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Non-Doing as a Skill

"Non-doing: to refrain from doing as the basis for allowing the body to function naturally, and for learning to act in such a way that we do not get in the way of this natural element in performance."

We have been focusing recently on the theme of effortlessness, which we introduced as a basic principle of design found across the animal kingdom.

Effortlessness in human action cannot be separated from non-doing. And in the context of the study of voluntary action, non-doing cannot be separated from a positive, robust conception of healthy function. We will continue to post about this important concept, further defining what we mean by non-doing, and why it deserves to be taken seriously as an educational goal.


The principle of non-doing is expressed perfectly in the Taoist concept of wu wei, or action without deliberation, which is not simply a means to quiet the mind as in meditation practice (although it is certainly that) but a process of acting in accord with nature. As a way of achieving quiescence and balance, it is a discipline in its own right and has its roots in the psychophysical nature of detachment, awareness, and living. A complete model of development must affirm the importance of non-doing as an actual function, with neurological and biological foundations, not simply as a practice or therapeutic principle.

Although we see very developed expressions of non-doing in the martial arts, the problem with this association is that we have little means of connecting such practices with everyday functioning, with educational development, and in particular with child development. Because we associate non-doing with a particular kind of practice, we forget that it can apply to the entire range of human activity and therefore has meaning extending far beyond the martial art, functioning as a discipline in living that is continuous with living well.

A complete model of development must affirm the importance of non-doing as a practice with functional foundations, a principle applicable not only to meditation and skill but essential to intelligent action and balance in living.

excerpted from A New Model of Man's Conscious Development

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