Mirror of Mysteries

While you cultivate the soul and embrace unity,

Can you keep them from separating?

Focus your vital breath until it is supremely soft;

Can you be like a baby?

Cleanse the mirror of mysteries,

Can you make it free from blemish?

Love the people and enliven the state;

Can you do so without cunning?

Open and close the gate of heaven;

Can you play the part of the female?

Reach out with clarity in all directions;

Can you refrain from action?

It gives birth to them and nurtures them,

It gives birth to them but does not possess them,

It rears them but does not control them.

This is called ┬┤mysterious integrity┬┤.

Tao te Ching, 54 (10), Lao Tzu


3 Replies to “Mirror of Mysteries”

  1. I love the Tao. It was the first thing after my childhood that inspired me to a more reflective life.
    Ursula Le Guin has an interesting rendering of this passage.

    ‘Can you keep your soul in its body,
    Hold fast to the one
    and so learn to be whole?

    Can you centre your energy,
    be soft, tender,
    and so learn to be a baby?

    Can you keep the deep water still and clear,
    so it reflects without blurring?
    Can you love people and run things,
    and do so by not doing?

    Opening, closing the Gate of Heaven,
    can you be like a bird with her nestlings?
    Piercing bright through the cosmos,
    can you know by not knowing?

    To give birth, to nourish,
    to bear and not to own,
    to act and not lay claim,
    to lead and not to rule:
    this is the mysterious power.

  2. Once again, thanks for curating such nourishing elements. Your effort is not unnoticed.

  3. Hello both, thank you for your comments and the alternative reading, that is really interesting. I am currently in Guatemala and during my first month was camping out in the highlands at a magical natural observatory. The accommodation was (ahem) ‘basic’, but one thing we did have was a wonderful library of books left by travelers over the years, including the Tao. One night myself and a fellow camper decided to do a meditation and just opened the book to wherever it would fall, and we were stunned by what came out for us here, which did so much to address the main questions we had in mind around that time. For me in particular the reference to cleansing the mirror of mysteries felt extremely pertinent – I’m very glad if it spoke to you both just as clearly as it did to myself and my forest friend.

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