Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless; like water.
Now you water into 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 was not only one of the world’s greatest martial artist; he was also a philosopher who provided huge value through his wise statements and questions, found mainly in his movies as well as in recorded TV interviews. One of his most famous expressions is the one you just read.
At first glance, it will be incomprehensible. But let’s go one layer deeper. What did Bruce really say with these words? Why is he challenging us to “be water”? By saying “be water”, Bruce Lee did not only say two words. He expressed the fundamentals of life itself. How?
Water is simple
If you’ve ever read or even studied Eastern philosophy, you are probably aware that most of the Asian religions and ideologies advocate simplicity as the key to happiness. “Simplicity” in this case primarily means not getting attached to material possessions or social status. By not investing your identity and worth as a person in objects or reputation, your sense of self cannot be diminished through external factors which you cannot control such as theft, being fired from your job, having someone insult you, and so on.
So be simple, like water. Do not let your value lie outside you, but rather within you. Be centered in yourself.
Water is flexible
“Be formless, shapeless, like water”, Bruce says. What I think he really wants to tell us is to be able to adapt to any situation. This is one of the fundamentals in his martial art Jeet Kune Do. By not confining his growth as a fighter by following a defined set of rules, he allowed himself to absorb the elements of any martial art. In doing so, he trained himself to adopt to any situation he would find himself in.
This philosophy is not only applicable to martial arts, but also to life itself. Be open-minded. Don’t define yourself as “this” or “that”. By doing so, you will limit your growth as a person.
If you punch water, it will just move and “absorb” your hand. Water will not break; it will just adapt, and so should you. That way, you will only bend – literally or figuratively – but not break.
If you pour water into the center of a maze, and keep pouring, it will eventually find its way out. if you pour water onto a pile of rocks, it will find its way down to the ground. Water has a natural urge to fill out every crack, every unexplored part of its reality. The message is simple; be an explorer of the world, yourself, your possibilities, your relations; be an explorer of life.
Water doesn’t go with the flow; water is the flow
Once again, the message is rather simple: don’t go with the flow; be the flow itself.
Don’t try to impress anybody. By doing so, you are trying to live up to their expectations. You should always be striving towards living up to your own expectations. Don’t try to live someone else’s life; live your own life. Go your own way, because you are water. Go where you want to go in life, without listening to those who try to drag you down (with a bit of common sense of course; don’t hurt people).
Imagine a river. And then imagine someone build a dam to block the flow of water. The water will not simply turn back. It will keep pushing until either time, its own force or something else breaks the dam. Water always moves forward, and so should you.
Be the central force of your life. Be the master of your own decisions. Be the flow.
Be water, my friend.