He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.
The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 55, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I encouraged you to lend your voices to the chorus of all beings in the Universe; until the Universe is singing in perfect harmony. It was about how we, as individuals, have the power to let the Tao be present in our lives, in our families, in our neighborhoods, communities, and countries; indeed, in the whole Universe. We have that kind of power. In fact, I am convinced it is only us, individuals, that have that kind of power. If we will just let it happen, we can be in harmony with the Tao.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues talking about the kind of power that being in harmony with the Tao wields. He begins with another of his favorite metaphors. When he isn’t telling us to be like water, he tells us to be like a newborn child. Both are apt metaphors for being in harmony with the Tao. Their strength is in their weakness. When Lao Tzu talks about water, he often mentions its humility; and, how it yields. Water is a good metaphor for how to be like. But I think Lao Tzu points at newborns because he wants to give us something human to relate to.
We cannot remember being a newborn child; but, we all started out as one. And, the vast majority of us will encounter newborn children again and again throughout our lives. Whenever I have been with a newborn child, I could not help but think about how we all began. That is our primal identity. In perfect harmony with the Tao.
But, just in case you doubt this, Lao Tzu explains how it is that a newborn child expresses complete harmony with the Tao. Anyone who has been in the position of caregiver for a newborn can attest to this. I had two children of my own. I certainly remember. Their bones are soft, their muscles are weak; but check out how powerful their grip is. While they know nothing about the union of male and female, that penis stands erect; a sign of the intensity of their vital power. They can scream their little heads off all day (and all night); yet, they never do become hoarse. That, Lao Tzu insists, points out how perfectly complete is their harmony with the Tao.
When Lao Tzu says that the Master’s power is like this, he is saying this is what your power is like; if you will let it be. It is the power to let all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. Not interfering, not striving, not trying to hold on to something that is fleeting, not trying to reach out for something that isn’t yours. That is power, my friends. Real power. It is the power to act without expectations. And, because your life is free of expectations, it is also free of disappointments. And, when you are never disappointed, your spirit will never grow old.
We have been conditioned to believe that true power is the power to take what you want, when you want. But everyone that has ever wielded that kind of power has had their spirit grow old, wither, and die. Lao Tzu sees a much greater power at work in the newborn child. The power to be at one with the whole Universe. The power of being in perfect harmony with the Tao. The spirit of a newborn never grows old.
It isn’t the kind of power that is craved. Craving is the antithesis to this kind of power. And, so-called powerful men and women want nothing of it. I think they actually fear it. But then, the kind of power they desire is something they never can have enough of. And, we have it, inside of us, each and every one of us that have ever been newborns. If we will only look inside ourselves for it. I hear all the time that there is strength in numbers. And, I suppose that is true to a point. But the power of a newborn is the power of one. And that is the greatest power, right there.