Be like Water

Picture credits: Alabama Co-opertaive Extension System

"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and 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."

– Bruce Lee

Majority of us fall victim to thinking in fixed and certain ways. Just because something worked out for us once we believe that’s how it’s always supposed to be. Were we loved enough at our homes by our parents and siblings? That’s good to know. Were we loved enough by our friends and teachers at school? That’s good too. However, as we get older and start getting reality checks we understand that rigidity is not always a good thing. Flexibility is. Becoming like water is seriously a challenge but the challenge is totally worth it. Bruce Lee is telling us to be like water because people who become like water can make it through any hardest possible obstacles. 

Lao Tzu once said, “Water is the softest and most yielding substance. Yet nothing is better than water, for overcoming the hard and rigid, because nothing can compete with it.” If you observe water carefully you will see that it’s nature is very resilient. It’s resilient to changes. Just the way Bruce Lee said if you put water in a glass it becomes the glass but when you put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Life is always going to keep throwing trash at us. That’s a harsh reality. Becoming resilient like water can prevent us from feeling victimised. We must keep moving forward taking different shapes and sizes because that’s the best shot we have at facing tough times. The pandemic is a great example of a need to build resilience and flexibility during harsh times. We did not expect something like this to happen. We only used to study it in our history books. Unfortunately, the written text has become a reality because history has been repeated. Lives are not the same anymore. We are unable to meet people in person the way we used to do pre-pandemic. Colleges and schools have opted for either online learning or hybrid learning. We have to work not in our offices but homes. On top of that work from home is another big deal for majority of people (as it has its own pitfalls). Is this in our control? Absolutely not. No matter how challenging everything has become we can learn one fundamental lesson from water: to stay flexible and adjust to the circumstances outside our control. 

Water isn’t merely about flexibility it’s also about softness. We think softness is a bad thing. People who are soft and not robust from the inside are weak but that’s not true. Water is soft but it has got tremendous power. If it has to it can cause huge destruction (as we all see in hurricanes, floods). Many times ‘strength’ or I should say ‘forceful strength’ doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s total waste of energy. In those moments being soft can make things possible for us. It might take some time. It’d be like taking ‘baby steps’. But things will happen. Do you think working 18 hours a day will finally make things happier in your personal life? No. It will not. You’re just exhausting yourself. You’re exhausting yourself both physically and mentally. You think forcing yourself to work for the insane amount of hours will make your life perfect. Actually your life is far from perfect. Look at water. Touch it. What do you feel? SOFTNESS. Maybe you will realise that your long term goals can be achieved with having a tranquil mind and one day at a time approach. Your softness will become your superpower. 

Are you building your competence or character?

Picture credits:

Competence is very crucial in today’s world. If we do not possess sufficient knowledge, judgement and skills it will be hard to perform well at our workplaces. These days a lot of emphasis is being put upon building new and variety of skills. Quite frankly, it makes sense because we are living in an era where nothing stays the same for very long. Every now and then things are changing rapidly due to constant innovations in science and technology. And if we can’t keep pace with such innovations and keep ourselves competent enough to land a good job, survival will be very hard.

What about character?

Does it matter in a world that pressurizes us to put our whole energy into building our skills and careers? Or simply, it doesn’t matter at all?

From my limited experience of the way this world works, I believe people do not give much thought to building their characters. Everyone is busy in a rat race. Everyone wants to be ahead of everyone else. It looks like people are losing their basic human values including kindness, gratitude, love, forgiveness, etc. Building a good character is not primary anymore. Rather it has become secondary.

Tasks either reflect competence or character

Jay Shetty who is a former monk, coach, author and a podcast host has written his first book titled “Think like a Monk”. In one of the chapters, he talked about how tasks that we do on a daily basis either reflect our competence or character. If I am an academician and I am focusing on improving my critical skills, statistical skills and teaching skills then my job will be a reflection of my competence. This will show that I am skilled at my work. What about jobs/tasks that are not related to our work? Like washing dishes, cleaning the washroom, brooming, doing grocery every week, etc. Do they not reflect our competence? They might do but more importantly they reflect our character. We undermine these tasks thinking they are below our level and why should we waste our time doing them when we could be doing something more important like making another report or studying.

In one of my previous blog posts I wrote about me doing all the household work alongside my mother. All this time I felt frustrated from time to time because I had this belief that I was just wasting my time. I felt I should be investing my time in doing something more important and better like learning new skills. But after understanding that some tasks actually help in shaping our character I realized I have been so wrong about my perception. I might read a chapter of a book in the time I am doing household chores. As it turns out, life is not simply about making myself the most competent person but also building a good character.

Look, a broom is trying to teach you something

While listening to an audio book by Jay Shetty I came across a very valuable point he made in his book. He said while he was a monk in an ashram in India he learned the importance of exhibiting flexibility through a broom. And he is very much right because we can learn that lesson too. When we are trying to clean our houses using a broom we often forget that without showing some flexibility it will be very hard for it to do its job. It is so interesting to realize that a broom is only able to reach the corners of our houses because it is flexible.I believe every task that we belittle is trying to teach us something. We need to change our perspectives. That’s all.

It is a good thing if we are millionaires. After all we deserve to be because we had worked very hard for it. Being financially stable is very important because lives cannot be sustained without money. We need money to fulfill our basic requirements. And we can be financially independent if we land a good job. Good jobs can be landed if we show the company/organization that we will be valuable at work. To be able to show our worth we actually have to be worthy and our worth is a result of our competence. However, we must never forget our worth is not limited to our skills and workplaces. Being someone of  a good character should be one of life’s purposes too.