\ Undoing, Then Nothing-Doing | Christina Brandt

Christina Brandt

Sunday, February 25th, 2024 | Making "What's Next?" What Matters ™

TaoAt a recent coaches’ conference, Martha Beck shared a passage from the Tao Te Ching:

Less and less do you need to force things

until finally you arrive at non-action.

When nothing is done,

nothing is left undone.

Lao Tzu, its author, created quite a paradox here.  One noted Tao translator helps clarify:

The misperception may arise from (Lao Tzu’s) insistence on wei wu wei, literally ‘doing not-doing,’ which has been seen as passivity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A good athlete can enter a state of body-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will.  This is a paradigm for non-action:  the purest and most effective form of action.  The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.

The way I see it, most of us are quite practiced at a lot of things.  At first, we forced them a bit by repeating them over and over until we achieved a kind of mastery.  Now, we do them without really doing them; we don’t devote a lot of thought to what’s involved, sort of like what the translator described above.  Having deeply practiced over the course of time, certain things become second nature to us.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes…not so much.

What would happen if we “un-did” the things we’ve mastered and unconsciously do, but don’t serve us?  For instance:

  • Undoing the disproportionate influence we allow our fears of others’ judgment to have on our lives
  • Undoing the thoughts that create suffering
  • Undoing the over-accumulation of stuff
  • Undoing the influence of our “buy more/do more” culture
  • Undoing the over-complication of simple matters
  • Undoing the need to have lots of information
  • Undoing the negative self-talk and self-deprecation
  • Undoing the need to have a plan with a sure-fire outcome
  • Undoing the doubt that keeps us from starting things
  • Undoing the ignoring of our intuition and deep inner wisdom
  • Undoing the forcing and pushing…instead letting what wants to happen, happen.

The less we force things, the better life gets.  Letting go of attachment to the “how of it” often makes a desired outcome even more wonderful than originally imagined.  If you’re feeling stuck, I’d highly recommend some undoing, followed by a bit of nothing-doing.

Martha’s closing comments at the conference were “Now, go home and rest.  And remember: there’s no doing, only undoing.”  I couldn’t agree more.


  1. Maryna Smuts says:

    Thanks for this post, Chris!

    It’s exactly what I need to remember today as I sit with so many things to do. I especially love your list of what things that need undoing.

    I’m picking the first one for today – pondering how I might undo the huge attachment I have to wanting approval from others and fearing what I think their judgements of me might be.

    Thank You!!

  2. chris says:

    You’re welcome, Maryna. And you’re smart to start with one item…it’s a big list, and we’ve “deep practiced” these things for a long time. Undoing will take a while, but it’s worth the effort. Especially if you balance that effort with rest and self-care. Good luck!

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