The first time I’d ever seen the phrase “Be like water” it was scrawled in red spray paint across a section of the Pont’s des Arts footbridge, or “Bridge of Locks” as it’s become known, in Paris, France. It had been written in all caps that must have been at least four to five feet tall and forty feet wide. I found it peculiar at best – a bit puzzling initially. There was something quite deep philosophically; yet, downright disrespectful to the beautiful Paris attraction at worst. I didn’t have a good camera shot at it as people were in my way while gazing along the famous bridge to the Seine River underneath, along with all the hundreds of thousands of locks that had taken up residence there.
A gorgeous sight, that bridge. A hopeful, inspiring place where one would join with his spouse, companion, lover, and friend then promise forever and click the padlock shut before tossing the key into the Seine. It should be that simple…love I mean. It should be as concrete as purchasing a padlock, attaching it to a chain link fence and making a promise before a lovely scenic river among hoards of tourists all making that same guarantee. For just three euros a couple could pick up a lock and write their names on it with a permanent marker also made available at the kiosk. Forever for three euros! That’s a bargain, friends!
Eternal love aside, I went back the next day to photograph those words in paint that had haunted me. Three simple words had taken my attention off of the romanticism that has the power to have inspired writers and painters, poets and prophets. That quote – graffiti really – that, to me, trumped foolhardy love with it’s concrete promises, was quite profound. In fact, love is very difficult to explain and particularly hard to maintain. This quote held with it something more tangible to me than mere promises made with keys and padlocks. So much so that it had remained heavily on my mind ever since I’d happened upon it a day earlier. Unfortunately for me, it had already been painted over, to the point where one wouldn’t have ever known it had existed. I questioned whether I’d actually seen it there or made it up or maybe it was on another bridge overlooking the Seine River with locks attached to it’s chain links? I looked it up on google to see if it even existed outside of my head.
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
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.” ~Bruce Lee
I’m guessing “Be the water” is a close cousin to “go with the flow”, except it sounds deeper to me. It puts me in charge of how I react to my circumstances. It assigns me a role to play in my life. Beyond going with the flow, it makes me the flow and charges me with personal responsibility for my own peace and harmony. I can fight the crowd or I can be one with the movement of the crowd and eventually get beyond the crowd. Does it say be a chameleon? No. It says to find a way around or through something.
For example, if due to life circumstances I cannot continue in a relationship, be it friend or lover or partner, I must resolve to charge ahead, over, around, and/or through it, to overcome and be my best self. Fluid motion is key. Remaining stuck or stagnant is a form of death. Death of life, death of soul, death of potential, death of joy. Being rigid makes us place obstacles around ourselves and others. It makes seeing clearly almost impossible according to Bruce. If we are rigid we have already decided we know the ending to the story. That being the case, then why continue? Do we have that much power? We don’t, do we? Young children are often like water. Wide eyed and accepting. Learning and growing with each new experience. It is us, the ones who “know better”, that tend to fight so hard to stay young, maintain the status quo, give in or give up out of fear. Fear changes people. Fear beats down life. It comes in all different sizes, shapes, colors, titles, diagnosis.
I say choose life. Be empowered. Be water, my friend.