I am Water.

by Jennifer Sey


“I had a relapse. I am not like water. I am a stormy sea filled with sharks!”


My friend Kristin wrote this in an email to me a few days ago. We spent two days together in Seattle just after New Year’s discussing her recent foray back to the work world after three years at home with her little girls. She is struggling to maintain equilibrium and manage the contentious interactions that happen as an every day part of working. She is suffering from backaches and restless sleep. She is anxious all the time. So much so that she has a constant debate with herself about whether or not to quit, adding another layer to the strain of the work itself. My New Year’s resolution advice to her was: Be like water.


Bend don’t break. Be fluid and flexible. Ease your mind and follow the tide. Accept that you are working, that you have to. Don’t fight it.


My husband has given me this advice countless times as I am a woman who tends to be more like board than water. But I have been consciously attempting to master the art of fluidity for the last few years and I’m pleased to say, I’ve made significant progress.


My innate tendency is to come at every problem with the rigidity of a baseball bat, convinced that by sheer force of will I can knock the sucker out of the park if I’m stubborn enough. And it has worked for me. As a kid, I set aside the general consensus that I was an athlete of moderate ability to push on through and become a national gymnastics champion. That was oh so many moons ago but it taught me that being like board is not always a bad thing. As an adult, I was persistent enough to insist that my superiors reconsider me for the job I have now, despite not securing the position after the first round of interviews because I wasn’t, as they put it, “a demonstrated Change Agent”. (I’ll show you a Change Agent!) My dogged rigidity is often effective thus hard to give up.


Except if I think about what it does to my soul. And my fingers. Which are picked into bloody shreds, the place where stress manifests itself on my human form. It is for this reason that I have attempted to be more like water, less like board.


My husband tells me this quote is from the Tao Te Ching, the classic Chinese philosophy text. When I look up the quote as I write this, I find Bruce Lee to be the speaker of these words of wisdom, the full phrase being: “Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.”


Whether it comes from the Tao or the famed martial artist, it has worked wonders for me. If I relax and empty my mind, I can move through my day with ease. I get work done more quickly; I don’t perseverate over every possible outcome of each situation. I can handle criticisms and unexpected projects if I just flow, assuming the form that needs to be assumed. Like water in a pitcher.


Kristin’s set back was not unexpected. I have them all the time. A true test came this past week when my Blackberry broke. I am the classic Blackberry addict. Though I hate the stupid “Crackberry” play on words, I’ll admit the term applies to me. I carry it with me always. It is in my purse on the weekends, in my bathrobe in the morning. On lonely nights when I was up until dawn in the hospital with my mom after she was dianosed with lung cancer (no she never smoked). That was when I fell in love with the device. While my mom slept in a drug induced stupor, the Blackberry kept me in touch with friends who offered consoling advice. I was bleary eyed and desperate and that little phone kept me tethered to the calming words of life long friends as I sleeplessly and fearfully awaited the prognosis.


from Tao Te Ching, Book 8
The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying,
without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao.
and 78
There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing
that can take precedence of it;--for there is nothing (so effectual) for which it can be changed.

Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.


Be like water. I like that. It's simple, to the point-and possibly might even let me sleep through the night. Thanks, Jen.


Great article! My cuticles are bloody, too. I also am an excellent dispenser of wisdom, but have no freaking clue how to apply it to myself most of the time.