What Water and an Ancient Poem Have to Teach Us About Life

Posted On June 16, 2022

choose joy

“Let water be your teacher, your life force,” my spiritual coach Chris suggested.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The ancient Greeks believed the physical world comprised a combination of earth, water, air, and fire. These four elements can also describe the parts of our personalities. To be healthy mentally and physically, we must keep these elements in balance.”

I leaned forward, intrigued by Chris’ wisdom.



The Wisdom of Water


You have a lot of fire in you—passion, excitement, inner drive—and that’s good. But you need to balance that fire by learning to gently flow like water.”

Chris suggested I watch the TED Talk by Raymond Tang, “Be Humble—and other lessons from the philosophy of water.”

Tang says he struggled trying to find fulfillment in life until he came across the ancient Chinese philosophy of the Tao Te Ching. He found the following ancient poem comparing goodness to water, an idea he’s now applying to everyday life.

“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.”  The Book of the Way and Its Virtue


The Characteristics of Water

According to Tang, these three characteristics of water serve as important guiding principles for our lives:



Water is Humble

According to its definition, the term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, which means “from the earth” or “grounded.”


Water flowing in a river always stays close to the earth.


It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It doesn’t seek reward or recognition.


It freely gives of itself to nourish plants and animals. It meanders toward and becomes one with larger bodies of water such as a lake or the ocean.

Like water, we’re invited to stay grounded in the truth of who we are; to know we are good soil.  The Source of our Being is the Creator, and when we flow toward and with the Divine to affirm our goodness and receive guidance, we experience happiness. We discover our unique gifts and talents and use them to enrich other people’s lives.


Humility gives us the capacity to remain grounded, to be present, to learn from and be transformed by the free flow of God’s love and wisdom.


Water is in harmony with all creation


Harmony combines separate but related parts that together bring about unity. Water works in union with soil to flow in and around trees and plants. It gives and sustains life.

There are many parts, but we are all one body, Scripture tells us (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

When we allow our mind, body, and hearts to work together as one, we experience wholeness. We allow life to flow in and through our sacred hearts, which allows us to receive insight (or intuition) from the Divine. And when we work in harmony with other people, we create more love and beauty in the world.

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of harmony is the “Serenity Prayer” written by Reinhold Niebuhr:                                         

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next


By first seeking God’s wisdom to know whether we need to let go of something/someone or change a situation, we flow in harmony within ourselves, God, and others. Like water, we experience serenity.

We don’t push the river. We let the river flow.


Water is open to change

Depending on the temperature, water can be a liquid, solid, or gas.  In fact, despite all the changes in the environment, it’s water’s ability to adapt that has made it so enduring through the ages.. 

We also live in a world of constant change. We can no longer expect to keep a static job description or follow a single career path. Like water, we are expected to constantly reinvent and refresh our skills to stay relevant. Likewise, we must grow and transform spiritually so we don’t stagnate.

Zen Buddhism teaches it is best to have a “beginners mind.”  It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level.

When we’re flexible like water, we flow around life’s obstacles. We’re open to discovering new truths and insights from spiritual reading, having healthy conversations with others, and listening to the whisper of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.



What Would Water Do?

The ancient poem from The Book of the Way and Its Virtue and Raymond Tang’s TED Talk taught me much about life and how to live with more balance. It’s an on-going lifetime work in process, but now I have new tools with which to work.

When I feel that revved up fire-in-my-belly becoming an uncontrolled bonfire, I imagine the Creator pouring a pitcher of water on my inner fire. The water doesn’t put out the fire; it simply tames it. It allows me to become more right-sized—balanced with the right combination of earth, fire, air, and water.

The three characteristics of water—humility, harmony, and openness—have become guiding principles in life. Now, like Tang suggests in his TED Talk, whenever I feel stressed, unfulfilled, anxious, or just not sure what to do, I take a drink of water, savor it, and ask the question, “What would water do?”


-brian j plachta


June Finding Flow Workshops 


Join me for the June 24-25 Workshops:

Finding Flow and Deepening Finding Flow
the Dominican Center Marywood at Aquinas

Together we’ll unpack the four questions below and discover a pathway to your Inner Self and God.

  • What does inner peace look like to you?
  • What does it mean for your life to be balanced?
  • How do you feel when you sense wholeness?
  • What are the spiritual tools and practices that allow us to discover and sustain the flow of inner peace, balance, and wholeness?


You have two options to join the Workshop:

Option 1: You can attend the Friday evening session on-line via Zoom; or

Option 2: You can attend both the Friday evening on-line session, and Saturday in-person workshop at Dominican Center.

Click the links below to learn more and register:

Friday Night Zoom Session On-line

Friday Night Zoom Session On-line and Saturday morning in-person session at DCM

Together, let’s continue to Find the Divine Flow within us!



Want to discover more about “Divine Flow?”

Click on the Learn More link to check out this 3-Minute video and discover more about Divine Flow so you can reclaim your inner peace, joy, and happiness.

Written by Brian J. Plachta

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