Arrows with no target

I don’t view my projects the same way any­more. I used to work towards a goal, an idea of what I want­ed to achieve. But more recent­ly I stopped car­ing about the end result, prob­a­bly due to this new per­spec­tive on…every­thing.

It’s a strange jux­ta­po­si­tion of know­ing that what you’re doing is ulti­mate­ly insignif­i­cant, and find­ing enjoy­ment in doing it any­way. Like a child stack­ing a pile of blocks, only to knock them down.

The wikipedia arti­cle on wu wei explains feel­ing this bet­ter than I can:

The goal for wu wei is to get out of your own way, so to speak. This is like when you are play­ing an instru­ment and if you start think­ing about play­ing the instru­ment, then you will get in your own way and inter­fere with your own play­ing. It is aim­less action, because if there was a goal that you need to aim at and hit, then you will devel­op anx­i­ety about this goal.

Zhuangzi made a point of this, where he writes about an archer who at first did­n’t have any­thing to aim at. When there was noth­ing to aim at, the archer was hap­py and con­tent with his being. He was prac­tic­ing wu wei. But, then he set up a tar­get and “got in his own way.” He was going against the Tao and the nat­ur­al course of things by hav­ing to hit that goal.

(This also reminds me of a verse from Leonard Cohen’s True Love Leaves No Traces: “Through win­dows in the dark/The chil­dren come, the chil­dren go/Like arrows with no tar­gets/Like shack­les made of snow.)

Nowadays, I do what I feel like doing and don’t stress out about not fin­ish­ing a project, cause I know I’ll feel like work­ing on it anoth­er day. It leaves me more loose ends, but I don’t mind. Luckily, I love cre­at­ing things. Trying dif­fer­ent medi­ums. New ways of express­ing myself.


  1. A tricky sub­ject is wuwei.… nei­ther as sim­ple as it first seems nor as obscure as some writ­ers would have us believe. It grew out of a time in China in which there seemed to be lit­tle peace or sta­bil­i­ty for wealthy and poor alike [hmmm… sounds famil­iar]. A phi­los­o­phy which talked of retreat­ing from the world and not putting too much val­ue in “get­ting things done” was attrac­tive to many in war and famine plagued China in the same way that the west­ern monas­tic sys­tem was attrac­trive to many who want­ed a sim­ple life and refuge from inces­sant wars, plague and famine in the Dark Ages of Europe.

    The anal­o­gy of play­ing at archery seems like an apt one for describ­ing wuwei, in par­tic­u­lar, and there is cer­tain­ly mer­it to the idea of train­ing with a sim­ple child-like plea­sure rather than obsess­ing about thit­ting the tar­get. As with many mind-body activ­i­tites, the act of draw­ing the bow can be a med­i­ta­tive activ­i­ty com­plete in and of itself.

    On the oth­er hand, if you are going into bat­tle as opposed to hav­ing a zen-moment in your back­yard who do you want stand­ing in your line… those who have trained at draw­ing and fir­ing their bows rapid­ly and accu­rate­ly while under pres­sure of attack or the fel­lows who have spent a few idle moments in their back­yards by them­selves focussing on how bliss­ful it feels to go through the motions.

    • I guess the use­ful­ness of an activ­i­ty depends on what the goal is, whether one’s efforts are to be used for plea­sure, or towards an actu­al pur­pose.

      That’s an inter­est­ing his­to­ry of why such a phi­los­o­phy grew out of China. My friend just came back from a trip to Asia, and on the way he stayed in Japan. The said he under­stood why the Japanese have a rep­u­ta­tion of being order­ly, clean, and min­i­mal­is­tic in their design: space is at a huge pre­mi­um over there. If you don’t put a mag­a­zine away, you won’t have place to eat. So much neces­si­ty is the moth­er of inven­tion.

      • Enjoying the mere process is great, but some­times achiev­ing for the sake of achiev­ing a goal can be men­tal­ly sat­is­fy­ing.

        I only realised that it’s only in and around Tokyo that’s incred­i­bly crowd­ed when I trav­eled Kyoto and Osaka. Maybe the com­pul­sion for neat­ness and tidi­ness is in the Japanese blood. Hey, I found this link(Japan, a strange coun­try) ( about Japan some­where in your blog.

      • Enjoying the mere process is great, but some­times achiev­ing for the sake of achiev­ing a goal can be men­tally sat­is­fy­ing.

        This is also very true. I think this is why Taoism is such a win-win phi­los­o­phy; you can enjoy fail­ure and suc­cess the same.

        That video was real­ly inter­est­ing and well done. You found in on my blog? I don’t remem­ber post­ing it at all.

      • The video link is found on a respon­den­t’s blog, can’t remem­ber which one.

  2. I’ve noticed that sim­i­lar thoughts have been lurk­ing in the back of my mind for the last year or so. For some­one who works in a cre­ative indus­try, the client and/or upper man­age­ment seem to have focused sole­ly on the bot­tom line. I’m not sure why prof­it and cre­ativ­i­ty has to come at the cost of the oth­er. Sometimes I’ll stop car­ing about the end result because I know for a fact that the client will change their mind, and that the men­tal effort and care that I invest will be wast­ed.

    The only con­so­la­tion is that for every reject­ed idea or con­cept that I come up with will be recy­cled into a per­son­al future project. They’re just not smart enough to grasp it yet.

    • As a per­son in mar­ket­ing, I com­plete­ly under­stand that strug­gle between cre­ativ­i­ty and prof­itabil­i­ty in a busi­ness envi­ron­ment, and your atti­tude about it is great. I wish my think­ing was nat­u­ral­ly so opti­mistic.

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