Look Who’s Talking (And Who Isn’t)

Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu used one of his favorite metaphors for being in harmony with the Tao. He challenged us to be like a newborn child; saying that the Master’s power is like the power of a newborn. It is the power you have when you have tapped into your primal identity. Lest anyone be confused on this point, Lao Tzu wasn’t expecting us to re-enter our mother’s womb and be reborn, in order to become a newborn again. He merely listed a few attributes that a newborn has. Attributes which show that a newborn is in perfect harmony with the Tao. And told us that we need to be like that.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu explains to us how to return to our primal identity without having to become a newborn child, again. And his first instruction sounds a lot like, “Sit down and shut up.” It is interesting to me that the more people have to say on any given subject, the more they reveal, not their knowledge on the matter, but their ignorance. While those that know, know better than to talk.

There is a lot we can learn from newborns. They don’t even have the ability to speak. But, I spent enough time with newborns to gaze into their eyes and see a wealth of wisdom hidden somewhere behind them. “What do you know, little one?” But they weren’t talking. I don’t think we quite appreciate newborns enough. Certainly they are wholly dependent on someone to take care of them, but they do seem to have the kind of power to make us want to do just that. At the same time, instead of appreciating them for what they are, we spend the majority of their early development trying to get them to a point where they can walk and talk. And then, when we finally have our own little walkie talkie bounding every which way, we just want them to sit down and shut up.

Sit down and shut up seems fair enough advice for us. If, that is, we want to return to our primal identity. And while we are at it, don’t just close your mouth, block off all your senses. None of a newborn’s senses are that developed, yet. Blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. What is Lao Tzu saying? I think he is talking about all the excess baggage we manage to pick up as we go throughout our lives. There are so many things we have learned. And so many that we would do well to unlearn. Our lives have become a frenzy of activity. Can we be still until our dust settles? Because it will take that, to return to our primal identity.

What is this primal identity? It is to be like the Tao. Since we were newborns, we have become less and less like the Tao. We have lost touch with our true selves. That sharpness which we have gained, the knots we have tied, our hardened glare, all have served to distance ourselves from everyone around us. We have become like an island. One that we think can’t be approached or withdrawn from, benefited or harmed, honored or brought into disgrace. But that isolation isn’t what the Tao is all about. That shell we have built is a tomb. Inside it, our spirit grows older and older.

The Tao truly can’t be approached or withdrawn from, benefited or harmed, honored or brought into disgrace. But this isn’t an expression of isolation from everyone and everything in the Universe. This is an expression of oneness. Of unity. Of harmony.

We built our shell, our prison, out of fear. The reason that the Tao cannot be approached or withdrawn from is because it already contains everything within it. It can’t be benefited or harmed because it already is everything and can lose nothing. The reason it can’t be honored or brought into disgrace is because it can’t have anything more than what it already has. It gives itself up continually, yet, it never is less than what it always has been. That is why it endures.

We need to be like the Tao. And that means, letting the Tao be what it is in us. While you are still a prisoner in that shell you have built around you, look within yourself and find the Tao, just where it always has been. Let the Tao mold and shape you into whatever the Tao wants you to be. You have to be willing to give yourself up continually. You’ll find that outer shell will be gone, and you will once again sense your connectedness to everyone and everything around you. Then you will be like the Tao, again.

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