Bruce Lee was a force of nature. Born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong, he became an amazing martial artist, actor and de facto ambassador of Asian culture to America and the West.
What Lee is less known for, unfortunately, is his philosophy, writing and poetry. Blending Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, Lee was full of heart, awe, passion, dedication, diligence, determination and pragmatism. Lee’s entire philosophy can be concisely summarized by his most well-known advice: “Be like water.” This message refers to his recognition of the formless yet infinite power of water.
This struck me while I was hiking along Grizzly Creek in Colorado’s awe-inspiring Glenwood Canyon. It wasn’t exactly new, yet it hit me with the force of revelation, a great a-ha, a flash of insight, a moment of re-cognition.
Grizzly Creek was flowing along its course over rocks, boulders, trees, branches and whatever else was in its path, yet the creek flowed regardless. It didn’t complain, it didn’t blame, it didn’t begrudge, it didn’t make excuses. It simply flowed. And when it was blocked one way, it went another.
The river quite often around, but also beautifully over, creating little waterfalls whenever necessary. Obstacles, temperature, weather, scenery, wildlife, people—all no matter. This may be why Bruce Lee said that “water is fearless.” The water not only did what it needed to do, it did what was easiest to do. Water never goes where it cannot, yet it always effortlessly goes where it can.
“Using no way as way,” Bruce Lee mused in Taoist fashion, “Having no limitation as your only limitation.”
So impressed by the creek, I thought I could engage in mindfulness to be like water, but doing so made me too conscious, too deliberate, too me. I was in nature, even mindful of nature, certainly appreciating nature, but it was not enough, because I was still apart from nature, feeling separate and alienated as I looked on the creek as a thing outside of myself to be appreciated.
Instead of being apart from nature, as reverently mindful as I tried to be, I realized I simply had to be part of nature, indeed I had to be nature—as we all are. I could only attain this form of mindfulness through mindlessness, “moving and not moving at all.”
As Bruce Lee realized, “The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action.” I could not think about water to be water, but instead I had to not think at all—and just be to just be water. I was no longer in nature; I was nature. At least for that moment, I became like water.
Like this? Try: Mindfulness Anywhere.
Author: Dan Brook
Image: Author’s own, Video Still
Apprentice Editor: Justine O’Connell; Editor: Travis May