SUPPLE BODY & MIND
The painting by Mary Cassatt at the top of this page (her self-portrait left) is famous for the way in which it juxtaposes the mother's hand with that of the child, similar to the Taoist idea in the citation below comparing the lack of self-consciousness in a newborn child and the "texture of experience" in an older person's hand.
The notes to Stephen Mitchell's gender-inclusive translation of the TAO TE CHING include commentary by Mitchell's friend and teacher, Emilie Conrad-Da'oud. The following is her reflection on Taoist "suppleness" and "fluidity."
"There is no self consciousness in a newborn child. Later on, the mind wanders into self images, starts to think. 'Should I do this? Is this movement right?' and loses the immediacy of the moment. As self consciousness develops, the muscles become less supple, less like the world. But the young child is pure fluidity. It isn't aware of any separation, so all its movements are spontaneous and alive and whole and perfect.
"If an adult body becomes truly supple, though, there's a quality to its movement that the child's doesn't have, a texture of experience, a fourth dimension of time. When we watch a seventy-year-old hand move, we feel, 'Yes, that hand has lived.' All the bodies it has touched, all the weights it has lifted, all the heads it has cradled are present in its movement. It is resonant with experience, the fingers curve with a sense of having been there. Whereas in a child's hand there's a sense of just arriving. The child's movement is pristine and innocent and delightful, but a truly supple adult movement is awesome, because all life is included in it."