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or withdrawn from,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)
We talked yesterday about the lesson to be learned from observing newborns. I said they were in their primal state. This is what Lao Tzu is wanting us to return to. And, probably because I was raised in a Christian home, I can’t help but identify with Nicodemus and his encounter with Jesus, one dark night.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Nicodemus was a religious leader of his day. He found himself intrigued by the things Jesus was saying and doing. But, he didn’t dare come to Jesus by the light of day. That would betray his religious community. So, he goes under the shadow of darkness, to try to gain wisdom and understanding from this radical young rabbi. Jesus, perhaps a little annoyed that he was being bothered during his off duty hours, told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Nicodemus was bewildered by this statement. “How can a man reenter his mother’s womb and be reborn?”
I think of that, because we all perhaps have the same question concerning Lao Tzu’s example of the newborn. “How can I return to this primal state?” Jesus, in replying to Nicodemus’ bewilderment wonders how a religious leader, who is tasked with explaining to the people how, doesn’t know himself.
Thankfully, Lao Tzu, offers us a little more understanding of what I called the primal state; what he, today, refers to as the primal identity. And he starts, much like Jesus, with a little jab at those who think they know. “Those who know, don’t talk. Those who talk, don’t know.”
If I was even a little intelligent here, I would know it is best to stop talking right now. That is the starting point, if I want to return to the primal identity. Stop talking! Close your mouth.
But don’t just stop with your mouth. Block off all your senses. That may sound counter-intuitive at first. How am I supposed to learn anything, if I am not able to observe with my senses? But, this isn’t about acquiring more information. We already know. Or, at least we would find that we already know, if we will just be silent. The point of blocking off all our senses is to prevent our inner spirit from being bombarded by all the stimuli around us. Stop the distractions.
You need to blunt your sharpness. Wait a minute. Have I really been too sharp? Too keen? I have been blathering on. Perhaps, this returning to the primal identity will require a certain dullness.
Untie your knots. Knots. They are markers, placeholders. Just like the proverbial question of what do you do when you are at the end of your rope? You tie a knot, and hold on. But, Lao Tzu is turning that advice on its head. He isn’t wanting us holding on. He is wanting us to let go. Untie those knots, and let go.
Soften your glare. This, I believe, is referring to your countenance. Is it rigid? Hard? You haven’t really let go, until you have let go of all the rigidity and hardness in your body. Soften it. Let it go.
And…plop…. You are grounded. But, you aren’t quite there yet. Wait for it. Wait for the dust to settle.
This is your primal identity.
So, what was the point of this little exercise? What are we trying to achieve? What we want is to be like the Tao. And, you accomplish that, not by becoming, but by simply being.
The Tao can’t be approached or withdrawn from. It can’t be benefited or harmed. It can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. Look inside yourself. You’ll see it for yourself.
But, it isn’t about becoming anything. It is about being everything. And, nothing. Giving yourself up, continually. And, always enduring.