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It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu pointed at a newborn child, as a metaphor for someone in harmony with the Tao. I said, “Lao Tzu certainly doesn’t expect us to reenter our mother’s womb, and be born again” in order to be in harmony with the Tao. But, Lao Tzu isn’t quite finished with thinking of newborns, with today’s chapter; and, he IS expecting us to return to our primal identity.
Our primal identity is the way we have always been. It is like being a newborn again, because it is a return to the way we were, right from the beginning. But, how do we return to this state? We already said it is physically impossible.
As Lao Tzu opens the chapter, he does seem to be thinking of newborns, when he says those who know don’t talk. I remember, very well, when my own children, now 25 and 23 years old, were newborns. I remember looking into their eyes. There seemed to be some hidden knowledge there. But, they weren’t talking. By the time they were old enough to talk, all that knowledge seems to have been lost. Those who talk don’t know.
That is mysterious talk, pure conjecture on my own part. But it is, still, one more lesson we can learn from newborns. If we want to return to our primal identity we can begin by closing our mouths. And, while we are at it, block off all of our senses. In newborns, the senses aren’t completely developed yet. Over the course of time, those are refined. Soon, we are relying more and more on our senses.
I think we get further and further away from relying on the Tao as we rely more and more on our senses. Remember, our senses can only tell us the way things seem to be. They tell us about the finite and temporal reality. But, returning to the primal identity gets us tapping into the infinite and eternal reality. That is the reality I think newborns are actually in touch with. But, they aren’t talking.
Newborns know and understand something intuitively. They know, and understand, they can rely on Mother. They know who gave birth to them, who nourishes them, who maintains and cares for them, who comforts and protects them. They know, if they scream loud enough, and long enough, Mother will take them back to herself. That is what the Tao does for all of us; but no screaming is ever required.
We now think we have come such a long way from when we were newborns. Who can remember so far back? We, now, fully rely on our senses, and have forgotten how to rely on the Tao. We have sharpened our skills, becoming quite acute in our presumed knowledge. We are independent now. No longer do we need mother to care for us. So many milestones have been logged in our lives. We tie a knot for each one. Here, is where I first sat up, when I rolled over for the first time, when I started crawling, when I stood up, when I took my first step. Then, I began talking. And, I have never shut up, since. Gee, is that when I stopped knowing? But, I still wasn’t finished logging milestones, tying knots. First day in school. Graduated from school. Got a job. Got married. Had a couple of super duper children. So many knots. And, with age, my glare hardened. I kept rushing ahead, faster and faster. Never letting the dust settle beneath my feet.
If I am going to return to my primal identity, to the way I have always been, the way I was from the beginning, I have a lot of unlearning and undoing to do.
It is time to close my mouth, to block off all my senses, to blunt my sharpness, to untie those knots, to soften my glare, and to be still. Take a step back, and let the dust settle. That is what I have been doing for the last, going on, four years now.
Oh, the things I have unlearned! And, the things I have undone!
I have been asked, before, to try and explain it all. Ah, but those who know don’t talk. And, those who talk don’t know. I am not just being coy; you really do have to experience it for yourself. My journey is my own. There are infinite ways your own journey may be. Don’t limit yourself to my way. Yours will be infinitely better.
Just, be like the Tao. That is what I came to understand. It can’t be approached or withdrawn from. What does that mean? Is the Tao standoffish? No. It means the Tao is present. You can’t approach it, for it is already within you. You can’t withdraw from it, because it remains within you. And, it can’t be benefited or harmed. What can you do for it? What can you do against it? I laugh out loud at a lot more things, than I used to. For I understand just how impervious I am, to both benefit and harm. Things are the way they are. I just go with the flow. Just let things come and go, without effort, without desire. This was only hard, before, because I made it hard. The Tao can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. And, neither can I. I don’t expect results, so I am never disappointed. The Tao gives itself up continually; that is why it endures. And, I just keep on giving myself up continually, too. I simply go with the flow of the Tao, having no will of my own. Mother takes care of me. Mother will always take care of me. I will endure.