two days into the Wu Project, I’m right on track. Of course, the great thing about this project is that there’s no way I can be off track. Since the root meaning of Wu is negation, you’re most Wuish when you’re doing the least.
Such is the essence of wu wei, a Taoist term that can be roughly translated as “effortless action.” Wei means to do or act. Stick “wu” in front of it and you’ve got not-doing. Or better put, doing without doing.
So I’ll be taking it slow and gentle with this Wu Project of mine. Which, I need to emphasize, is truly mine. I’m not putting it forth as a model for anyone else, though I do believe that everyone should have a Cosmic Project of some sort—a quixotic crazy doomed-to-failure attempt to fathom the deepest mysteries of the universe.
I’ve decided that for now mine is the Wu Project. Yours could be whatever you want it to be. I’d recommend that you fashion your own unique project, because life is too short and singular to spend it copying someone else. But it’s a free cosmos. If you choose an off the shelf project such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or any other organized “ism,” have at it. With enthusiasm.
I will admit to having some grandiose conceptions about the Wu Project, however. I’m prone to grandiosity, so that figures. I’ve been pondering this whole Secret of the Universe thing for about forty years and am finally making some significant progress. I’ve reduced the complexity of the subject down to a “there are two kinds of…” simplicity.
To wit, there are two kinds of approaches to unraveling the Secret of the Universe: positive and negative. This isn’t an original idea (what is?). Mysticism is commonly divided into the via affirmativa and via negativa, the way of fullness and the way of emptiness.
Some people want to be filled with a divine vision, belief, concept, love, being, insight, inspiration, presence, or such. Other people want to be emptied of everything, including all that supposedly divine stuff. I’m with them. It’s equally wildly crazy and totally logical.
But I’m digressing from my intention to report on how the first two public wearings of my Wu t-shirt went. I wore it to my Tai Chi class on Monday and today, where I expected it would have an appreciative audience. Indeed, two people asked about the shirt: my marital arts instructor, Warren, and a fellow student, Russell.
Russell didn’t know what the Chinese hanzi for “Wu” meant. Warren did. My conversation with Russell was more satisfying because he uncritically accepted my definition. I like it when people agree with me.
I also like it when people disagree with me, because then I have an opportunity to show them why I’m right and they are wrong (which, I usually presume, must be the case). However, it is unsettling when someone neither agrees or disagrees with me. I can’t say that I dislike it, because there isn’t anything not to like. Nor, to like.
Such a situation is, in short, Wuish. And that’s how Warren acted after I replied to his question: “So, Brian, what do you think your t-shirt means?” I launched into a wonderfully focused description of the alternative meanings of “wu” (“mu” in Japanese). I was concise and utterly accurate, in my not-so-humble opinion.
Warren then walked over to a bench, sat down and said, “Well, OK. If that’s what you think…” I waited for him to say something more. He didn’t. And then he didn’t some more. I waited for him to tell me what he thought “wu/mu” meant. I wanted to know.
Warren has spent a lot of time in the East (Korea and Japan, mainly). He’s married to a Japanese woman. He teaches a class in Eastern Medicine at a college. He’s Taoist through and through. “Come on, man,” I thought, “give me the answer.”
He wouldn’t. He just sat on the bench staring off into space. I recollected that some dude supposedly cut off his arm in order to be accepted by a Zen master, so I figured that I could at least ask one more time. “I want to know. What do you think it means, Warren?”
“Emptiness. You have to be empty before you can be filled.”
Good answer. We talked some more about wu/mu. Warren suggested that my next t-shirt should have the Mu/Wu ideogram on the front and a picture of a cow on the back. That way if someone asked what the image meant I’d say “mu” and turn around.
Nice. I’ll keep the idea in mind. But the main idea of the Wu Project is not to have ideas in mind. However, since “wu” means negation it should also be fine to not not have ideas in mind, which lets them back in.
I’ve got a lot to do if I’m going to figure all this stuff out before the project ends. Also, a lot not to do.