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Bruce Lee’s Private Letters Explain What He Meant When He Said, “Be Like Water”


“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

This famous quote by Bruce Lee speaking to Mike Longstreet, a character of the television series “Longstreet,” summarizes the whole concept of Wu Wei, of acting effortlessly while exerting effort, or forcefully without using force.

What’s fascinating about this statement is the level of Bruce Lee’s self-actualization and self-awakening – a path that we all should be willing to take.

Through meditation and reflection, he came to this enlightening conclusion. He mastered the art of detachment by making the connection between the influence of his thoughts that cloud his thinking to the fleeting power of the water.

Lee writes that nothing is weaker than water, and yet it can still attack hard or resistant things and there is nothing that can withstand it or change its way. Water is so fragile that you can’t grasp it. If you strike it – it is not hurt. If you stab it – it is never wounded. Sever it – and it doesn’t divide.

Water is shapeless, and thus it can mold itself into any form depending on its container. When heated, it becomes a steam and it is almost invisible, yet it has enough power to split the earth. When frozen, it becomes a mighty rock.

This is also the main principle of Wu Wei:

“The rivers and seas are lords of a hundred valleys. This is because their strength is in lowliness; they are kings of them all. So it is that the perfect master wishing to lead them, he follows. Thus, though he is above them, he follows. Thus, though he is above them, men do not feel him to be an injury. And since he will not strive, none strive with him.”

My friend, be like water… Always.


Image Source: Flickr

Mary Wright


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