Dao Du Jour, Day 64: Step Zero

Chapter 64

“The journey of a thousand miles

starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.

Trying to grasp things, you lose them.”

~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.


This first line—one of the most quoted in the text—is often translated differently: not “from beneath your feet,” but “with a single step.” I cannot speak to which translation is more accurate, but I sense the way in which the latter gloss is appropriated, particularly in the start-up culture in which Lao-Tzu is, paradoxically, a patron saint, turns the meaning of the phrase on its head. It centers the goal, rather than the ground. It is too easily grafted onto “move fast and break things.”

While the courage to take the first step is crucial, what matters more is that it’s a step in the right direction. The second line supports this idea. The first step is folly if the final one is in the wrong place. The most important step is not the one you take with your feet, but with your mind. The most important step is not step one, but step zero.

Step zero is being rooted in the ground. Being rooted in the ground means knowing that it’s the precisely the same place you’ll be at the end of any journey, that the grass there is always going to be as green as the grass here. Only then can you walk freely and see your goal clearly, for what it is: a future ground. Only then can you see each place in double/exposure, as both ground and goal, to be able to make the gestalt shift between figure and ground with ease.

If you don’t take step zero, all your movement will be furious haste, and you will never really arrive at where you’re going.


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