TRYING NOT TO TRY by Edward Slingerland


The Art and Science of Spontaneity
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How an ancient Chinese philosophy applies to the strictures of modern life.

Slingerland (Asian Studies and Chinese Thought/Univ. of British Columbia; What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body and Culture, 2008, etc.) introduces broad strategies for attaining and instilling the ancient Taoist art of wu-wei (“no trying”), a clear unselfconsciousness of the self. Developed by early Chinese philosophers such as Confucius, Laozi and Xunzi, wu-wei induces de, the simultaneous harmony of the mind, body and spirit, producing a calm outward posture that’s palpably reassuring and trusting to others. The author presents the many ways to achieve de, as detailed by early Chinese philosophers, and he discusses how this uncontrived state brings a new understanding and valuing to one’s life. Slingerland lucidly addresses the power of developing a “cultured spontaneity” and accessibly explains how the need to shut off our minds and bodies can be challenging in an age when smarter and faster is the status quo. Further, he explores the lives and work of five “thinkers” who taught their philosophies during the upheaval of the Warring States period in ancient China and what modern culture can learn from the practice of wu-wei. Richly fortified with Daoist parables and anecdotes, the narrative offers examples of the history and consistent effectiveness of wu-wei, including the author’s own attainment of it while penning this book within the coveted “writing zone.” Delivered via clever and convincing explanation, Slingerland advocates for the adoption of wu-wei into daily life, and in doing so, true contentment and serenity should follow. “In addition to helping us get beyond strong mind-body dualism,” he writes, “the Chinese concepts of wu-wei and de reveal important aspects of spontaneity and human cooperation that have slipped through the nets of modern science.”

A studious and fluent appeal for the benefits of a sound mind.

Pub Date: March 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7704-3761-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2014


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