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or withdrawn from,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)
I have been so cut off from the outside world, the last few days. Not having internet, my only means for knowledge of what is going on out there, has provided me with quite the vacation from the world of illusion. At first, I was angry and out of sorts. My routine was entirely thrown off. Now, I am beginning to actually like my vacation, just a little. As much as I can’t wait to have the internet up and working again, I can’t help but feel a certain dread that I will sink back into that routine, my comfort zone. Thankfully, just a day before the internet decided to inexplicably quit on me, I had downloaded a book that I have been meaning to read since I was a Freshman in college. That would be back in the early 80’s, long before a lot of you were even a part of this world. Someone, sorry, I don’t remember which one of you on tumblr it was, had posted some quotes from it that I found very enticing. They made me quickly log into the iBooks store and search for and download the book on my iPad. The book is “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and it has been occupying much of my time for the last few days.
We don’t realize just how entrenched in routine and comfort zones we are, until we are forced out of them. I have been able to keep up with my daily Tao quote. Largely because I can type at my computer without needing an internet connection, and I can always run with my laptop to Hardees, the closest wifi spot available to me, a mile or so away. I can then log on, and post my blog post, respond to any messages and then leave again. Twenty minutes every day. That is it. I want more. I used to think I need more. I still think I do.
The last two paragraphs should suffice to explain my absence from liking and reblogging your own posts from my dashboard the last few days. I know I have been missing out on a lot of great content; just because the blogs I follow are all quality. I miss you guys. And hope to be able to reconnect with you soon.
But none of that has anything to do with today’s chapter. Which I will presume to begin discussing now. Yesterday, Lao Tzu presented us with the tale of the newborn’s erect penis. In the past, I have simply ignored that part of the chapter, kind of wishing it to go away. But see what happens when my comfort zone and routine have been made topsy-turvy? I begin to go places I never dared to go before.
And, as we continue with today’s chapter, I realize that I am understanding better, why it is that Lao Tzu chose to go there in the first place. Oh, I understood why he was enamored with the newborn. He was wanting us to want to return to our own primal identity. But I didn’t understand that making me want to go there, would mean confronting what had always proved to be an uncomfortable thing to have to acknowledge. Newborns do that to you. They force you to think about things you never wanted to think about before. Like why is his penis erect? And what does Lao Tzu mean by vital power?
See, I have already said so much; and yet, I think I have really said so little. Lao Tzu begins this chapter by saying those who know don’t talk. And those who talk don’t know. Have I learned nothing?
But there really is a point to all of this. And the point is our need to be like the Tao. To return to our primal identity. If we are going to do that we are simply going to have to shut our mouths. We really talk too much. I know I do. But you don’t learn by talking. You learn by listening. By observing.
But then, what is this, block off your senses? But if my senses are blocked off, how am I supposed to observe? To learn?
But then I get it. The point of shutting my mouth isn’t to acquire more knowledge. If I talk because I don’t know, the reason to shut my mouth is because I do know. We don’t need to acquire more knowledge. That isn’t the point. We have a lot to unlearn. The newborn isn’t observing. Learning. No, not really. The newborn just is.
I am convinced of this now. I have been too sharp, too keen. If I am going to get back to my primal identity, I need to blunt my sharpness. I need to untie my knots. What are knots? Knots are those places along the way where he have made marks. Placeholders. We have all heard the joke about what you do when you are at the end of your rope. You tie a knot and hold on. But Lao Tzu has the opposite advice for us. We have lots of knots that we have tied along the way; and each and everyone of them need to be untied.
We need to soften our glare and allow our dust to settle. That glare is due to our determination to forge ahead. We see the prize just ahead, and we dig in, intent on reaching the goal. But Lao Tzu is wanting us to stop with this going forward. He is wanting us to return to the beginning, again. And wait for the dust to settle. Now, you are there. Now you are back at the beginning, the primal identity.
That is where the newborn is. They know nothing, and everything. Just like the Tao. It isn’t something that can be approached or withdrawn from. It just is. That is where Lao Tzu wants us. We just are. Nothing more, and nothing less. You can’t be benefited, or harmed. You just are. You can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. You just are.
And this is important. This last line about the Tao giving itself up continually. Lao Tzu says that is why it endures. And a part of me says that I want to endure too. If I want to endure, this is the path I must take. But I am putting the cart before the horse. The goal isn’t to endure. That isn’t why the Tao does what it does. It doesn’t give itself up continually so that it will endure. It endures because it gives itself up continually.
It is ever so subtle. But that is what Lao Tzu means by vital power. As long as I am still thinking about what is in it for me, I am not there yet.