An idea that can be expressed in words cannot be the infinite idea.
We have a hard time grasping the concept that there could be something so vast that it cannot be expressed in words. How can something be beyond words?
We like definition. We like to ponder and understand. We like structure, agendas, and scratching items off our to-do list. We think that if we can just define something, put it in a box, name it and categorize it, then we’ve understood it, and then we can rest, feeling a sense of peace and completion.
This is how we approach many aspects of our lives: our relationships, problems at work, how we understand ourselves and how we approach the Divine. But as Lao Tzu so beautifully expressed centuries ago in the Tao Te Ching, the infinite, God, Spirit, Presence, is beyond definition. And beyond our ability to fully grasp it.
Yet we keep trying, and we think that if we just sit longer for meditation, ponder harder and longer, say a few more prayers or read a few more books, we might just crack the code, uncover the hidden mysteries, and finally get “it”, whatever “it” is—the secret of ourselves, life, God, the world.
But what if “it” is living with the mystery?
That would mean we’d have to give up a lot of doing, a lot of trying to achieve something. We’d have to give up the practices we cling to and the ideas we have about what it means to be “holy”, “dedicated”, “pure”. Because, if the infinite can’t be expressed in words or concepts, can we pin down holiness, dedication and purity? Aren’t these just pointers, showing the way but not the way itself?
Perhaps in the end, everything must go. That’s a frightening thought, but when we start to let go, little by little, we begin to open to a freedom we’d never imagined. When we begin to let go of habits and practices, we find ourselves fully in the present, doing whatever the moment requires. This doesn’t mean that we don’t do practices, but we do the ones that are required by a particular moment. We are led by our heart, our spirit, rather than the thinking mind, telling us that this particular practice will have these particular results.
Lao Tzu’s statement invites us to question how we live the mystery, where we perhaps get stuck in form and how we can open ourselves up to living fully in the beauty of the present moment.