Monday, October 19, 2020

Be Water, My Friend

Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup; it becomes the cup.
You put water into a bottle; 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. 

We are living through unprecedented times. We long to return to “normal” life…whatever that is, or that was. We still live amidst uncertainty. Perhaps your school has returned to in-person instruction. Maybe you have full participation in competitive sports. And yet, we know not what the next few months will bring.

At Saint Francis High School, the athletic department continues to encourage coaches and athletes to be flexible. As reported to parents during the Back to School presentation, “flexibility is the unofficial theme of this year.” 

Bruce Lee—the late Chinese, Honk Kong, American martial artist and actor embraced this motto with his personal philosophy: "Be Water." His daughter, Shannon Lee, the author of the book Be Water, My Friend wrote, "for those of you who are unfamiliar with this quote of my father's, it first came into understanding around the practice of martial arts, which we will use as a metaphor throughout this book for living one's most engaged life. But most important to me, the idea of being like water is to attempt to embody the qualities of fluidity and naturalness in one's life."

She added, "Water can adjust its shape to any container, it can be soft or strong. It is simply and naturally always itself, and it finds a way to keep moving and flowing. Now imagine if you  could learn to be that flexible, that sentient? that natural and that unstoppable?" Could Bruce Lee have possibly known how valuable, how poignant his exhortation would be in the year 2020? Flexibility is the name of our game, and yet I found I have needed it in my own life...and in other ways.

Lee's philosophy hails
from the "Tao Te Ching," a Chinese philosophy text that is over 2,600 years old (the title translates to "The Book of the Way and its Virtue). Comprised of many poems, the Tao Te Ching has a passage that says, "the supreme goodness is like water." A fantastic TED Talk by Raymond Tang provides additional context and reflection upon the qualities of water. His insights on humility, harmony and openness have enabled me to embrace Lee's benevolent command. I think I now say it at least once a day.

  • Former student was obviously not happy to see me on campus. I had hoped we had moved on from whatever happened in the past. Be water, my friend.
  • Negativity. Complaining. Holding grudges. Unwillingness to assume the best or compromise. Be water, my friend.
  • I still don't have the answer to many of the questions athletes ask about our future season(s). I hope we will have them! Be water, my friend. 
  • The upcoming election? Be water, my friend.

As a Catholic Christian, the power and significance of water is not lost on me. We are washed from the stain of original sin at our Baptism. In John's Gospel, Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water. She doesn't ask for it. It’s not something she can acquire or purchase. It's a gift. And he just says, “Would you like some?” I have always been able to pray with the song "Come to the Water." Water is flexible, formless and shapeless AND it is life giving.

Thank you Bruce Lee for sharing this beautiful teaching with me...

Additional Info
Wise beyond his years, Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973 at the tender age of 32. 

The new ESPN “30-for-30" documentary by Bao Nguyen, reveals the magic and charisma the "Enter the Dragon" star brought to his brief but groundbreaking careers as both martial artist and actor. I recommend watching it for several reasons. Chief among is what Jack Hamilton writes in the article, ESPN’s Bruce Lee Documentary Is Way Better Than The Last Dance. "Be Water is best when exploring the subject of race, a topic that it approaches with rare sensitivity for an ESPN production. In the mid-1960s, when Lee was trying to break into Hollywood, there were essentially no roles for Asian men that were not variations on yellow face caricatures, casting them as either the wacky comic relief or the sinister embodiment of otherness. Be Water” examines the actor adapting to several different environments — until his “flow” becomes a tidal wave of superstardom."

The film concludes with Lee on camera, not just speaking but teaching the interviewer. Nearly 50 years later, his energy and emphatic call speaks to me. Shannon Lee's book is a wonderful addition.

Photo Credits
ESPN Be Water

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