90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
The Way Of Spontaneity

The art and power of spontaneity, in ancient philosophy, in jazz, in everyday life. We’ll look at “Trying Not To Try,” the Chinese concept of “Wu-wei”, and the completely focused mental state of “flow.”

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs on day 1 of the 2013 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience at City Park on Friday November 1, 2013 in New Orleans Louisiana. Jazz improvisation is depends on the careful art of "not trying," as explained in "Trying Not To Try" by (AP)

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs on day 1 of the 2013 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience at City Park on Friday November 1, 2013 in New Orleans Louisiana. Jazz improvisation is depends on the careful art of “not trying,” as explained in “Trying Not To Try” by Edward Slingerland. (AP)

The old reggae song says “Try. Try and try. You’ll succeed at last.”  And we know there can be truth in that.  But we also know that grinding, stressful, pounding effort can turn self-defeating.  My guest today studies philosophy and neuroscience.  He says look to the way of spontaneity.  To the old Chinese philosophers of the Tao and more.  Get in the zone.  Act freely, spontaneously.  And you may find your most productive, creative self.  A Ttiger Mom might not get it.  But Yoda would, he says.  This hour On Point:  the Tao of spontaneity, the way of flow.  And trying not to try.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Edward Slingerland, professor of Asian studies and research chair of Chinese thought and embodied cognition at the University of British Columbia. Author of the new book “Trying Not To Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.” Also author of “Effortless Action: Wu-wei As Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University. Founding co-director of the Quality of Life Research Center. Author of “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life” and “Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention,” among other books.

From Tom’s Reading List

The Atlantic: How Not To Try — “Woven into most of our natures is a cumbersome desire to be accepted and liked. At odds with that is the equally natural tendency to be turned off by people who wear that desire on their sleeves. If you, like me, essentially reek of effort in all that you do, such that people can sense it blocks away, and it makes you unattractive socially and intellectually, and it makes babies cry, can you practice and learn to cultivate a genuinely spontaneous approach to life? Is it possible to be deliberately less deliberate?”

New York Times: The Music Of ‘Flow’ — “Being in flow can be applied to any context, doing any activity that offers its own rewards, whether playing a grandmaster chess match, performing in the N.B.A. playoffs, listening to music at home, or performing heart surgery. Csikszentmihalyi’s flow charts are insightful and instructive about how to maintain flow during an extended activity: first, one achieves a balance between ability and level of difficulty, then one increases difficulty as ability grows.”

Biographile: Edward Slingerland on the Art of Effortlessness – “Wu-wei means literally ‘no doing’ or ‘no trying’ but is better translated as ‘effortless action.’ It refers to a state of total ease, in which you become completely lost in what you’re doing, feel no sense of exerting effort, and yet everything works out perfectly. When you are in wu-wei, you are maximally effective in the way you move through the world and you emerge from the experience feeling relaxed and satisfied. ”

Read An Excerpt Of “Trying Not To Try” By Edward Slingerland

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Dec 18, 2014
This handout photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War, American officials said Wednesday. (AP)

Following months of secret talks the US will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than fifty years.

Dec 18, 2014
A poster for the movie "The Interview" is carried away by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP)

A big Sony hack gets weirder and wider. And Hollywood and Homeland Security are on edge.

RECENT
SHOWS
Dec 17, 2014
Germany's Andre Schuerrle, left, celebrates scoring his side's 6th goal as Brazil's goalkeeper Julio Cesar reacts during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8, 2014.  Germany went on to win the World Cup championship later that month. (AP)

From the Sochi Olympics and Ray Rice to Lebron’s return to Cleveland, we’ll unpack a big year in sports.

 
Dec 17, 2014
Relatives of a victim of a Taliban attack in a school, mourn over her lifeless body at a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military-run school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday, killing and wounding scores, officials said, in the highest-profile militant attack to hit the troubled region in months. (AP)

The Taliban take responsibility for killing more than 100 Pakistani schoolchildren. We ask why there, why now.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Cosby Accuser Beverly Johnson: ‘He's A Black Man. I Had To Separate The Trayvon Martins, The Michael Browns From What Happened To Me’
Tuesday, Dec 16, 2014

Beverly Johnson accused comedian Bill Cosby of drugging her in a high-profile Vanity Fair column. She tells us why she waited so long to share her story, and why it was even harder to share now.

More »
2 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: December 12, 2014
Friday, Dec 12, 2014

On listener engagement, the meeting of trans-Atlantic royalty and the elusive origins of the chicken. (We promise this feed hasn’t been taken over the BBC…yet)

More »
Comment
 
Quinn Sullivan, LIVE In Our Studio
Wednesday, Dec 10, 2014

Fifteen-year old Quinn Sullivan is a humble, “ordinary” high school sophomore. But he’s also a blues guitar phenom. He brought his talents to the On Point studio today.

More »
Comment