Dao Du Jour: Day 23

Chapter 23

“Express yourself completely,

then keep quiet.”

A psychological formula I quite like goes something like this: “what you do not express you will repress, and what you repress will cause distress.” Not just in you, but in others—in small, subtle, osmotic ways.

If we do not express ourselves, we may keep quiet on the outside, but we will face the blowback of noise on the inside. A silenced signal breeds noise that gnaws on us until we explode. Better to express on our own terms, rather than the terms of our repressed feelings.

The chapter casts this in terms of trust and openness: “Open yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place.” It means trusting—both that our thoughts and feelings are legitimate and deserve to be, and that however much we might fear letting them out into the world, they belong there.

An exchange between the dancers Agnes DeMille and Martha Graham illustrates this:

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Express yourself completely, so that you may find quiet within.

New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”

What Do You Think?