To Live Like Water

by Christopher Lovejoy on February 23, 2014

A most instructive Wikipedia entry entitled Classical Element presents an historical overview of the elements of nature from a classical perspective.

These elements correlate with the known states of matter: earth embodies solid matter, water represents the state of matter known as liquid, air is representative of matter in gaseous form, fire exemplifies plasma, and aether epitomizes quintessence, which is another way of saying ‘fifth essence’, which is the medium of spirits when they travel out of body during an astral projection or a lucid death experience.

Yet, there is something quite special about water: not only can it take the form of a liquid, it can also assume a solid state (snow), a vaporous state (mist), and an aetheric-like state (fog).

Tao Te Ching, Verse 78

In reading the Tao Te Ching, it becomes clear that water is a favored element, with its many references to the sea, rivers, and streams, and to rain, fog, mist, and snow. In all likelihood, the modern expression “go with the flow” is a derivative of this ancient text.

In my experience of going with the flow, I’ve come to appreciate the contributions of the other elements: scooping rich soil with my hand to marvel at its texture and to inhale its earthy aroma, taking a deep breath on a cool, crisp autumn day, as well as gazing into the flame of a candle during meditation.

We can “go with the flow”, but we can also “stand our ground”, “clear the air”, and “get fired up”.

Nothing in the world
is softer and weaker than water,
but for wearing down the hard,
the unyielding, nothing can surpass it.

There is nothing like it.
The weak overcomes the strong;
the soft surpasses the hard.
In all the world, there is no one
who does not know this,
but no one can master this practice.

Therefore, masters remain serene
in the midst of sorrow;
evil cannot enter their hearts.
Because they have given up helping,
they are people’s greatest help.

True words appear paradoxical.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Words of truth, in deed, can seem absurd and contradictory.

My Impressions of the Verse

How do we master yin in the face of yang? How do we stay soft and appear weak when confronted by evidence of hard and the appearance of strong? This verse offers some vital clues …

Nothing in the world
is softer and weaker than water,
but for wearing down the hard,
the unyielding, nothing can surpass it.

The reference here is to natural erosion, but the human implication is that this same soft, yielding force can be applied to good effect in our relations with those appear hard and strong.

A strong, hard opinion can be weathered with a series of soft comments; a firm, fixed position can sometimes be worn down with a series of thoughtful, caring questions intended to soften.

There is nothing like it.
The weak overcomes the strong;
the soft surpasses the hard.
In all the world, there is no one
who does not know this,
but no one can master this practice.

Where the weak are concerned, there is strength in numbers. Where the soft are concerned, intimacy endures, even as the hard break up or apart in fits of anguish or despair.

We all know this from experience.

The question remains, however: why do more of us not practice the way of the weak and the soft?

Might there be an image problem?

Therefore, masters remain serene
in the midst of sorrow;
evil cannot enter their hearts.
Because they have given up helping,
they are people’s greatest help.

Sages have mastered the dualities of hard and soft, weak and strong, which mean they have no fixed points of view – only points of view that allow them to address cares and concerns receptively, reflectively, responsively, in the moments in which they occur.

True words appear paradoxical.

… and make a whole lot of sense when they’re applied with prudence to real-world situations.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

In following me so far, you might be thinking …

How can I ever be fulfilled as a person if I don’t maintain a solid presence, if I don’t disappear into thin air if someone starts yelling at me, if I don’t burn my bridges if I need to find myself again?

Being soft and yielding, while appearing weak, sounds like a prescription for social suicide, a prescription for eliminating the ego, but what if this stance were taken in small doses, as experiments in flowing or playing or dancing with a yang that has lost most if not all of its yin? In the presence of strong, hard, fixed positions or point of views, be prepared to go weak, to soften, to yield and move with the flow of a conversation, a discussion, a negotiation, an argument, with the intention of being creatively and constructively engaged. As an alchemist of the heart, treat the hate as heat, and the hurt as hope.

Being creative with the art of surrender, to yield by going soft and gentle, even if this means appearing weak, will serve to bring resentments into a healing light. This will be the subject of my next post.

Next up: Without Resentment (Living without Resentments)

/

This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

Related Posts

Previous post:

Next post: