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or withdrawn from,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)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu provided us with the example of the newborn to represent the vital power inherent in being in perfect harmony with the Tao. None of us can, nor likely want to, return to being a newborn baby. And this sounds strangely like the story in the Bible of Nicodemus coming to visit Jesus, and asking him what he must do to be saved. Jesus, as you will likely recall, replied that he must be born again. Nicodemus didn’t get it. “How can a man return to his mother’s womb?”
This would seem to be our dilemma. Lao Tzu is wanting us to return to our primal identity. But, the path before us seems impossible. Those who know the answer don’t speak of it. Those that speak of it, don’t know. Oh, come on, now. You have to give us more than that.
Oh, but, he has already said so very much. Stop talking! Let your silence reveal to you what you already know. We gain nothing from blathering on and on. That only serves to further our ignorance. But in our silence, we know as we are known.
No, you aren’t going to physically be born again. That is impossible. Still, you can return to your primal identity. And, return you will. It all begins as you close your mouth. Did Lao Tzu just tell me to sit down and shut up? Yes, I think he did.
But, don’t stop with just your mouth. Block off all your senses. Now that, perhaps, sounds 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. That is why we are 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. What does Lao Tzu mean by that? Have I really been too sharp? Too keen? I was just blathering on, just a little bit ago. Perhaps, this returning to the primal identity will require a certain dullness.
Untie your knots. Okay, yes, knots I understand. We tie knots as 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 to hold 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. Now, wait for the dust to settle. Wait for it. Wait for it.
This is your primal identity.
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.
It 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 itself up continually. And, always enduring.