Thinking About Thinking - 2018

Be Like Water, My Friend!

By Balaji Prasad

“Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless.
Like water.
Now if you put water into a cup,
it becomes the cup.
Put it into a teapot,
it becomes the teapot.
Now water can flow or creep or drip or crash.
Be water my friend."
~ Bruce Lee

Wouldn't it be nice to flow? Like water, my friend. It might! But as with many things, the words always seem to be able to flow into places where neither mind nor body can. So, we aren't able to flow, literally. In a sense, though, we do flow; the worldly part of us doesn't, the wordy part does.

The exercise we are undertaking here with the idea of flow is itself an act of flow. We are able to fabricate ideas and words with our minds and weave them together with real-world things in a way that blurs the distinction between what is real and what is not. “Flow" is an idea. Arguably, we – the human beings - are not just an idea. So, at one level, when we say we can flow, it is a ludicrously nonsensical thought. But at another level of thought, where all things – real and unreal – sit comfortably side by side, it makes perfect sense not only to say this, but even to attempt doing this.

Sometimes words flow on their own, as we sit on the banks of a word-river, and watch dispassionately, as the river wends its way to wherever its natural forces take it. Sometimes, though, the words get into us. Deep inside. And, they create a raging torrent blown by fierce internal winds that seem to appear out of thin air. This is how hurricanes form. There are always seeds of things that give rise to things; the presence of seeds can only be realized when the seed becomes much more than a seed.

A world without words

Children have fewer words than adults do. They live in a different world, where words are fewer and the world is larger. So, it would appear that they would have less flow than the big kids they are going to become someday. But, ironically, the word “flow" seems to apply to children more than it does to those who are much more fluent with words. Maybe there is a real kind of flow, quite different from the flow of words driven by a feverish mind constantly yearning to make sense out of what feels like nonsense.

Words are fertile. They are seeds that contain other seeds within them. They are also flexible. They can be whatever we wish them to be. Do we not see politicians and lawyers play craftily with words, and make them mean whatever they wish them to mean? And, if we are honest, politicians and lawyers aren't just the people that sit in courtrooms and government buildings. Most of us play with words to get them to flow to places that we would like them to flow to.

For little children though, words and ideas are less important in the overall scheme of things. How do I know? There was a time when I had fewer words and ideas available to me. Then I “grew up".

“Up" can be down

Words have connotations that we get instantly, once we attain a certain level of expertise with their use. When we speak of “growing up", there is some sense of “progress" baked into it – some kind of “forward" motion toward something “better". But if we realize that words can flow where the world might not, we would have a healthy degree of skepticism about our words and ideas.

All this is not to say that words are worthless. It is only because we are able to say “up" when it may be down that we are able to transcend a reality that would otherwise be hopelessly bounded by our experiences and knowledge. Imagination – which is the world of words and ideas – opens up possibilities that may lead to real things. Fight fire with fire they say. In a way we do this, perhaps. What we see in our circumstances is simultaneously defined and obfuscated by the ideas and words that we are used to. However, the same facility with words and ideas, coupled with the creativity that is a part of our nature, allows us to “escape" the ball and chain of what we know, and go toward what we could know.

“Knowing" is something that we value tremendously, but maybe there is more to knowing than we know.

Say “no!" to know

At the end of the day, a tool is a tool, and in the hands of a fool, a tool can torture. But, in the hands of an artist, the tool helps you paint without painting yourself into the picture, unless you see some benefit in doing that. And, of course, if you are a skilled artist, you can change your mind at any point, and paint yourself out of the picture as well. Sometimes the pictures are macabre, and it helps not to put yourself into those stories. Adventures, romance … Yes! Tragedies? … maybe not.

What we call “knowledge" then is a witches' brew of various odds and ends – sugar and spice, lizards' tails and goop and more. All made up from the stuff of minds. “Knowing" can be a useful tool, if it is somewhat aligned with what you would like, even if it is not aligned with the real world. But knowing can also be a wheel you create for the hamster inside you that is doomed to spin the wheel without any respite, because that is what hamsters do.

Say “yes!" to flow

That was a pretty long-winded way to say that it is possible to think less, and be more. “Knowing" may be overrated, while flowing is underrated. Be like water, my friend!


Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or