Chapter 55: Signs of the Mysterious
Being full of power
is like being a baby.
Scorpions don’t sting,
tigers don’t attack,
eagles don’t strike.
Soft bones, weak muscles,
but a firm grasp.
~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)
The instant popularity of Baby Yoda in Disney’s Mandalorian series is easy to understand. He fascinates us for the same reason Yoda did; he’s a tiny muppet that is more powerful than any Jedi. But he’s also a baby. A baby strong in the force is not something we’ve ever seen in the Star Wars universe. The combination—a creature endowed with prodigious power yet almost completely innocent and ignorant of its potential—is impossible to resist. And the contrast with his protector, Mando, only amplifies the effect: Mando is constantly clad in protective armor from head to toe.
When we exercise, the thermodynamics are straightforward and entropic: you start with a certain level of energy, you move your body around, and you spend that energy; afterward you feel wiped, exhausted, thrashed, and you need food and rest to restore your energy levels. Yoga is different. It is not so much exercise as exorcism.
A good yoga teacher will tease you if she sees you trying too hard, straining to hold a pose mimicking some beautiful dead person on the cover of a wellness magazine. In yoga, the mental and physical orientation is the opposite of conventional exercise. The challenge is not to exert, but to revert.
In a typical yoga class, you are almost guaranteed to adopt three basic poses before the end of the session: child’s pose at the start, savassana (“corpse pose”) at the end. Just after the final posture, though, you’ll be instructed to lay flat, turn to your side, tuck your legs up into a fetal position, and rest there for a moment before the end of the class.
This is the peak of the mediation. By this point, your body and mind have relaxed and shed the armor that accrues as we age and live and work and struggle and strive. The scorpions, tigers, and eagles or your obligations and neuroses relent; they bow down like all the animals before Pride Rock in The Lion King, as Simba is held up to the sun, powerless before “baby power.” Babies are like places where the universe opens; without effort, they spontaneously order the world around them. The baby is powerful because it is a pure conduit for the Dao. It has no kinks in its hose, no contractions in its self, no splits, no separations. It reigns without ruling.
The text does not say that babies are full of power, but that being full of power is like being a baby. The difference is that babies are helpless. The word ”yoga,” related to our work ”yoke,” means to unify or integrate—to live and move and have your being as it truly is, a Matryoshka doll of baby, child, adult, and elder, with birth, life, and death strung together on the same thread.
When you rise out of the fetal position and put your armor back on, you carry with you a memory of light. You see a little more clearly, move a little more lightly. Your grasp on things is a little firmer. Next time, it will be easier to let go.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”