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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Be like water (when you’re stuck) [Wise Wednesdays]

What do you do when you have to do something you don’t want to do?

Millions of people are caught in conflict zones around the world right now, mostly in Africa, Asia and now Europe.

Perhaps for you the conflict is on a smaller scale (either an inner-conflict or with someone else). But it might still feel stressful. Maybe you’re being asked to work from home when you’d rather be back at the office accessing more social contact for your mental wellbeing. Or perhaps you’re the opposite and being asked to come into the office when you’d rather work from home and be in your own space doing things at your own rhythm, like one of my dear clients recently.

Legend in the making: E is a global head of marketing in a large company. He’s passionate about creating robust supply chains through diverse teams to make sure the world has enough food while looking after his family. He reached out after starting to feel stuck as to where to go next in his career and fulfil his potential. We worked on identifying a bigger vision and his unique genius which helped him become clearer than ever about where he’s going, what to focus on and how to unleash his energy.

But being asked to come into the office out of the blue was a spanner in the works. It was an injury to the integrity of his optimised working-from-home routine. To add insult to injury, the office was empty! It felt like a patronising move from management.

(What would you do?...)

Having explored the various options available to him for how to respond, we kept his long-term strategy in mind, and he decided it wasn’t worth the fight. He would go along with the plan…which stung.

But there’s a martial arts adage that says: Be like water. I mentioned it in our coaching conversation, and it resonated with him. It reframed the situation and it had a positive impact at a visceral level that helped him break through the frustration. We examined what it might look like to be like water in this situation. Ideas of how to make it work started to appear (for example, the office hours weren’t set in stone so there was no clear obligation of when he needed to show up at the office…)

A week later, he said he was back in flow and an incident that would have consumed him with intense stress and rumination became a blip on his bigger radar of life. He found a way to make the situation work for him and preserved his energy to put into his long term projects. This is the power of a metaphor.

It may be a small thing compared to what’s going on in a refugee camp. But every time you find more peace within you and a way to move forward in life without resorting to aggression or violence (or feeling disempowered by other people’s), it transforms our collective future.

Times of uncertainty and stress call for deeper metaphors for how to meet life

When nothing makes sense anymore and confusion has taken over your mind, you might feel anger or helplessness but don’t give in.

If you’re feeling stuck in a situation, try to ‘be like water’.

Here’s Bruce Lee himself explaining what ‘be like water’ means in 38 seconds...

Here are a few ways of playing with the water metaphor that have helped me and my clients to get unstuck and recover momentum.

Relax, breathe deeply and picture this in your mind:

1) Water can take different shapes but is never lost: what form do you think would suit your situation best right now? To be calm like ice; flowing like water; or light like steam?

2) Water flows along the path of least resistance and that’s how a river is born and finds its way to the ocean. Water flows by not forcing and not stopping: where can you take a small next step and let go of worrying about the future, knowing that you’ll end up exactly where you need to be?

3) Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone (Alan Watts). Where might you need to let go of thinking about an issue for now and focus on something else while you gain more information or the situation resolves itself?

Beyond water, other elements like fire, earth and wind can also help to transform our energy and perspective – much more that repetitive thinking can. Entire leadership and spiritual approaches are founded on the elements as metaphors.

You can even combine the elements into one metaphor to reflect the complexity and versatility of your human abilities. Be fierce like fire and steady like a mountain is one of my favourites from a Shaolin monk.

Are there any metaphors that have helped you in the past? Which element do you want to draw on right now - fire, earth, water or air? Which do you choose?...

To peace and what we can each do to promote it in our daily actions.


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