I must confess that I have never watched a Bruce Lee movie for more than a few minutes. That said, I have looked at a number of the quotes attributed to him and think that he was quite a wise man. One of my favorites is: “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.”
It is appealing for multiple reasons. Water is a shapeless and formless in two out of three of its natural states, it is essential to life as we understand it and can be an incredibly destructive force. We have harnessed it in multiple ways to produce energy and shape our lives as well as destroyed its life-sustaining properties by polluting it and treating it as an inexhaustible resource.
Water seeks its own level. Water is cool and refreshing. Water is cleansing and has the ability to purify. Water creates energy by harnessing its movement. Water in the form of ice has the ability to break granite, polish stone, and reflect light. A drop of rain is the same as the ocean. You can ride the wave or be overwhelmed and let it drown you.
One of the things that I find appealing about this thought, is that emptying the mind to be formless and shapeless is what living in the present moment is all about for me. That I can fit the shape of the vessel that carries me, suggests I am in the moment. While we have some ability to control water and we have some ability to control our experience, in the end we only truly have the ability to control our reaction to that experience. Just as we cannot prevent the monsoon season, divert a hurricane, or stop a tsunami, we can not truly control our lives beyond our own actions. This is water. If we become the water we can become that unstoppable force as we rush to the sea. We flow this way and that, we can be harnessed for positive results or unleash a torrent of destruction, but in the end we will return to the sea. And so it is for us. We can harness our energy for good, creative, life sustaining activities, or we can be abrasive and destructive as well as everything in between.
Shapeless and formless, water is neither good or bad, it just is. It does not know the past and is unconcerned with the future. It is only our experience of the water and the labels and judgments that we attach to those experiences that creates a “good” or “bad” about water as well as our lives. In those instances where I have tried to resist, the water in my life has made my experience difficult to say the least. However, when I choose to stop resisting the current, and became like the water harnessing its power and embracing the direction that it wanted to carry me in, my life became easier. Sometimes we don’t have a choice and life throws us into rushing rapids where it is all we can do to keep our head above water and other times we are able to float serenely on a calm lake. Choose to experience life as water does, and see what it is like to perfectly fit the vessel – your life.
What could you do, if you could?