• Trying Not to Try

  • The Art and Science of Spontaneity
  • By: Edward Slingerland
  • Narrated by: Marc Cashman
  • Length: 8 hrs and 52 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (175 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity - an ancient Chinese ideal that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand - and why it is so essential to our well-being.

Why is it always hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian whose jokes fall flat or an athlete who chokes? In all of these cases, striving seems to backfire.

In Trying Not To Try, Edward Slingerland explains why we find spontaneity so elusive, and shows how early Chinese thought points the way to happier, more authentic lives. We’ve long been told that the way to achieve our goals is through careful reasoning and conscious effort. But recent research suggests that many aspects of a satisfying life, like happiness and spontaneity, are best pursued indirectly. The early Chinese philosophers knew this, and they wrote extensively about an effortless way of being in the world, which they called wu-wei (ooo-way). They believed it was the source of all success in life, and they developed various strategies for getting it and hanging on to it.

With clarity and wit, Slingerland introduces us to these thinkers and the marvelous characters in their texts, from the butcher whose blade glides effortlessly through an ox to the wood carver who sees his sculpture simply emerge from a solid block. Slingerland uncovers a direct line from wu-wei to the Force in Star Wars, explains why wu-wei is more powerful than flow, and tells us what it all means for getting a date. He also shows how new research reveals what’s happening in the brain when we’re in a state of wu-wei - why it makes us happy and effective and trustworthy, and how it might have even made civilization possible.

Through stories of mythical creatures and drunken cart riders, jazz musicians and Japanese motorcycle gangs, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to show us how we can live more fulfilling lives. Trying Not To Try is mind-expanding and deeply pleasurable, the perfect antidote to our striving modern culture.

©2014 Edward Slingerland (P)2014 Random House Audio

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What listeners say about Trying Not to Try

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    5 out of 5 stars

Another X-Ray Through the Crystal of Being Human

Strongly resonated with me, and have me a glimpse into Chinese philosophy and worldview. Gave me permission to relax more and let things just happen.

5 people found this helpful

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Description misleading

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The history of Chinese philosophy is no doubt interesting and I enjoyed learning about these thinkers. But the book falls far short of the mark when it comes to practical applications for contemporary life. In addition, I found it deeply strange the amount of times dating strategies are mentioned; the author even addresses "The System"and "The Rules".

What could Edward Slingerland have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Made the book a more even split between philosophy and practical advice.

What does Marc Cashman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He reads with a sense of humor that made the long summaries of history more enjoyable.

Do you think Trying Not to Try needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

Not really, it just wasn't interesting enough for me to justify reading another book by Slingerland.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but not as anticipated

An entertaining examination of ancient Chinese philosophy, but not the manual for spontaneity it advertises itself as. Quite a few passages and points that will make you stop and think, but ultimately leaves you with more questions than answers.

2 people found this helpful

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Interesting...at first-then-too much history

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Well spent-but he goes into way too much historical detail and lost me towards the end. The history of the Chinese philosophers is great-but it becomes nothing but a history lesson and does not really offer practical advice for harnessing "flow"

Would you listen to another book narrated by Marc Cashman?

probably not

Could you see Trying Not to Try being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

no

Any additional comments?

less academia and a little more practical advice on uses would be more helpful

2 people found this helpful

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excellent discussion of ancient Chinese philosophy

excellent discussion of the truth-bits of ancient Chinese philosophy and contemporary science to support it.

1 person found this helpful

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delightful-more history blended with science

I didn't know what to expect from this book but I found myself pleasantly surprised, engrossed and have discovered a new interest in ancient Chinese religious philosophy
I thought it was going to be a pop science book. the first chapeter or two makes you think "this is going to turn into a weird self help book"
but then it doesn't and it's a fascinating ride through various Chinese philosophies with occasional side bars into neuroscience. highly recommend

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This is more a case for atheism than anything else

I know more about why the author champions hedonistic secular humanism than I do about the subject the book is supposed to be about. While he says early on that he will not offer ten easy steps to achieve a state of not trying, a good deal of time is spent attempting to debunk any and all religious viewpoints. If he is not a believer, that's fine, he can continue to worship evolution on his own time, but he is intellectually dishonest in trying to smuggle in athiest dogma under a false premise.

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GREAT foray into a classic paradox

This book is a detailed, fascinating, well researched discussion of how we can remedy an ages old philosophical paradox.

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gave me words to explain my life experience

I've been struggling to provide verbal structure in socially relevant situations.
This book has crystalized how I make sense of the world, utilizing my acquired and created models of thought.

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Disappointing

What would have made Trying Not to Try better?

It goes on and on about how wonderful it is to go with the flow, but it doesn't really have any easy answers. It's not easy.

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  • David Kinsella
  • 12-30-19

Oo-Wei?

Why does the narrator pronounce Wu Wei as Oo Wei? it's really distracting. I've never heard anyone pronounce it like that. It shouldn't be a big deal, but it knocks my concentration off as he says it over and over.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-20-20

a lovely paradox

Wu Wei is such an interesting concept. i found myself nodding along to the information so it must have resonated with me. I think everyone has experienced the act of over trying or not living your truth, and understand it leads to a sort of discontentment. Though not a stranger to Wu Wei, it's always nice to listen to it being analysed.

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  • david
  • 09-21-16

Very enjoyable

it's a good mind twister. and sometimes when all thoughts are exhausted you find yourself at zero and that's where I find my best work.
Thank you

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  • nonrachitect
  • 01-31-19

Eastern philosophy meets Western science

I’ve been a fan of this professor as I took his online course. Little did I know that the book is actually better than the course. Unlike most academic books which are boring and dry, this book is entertaining, informative and witty. I couldn’t put it down and listened to the whole book in one go. Recommend!!

2 people found this helpful