chapter 15: a tentative sureness

by kye on September 18, 2010

The ancient sages let themselves be precisioned, moment by moment.

This is the surefootedness that crosses a river successfully in the winter, making each step with both confidence and also tentativeness. The confidence in each step comes from the body knowing it’s centered and its balance is solid. The tentativeness of each step is the willingness to be precisioned.

What about this rock: does it shift a bit? Is it slippery? Where, exactly, does the foot go? How does the body arrange itself to keep its balance in this step?

And more: our ‘next steps’ can be about more than just keeping our personal balance. They can also be about keeping the balance. We can choose to step with care and reverence, knowing that this world is precious and alive, enormous and beautiful, in ways we can only partially grasp.

Every moment, life is new in some ways; always something more than it was the moment before. If I lose sight of its newness and just feel my sureness, I’m lost. At some point I’ll step where the footing is slippery, and fall. I’ll treat familiar people as if they are as they ‘always’ were; and suddenly discover I’ve damaged them or our relationship.

I’ll act as if the way I’ve always done things needs no change. I’ll so identify with the shape I am used to taking, that I’ll feel as though if I give ‘that’ up I’d be giving up myself. I’ll try to keep from falling apart, and miss the chance for a new way.

If I have only my certainties I won’t feel the unresolved confusion which, if I slowed down and allowed room for it, could take me the first step toward a new understanding. Then new ways could arise, which make sense now.

long ago, there were sages,
deft in their doings
their subtle wisdom and mysterious power penetrating so deep
that it’s beyond ordinary understanding

truly, it’s beyond ordinary understanding!

so that in talking about them
all we can do is describe how they appeared:

tentative! as if walking over icy rocks in a winter stream
watchful! as if expecting danger from four sides
courteous! as if they were only guests
falling apart! like melting ice
unshaped! like an uncarved block of wood
open! like an empty cave
confused! like murky water

who can let murkiness, through quieting,
gradually come to clarity?
who can let stillness, through stirring,
gradually come to life?

holding to this path
you guard against being overfull

truly not full of yourself
you can lose yourself
and be newly made

— Kye Nelson: translation and commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

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©2010 Kye Nelson

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