The Lessons of Water
Water – we depend on it for life and our bodies are primarily made up of the stuff. It seems simple enough, but are there lessons this most fundamental of molecules – H2O – can teach us?
The ancient Greeks classified the stuff that makes up the world into four fundamental elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. These classical elements still show up in Tarot, Kabbalah, Alchemy and a variety of spiritual/psychological practices. We now know that matter is composed of molecules and atoms – but the importance of water as one of these classical elements and natural teachers of the psyche remains.
Lao Tzu, the great Chinese thinker and founder of the Taoist philosophy, placed great emphasis on water as a teacher. In the Tao Te Ching he writes:
“The highest goodness resembles water. Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention. It stays in places that peole dislike. Therefore it is similar to the Tao.”
Further Lao Tzu says:
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever s fluid, soft, ad yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”
Letting go, Tuning in
Perhaps more than any other substance in nature, water invites us to surrender into the natural current of our lives. Sometimes this happens in catastrophe, other times this happens with a gentle “aha!” moment when we decide to let go of fighting the things we can’t control and bending with them.
Two summers ago I learned a powerful lesson about water. I was out near Auburn, California swimming in a river with some friends. Myself and my friends Amber and Tim decided to climb a small waterfall upstream. It was easy enough; we navigated around the eddies and currents and scaled the slippery rocks to stand atop the mini-vista.
Atop the waterfall was a small natural pool with another pool above it spilling into it with a mini waterfall that passed through two large rocks like a flume. The pool on top was calm and serene looking; the only thing between our position on the rocks and the pool was the stream current that led into the waterfall below us.
As Amber had gone to explore more of the rocks, I turned to Tim and said that I thought I could make the jump over the current into the upper pool. Before he had time to tell me that was a dumb idea I jumped. My arms caught the rock on the other side of the current, but my legs didn’t make it. I was immediately torn from the rock with the violent force of water. I took a gasping deep breath as I was sucked under, pulled through the flume, and briefly appeared in the lower pool before going over the lower waterfall.
Into the Current
In the few seconds that this happened it felt like time slowed down. I held my breath and kept my arms around my ears as I went over, protecting my head from a rocky battering that would have been fatal.
I decided not to fight the water – it was too powerful. Instead as I was sucked into the undertow over the falls, I surrendered, protected myself as best I could, and determined to hold my breath until I couldn’t anymore. Surrendering to the flow I found, after plunging over the falls, that I had been dragged by the undertow so deep that eventually the undertow and current stopped. The water was still. I could swim out! So I did and that breath of air felt so good! All in all my arms took a beating but I was none the worse for wear.
This month I invite you to try to practice the lesson of water – by becoming soft and yielding, we become strong.