The Chinese character for “practice” occurs only once in the entire Dao De Jing. I found that intriguing and thought we could explore the practices suggested in that chapter.
Close the mouth – Quietness
The first practice is described as closing the mouth. This of course could literally mean not talking. And certainly many of us, me included, sometimes talk when we should be listening. It could also mean internal quietness, letting our thoughts settle like silt in murky water until the mind is clear and pure.
Don’t meddle – Allowing
Talking when we should be listening is sometimes connected to interfering. The impulse to meddle is often well intentioned. We think we are helping out of love. If we look deeper, however, we might discover that we are acting not out of love but out of fear. Allowing, in contrast, is rooted in trust, trust in the natural unfolding of things in alignment with the sacred flow of the universe.
Allowing can be misunderstood as standing back and doing nothing all the time. I don’t think that’s it. I think of allowing as listening to the guidance that comes in the quietness mentioned above. Our nonaction, then, or our actions are part of the natural unfolding, an appropriate response to the present moment rather than trying to control or direct things from a place of fear or worry.
See the small – Mindfulness
Seeing the small, to me, suggests paying close attention, being mindful. When we pay attention mindfully, we see things as they are, instead of through the lens of our mental narratives and judgments. This practice invites us to slow down, be fully present, be open minded and curious, and appreciate the wonder of, well, everything. Seeing the small is connected to enlightenment in this chapter.
Abide in tenderness – Compassion
This one makes me smile every time. Abiding in tenderness is such a sweet concept. Just reading the characters softens my heart. And lest we think this would leave us weak or vulnerable, the chapter tells us that abiding in tenderness is called strength. Compassion for ourselves and those around us brings us into alignment with heaven and earth. We become a conduit for the infinite power of the universe to manifest through us.
Quietness. Allowing. Mindfulness. Compassion. This is our “eternal practice.” The traditional character for practice is composed of a top part meaning feathers or wings, and a bottom part meaning white or pure. Thus, the chapter assures us, our practice lifts us on wings of purity to return to our natural state of enlightenment.