Be Water, My Friend

Friday, June 12, 2009

A couple of years back I read the book Zen in the Martial Arts by Joel Hyams. In the book he describes into detail the philosophies of Bruce Lee. Now we all know Bruce Lee as the immortalized action hero of Kung-Fu Hong Kong cinema, but Bruce Lee was much more that action superstar, he was a philosopher. Bruce Lee’s philosophy resonated a lot with the Taoist philosophy of “go with the flow”. Lee expressed that water is the perfect substance. Water is formless, has no shape, and has no set size. Water never stops; it keeps on flowing no matter what happens. If a rock gets in the way of water, it either goes around it or sneaks through every little crack possible. Water is an unstoppable force that can adjust and adapt to every situation. Bruce Lee applied the physics and the properties of water to his fighting style, his philosophy, and, most importantly, his life. Lee believed the best way to live is to be like water. To adapt to any situation that life brings you. If any problem occurs in life it’s better to just keep on going with the flow. Its better not linger around in frustration or struggle your way out of a bad situation. What is more powerful; a gigantic boulder crashing in another boulder or water crashing into a boulder? Which one would ultimately cause more damage? The boulder would have to crashing violently into the other boulder in order to get through, but water get’s through without a struggle. Sometimes most problems in life are brought on because we struggle. We struggle to keep the status quo, we struggle to control the situation, and we struggle because of regret and the frustrations that brings with it. If we stop struggling and just continue forward, and adapt to the situation instead of fighting against it, we will be able to achieve true happiness. Going with the flow is about relinquishing the desire to control; we all have the desire to control our lives, to control our environment, and most commonly the desire to control other people. Most of us don’t even realize our undying desire to control every situation; we go through life having an infinite series of frustrations and disappointments because we try to control everything in our lives. Let me put this in metaphorical terms; imagine yourself swimming in a river, the river represents your life. Now this river is infinite in length and has a steady constant flow. Now remember that this river is a whole lot more immense than you. When we try to control a situation we are trying to swim against the current on this river. Swimming against the current is an immense struggle, not only would you exhaust more energy you will also not be advancing. Trying to control your life is like trying to control that river, it simply can’t be done. Now when we relinquish control and we act more like water by just going with the flow, we pass the bad situations and eventually just keep moving forward with life. Sometimes we just need to let go from the doldrums of control and just let life sweep us off our feet and takes us into unknown territories. Another famous analogy I heard was that imagine life is a long stretch of highway at pitch dark night, you are in a car with only the headlights on. While driving forward you only see the next couple feet ahead of you, but you are still unable to see the full stretch of the road. Even though we don’t see our destination we know it’s there, we just see a consecutive number of short stretches in front of us and nothing more. Life is similar sometimes when we don’t quite know what’s coming we can anticipate what is going to happen but ultimately we can’t control the destination. This brings me to another important Taoist philosophy, the journey is more important than the goal. We all have to live in the present, the here and now. What happens in the present is the most important thing, what happened in the past is not important because it’s the past and we can’t change that, what happens in future is not important because we have no possible idea what happens in the future. Living in the present, paying attention to the journey is more important because that is reality; we are in the present and nowhere else. Lao Tzu once said "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” We have to take life one step at a time, pace ourselves and enjoy everything around us. It’s better to live in the moment, to clear your mind of regrets and worries and just take in the magnificent beauty of what is the present reality. There is something to be learned out of every mistake and misfortune so take advantage of everything that happens and don’t let life pass you by because you were stuck in a state of melancholy and regret. Like Bruce Lee said “Be water, my friend” it’s better to be like water, to just keep moving forward and not to stop, because stopping would be a struggle. By just going with flow a sense of calm and peace will overcome you, you will start to appreciate things a whole lot more and take in all the intricacies of life. Life is a beautiful thing and it should not be rushed or spent fighting against misfortunes, life should be spent in the moment because it’s too precious to go to waste. To be like water is the best way to encounter life, to encounter mistakes, to encounter misfortunes, and to encounter happiness. Happiness is truly achieved when we start to care less about controlling everything and learning that leaving things out of our control is a blessing, which allows us to be peace with ourselves and with the world around us. Be water, my friend.