When carrying on your head your perplexed bodily soul
can you embrace in your arms the One
And not let go?
In concentrating your breath can you become as supple
As a babe?
Can you polish your mysterious mirror
And leave no blemish?
Can you love the people and govern the state
Without resorting to action?
When the gates of heaven open and shut
Are you capable of keeping to the role of the female?
When your discernment penetrates the four quarters
Are you capable of not knowing anything?
Embrace in my arms the One, and not let go portrays, for me, the characteristics of graceful living. I’m often tempted to go to one extreme or the other. My perplexed bodily soul pushes me to react impulsively, which becomes increasingly tiresome. I’m finding greater peace now that I’m more serious about remembering this pitfall that awaits me. Instead of using my discernment to penetrate the four quarters, I keep my gaze inward where all my troubles begin, and where I have the best chance of nipping them in the bud. It is easy to deal with a situation before symptoms develop [see ch. 64].
I notice that when I get sucked into passionate moments—emotional highs or lows—my breath becomes uneven and shallow as I tense up. Backing off and breathing deeply helps extinguish some of the fire.
The gates of heaven open and shut all the time—birth and death (changes) are continuous, but usually not at the scale which grabs my attention. When I am grabbed, I easily lose it and instinctively overreact. Keeping a continuous awareness of the little gates of heaven opening and shutting brings me in line with nature. I move slower with more care…Tentative, as if fording a river in winter [see ch. 15]. Then, the big gates can’t knock me off balance. Of course there is always room for improvement, but at least now I KNOW.
Being conscious—polishing my mysterious mirror—without the blemish of passing judgment, is one of the first lines of defense against over-reacting to circumstances. How I judge the external world determines the nature of my interaction with it. Only when I’m capable of not knowing anything can I set my self-centricity, and the judgments that arise from it, aside.
I once thought enlightenment was when discernment penetrates the four quarters. This egocentric notion had my SELF at the center achieving enlightenment. As I come full circle, I see what true enlightenment, or at least a Taoist sense of such, is. I know this mystery only when I’m capable of not knowing anything.
The more I attempt to keep a mirror clean, the more noticeable the blemishes become. This is the futile folly of pursuing an idealized perfection. I have two choices in life—I can either strive to make my world perfect, or see the world perfect. The latter is much easier, until I must face a side of reality (painful, or course) which goes against what I desire.
Not knowing anything is really a natural result of my discernment penetrating the four quarters. Moreover, it doesn’t really appear to be a matter of how much raw data/information I know. A sense of infinite not anything (void) is always there awaiting me when I let go of knowing what I know. Use the light, but give up the discernment [see ch. 52]. This reminds me of Buddha’s Eight (and final) Step: Right Concentration.
What is the One? I know that whenever I can put the One into words, I start carrying it on my head. It isn’t the answer that I need to embrace in my arms, and not let go, but the question. Returning to the question keeps me alive to true reality—The name that can be named Is not the constant name[see ch. 1]. The question is reality, the answer is illusionary, and soon leads back to the question… The great image has no shape [see ch. 41].
It gives them life and rears them.
It gives them life yet claims no possession;
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
It is the steward yet exercises no authority.
Such is called the mysterious virtue.
Living without expectations doesn’t come naturally. No matter how much I have, I always seem to desire more. It’s the instinct that keeps me moving forward. But, the tragedy of this is that when I’m looking ahead to what I can get out of life I miss out on what I have; appreciation is beyond my reach. I have to deliberately seek mysterious virtue. All I need do is pay attention to my instincts and go the other way, or at least slow my rush forward. Turning back is how the way moves [see ch. 40].
When I really enjoy life, its process is enough. I’m less likely to exact gratitude or claim possession as a reward for my actions. The quality of life’s action isn’t the type of action, but what I expect from it—my motivation. If I’m looking for gratitude, then I’m only really seeking self benefit. If I enjoy being the authority, I’m not a true steward.