Water: A Living Philosophy to Embody Peace Of Mind
“Be water, my friend.”
“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend”, spoke Li Tsung, the martial arts teacher played by Bruce Lee in the ’70s TV series ‘Longstreet’ (Polly, 2018: 285).
Let go and allow…
Water flows in harmony with nature and thus it does not fight against the obstacles.
Bruce Lee’s famous line, “Be water, my friend” is rooted in Tao philosophy. The first texts were written about the 4th century BC. Although ancient, the teachings are just as valuable now as they were then. (Polly, 2018).
The truth is that we are water…
We are bodies of water, but it is our unconscious habit to externalise our experience of water rather than looking in and being present to what is the nature of water we embody.
Quite simply, we are water experiencing consciousness.
What is our sense when we sit quietly and rest in this context, that we are water experiencing consciousness? It is meditative, it is good for quietening the mind, it is good for our mental health to identify with the nature of water.
Water can flow gently, it’s movement and sound invite tranquillity, reflection and opening.
In Tao philosophy water is the supreme example of the Tao, or The Way. The Tao never does anything, yet through it, all things are done. It is said Tao is the art of doing non-doing.
The founding of Chinese Taoist philosophy is largely accredited to the philosophers Chuang-tzu, and the acclaimed sage Lao Tzu (circa 4th century) who wrote the Tao Te Ching texts, wherein Lao Tzu shared his inspirational teachings about the nature of water (Watson, 2007).
In Lao Tzu’s teachings, humility, harmony and openness are the three foundational virtues illustrated in one such influential passage from Tao Te Ching:
The supreme goodness is like water.
It benefits all things without contention.
In dwelling, it stays grounded.
In being, it flows to depths.
In expression, it is honest.
In confrontation, it stays gentle.
In governance, it does not control.
In action, it aligns to timing.
It is content with its nature and therefore cannot be faulted.
In Tao, water also represents flexibility, adaptability, persistence, acceptance and patience. It resists nothing, it simply is. Water is the perfect guide to lead us to peace of mind (Towler, 2010).
Water is the most observable and engaging of the elements, it can be appreciated and experienced by all our senses. Pause and reflect on this; all of what we experience is possible only because of water.
Water is the conduit of all experience, and keeper of infinite memories.
The more we explore the nature of water the deeper it becomes.
Water, as the vehicle for all life, does not live life, instead, it allows life to live it.
We can look to the qualities of water as states of being to aspire to, and practice the art of relaxing, letting go and allowing. Then we become more like water and can flow around perceived obstacles without fear or resistance.
Water is the personification of allowing and not force outcomes.
Sometimes it is hard to find peace and fulfilment in a world that is changing so quickly, it could be easy to plummet into uncertainty and anxiety. After reading and reflecting on Lao Tzu’s philosophy of water you might be encouraged to take a step back, stop and breathe.
When we are in harmony with the river of life (Chi), we can see the flow of what we experience extends from us to all our relationships, benefiting all.
Imagine next time you encounter a situation in which you do not know how to be or what to say, remind yourself, “Be like water.”
“Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.”
Be like water.
Veronika MacKu Master of Arts (M.A.) in Social and Cultural Anthropology
Veronika is a social and cultural anthropologist holding a Master’s degree from Vrije Univesiteit Amsterdam. She conducted her ethnographic fieldwork in India and Argentina. She specialized in researching cultural patterns in history and identity, agricultural processes, sustainable development practices, circular economy and social business. Currently, Veronika is working as a social science teacher and freelance researcher and writer. She is passionate about anthropology, nature, people’s behaviour and politics.