Water Nature, Human Nature

Posted by Bill Miller on Apr 11, 2017
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Water Nature, Human Nature

A recent Wednesdays at Mehta’s included a reading and discussion based on an article by fiction writer Ursula LeGuin (1). In the article, LeGuin considers the current political climate in light of some observations about “The Way of Water” by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. In particular, she contrasts the current preoccupation with strength, force, and military might as over against the humble nature of water (quoting):

"The weakest, most yielding thing in the world, as [Lao Tzu] calls it, water chooses the lowest path, not the high road. It gives way to anything harder than itself, offers no resistance, flows around obstacles, accepts whatever comes to it, lets itself be used and divided and defiled, yet continues to be itself and to go always in the direction it must go. The tides of the oceans obey the Moon while the great currents of the open sea keep on their ways beneath. Water deeply at rest is yet always in motion; the stillest lake is constantly, invisibly transformed into vapor, rising in the air. A river can be dammed and diverted, yet its water is incompressible: it will not go where there is not room for it. A river can be so drained for human uses that it never reaches the sea, yet in all those bypaths and usages its water remains itself and pursues its course, flowing down and on, above ground or underground, breathing itself out into the air in evaporation, rising in mist, fog, cloud, returning to earth as rain, refilling the sea."

"Water doesn’t have only one way. It has infinite ways, it takes whatever way it can, it is utterly opportunistic, and all life on Earth depends on this passive, yielding, uncertain, adaptable, changeable element."

While we in the West often like to focus on the left-brain aspects of existence – individual stature, vision, drive, motivation, power, and achievement, the “humble” power of water offers an intriguing contrast.

And in fact, the metaphor of water or “flow” often is utilized to characterize various aspects of the living process, usually with positive implications (e.g. “going with the flow”). This was perhaps most thoroughly articulated in the book “Flow” by Univ. of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.)

I was once in the midst of a group of people touring the campus of California’s Institute of Noetic Sciences. Along the way, someone dropped a plastic bottle of water and had to chase several yards to retrieve it since the roadway had a slight incline. I cleverly quipped: “Oh look! Even trapped in a bottle, water still follows its nature to flow downhill!”.

During our discussion, someone pointed out that about 70% of the human body is comprised of water. Driving home from the meeting, I recalled the above water bottle incident. In that light, if water is “bottled up” as the human body’s major component, what might it mean for this cosmic element to continue to follow its flow-nature within the bounds of one’s own existence?  And how many of our problems and frustrations result from failing to “go with this flow”?

Csikszentmihalyi’s book certainly speaks to this in a substantial way, but I would enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments below!


(1) http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2016/11/21/the-election-lao-tzu-a-cup-of-water/


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Comments (2)

  • Pavi Mehta wrote ...

    Love the analogy between humans and bottled water Bill! Thanks for sharing this reflection. Brought to mind John O' Donohue's beautiful words... ' I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding'.

  • Pez wrote ...

    Water is underappreciated by those who have usurped the culture that existed here in America, before Columbus. These desert people talk purty, but will suck you dry. They don't GO with the flow. They expect the flow to go with them. They suck the life of anything that isn't like them, these euro-centric, anti-other ethnic backgrounds, English Only people. No appreciation for splendor of life.