Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?
Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter ten, translation by Stephen MItchell)
Yesterday’s chapter ended with Lao Tzu telling us that we were going to have to take a step back after doing our work. It is that stepping back which is the only path to serenity. As long as we insist on more, on doing more, on being more, we will never experience serenity. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins with six rhetorical questions designed to explain the virtue of taking that step back.
I read through these six questions and I begin to think, “Wait, maybe this isn’t going to be so easy to put into practice.” How my mind likes to wander. Can I coax it from its wandering? Actually, I can. And, I constantly have to do so. Because, to be completely honest with you, my mind still wanders. Even after going through these chapters over and over again, I still find my mind wandering. That original oneness is lost to me while my mind wanders. I don’t even notice it, at first. Suddenly, it hits me. It doesn’t do any good to beat myself up when that happens. It happens to all of us. Minds wander. That is the human condition. But we can coax our minds back from their wandering. That is something we do when we take a step back. We need to take a break from our work. We need to pause, to reflect, and to gently coax our minds.
The mind is easy. So what, it wanders; but, just as easily I coax it back. That is what I am thinking as I get to question number two. Now, Lao Tzu is talking about our bodies. And this seems infinitely harder to put into practice. How can I get my body as supple as a newborn child’s? But, I have it all backwards. I don’t have to do anything to my body. That isn’t what he is talking about. He said, can you let it become supple? It isn’t up to me to make my body supple. I just need to let it become that way. It helps to understand that the newborn child’s suppleness is a metaphor. And, he isn’t talking about physical softness. He is talking about a body that moves with the Tao, effortlessly. Our only responsibility is to let our bodies respond to the movement of the Tao. To not put up resistance. To let our bodies become supple.
Now, Lao Tzu is talking about cleansing our inner vision and seeing nothing but the light. This is giving your heart a bath. Just like the mind is prone to wandering, your heart is prone to getting sullied. That inner vision? It starts to get muddied. We forget where it is we want to go. We need to open our hearts to the Tao. Let it wash over us. You aren’t clean until you see nothing but the light.
Heart. Mind. Body. What else is there? Well, part of learning to master ourselves is how we deal with others. Can we love them and lead them without imposing our will? This is where the nitty meets the gritty. Lao Tzu is training would be leaders. We will have chapter after chapter devoted to this. What does it really mean to love people and lead them? Can you do it without imposing your will? Or, is imposing your will, really the antithesis to loving and leading?
We need to check our need to control, both others and circumstances, at the door. All that need to control is only going to ensure that our lives are forever out of control. Even when we are talking about the most vital of matters, we need to let go of our need to be in control. We need to let events take their course.
I know, I know, this is sounding not very easy; in fact, kind of hard, right now. But, that is exactly why we need to take a step back when our day’s work is done. We need to take a step back from our own mind and come to a place where we can understand all things. Lao Tzu says this is the supreme virtue. It is the “Te” in Tao Te Ching. Giving birth and nourishing. Having without possessing. Acting without expectation. Leading without trying to control. I don’t think I ever said it was going to be easy. But, if it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be the supreme virtue.