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What is non-action?
Jeremy's very nice post in the discussion on calming one's mind reminded me of a question I'd been meaning to ask:

What exactly is non-action? How, precisely, does one go about acting without doing anything? Surely this isn't nearly as passive an idea as one might think. If anyone is in a position to explain things to a western layperson, I would be very interested to hear thoughts. Or suggestions for how to "arrive at it organically," in Jeremy's words.

To set the stage, here's Jung and his inimitable metaphors on the problems inherent in my asking such questions.

"A beggar is not helped by having alms, great or small, pressed into his hands, even though this may be what he wants. ...Unfortunately, the spiritual beggars of our time are all too inclined to accept the alms of the East in bulk and to imitate its ways unthinkingly. This is a danger about whch too many warnings cannot be uttered... What it has taken China thousands of years to build cannot be acquired by theft. If we want to possess it, we must earn the right to it by working on ourselves. Of what use to us is the wisdom of the Upanishads or the insight of Chinese yoga if we desert our own foundations as though they were errors outlived, and, like homeless pirates, settle with thievish intent on foreign shores?" (from the tribute to Wilhelm)
Books Discussed
The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature
by C. G.; Hull, R.F.C. (translation) Jung

I have been fascinated by your post Emily ever since you posted it.

What is non-action? Jeremy's post, as the whole discussion on How to shut my brain off, is very interesting, but non action can of course also be in a state where the brain is frantically running around. I don't know about Wu wei or the Chinese non-action, but to a westerner non-action seems like a strange response to a situation. A strange but very important response. I find it a state that women are more prone to then men are, who are taught to aspire for action and battle.

There are many possibilities of non-action:
1. The deer in the headlight.
2. Acceptance (of death; Socrates for example).
3. Preparedness to attack, like a cheetah before attacking.



As for the wonderful "Unfortunately, the spiritual beggars of our time are all too inclined to accept the alms of the East in bulk and to imitate its ways unthinkingly. This is a danger about whch too many warnings cannot be uttered..."
I think the situation has somewhat improved since Jung's time, or at least the relation to our own heritage and culture has lessened to the extent that the relation to the a foreign one has become more similar.

Is sitting and thinking action, or non-action? Or does it depend on whether we later act on our thoughts and dreams?
Virginia, I agree, Emily asks a great question.  One that, like all great questions, refuses to be pinned down with an answer.  The question itself is non-action!

How easy it would be to say what non-repose is:  action.  But, can that pure action exist?  Action is always informed by the subauditory (my new word that I’m looking for an excuse to use.)  No matter how spontaneous or urgent the act, close behind is its reason, its degree of importance to self-interest, an awareness of the amount of control the actor relinquishes.

You two inquirers of the uninquirable, do you think that if we can find an answer by moving action beyond those above-mentioned foundations to make it autonomous, and then say we've named non-action?  Still, even after abstracting act from actor we would only have what non-action is not; what it excludes in order to be. 

This brings us to creation myths, ontology, the bringing forth into being.  In action the world is created, but who acts?  The fact of the world’s creation, how it was once created, stands in the past.  But how?  How the past?  The past is thought only now.  The world is created as it is thought by experience.  But do you know that?  Are you conscious of making the world as you live it?  No, of course not.  So, action without actor.

In the above sense of creating the world by living is most obviously felt in joy and beauty.  One dissolves in the experience.  But as soon as the going gets rough, as soon as there’s a problem self interest exerts itself against the circumstances and non-action can be spoken of because the actor feels anxious while alone.   

We may not be able to define non-action, but we’ve all felt it.  Joy or ecstasy or submission, giving yourself to a problem, turns against you, destroys you as the source of your thoughts, and leaves you with only your body consciousness.  You body becomes intelligent.  It plumbs stopped time for a chance at precision and acts swiftly to the heart, but acts without your knowledge, only a grain of your permission.  You wake up to a solution.  Concentric, circumambient rings build your self back and you stand as if waking to a new creation.

My sense though, is that, like all things, non-action is only one pole and that life is lived on the continuum between that and self-interest.  Can we say that to not act is to not become worried about not acting, but when it arrives to give it the same respect as everything else?  If we say that non-action is more important that self-interested action we’ll miss non-action, which moves with you as your dance partner.
I'm still looking for ways to achieve my goals through non-action, I sometimes succeed in this while playing. I just read an interesting quote in Hanna Arendt which is a parable ascribed to Pythagoras and reported by Diogenes Laertius:
"Life...is like a festival; just as some come to the festival to compete, some to ply their trade, but the best people come as spectators [theatai], so in life the slavish men go hunting for fame [doxa] or gain, the philosopher for truth."

I see non-action as a way of gaining clarity through the distance of the spectator, thus avoiding mistakes which are connected with a lack of perspective.
Books Discussed
The Life of the Mind (Combined 2 Volumes in 1) (Vols 1&2)
by Hannah Arendt

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