Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Mind-Expanding Book

     Every once in a while comes a book which puts everything into a new perspective.  Edward Slingerland's Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Art of Effortlessness and the Surprising Power of Spontaneity is just that book, at least for me. 

     Dr. Slingerland, professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, walks the fine line between presenting the potentially dry philosophical history of Asian thought and irreverent humor.  I believe he widely succeeds.

     Slingerland discusses how we can achieve that feeling of flow -- the feeling that things are effortless, without too much thought, that results in bliss and satisfaction.  He then details how the ancient Chinese philosophers sought to achieve that effortlessness -- either by training the self through strict adherence to the Way as in Confucianism, by throwing off societal expectations and following the natural self as in Taoism, by reorganizing society along rational lines as the Mohists advocated, or to escape the domination of the conscious mind by listening to the qi as Zhuangzi taught. 

     In addition to explaining these lines of thought, Slingerland brings in relevant findings from the field of cognitive science and neurology, and peppers it with pithy stories from the ancients.

     This book helped explain why I've long been drawn to the simplicity of Taoism and had trouble with the five-this and eight-that of Confucianism and its relative, Buddhism (not to criticize -- it's just how my brain works, I guess).  Put into practice, this book is potentially life-changing.  Run, do not walk, and get this book.

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