The Art of Nonaction

Posted by on April 12, 2013 in About Writing | 8 comments


by Christina Carson

While reading the Tao Te Ching this morning, I grasped a new subtlety, one that spoke to me about this hectic life I have created around day job and emergent writer. I haven’t liked what I’ve done, but didn’t see a way to approach it differently. In fact, I was so preoccupied on the hamster wheel of writing and promoting in every spare minute that I wouldn’t justify the time to ponder it. But this morning as I approached the Tao Te Ching with an interest in reading something that would help nurture a greater sense of ease in my life, Episode 48 came up on the roll of the dice. I was using R. L. Wing’s translation, and she titles the episodes. Imagine my chuckle when the title that accompanied Episode 48 was: “The Art of Nonaction.” I then supplemented that reading with another translation of the Tao that I enjoy, the one by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. One line in their approach to the episode jumped out at me:


When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.


I’m accustomed to the seeming enigmatic nature of the Tao, so I sat quietly and let my inner sense play with those words relative to my current problem. And this is what emerged:

One doesn’t try to make it as a writer. [That’s doing.]

One accepts their status as writer and that in itself is a life that will unfold. The only real doing then is in my willingness to accept that truth, meaning beyond all doubt. From that perception, my actions and attitudes become those that nurture that truth rather than undermine it.




It is not unlike being a bird. They don’t craft themselves as flyers. They are born as creatures of flight. Their acceptance of that fact is that they open their wings and step off the edge. Some are reluctant. On day, I watched a baby owl that appeared to have his doubts. When he had sat too long on the fence post, his mama flew by and knocked him off. He opened his wings then. The flight was fine; the landing a tad inelegant. The branch was too small, and he ended hanging upside down. His mama came to his rescue once again and jarred him loose. This time he flew and landed splendidly. Nature is not a place of doing and there is nothing left undone…is there. Life lived from not-doing is the life of marvels and seeming magic that we all yearn for. It’s not an impossible dream, but it does require that we know the difference between doing and not-doing. Do you see?


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  1. So when you are “doing,” you are trying to make something happen, instead of accepting what’s already there, happening beyond your control?

    • Christina Carson

      Good stab at it, Adrienne. I’d make this small change: “…instead of accepting what’s already there happening.” Control is a word that arises from the fear our egoic view of the world engenders but has no meaning or relevance in the consciousness of not doing, a manner of being that emerges as our natural self becomes more apparent to us. Failure is another notion that is not relevant there as well.

  2. There is a fine line between doing and not doing – a line that cannot be seen when you are on the doing side of it, and cannot be not seen when you are on the not doing side of it. Seeing the line is marvelous. Walking the line is impossible.

  3. Unfortunately, I guess my idea of “not doing” is not doing something this second and waiting five minutes to do it. I appreciate and admire those who can sit and ponder and seek to understand their inner souls. I simply take my inner soul, rip it out, and throw it out there for everyone to see. Stress and I are old friends. Neither of us could live without the other. I have the ability to carry stress and pass it on to others. It’s my shortcoming.

    • Christina Carson

      But there is an enormous courage in being willing to wade into the ocean and splash around with fellow swimmers. Always in enjoy your blogs, especially the funny bits. Thanks, Caleb.

  4. Christina, as usual this is lovely and right on. Actually, I love not doing! I find it more a deep listening. Your gentle spirit and ideas about life always shine through all your writings. Thank you, Jan

    • Christina Carson

      A deep listening is a great way to characterize it, for from that listening comes the sense of the course to take and how to take it, which is so very different from a intellectual decision or plan. Always enjoy your comments and appreciate you response. Thanks, Jan.

Thoughtful comments are always welcome!


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