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June 28, 2024

Mind Like Water

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Martial arts is known for teaching and emphasizing self-control. It focuses on helping practitioners to maintain full presence and be unaffected by disturbances. This requires being in a state of mind that has unique qualities to it.

Bruce Lee has a famous quote that highlights these qualities. It goes:

“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.”

When we experience situations in life we naturally try to impose our will on it. We try to shape the experience so that it’s familiar to us or we can maintain a sense of agency. But truly surrendering to a moment is like water. The displacement is equal to the extent of the disturbance.

Picture dropping a rock in a still pond. The pond water responds by creating ripples of displaced water that travel the entire distance of the pond. It temporarily affects the state of the pond until enough time passes, and through natural properties it returns to stillness.

That’s what it means to have a “mind like water”. David Allen defines this in his book 'Getting Things Done' as “a mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus.”

You can imagine how improved your performance is, and how much quality you can put into what you do, when you’re in this state of mind. It allows you to truly respond with what you believe is best rather than fight urges to react in ways that aren’t.

The best way to train yourself into this state is by practicing mindfulness. Meditation is the most popular form of mindfulness, but you can also do things that take the charge out of events. For example Marcus Aurelius was known for calling the best wine in the land as “simply fermented grapes”.

Or of course, simply focusing on your breath and experiencing that helps you go into your body and get out of your mind.

Try treating your mind like water. Influenceable, unattached, flowy, and receptive. It’s a beautiful thing to work toward!

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