Water permeates and shapes everything it touches. It carves mountains into sand and swells seeds to fruition. It grows forests and destroys cities. It fills our bodies, builds our blood, and bathes our cells. Nothing is as simultaneously ordinary and miraculous as water. But like a draught of forgetfulness, its ever-presence lulls us into complacency. It is so like us to forget to pay attention. When we reawaken our imagination, however, water offers up its lessons freely. Let us soak in the wisdom of water.
Follow the natural line. Unlike us, water doesn’t conjure up cravings in a vacuum and then impose them on the world. Instead, it humbly feels for open channels and falls effortlessly through them. Like water, find the openings and be led by something other than fear and craving.
Don’t struggle. Water doesn’t strain or strive. The power of water comes not from willful assertion but from the unintentional force of its presence. Your true power comes not from the ego and its schemes but from your ability to manifest the one presence and power that runs through everything.
Go around obstacles. When a stream comes upon a boulder blocking its path it doesn’t freeze, panic, and spiral into resentment and victim-consciousness. It just goes around. Like water, avoid struggle by simply going around problems.
Be soft in your strength. When it is time to exert force, be fluid. You harbor a great store of life-force which is capable of manifesting itself mentally, physically, and spiritually. When it’s time to assert yourself, blunt the edge of your attack and be willing to bend and absorb the myriad influences of the energies around you. You accomplish far more in cooperation than you do in dominance.
If you want clarity, be still. Wind and waves stir up silt and make water murky. Only when the wind and waves subside does the silt settle back to the bottom. Then the surface becomes a mirror and the depths become visible. So too we can deepen our insight only when we grow silent and still. Moving out of the narrow channels and endless agitation of the thought-stream and into the boundless stillness enables us to quietly perceive signals drowned out by the day to day noise of our lives. Things that were hidden in plain sight are revealed.
Circulate, don’t stagnate. Stillness is important, but don’t hide. Cut off from the flow, stagnant pools fester and rot, drowning in their own imbalance. Healthy, clear water stays engaged in the flow of life and scrubs itself clean by breaking open to oxygenation and transformation. Like a healthy river, find ways to balance periods of languid stillness with vigorous activity, letting each of the phases of your life inform and nourish the others.
Persistence is stronger than insistence. A frenzied flurry of activity is never as effective as long-term persistence. Slow and steady wins the race. Over time, a tiny, trickling stream erodes a deep canyon. Take a high pressure fire hose to a granite monolith for an hour or two and see how far you get.
Allowance is stronger than resistance. When you stab your fist into water it doesn’t fight back or resist, and when you pull your fist out, the water closes over as if you were never there. By allowing your fist to pass through, water exerts much less effort and experiences far less harm than if it had mounted a complicated counter-offensive. In our own lives, resistance to things only makes them stronger. By defining events as “problems” and people as “enemies” we manufacture conflict where there was only confluence. When Jesus says “resist not evil” he is trying to teach a very elusive notion: what you resist persists. Instead of resisting and fighting back, let powerful storms pass until they expend their wild energy and settle back into the peaceful flow of life all on their own.
Be needed. Nothing surpasses water for its usefulness, therefore it is valued everywhere. In your creativity, in your work, in your generous service, give people what they genuinely need. This way you will always get paid, you will always get fed, and you will always have friends. Become an inextricable part of people’s lives by carefully perceiving their authentic needs and fulfilling them.
Be humble. Water always seeks out the lowest places and quietly goes about its business. Water is often underground and hidden from sight. Ninety-nine percent of the water in the ocean lies beneath the surface. You can accomplish far more behind the scenes than you can in the spotlight. Let others grab the glory. Be a part of the support system that makes it possible for others to blossom and shine.
Don’t give problems anything to hold onto. You can’t grab water with your fingers or catch it on a hook. By living in a state of deep acceptance of whatever is happening in this moment, you achieve the slipperiness of water. Events arise and fall. Difficult people assert their ludicrous demands and fade away like flares. By remaining fully present in this now moment you rob both the past and the future of their power to distort immediate experience by imposing both unrealistic expectations and egoic cravings on the perfection of this.
Resonate. The waves crashing on the shore aren’t the only waves in the sea. Sound waves also travel great distances through water. The low frequency songs of humpback whales travel thousands of miles around the curvature of the earth through the oceans, guiding other humpbacks on their migration routes. Like water, stay open to the energy frequencies that reverberate around us. Let yourself be inspired. Let your consciousness be a conduit of that which is best in all of us. Identify the values you hold dear – kindness, generosity, willingness, courage, compassion – and amplify those values in your own actions. “Universe” means “one song.” Let the song of the universe resonate in you, through you, as you.
All is one. A raindrop only seems to be separate from the other raindrops. As it falls from a cloud high above the sea the force of the wind around it keeps it separate from the other drops. When it hits the surface of the ocean it does not cease to exist; only its temporary boundaries dissolve as it loses its illusory individuality, returning to the source from which it and all other raindrops come. So too we and all things arise from the divine ground and stand apart for a while as seemingly separate entities. As beautiful as this dance may be, it must one day come to an end. But Consciousness doesn’t end. It simply expresses itself anew as evolving, evermore mellifluous beings of sound and light. Let your brief time here be worthy of the source. Let your life be a breathtaking expression of the grandeur of the cosmos. From time to time, move into the stillness and brush up against the wordless understanding of oneness, an understanding that can never be reduced to a concept, just as water can never be defined by the vessel containing it. These miraculous bodies we inhabit are comprised of nearly 80 percent water. Isn’t it natural then to allow yourself to be an expression of the wisdom of water?
Peter Bolland is a professor at Southwestern College where he teaches eastern and western philosophy, ethics, world religions, and mythology. Off campus he is a writer, speaker, and singer-songwriter. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/peterhbolland, find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/peter.bolland.page, or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org