A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity-an ancient Chinese virtue that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand-and why it’s essential to our well-being, both as individuals and as a society.
Why is it always so hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or to be charming and relaxed on a first date? Why do some politicians seem wooden, some comedians’ jokes fall flat, or some athletes choke? In every case, striving seems to backfire. TRYING NOT TO TRY reveals why modern Americans find spontaneity so elusive and how ancient Chinese thought points the way to happier, more authentic lives.
The early Chinese wrote extensively about an effortless way of being in the world, called wu-wei (ooh-way). They believed it was the source of all success in life, and Slingerland explores the various strategies they developed for mastering it and not losing it. He also shows how new research in psychology and neuroscience explains what’s happening in the brain when we’re in a state of wu-wei-why it makes us content and effective and trustworthy, and how, perhaps, it helped make civilization possible. Drawing on stories of butchers and wood-carvers, Jedi knights and jazz musicians, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to create the perfect antidote to our striving American culture.