“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.
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.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
That powerful grip, evolutionary biologists will tell you, is a vestige of our primate inheritance. When we lived in the trees—and when we were hairy—and needed free hands to move from branch to branch, we would have needed a way to hold onto infants—or they would have needed a way to hold onto us. A baby death-grip on the hair of his mother’s belly is pretty adaptive in such circumstances.
Without that powerful grip, it’s hard to imagine how we would survive, let alone achieve a good grasp of reality itself. As we grow, that physical clinging becomes mental and emotional clinging, and over time, our greatest asset becomes our greatest liability. Once we fall out of the garden of the eternal present—don’t forget that Eve grasps the fatal fruit—and become aware of time and death, we begin trying to get a grip on the future in the form of expectations. To let go of expectations is to come to grips with reality in an entirely different sense.
The first half of life is getting a grip. This is easy, since biology and culture program us for it. The second half is letting it go. This is hard, because you can only do it on your own, and it is not a matter of doing.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”