Bruce Lee would’ve been 78 yesterday. So to commemorate his birthday, I wanted to talk about one of his most popular sayings, of being “like water.”
Water can represent so many things: it is ever-present in our ecosystem. It can change shape from solid to liquid to gas. It moves everywhere, through many things, without doing much. It has no form, which then allows it to take the shape of anything.
In Taoism, this malleable form of water is what makes it such a common metaphor for the universe. There are many things in play in the universe – undiscovered energies, planets, stars, etc. And we as humans are also a part of this vast universe. It is no secret that one of humanity’s greatest strengths is the ability to adapt and survive. We’ve developed technology, communication and culture to find various ways to survive over the years — all products of adapting to the changing environment.
I feel that one of the things Bruce Lee talks about while advising us to be like water, is to be malleable so that we can adapt to life and its challenges. If we are complacent and rigid in our life, we take away our greatest strength as humans, and subject ourselves to a life of suffering. But to be formless means that nothing (external) defines you. You define you, nothing else. Then, our ego is minimized and we become capable of living to the capacity of our full potential. We become more aware and more powerful: two things that I would wish for everyone to be.
When I used to work as a cashier, occasionally a parent would come up to the counter with their child and have them pay (usually from the parent’s own money, sometimes from the kid’s own allowance). But regardless of where the money came from, wisdom was being shared with the child on how to ask and communicate.
So many of us grow older, but we might not have learned the correct way to ask for things; we are afraid to ask for help because maybe we feel like a burden to others. Sometimes we don’t feel like owing anything to anyone. Or maybe asking might make us look weak and unable to provide for ourselves. Often times when we go through difficult moments in our lives, we know that we should ask for help, but we don’t know how. No one person has everything figured out, yet we have this exceptionally high expectations of ourselves that we should have it all figured out.
But this is mostly ego. For some reason, there seems to be no price tag high enough of being fiercely independent – be it depression, self-isolation, financial constraints, or one of many other reasons. There appears to be a lot of respect and demand for appearing capable and stoic. But those who do a lot, may also suffer greatly in private. Is it worth it to assume that people will think less of you for asking them for their time? Is it worth it to suffer in private rather than risk being vulnerable and connect with someone who might also need encouragement to speak?
There is nothing glamorous and stoic about being trapped in the mental prison of our minds. By working together and communicating, we can surely begin to heal. Maybe we didn’t have anyone to teach us how to ask, but maybe the “how” won’t matter if we learn “who” we are. Are we slaves to the ego, or sentient beings who favor growth?