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Trying Not to Try: the Power of Spontaneity | Edward Slingerland | TEDxMaastricht

  • Published on Nov 2, 2016
  • Edward Slingerland - a Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British
    Columbia - claims that recent research suggests that many aspects of a satisfying
    life - such as happiness and spontaneity - are best pursued indirectly. The early
    Chinese philosophers knew this, and they wrote extensively about an effortless way
    of being in the world. We’ve long been told that the way to achieve our goals is
    through careful reasoning and conscious effort. Can prof. dr. Slingerland change
    your perspective to stop trying?

    How can you try, not to try? Dr. Slingerland has combined his studies of early
    Chinese philosophy with cutting-edge research from modern cognitive science,
    evolutionary studies, and social psychology to explore why this paradox is real, why
    is exists, and how finding a way around it is the key to both social cooperation and
    personal success. Slingerland is the author of ‘Trying Not to Try: Ancient China,
    Modern Science and the Power of Spontaneity”

    Edward Slingerland is a Professor of Asian Studies, as well as adjunct in the
    departments of Psychology and Philosophy, at the University of British Columbia. He
    holds degrees in sinology and religious studies, and is the author of, most
    recently, ‘Trying Not to Try: Ancient China, Modern Science and the Power of
    Spontaneity” (2014).

    This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at ted.com/tedx

Comments • 93

  • Khalid h
    Khalid h 5 months ago +5

    Absolutely wonderful, one of the best TED I have ever watched, it explains why it's so difficult to make efforts.

  • NatHarwood
    NatHarwood 5 years ago +64

    Absolutely fascinating. I've thought about the paradox in a social context - for example, why is it jokes are laughed at when the person telling it appears not to care about 'audience' response, why is it small body movements can reduce the impact of what your saying (for example, leaning too far forwards in your chair engaging in conversation, always checking people's faces like a keeno to see how they're reacting to what you're saying)..

    But I think the same definitely goes for larger themes and life-fulfillment goals. Throughout, I couldn't help but think "yes but you need to train in order to get to the level where you can stop pursuing or you'll just be shit at everything and not caring..." and then he finally went into that at the end.

    So I think training hard in your personal time at your goals plus not giving as much of a shit at the social level may be the perfect solution in some scenarios.

    • Fukababa
      Fukababa Year ago


    • Lee Invisible
      Lee Invisible 3 years ago +6

      NatHarwood you think to much. You didn’t get the message. Keep trying. Keep thinking that you know what you are saying. Someday, maybe, you will get it.

  • OnlineMeditation
    OnlineMeditation 2 years ago +11

    Excellent articulation of a profound subject!

  • EC
    EC Year ago +3

    Thank you for this talk, Mr. Edward and Ted Talk. This is eye opening.

  • M Mendi
    M Mendi 7 months ago

    He just gave words to the abstract thoughts in my mind ...and not in a timely fashion. I had put aside this paradox of the universe, and how it shows itself in different situations differently, away at the back of my wandering mind, only to have seen this video today. Thank you Prof. Slingerland for getting me closer to this whole ...THING.

  • TE Williams
    TE Williams 2 days ago

    Awoke to your interview on CBC radio this morning and it was a lovely introduction to another Monday morning coming up to 2 years of living in these years of Covid. I can do this..

  • Krishna Bhaavin
    Krishna Bhaavin 3 years ago +11

    I loved how much he managed to pack in this talk. I have read his book TRYING NOT TO TRY and found it pretty good. Its interesting how the same truth is echoed by Slingerland and Alan Watts but each in his unique way. No wonder Watts' work is perhaps more comprehensive but that doesn't take anything away from Slingerland's work for me.

    • Edward Hayes
      Edward Hayes Year ago

      Sorry (I did not try to hit the send button) anyway playing Tai Chi the harder you try the less it is Tai Chi.

    • Edward Hayes
      Edward Hayes Year ago

      Yes it is amazing how many of these self improvers fall short of the dynamics and genius of Alan Watts. Alan was that gift to the world that does not come along very often. I feel very lucky to have come across Alan Watts by accident over 40 years ago. PlayingTai. Hi


    This is just right on time for me 🙏🏾✨

  • cy world
    cy world 2 years ago +40

    Genuine tendency or wants of the hot or subconscious is wu wei. In nature, flows of water and wind seek the path of least resistance. This doesn't mean that those forces are weak, it is just that their power is directed towards their nature tendencies. In western cultures, the belief system is polar opposite of eastern philosophy. This means they are not in the Tao (the way.) Therefore the wants of the conscious is not in synchronized with that of the hot, subconscious. It is almost like the stream wanting to flow uphill because that is where it is wanted by villagers. The wu wei solution would be for the villagers to come down from the mountain and live by the stream. Thus doing without not doing.

  • Aashaa Zahid
    Aashaa Zahid 2 years ago +4

    Absolutely fascinating.

  • OddDou
    OddDou Year ago +6

    Some times I wonder why trivial subjects get millions of views while these deep mind opening subjects don't!

    • willimacdo
      willimacdo 10 months ago

      may be some topics seem like a bite size bit or - unless we have come close this kind of topic it makes no sense and not everyone notices this stuff.

  • Messenger
    Messenger Year ago +4

    Thanks RU-clip algorithms for suggesting this video. Finally a practical explanation of Wu Wei.
    Thank you!

  • Ciaran Dudley
    Ciaran Dudley 3 years ago

    Great talk. When our consciousness is intentional, it has ipso facto, an object 'in tension' [with itself]; and this tension is just what we want during 'flow' states. The problem lies not in our consciousness but rather in our self-consciousness, i.e. our intentionality of our intentionality, which recursively gets in the way of and thereby precludes the free flow of spontaneous action. The way around this 'intentional blockage ' is to take an 'intentional detour' by means of another object which we rationally know to be syllogistically linked with the real object of our intention despite its not being an immediate object of our understanding. We must, as it were, use the cunning of our reason to sabotage the cleverness of our understanding, just as our understanding sabotages the [false] certainty our immediate sense-perception when we 'see through' an optical illusion. We could therefore define 'wu-wei' as the ability to 'act through' an intelligible illusion by 'going around' it - in precisely the same way that our understanding can 'see through' an optical illusion by ignoring or 'going around' its immediate appearance in perception. It is important to remember that there is this volitional aspect to 'wu-wei' since it has to do with action or the will. (Indeed, it is arguably a practical category in this sense, not a theoretical one.) Actuality itself is already the interfusion of individual activity and universal being and therefore just in virtue of being we are already acting. The trick to 'wu-wei' lies in seeing that the act has already taken place. Yoda says, 'Do or do not - there is no try,' but perhaps we should 'do' one better than the Jedi master himself and say, 'be or be not - there is no act.'

  • Zahra
    Zahra Year ago +1

    Incredible talk

  • Peter Khew
    Peter Khew 21 hour ago

    德 is better translated as virtue, which is a quality that is considered universally good. The simplest explanation is that virtue (德) comes from being natural (自然) and spontaneous (无为). That's why Taoism and Confucianism are sort of polar opposites of each other, with the latter emphasising on using effort (用功) to achieve virtue (德).

  • Steve Deasy
    Steve Deasy Month ago +1

    Information dense. A real test of my ability to stay in flow.

  • Tim Weldon
    Tim Weldon 4 years ago +5

    what about people who are overly rational by nurture? wouldn't that mean they wouldn't trust someone easily if they had such charisma? I've met alot of people who don't trust people who are they call too nice or who have too much energy.

  • Alex Marshall
    Alex Marshall 3 months ago

    We need to believe we can be unconsciously competent, without even having to try. Though it sounds antithetical to the idea of the Protestant work ethic.

  • Dharma Das
    Dharma Das Year ago +3

    Ed Rocks, thank you Dr TAO

  • Manoj Jain
    Manoj Jain Year ago +1

    Evolve consciousness receives these abilities as the part of evolution process. These are the benefits, when one transcendent from physical nature. Do not confuse physical nature as visible world seen from our eyes. Physical nature implies the excessive and objective thinking about getting this or that. Existence is subjective and purely emotional. Existence is not chasing anything but chilling and having good time all the time. Spontaneity is best felt during vacation time and natural. If you could consider your everyday life as full blown vacation then you can not help being spontaneous. This is precisely the nature of "THE NATURE" i.e. eternal vacation mindset.

  • hexlgaming
    hexlgaming 3 years ago +11

    Kinda like drawing & Motorsports. Once you get into the flow it's really easy almost

    • BrivalRB
      BrivalRB 4 months ago

      @OddDou just get into the flow

    • OddDou
      OddDou Year ago

      Sorry for being one year late but how can u get into the flow!

  • Life Lover
    Life Lover 2 years ago +3

    A clean diet of fresh, ripe, naturally grown fruit (our original diet) facilitates flowing through life in the zone. Peace.

    • lawsen •
      lawsen • Year ago +1

      what about meat? You really think primates only ate veggies and fruits? What about before agriculture huh?

  • Igor Moraes
    Igor Moraes 7 months ago +3

    That's precisely the purpose of meditation, right?

    • Khalid h
      Khalid h 5 months ago +2

      Absolutely, that's the purpose of shamata meditation, you can practice it to calm your mind, then you can act "with intention" on what you can control following the least resistance path.

  • DeratedDesign
    DeratedDesign 3 years ago +62


    • 简道SimpleTao1
      简道SimpleTao1 Year ago +2

      it's very common. look to the river. reduce the influence of emotions and desires means not to try.

    • Josephandsome
      Josephandsome Year ago

      @Geo Ninja how to be cool

    • Geo Ninja
      Geo Ninja 2 years ago

      what does it mean? enlight me.. 🙏

    • piuli95
      piuli95 3 years ago +4

      100% will fail, those who did not fail never participated.

  • MJ Cortez
    MJ Cortez Year ago +2

    My question is. Yes, it's true that the heart, muscles, lungs, etc are designed to work involuntarily. But the human brain, not animal brain, is design to plan, think, and control. Don't you think that not using that part the brain's ability is unnatural and against the flow?

    • CCM
      CCM 4 months ago

      @André luiz Exactly, when I perform I just shutdown everything else and let it flow naturally to myself.

    • André luiz
      André luiz Year ago +2

      If you control too much, you ruin your performance (all artists know that). If your do not care enough to control zero, your performance might be ruined from the start.

    • André luiz
      André luiz Year ago +1

      The idea would be using it until certain point. There are doors that those skills wont open. The power actually is the balance, acording to situation and to the individual.

  • In Joy
    In Joy 7 months ago +1

    Great talk. Great book. Wu(is the)Wei

  • DamesDemon
    DamesDemon 8 months ago +3

    Pop smoke was heavily woo way💫

  • Anai Barangan
    Anai Barangan 5 months ago

    Another way of explaining Wu Wei.

  • Jon boy
    Jon boy Year ago +2

    The blonde woman they keep focusing in on clearly doesn't understand what the speaker is articulating 🤣

    • Kim Brooks
      Kim Brooks 6 months ago +1

      That woman caught my attention too. Odd they kept going back to her and i wondered what was she thinking there....eventually I thought she may have a headache

  • But Who Cares What I Think

    Time to move to Vimeo!

  • Moon Beam
    Moon Beam 2 years ago +5

    Surrender all plans

  • Jethro Joshua
    Jethro Joshua 4 years ago +11

    Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”
    How can you talk about Wu wei mind when you are not in it? This is absurd and typical western way of dealing with it. Teaching swimming (without a pool or) just by a book? I dislike talkers because talkers are not doers and doers are not talkers. This is self-mastery and no one can learn this by understanding the definition and complexity of the theory. How can you understand this when you have no experience of wu-wei state? You become one with the nature/natural flow and it has the force to create or do miracles. Bruce Lee: ' Mizu no kokoro empty your mind let it flow like water be water my friend!

    Lao Tzu,/ Tao Teh Ching --Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

    • Jess Novak
      Jess Novak Year ago

      I understand where you're coming from but they haven't hacked a state. They're explaining something theyve experienced, that we've all experienced (however fleeting) and sometimes just HEARING about this state propels me into it. It's helpful. La Tzu wrote a book, would you not say that's similar to speaking about it?

    • Henry Olusegun
      Henry Olusegun 2 years ago

      Although those who know, often don't speak, lest not forget that the same Tao Te Ching stated that when the master is asked a question, "Words are not a hindrance, she/she uses them like a carpenter uses tools"

    • 777immortalsoul
      777immortalsoul 3 years ago +2

      @Dylpostino u dont get it....u just pulled out a list of ego arsenal wit all those titles PhD ...the tao is kinda like da matrix n a sense that no one can tell u what it is ....only that it is....and can only be experienced!!

    • Cherechi Osisioma
      Cherechi Osisioma 3 years ago +4

      Lao Tzu says the Tao can't be known and proceeds to write a book about it.....if that's not irony I don't know what is

    • Jethro Joshua
      Jethro Joshua 4 years ago +1

      It is an experience dear that can not be translated. It is beyond words. I hate going into void but it happens without forcing. First I thought I was lucky. Then when it started to happen often, I thought It could be seeing the future. However, I realised that it was my thought when I was in that state. It manifested instantaneously. It is a self-mastery so there is no need to convince others or prove. Philosophically it is hard to nail it. The closest one would Alan Watts and J Krishnamoorti but they tried to explain that state without experiencing it. I am sorry! One should experience that state. You may draw a picture of FIRE and try to burn a book. It won't burn that book. You need a real one. All these people are just like that. You can not hack that state. If they hacked it, they would be doing miracles. They are just misleading people not getting there.

  • GodAsAcartoon TheRealSantaClaus

    Wu wei.

  • Brandon Atwood
    Brandon Atwood 2 years ago +4

    Trying not to try to listen to his incredibly dry and noisy mouth noises. A great and relevant exercise.

    • Kim Brooks
      Kim Brooks 6 months ago

      i found the guy to be informative and pleasant.

  • Lee Invisible
    Lee Invisible 3 years ago +7

    He tried to explains all oriental wisdom in less than 20 minutes. So silly. Thanks God we still have the Alan Watts Audios and Krishnamurti videos.

    • B
      B Year ago

      It's called a Ted Talk

    • People's Front of Judea
      People's Front of Judea 2 years ago +9

      He's not trying to explain "all oriental wisdom" in 20 minutes, that's your silly interpretation of what he's doing.

    • creemyice
      creemyice 2 years ago +1

      Hey he did a really good job

  • FleurRebelle
    FleurRebelle Year ago

    Gawd .... he talk a LOT... What is he trying to say? He sound dry sticky, talking all fast. Relax. Take. A. Sip. Of. Water... your talking a mile a minute and saying Nothing. It’s like listening to a crazy person babble...

    • Kim Brooks
      Kim Brooks 6 months ago +1

      Nah, may be you're being a bit to harshly critical? He's trying to get a lot of info into a little time is all that happened. I find the speaker very articulate and explains a complex subject simply.