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Underbelly: 10 Things - Effortless

Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly
#105 in a series of wild and precious things to help you grapple with the concept of “wei wo”

  1. TWIL (This Week I Learned)
(This week feels a bit longer than usual. I looked it over, though, and I think it all needs to stay.)
This week I contemplated “wei wo”.
I have a finely tuned sensitivity to that thing where something is reframed as “exotic” by anonymizing it — sticking it in a faraway land and a faraway time with little background information. The hair on the back of my neck bristles when I hear about “ancient philosophical stances” such as wei wo in a Psychology Today article recently.
And, after reading this short article, I do think they used the word “wei wo” as a hook to get people to read.
In any case, the idea seems to circle back to my conversation with Marla Estes and Joe Burgo on Wild and Precious Conversations this week.
Wei wo, as I understand it, is a way to describe flow state — and even more, to describe that state where muscle memory takes over and “it’s easier to sustain a non-striving mindset when coordinated movements happen automatically
Yes — it absolutely is.
What the article glosses over is that the best way to get to the “wei wo” stance is — yup — persistent (boring, grueling, mind-numbing, challenging, uncomfortable, yucky, icky, difficult, mucky) training and practice.
I’m overemphasizing the “negative” adjectives for effect. Obviously, if you can get past those feelings while practicing, you’re going to reach that “implicit muscle memory” state more easily and solidly.
Yesterday, my son and I took embroidery and his sketch book to the ski lodge to pass the time. He has been diligently practicing sketching and embroidery for about a year and a half now (Covid sourdough, anyone?) and I teared up as he shared his sketchbook. His embroidery is “effortless” and “flows”.
I used to embroider quite a bit when I was younger. In 1990 I made a nihilistic sampler, in fact. So I took up my embroidery thread, grabbed a needle, and proceeded to try to thread it.
And I tried, and I tried, and I tried. And the thoughts started: “Wow, this is embarrassing. You look like an idiot. You can’t even thread a needle, how the heck do you think you can remember any stitches?” <= Etc.
Only because I was in my mom stance did I continue, attempting to role model. Wow did it suck. Man was it painful. YES I began to conjure “reasons” I “needed” to check my phone as well as countless very solid reasons why continuing was futile and pausing made perfect sense. At one point I remember feeling physically nauseous — honestly.
So — it was just embroidery. I did thread the needle, I did finish my non-nihilistic sampler: “Beloved, let us love one another”. It does need to be “recycled”.
And also as I began to chain stitch the letters, calm did settle over me, the stitches came one after another, they became easier, more flowy. I began to feel playful, lighthearted, etc.
But getting to that place is hard — and necessary.
2. Quote
In conclusion, Kee et al. sum up, “Taken together, the value associated with downplaying cognitive processing while learning through implicit learning (i.e., less conscious involvement) suggest that implicit learning is relevant in the current discussion of wu-wei and non-striving.” — Christopher Bergland The Athlete’s Way
“Those who think practicing forgiveness is weak obviously haven’t tried it.” — Desmond Tutu (see the video, below)
3. Prompt
Christopher Bergland is correct, of course. But honestly, having homeschooled 4 kids over 12 years (and, of course, mothering them before and since) I notice that helping people sit still with their bums in their chairs and their noses down with a consistently good mindset is not easy.
“excessive cognitive processing” kind of feels heroic in our culture, I think? We rarely (I mean, it would be kind of boring) read stories about the hours someone diligently practiced, failed, kept going, got injured, relearned something, picked back up, etc. (and if we do, it’s often with appropriate narrative tension, orchestral music, etc. and they always succeed in the end — cf “Karate Kid” and imagine that the movie is mostly the waxing on waxing off for hours)
You likely have a list of things you are proficient at. You may also have a list of things you lament not being able to do.
Try this: Write the list of things you are proficient at (if, like yours truly, this feels awkward at first, keep it lighthearted and include the smallest, most humble things and build from there)
Now contemplate those things and realize you learned them through diligent practice. Walking, speaking your native language, typing with your thumbs (something I still can’t do).
Write your list of things you want to become proficient at.
4. Quest
If you have been following along for any length of time, you know that play is crucial. Choose one thing you want to become proficient at.
Your quest for this week should you choose to dive in :) is to simply set your calendar for a daily 20 minutes devoted to deliberate practice of whatever thing you chose to become proficient at.
5. Level-UP / Go Deeper
I challenge you to set your calendar for longer than one week, and to revisit all the ways you can turn that deliberate practice into mindful play.
I am, basically, asking us to get playful this week. Yes, lots of reasons will arise to let you know why this is useless, hopeless, silly, fruitless, and unnecessary. Why you can do it later. Why you need to do something more important, like dust your mantle or sweep your kitchen. Still, I ask you to playfully, deliberately practice your one thing for 20 minutes each day this week. And yes, consider practicing forgiveness, or tolerance, or self-control, or…as well as things like embroidery, or writing, or baking. And…yes, consider that there might be a relationship?
6. Video
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama talk about forgiveness
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama talk about forgiveness
7. Podcast
‎Wild and Precious Conversations: Marla Estes and Joe Burgo Talk About Humility on Apple Podcasts
8. Poem — This week I am linking to a tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks who embodies the idea of deliberate practice.
Listen to the world’s best poetry read out loud.
9. Hero — She started young—her first poem “Eventide” was published in American Childhood when she was 13 years old—and maintained an impressively diligent practice of writing every day.
The Importance of Being Ordinary | The New Republic
10. Share/Connect/Action
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Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly @wendykkelly

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