It is because he is thus free from striving that therefore no one in the world is able to strive with him.
- Lao-Tse, Tao Te Ching 
Sometimes I feel like hiding from the world. The Pacific Northwest corner I call home has been veiled in smoke from long-burning fires in California, Montana and B.C. for much of the summer. Every morning, I check an air quality app just to see if it’s safe to spend the day outside. Then there’s the news. From natural disasters to equally inhospitable political climates, the news leaves me informed but depressed. Looking around, the planet feels like it’s suffering, and at times I feel that way, too. How about you?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by forces beyond our immediate, individual control—surrounded by battles that seem impossible to win. It makes sense, wanting to retreat.
What I propose is reframing it not as retreating from, but retreating to: to a place blissfully free of overcommitted schedules, overextended energies, and constant media attention. A place where we can put ourselves back together after our nerve-racking world has shaken us apart. A place of solace, after having hitched our hearts to the things we thought would keep us buoyed in the storm of life—our health, our family, plans to buy a home or travel—only to be battered in the turbulent waters anyway, and to lose one or more of the things we were banking on. A place where the stress in our lives won’t overtax our nervous systems, or hide the joys that fill the spaces between our real and imagined crises. When we’re laser-focused on what’s hard, it’s difficult to see the good. And none of us can afford that.
Retreating to means finding your own space to experience the calm that returns our hearts, minds and bodies to equilibrium. It can mean literally escaping for a few days to a cabin in the woods, a shack on a remote shore, or a private “do not disturb” room in our own house—all of which can help us retreat to that quiet place in ourselves. Reading a book when there’s work to be done. Taking a slow, lavender-scented bath and staying in for the night instead of a quick shower before bolting out the door. Trying something slower, simpler, even if it feels boring at first.
When I spent a month in China with my husband a few years ago, we learned about the Taoist concept and spiritual practice of wu wei. Literally translated as “no action” or “without effort,” it’s perhaps best understood as “effortless action” in which one moves through life in a natural way, without attempting to control or force a situation. One becomes fluid like water, and just as yielding and adaptive. A passage from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, or The Book of the Way and of Virtue, uses the metaphor of water to express the concept:
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao. 
The concept of doing through non-striving has been written about for millennia, as attested by the Tao Te Ching. I myself was introduced to wu wei in China in terms of tai chi. Originally conceived as a martial art and still practiced as such, it’s now especially known across the world for its slow, fluid movements that provide exercise as well as physical calming and mental clarity. It’s a practice that walks the middle path, where good health lies.
Movement and exercise are necessary for health, but pushing ourselves to the extreme—as I used to do as a professional long-distance mountain biker—can be hard on and even damaging to our bodies (just ask my arthritis-ridden left shoulder). It sounds like an extreme example, but how many of us aren’t currently preoccupied with some pain or stressor or worry that’s taking a physical and mental toll? Are we at war with our bodies, our neighbors, our coworkers? Perhaps it’s a sign that we need to hit the reset button, and practicing non-striving can do that.
Whether we are suffering with an ailment, anxiety or the general exhaustion of keeping the machine of our lives running, we can retreat to that still place in us where resilience dwells. Sometimes when we stop trying so hard, we return to ourselves. Things get easier. And better.
Where do you go and what do you do to find stillness? If it's hard to find the calm within, escaping to a quiet place for the weekend can be a good first step. Here are some of my favorite retreats in the Pacific Northwest:
Locharie Resort, Lake Quinault
Shi Shi Beach, Neah Bay
Doe Bay Resort, Orcas Island
Snowgrass Lodge, Leavenworth
Chatter Creek Campground
 Lao-Tse, Tao Te Ching, Tr. James Legge (BN Publishing, 2007). Viewable here.
 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, trans. By Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English (New York: Vintage Books, 1972) chapter 8, 1-3. I also like this very different translation from Derek Lin’s Tao Te Ching: Annotated and Explained (SkyLight Paths; 1st edition, 2006).
Photos: Top: J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812; Second: Personal photo of the Naerofjord in Gudvangen, Norway; Third: Personal photo of Wedge Mountain, Leavenworth, WA.