Once upon a time
people who knew the Way
were subtle, spiritual, mysterious, penetrating, unfathomable.
Since they’re inexplicable
I can only say what they seemed like:
Cautious, oh yes, as if wading through a winter river.
Alert, as if afraid of the neighbors.
Polite and quiet, like houseguests.
Elusive, like melting ice.
Blank, like uncut wood.
Empty, like valleys.
Mysterious, oh yes, they were like troubled water.
Who can by stillness, little by little
make what is troubled grow clear?
Who can by movement, little by little
make what is still grow quick?
To follow the Way
is not to need fulfillment.
Unfulfilled, one may live on
needing no renewal.
The similes in the second stanza sort of make the whole poem worthwhile.
Of course, it’s interesting that there were some older, more ancient people who followed the Tao, since we think of this as being the foundational text of Taoism. Though, that doesn’t necessarily mean such people existed, or even that such people considered themselves Taoist. Could be simply that this way of thinking has an antecedent, which is about the most normal thing in the world.
I do love this poem, especially. The simplicity, the continuing of these paradoxes, the unusual similes that will become almost a melodic theme in the text.
But the last stanza gets to the heart of the matter. The core of the text. What it means to follow the Way, the Tao.
It says something, too, about those of you who’re still on this journey through the Tao Te Ching with me. Because of the nature of the text, you still being here says something about you. You may not follow the Tao, but you can see it and maybe even feel it. And that, as my dad would say, is not nothing.