Cultivating effortless action

Wuwei, or the art of non-doing and effortless action, requires a careful balance between sensing and acting. When out of balance, you end up in avoidance or paralysis.

Surrendered Leadership invites you to be present to the unfolding of life as both observer and participant. On one hand, you’re invited to observe your habitual tendencies to act. On the other hand, you’re encouraged to trust your actions as a beautiful expression of life.

It’s the perfect balance between observing and acting that creates a feeling of natural and effortless unfolding.

This effortlessness makes it hard to appreciate good facilitation of Surrendered Leadership. It’s only when Surrendered Leadership feels lifeless, shallow, stuck or mechanical that it becomes apparent how unique this natural and effortless quality is [1].

How does good facilitation cultivate effortless action? Effortless action involves exactly the right amount of action. With effortless action, you’re acting when you need to act and not acting when you need to not act.

We can rename not acting to sensing, because when you’re not acting, you are actually sensing until you feel inspired to take action.

This generates four possibilities:

Life asks action Life asks sensing
You’re acting Effortlessness Avoidance
You’re sensing Paralysis Effortlessness

Let’s explore the two options where you drop out of effortless action: Avoidance and Paralysis.


If you’re acting when you need to sense, you’re avoiding a sensation. Stepping into silence and the unknown can be uncomfortable. Before you know it, you cover up this uncomfortable feeling by engaging in some activity. In daily life, this can result in procrastination, fidgeting, distracting and numbing yourself with television or internet.

When I am making this mistake, I am often talking or thinking. I’m talking fast or engaging in intellectual discussion. Or I’m feeling super scared and nervous, and this is making me fidget, tighten up and move fast. I find it difficult to slow down. I find it hard to meet the raw, intense and vulnerable feelings that lie underneath. I sometimes believe that me or the group doesn’t have the capacity to hold all that.

To drop deeper, become present to the sensations that motivate your actions. Can you find a gap between impulse and action? Can you be present without acting out? Can you appreciate the action as a way to bring comfort and safety? Can you stay compassionate towards yourself?


If you’re sensing when you need to act, you are paralyzed to take action. Sometimes it can be challenging to trust your experience. It can be scary to act on what you know, deep down, is the right thing to do.

When I am facilitating Surrendered Leadership, not acting is often unconsciously driven by a subtle layer of feeling scared, frozen and in panic. I don’t know what to do, and I think that I should do something to lead the group. Or I think the leader should be cool, confident and able to sense the entire group, when I actually feel small, insecure and constricted. These unconscious and unowned feelings end up leading the group into a sensing that doesn’t feel authentic and true.

To drop deeper, you can take a risk and trust your experience if there is an action you feel inspired to do. Or you can drop deeping into the level of sensations: Is there any indication or feeling scared or paralyzed? If there is, can bring compassion and awareness to it? Can you name and explore it? This should allow for a further deepening and unfolding.


Whatever I write here are my explorations into Surrendered Leadership. I noticed two ways to drop out of effortless action and labeled them Avoiding or Paralyzed. You might use different labels. This discernment has helped me improve my facilitation.

I hope it gives you insight, and I welcome your perspectives and insights on this topic.

  1. Note that Surrendered Leadership isn’t defined by an emotional state. ↩︎