Sunday, May 18, 2014

Be Like Water

Raymond Pettibon

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”
 -Charles Darwin

"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle 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

Bruce Lee's poetic language concerning water was developed on the principle that what we call 'nature' can serve a metaphorical purpose and reveal to us fundamental truths about living, dying and thinking.  This idea that humanity is 'artificial' can distance us from the opportunities natural metaphors provide.  

The natural metaphor serves an incredibly powerful purpose.  Trees have come to represent genealogies and hierarchies.   Mountains are symbols of trial and tribulation.  Desert land is representative of vacancy and nothingness.  Thinking of nature in terms of symbolic language can be a helpful and philosophically stimulating exercise as long as we don't apply the symbols too fervently or mistake them for "Truth".  If anything, these symbolic gestures are worth examining and pondering.  Why do our abstract thoughts and feelings end up mirroring the structures and processes found in nature?  

To return to good ol' Bruce Lee, water (at least in this instance) represents the dichotomy between risk and reward. Imagine yourself floating in a pool.  Breathe in, and the water cradles you on the surface, allowing you to float and look up at the sky.  Exhale, and you begin to sink, the possibility of drowning becoming more and more real.  We constantly walk the fragile balance between life and death, happiness and suffering, just as our computers operate on fundamental combinations of 1's and 0's and every atom has its + and -. 

Water both creates and destroys.  It's a reminder of the balance between fragility and profundity in nature.  The moderation of a modest rainfall allows for crop growth, temperature regulation and vital fuel for every creature on earth.  The devastation of excess is revealed in the massive destruction brought on by flash floods, tsunamis and hurricanes.  But as we all know, matter is neither created nor destroyed.  Water forms and deforms, always changing.

Simultaneously destructive and regenerative, 'disasters' create new beauty through their annihilation of the old, just as major life events end up producing new circumstances.  Change is not an upward or downward trajectory but instead a complicated web.  Sometimes we need to tie up loose ends before we proceed.  There are times when chaos and destruction are unavoidable before anything can continue.  Very often the calm relies on the storm and vice-versa.   

What we can learn from this is a sense of balance.  Nature functions objectively, its processes neither Good nor Bad, just part of the whole.  And while our collective actions may alter its functioning, it has no opinions.  We cannot destroy Earth, only ourselves.  It is not sentient.  Nature functions as a process unto itself with no end goal and and it will continue to function indefinitely.  If humans do not respect nature, it will take care of the problem itself and continue functioning just beautifully without us.

To be like water means to be mindful of the material world, mindful of our simultaneous distance from and reliance on the natural world that birthed our species.  The utmost value should be placed on a state of adaptation; to be a 'good' human means to respond to change and chaos with diligence, intelligence and mindful physicality.  We must care, think and act.    With every moment we turn into someone else, someone we've never been before.  To pretend we're holding strong or not changing is silly and stubborn; we are constantly in flux and this provides endless potential for opportunity.  To make the most of it is to assert one's humanity and better oneself and others for the sake of all.