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Water as Metaphor

I am a lover of metaphors and little stories. Whenever I find one, I study and reflect deeply on it, trying to draw out as many meanings and interpretations as possible. Besides the garden metaphor, one of my favorites is the water metaphor, especially the meaning of this element in Taoism, a philosophy of life of Chinese origin. You may remember Bruce Lee’s famous phrase “Be water, my friend“, inspired by Taoist philosophy.

First of all, water symbolizes the quality of softness and flexibility. In the Tao Te Ching (the book that gave rise to Taoism), Laozi states that water is the softest and most flexible thing in the world, but it can overcome the hardest and strongest. This relates to the idea that true strength lies not in rigidity and brute force, but in the ability to be flexible, adaptable and flow with circumstances. This teaching advises us to be like water, adapting to our environment and overcoming obstacles not through direct confrontation, but through gentleness and persistence.

Related to flexibility and gentleness is patience. Water flows constantly, but it does so at its own pace, without haste or pause. This continuous flow of water is a reminder that patience is intrinsically linked to the acceptance of the passage of time. Being patient like the flow of water requires an acceptance of natural processes and an understanding that not everything can be sped up; some things simply take the time they need to unfold.

The patience of water is also seen in its ability to find its way despite obstacles. When water encounters an obstacle, it does not stop; it seeks a new path, flowing around or even through whatever gets in its way. This ability to adapt and persist, already mentioned, is a key aspect of patience. It teaches us that being patient does not mean being passive, but finding ways to move forward and adapt to changing circumstances.

El agua es una metáfora muy poderosa para la terapia.

In addition, water is seen as a symbol of humility. It flows downward, to the lowest places, which are avoided by most. This characteristic of water is used to illustrate the value of seeking simplicity and humility, avoiding pride and arrogance. This metaphor teaches the importance of being low and humble in order to receive and nurture all beings.

Another important aspect is its ability to reflect reality as it is. Calm and clear water can perfectly reflect the world around it. This symbolizes the clarity of mind and perception that is achieved through Taoist practice. Just as clear water reflects without distortion, a serene and centered mind can perceive reality without the distortions caused by strong emotions or prejudices.

Water also represents constant flow and ceaseless change. The ever-changing nature of water, which continually flows and transforms, is a reminder of the Taoist doctrine of constant change and impermanence. In life, change is the only constant, and we must learn to flow with these changes rather than resist them.

Compassion is another of the symbolic qualities attributed to water. Consider the inherent nature of water: it is essential to life, it does not discriminate and flows freely, nourishing everything in its path. This characteristic of water reflects the essence of compassion, which is the desire to alleviate the suffering of others and contribute to their well-being without distinction. Like water that does not choose which plant to nourish, genuine compassion does not discriminate among those to whom it extends itself.

Like water, compassion also has the quality of flowing to where it is needed. Just as water naturally seeks out the lowest and driest places to fill, compassion leads us to seek out those places in the world and in people’s hearts that are most in need of care and attention. This ability to flow to where it is needed is fundamental to the practice of compassion.

In psychotherapy, the metaphor of water can be used as a symbol that reminds us of the fundamental attitudes for a fulfilling life, such as patience, mental flexibility, compassion, humility, among others.

Did you know this symbolism associated with water? Do you know other meanings? Do you have a special relationship with water? Leave us a comment, we would like to hear your story.

Ismael Abogado

Ismael Abogado

Psychologist and constant learner of the mind and soul.

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