Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

The Way of the Water

--by Ursula LeGuin (Apr 03, 2017)

We have glamorized the way of the warrior for millennia. We have identified it as the supreme test and example of courage, strength, duty, generosity, and manhood. If I turn from the way of the warrior, where am I to seek those qualities? What way have I to go?
Lao Tzu says: the way of water.

The weakest, most yielding thing in the world, as he calls it, water chooses the lowest path, not the high road. It gives way to anything harder than itself, offers no resistance, flows around obstacles, accepts whatever comes to it, lets itself be used and divided and defiled, yet continues to be itself and to go always in the direction it must go. The tides of the oceans obey the Moon while the great currents of the open sea keep on their ways beneath. Water deeply at rest is yet always in motion; the stillest lake is constantly, invisibly transformed into vapor, rising in the air. A river can be dammed and diverted, yet its water is incompressible: it will not go where there is not room for it. A river can be so drained for human uses that it never reaches the sea, yet in all those bypaths and usages its water remains itself and pursues its course, flowing down and on, above ground or underground, breathing itself out into the air in evaporation, rising in mist, fog, cloud, returning to earth as rain, refilling the sea.

Water doesn’t have only one way. It has infinite ways, it takes whatever way it can, it is utterly opportunistic, and all life on Earth depends on this passive, yielding, uncertain, adaptable, changeable element.


The flow of a river is a model for me of courage that can keep me going — carry me through the bad places, the bad times. A courage that is compliant by choice and uses force only when compelled, always seeking the best way, the easiest way, but if not finding any easy way still, always, going on.

excerpted from the post The Election Lao Tzu and A Cup of Water. [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]

Add Your Reflection:

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Previous Reflections:

On Apr 2, 2017 david doane wrote:

 The way of water means being present, spontaneous, responsive to circumstances, adjusting in every moment, taking the path of least resistance, staying within one's own abilities, doing one's own thing, being nongoal-directed, and being persistent.  This way can wear down obstacles, just as water does, but that's not water's intent or purpose.  I've at times lived some qualities of the way of water, but have never fully lived that way, which is very difficult to accomplish.  What helps me flow like a river is being in the present, focusing on process and not on outcome.  It would be wonderful for us to stop glamorizing the way of the warrior and begin to value the way of water.

On Apr 3, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 The Way is indescribable in words.It is like pointing fingers towards the moon but not seeing the moon.When we are in the flow, we become the flow.And such flows are experienced in many contexts and in many ways. When I am fully immersed in something or with somebody, I lose my sense of separateness. There are no two-there is only one.The ancient Vedanta philosophy describes it as advaita-not two.

I experience such oneness when I am in a deep meditative state where the two banks of the river-this and that, me and you, right and wrong get dissolved into one flow of river; where the small self , the egoic- self, vanishes and the Universal Self unfolds.It is like soul meeting  the soul and merging into one other. I have such experience when  take a walk in nature where everything is connected with everything.I sense and feel harmony.

We all are born with the potential to realize the Self. I have been blessed to be in the  presence of such self realized people.For them the Kingdom of Heaven is right her and now in its full glory and majesty. We need to be awakened from the trance of separateness and go back to our universal home which is inside all of us.

May we go beyond our small self and be open and awakened to expand our consciousness!


Jagdish P Dave


On Apr 3, 2017 Suchitra wrote:

 A wonderful dimension regarding the qualities of water. Nature is always speaking to us in volumes which can be heard in the gentle gurgling of river water, the roaring water falls, splashing sea waves, gentle breeze, thundering lightning, cool breeze to scorching heat. We have to acknowledge that all are essential components of nature destined to do their duties according to the laws of nature and seasons. We should learn to visualize the ever changing nature in all its "finery and fiery", because "IT IS SO". Similarly we humans must learn to adapt to the situations because life is meant to be lived and to be appreciated and not to be analyzed, because "IT IS SO". 

On Apr 4, 2017 Nicole wrote:

 What I admire about water is its ability to always choose the path of least resistance and flow with it. 

On Apr 4, 2017 Mish wrote:

 In case be word, Acceptance.

On Apr 4, 2017 Mish wrote:

 Typo in my other post 

Should read:  In one word, Acceptance.:

On Apr 4, 2017 me wrote:

 Changing and embracing everything (one) you come in contact with.  Having quality personal time ... Helps me to "flow like a river".  Reading "The Way of Water " helped me to be still and know today!  VERY THANKFUL for it ... And for many of the reflections offered above!  I crave the path of water!

On Apr 5, 2017 Craig Coss wrote:

Even in some warrior mythologies, the powers of water are exalted. King Arthur, the model knight in England and France, was given his peerless sword, Excalibur, by Vivian, the Lady of the Lake. And after receiving his sword, the wizard Merlin asked Arthur, “Which is greater—the sword or the scabbard?” Arthur replied, “The sword, of course.” But Merlin revealed that the scabbard was the greater, for it while wearing it, Arthur could never be wounded by a blade—as water cannot be cut, but rejoins and mends itself as though nothing ever severed it.

On Apr 6, 2017 Michael wrote:

 "a peaceful warrior must wait for the mud to settle and the waters to clear so the right action arises by itself" from an adapted poem by Lao Tzu.  So clarity comes from waiting for me.  Ah the need for patience.  An old Vermonter I once met said, "Patience is a virtue and the only way to obtain it is by waitin' ".  

On Apr 6, 2017 LM wrote:

Beautiful piece. I thought Ursula LeGuin wrote stories and novels but reading this piece made me appreciate the depth in her perception. The connotation this portrays, of water taking the 'low road' makes me think of water being non-resistant, and being at a 'low energy' state. Offering resistance causes the body and mind to be in a 'high energy' state, where we are actively seeking ways to oppose the situation. Offering no resistance allows us to accept the situation for what it is, and seek another path. But water cannot be compressed, meaning that core values cannot be compromised in choosing an alternative path. By being both passive and yielding in action but being incompressible in core values, we can be like water, resilient and pliable, but achieving our final objectives. To me the way that helps me 'flow' is to deliberately pause and accept the situation in its entirety, watching the heat that arises in my body in opposition to a situation dissipate and simply look for alternatives. By nature, this is difficult for me to do, but much more internally unreactive (relaxing) when I see the change in the reaction within my own heart.

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On Apr 7, 2017 T Y wrote:

 Interesting ... I had to look up the word scabbard!  Mind expanding are all these thoughts!  

On Apr 7, 2017 Again, amen! wrote:

 Thank You, God ... Creator of all nature!  You speak to me through water, light, thunder ... .  Yesterday, You hugged me through Your Power of the wind!  It IS so!  

On Apr 10, 2017 A.M.V. Alagappan wrote:

Water is perhaps only thing in nature that takes three states. It is in solid state as ice and snow. In  liquid state as water.  In gaseous state as steam. 

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