Your message began with a quotation from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

“The guru helps you in the eradication of ignorance. The ego is a very powerful elephant and cannot be brought under control by anyone less than a lion, who is none other than the guru, whose very look makes the elephant tremble and die.”

The first thing to say—just in case it’s not obvious!—is that I’m no guru, and I’m therefore quite unable to solve your problem with no more than a mortal glance! I would point out, in the second place, that the Maharshi’s analogy is almost certainly elliptical, for however paradoxical it may seem, the “I” must be more than merely passive in its own demise. While it’s true that “I” myself am the problem, “I” must nonetheless desire “my” own death and must strive to bring it about, and this desiring and striving “I” is a no less essential part of the alchemy than the guru himself. In the Maharshi’s words, the guruhelps [my italics] you in the eradication of ignorance”, but he doesn’t simply do it for you, lion though he may be to your elephant.

Or in an equivalent Orthodox formulation: “Without God man can do nothing, but without man God will do nothing” (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware).

In any case, to come to the specific problem you pose, you ask “how to practice wu wei or kenosis through the will if the will belongs to the ego”, or again “how to achieve non-doing through trying not to do”, and you rightly note that “this dilemma is something that sooner or later shows up” in the spiritual Way. Indeed just a few days ago I had a message from another correspondent who has found himself seemingly trapped in the same aporia, struggling to pass (in Zen terms) through the same Gateless Gate. My counsel to him was that he try looking outward, away from himself and his troubles—outward and upward toward God through His Name. Invoking this Name as much as possible is always the right thing to do; indeed, it is the very best of acts and, in the final analysis, the only thing we can “do”. For it is the only doing in which “our” act dissolves in God’s.

The dilemma you speak of stems at least in part from an excessive, and one may even say narcissistic, self-examination and self-questioning, which are just as paralyzing as the parameters of Zeno’s paradox: as long as I remain confined by a purely analytical inspection of the task before me—an analysis which tells me that I’m unable to traverse a full distance until I have first traversed half, nor this half before half of that, etc.—I will be stuck in place, unable to take even the very first step toward my goal. In the same way, as long as I keep recycling the thought that “I” am the problem, but that “I” am precisely the one who is thinking and lamenting the fact that “I” am the problem, etc., I will remain locked in my egoism, a prisoner in a dungeon to which I alone hold the key.

The “key” in this case is to suspend analysis and to stop looking in the rear view mirror of the self so as to see where “I” am or how well “I” am doing. One must resolve to turn one’s attention—two or three times every second, if necessary!—away from oneself and toward God. In Sufic terms, this means looking away from the dhakir (the invoker) toward the Madhkur (the Invoked) through the dhikr (the invocation). But if this is to happen, the “adult’s” analytical proclivities must give way before the “child’s” contentment with synthesis. This in part is why our authorities so often stress the importance of cultivating a heart that delights in “little things” and why we are told that the rigors of Abstention and Action must be balanced by the gentleness of Peace and Trust.

I realize full well, of course, that this “key” as such is no solution, for it’s no less susceptible than any other collection of words to the ego’s manipulation and can easily be transformed into a means of deepening even further our sense of paralysis. In fact this is precisely what the ego will do, inevitably, as long as what I have called “contentment with synthesis” remains a mere prescription for an action anticipated but as yet not engaged in. At some point—and for some people it can happen only in a moment of intense frustration or even despair—you are simply going to have to give up the vain hope of understanding how spiritual things work, and just let them work.

How does one engage in wu wei?. How does one do without doing? Answer: By doing it and not asking how! I’m reminded of a Zen story. A monk asked the roshi, “We have to dress and eat every day. How do we escape from that?” The roshi replied, “We dress, we eat.” “I do not understand,” the monk persisted. “Then put on your clothes and have your breakfast!”

I pray these poor words may be of some little help.