He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.
The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 55, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Like a Newborn Child
Lao Tzu was certainly fascinated with newborn children. I understand this. I had two of my own, my daughter twenty-six years ago, and my son, twenty-four. Newborns were a wonderful mystery to me. A mystery which Lao Tzu likens to being in harmony with the Tao. I understand that now.
Bones so soft and muscles so weak. But just check out how powerful that grip is. A penis which stands erect, though he doesn’t know anything of the union of male with female. Lao Tzu sees that as a testament of their vital power. But, what I will always remember about my newborn son was how, whenever his grandmother (my mother-in-law), was changing his diaper, he never failed to pee a stream from his changing table, all the way across the room. That woman had seven children of her own, four of them boys; you would think she would have figured out how to avoid that little mishap. But, the mystery didn’t stop there. Both of my newborns, as was the case with the newborns Lao Tzu must have encountered, could scream their heads off all day without ever becoming hoarse. At the time, I never thought of that as a sign of complete harmony with the Tao. Though Lao Tzu insists, that is exactly what it is.
Then he says, the Master’s power is like this.
What a newborn child is demonstrating for us, if we have the eyes to see it, and the ears to hear it, is the innate ability to let all things come and go, effortlessly, and without desire. They never expect results; thus, they never know disappointment. Because they are never disappointed, they have a spirit which never grows old. They simply are. They don’t do anything. They don’t know anything. They don’t expect anything. And, they get everything.
We can’t very well reenter our mother’s womb and become newborns again. But, we can be like newborns. We can draw on that innate power we all have within us. We can cultivate the Tao in our own hearts, and have the Tao, likewise, nurture us; nourishing us, maintaining us, caring for us, comforting us, protecting us; and, in the end, taking us back to itself. This is the love of the Tao we talked about back on Monday, which makes today’s chapter the perfect way to end this week.