I was recently asked the question – if you had to describe yourself as one of the “elements” (fire, wind, earth or water) what would you be? And then the kicker follow-on question – why?
Ok so I must admit – I read the question – I face-palmed, then I rolled my eyes – I re-read the question and then I groaned so audibly that my husband asked me what was wrong! Ha!
These types of questions do my head in. I think because my first reaction is to dismiss them as pointless, unproductive, and because they seem to be asked only to elicit some obscure response from the subconscious.
I was so irritated by the question that I left it unanswered and went on to answer other “more sensible” questions.
But I am not one to leave things unfinished and so I returned to the question a day later. I don’t know if it was because I had time to let the question percolate in the back of my mind or because I had just poured myself a second glass of wine – but almost unthinkingly I realised that I align myself with water.
Why? Because water is adaptable. It comes across an obstacle and finds a way around it. It is calm. It knows its purpose. It can be still. It can rage. It can – over time – carve out a canyon. It can take on many forms, water, ice, steam. It refreshes and restores and relaxes. It envelops and supports and takes weight away.
Right. Done. Next question.
Two weeks pass and I am on a flight home from Paris via Hong Kong desperately trying to stay awake during a night flight to start re-setting my body clock to Brisbane time. I happen upon a Ted Ex series and so I listened to one entitled “Be humble – and other lessons learned from the philosophy of water” by Raymond Tang. It is worth the listen.
Raymond Tang bases his talk around a Taoist poem that goes like this:
“The supreme goodness is like water. It benefits all things without contention. In dwelling, it stays grounded. In being, it flows to depths. In expression, it is honest. In confrontation, it stays gentle. In governance, it does not control. In action, it aligns to timing. It is content with its nature and therefore cannot be faulted.”
He speaks about staying grounded and being humble, he speaks about going with the flow (he calls it harmony) about finding a solution without force or conflict, and about being open to change, being adaptable and flexible. Humility, Harmony, Openness. H-H-O or H2O.
It was a great talk full of interesting analogies that struck chords with me because of the way I resolved to answer that “which element and why” question for myself. It was also one of those “coincidences” where I wondered if two “water” analogies in the space of as many weeks might mean that I needed to consider the “message” a bit more carefully.
As I reflected a bit further, I thought that perhaps Tao didn’t quite have it right. Perhaps he was looking at a gentle stream or a calm lake when he wrote the poem, because my experience of the ocean and river rapids is anything but “gentle” and many of my experiences with this kind of water have been quite confrontational.
I have written before about times in my life when I have been hit by several “dumpers” only to be left feeling panicked, upside down and gasping for air. As an estates lawyer I see many of my grieving clients knocked for six when their world has been turned upside down upon the loss of a loved one.
It seems to me that times of grief are times in our life where philosophies that might otherwise apply to everyday life just don’t fit right. When the rug gets pulled from beneath you, there is not much else that can be done but to stay lying on the ground where you fall. At least for a while, until you fumble your way through the maze of the phases of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then find a way to get back up. Forever changed.
Whenever I have found myself near drowning in deep waters, caught in the “rip” of an unexpected event – my faith is what has helped me make it out. I take great comfort to know, that even if I feel out of control, out of my depth, even if I don’t understand – God will be with me.
When I stop panicking, when I stop struggling and stop fighting enough to calm myself with this promise, I can let the “rip” take me out to the deeper ocean, where it will weaken and I will then have the strength to swim towards the shoreline – or I will have the sense to put my hand up and wait for a lifeguard to help get me there.
So, let me ask you a few “annoying” questions, in the hope that you too might see yourself or your circumstance from a different perspective:
- if you had to describe yourself as one of the “elements” (fire, wind, earth or water) what would you be? And why?
- When the unexpected happens in your life, how do you cope?