For years I wondered what would be my guiding philosophy in life? A lighthouse to guide me, and to help me navigate safely.
I thought about coming up with long and lengthy philosophy; one that had deep meaning with lofty words. Over time I looked at how life unfolded and realised that life is only about two things:
- constant change
- and, how well you adapt to these changes.
My life philosophy turned out to be a combination of teachings from various sources – the Upanishads, Stoicism, Buddhism, Darwinism, and finally, Bruce Lee. Hence, “Everything changes”, and “So, be like water”.
Water is the best example of something that can adapt to any situation. Visual perception of this ability is what drove me towards accepting and assimilating this philosophy. Inherently water has no shape, water has no form. This is where its power resides. It takes the form of whatever is around it.
Pour water into a container, and it will take its shape. Subject water to cold temperatures and it freezes to form ice. Warm it, the ice will thaw, and you have water again. Heat water and it vaporises. Cool the vapours down, and you have water once again. Whatever you subject it to – it adapts. It doesn’t resist, it doesn’t complain.
Even in nature, water flows where it finds a place to. A river finds an obstacle, and it takes a path around it. If water finds a crevice, it will flow through it. If there is an obstruction, it waits till there is a build-up of water and then flows over it. Whatever you subject it to – it adapts.
But, does it mean that water is a victim of its circumstance? No, do not fool yourself into thinking that. It is an illusion. In fact, water is finding its true nature from its circumstance.
The sheer thought of being like water is a powerful one. To be able to withstand, adapt, and change your opinions like water will result in a better life. Every time I have walked this path of embracing change, it has led to me beautiful destinations. If I had not undertaken the journey, I might have withered away.
Holding onto preconceived notions, and being rigid will only break you down in the long run. If you want to thrive, you must be ready to embrace change.
Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature? ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7
The best way to adapt to changing circumstances in life is to be like water. If you come across an obstacle, work your way around it. If there are people who seem to be criticising you, leave them to find people who inspire you. If you have a job that is in conflict with your personal values, change it.
Sometimes progress will be slow, but water smoothens even the hardest of rocks with persistence. The smooth pebbles you find on the river bed or on the beach were all pointy and jagged rocks. Water tamed them. Water is an influential teacher.
Here are a few instances where I’ve done a complete U-turn on my beliefs, or built new ones where there were none:
In the last 6 months, I’ve reminded myself of water one time too many. We are swimming in a sea of chaos, we aren’t aware when the storm is going to subside. The wait seems to be unrelenting. How does one approach times like these? Be water my friend.
I’ll leave you with the master himself.