“Just be like the river, Megan,” was a phrase I heard over and over growing up from my mother.
When I was younger, my Mom dabbled in spirituality. She explored Buddhism, Native American philosophy, and Taoism. And she extracted bits of each and shared her wisdom with my sister and me. But this phrase in particular always stood out for me.
“What do you mean, Mom?” I would inquire. And my gentle, wise Mom would explain her interpretation of one of the most fundamental Taoist philosophies.
Water is one of the most profound symbols in the entire Tao Te Ching. Lau Tso uses water as a metaphor for how to live a God-conscious life, a life connected to Source Energy, a life connected to the Invisible Intelligence that created the entire Universe. It is a metaphor for how to live an enlightened life, free of competition, envy and jealousy, a life free from resistance, regardless of what may come its way.
When a river is flowing, there are always obstacles that get in its way. Some small ones like pebbles and twigs, others are massive like boulders and entire trees. But none of it ever stops the water’s progressions, no matter how large it may be. The water always finds a way to keep going. It will go over it, under it, or around, but it keeps going nonetheless. And it always takes the path of least resistance and eventually creates a new path forward.
Water is both exquisitely soft and yet mighty and powerful enough to wear down the tallest of mountains. It is patient without exception.
And water is also a symbol of the Tao, of God. It is invisible, yet everywhere. It is odorless, colorless, and tastelessness yet is the essence of all that lives.
While much of the Tao uses water as a metaphor, verse 8 does so in an extraordinary way:
“The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all of creation
without trying to compete with it.
It gathers in the low places unpopular with men.
Thus it is like the Tao.
Live in accordance with the nature of things.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In dealing with others, be fair and generous.
In governing, do not try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself,
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
One who lives in accordance with nature
does not go against the way of things.
He moves in harmony with the present moment,
always knowing the truth of just what to do.”
Now that I have read the Tao Te Ching myself, I can see precisely what Mom meant all those years ago. Every day I use this metaphor of water in my own life. And now I have passed that incredibly profound wisdom onto my own children.
So remember to use water in your own life to guide you, offer you reassurance, and to remain connected to Source.
“Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water
Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.” (78.1-2)
Yes, every day I try to be like the river, just like Mom said. Thanks, Mom.