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"Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water. But for attacking the hard, the unyielding, nothing can surpass it. There is nothing like it."  

In researching, studying, and putting into practice the 81 verses of the Tao Te Ching, I've been struck by the many references Lao-tzu makes to water in its various forms: the sea, rain, fog, mist, snow, and rivers and streams. The esteemed master seemed to find his spiritual strength in all of nature, but he must have had a special reverence for water and how it functions in all of our lives. Be like water seems to be repeated throughout the Tao Te Ching. This element is closer to being Tao-like than anything else in this world, so it is a perfectly suitable symbol for teaching about the Great Way.

Water is as mysterious to us as the Tao is. When you reach into the river and try to squeeze it tight, you end up losing it all. Water is elusive until you cease grasping and let your hand relax and be one with it—paradoxically, you get it by letting go. Lao-tzu advises emulating this element in all of its undecipherable and mysterious ways, even if it seems contrary to what your intellect and conditioning are telling you.

Lao-tzu reiterates three themes that derive from the true characteristics of water:

Overcome the unyielding parts of your life by yielding! Hard and rigid are overcome by the relentless application of gentle things, such as water's soft flow or steady drip. So be persistently gentle and willing to surrender, and watch the resistance of the harsh and implacable wear away.For years, one of my family members who insisted on damaging herself and her relationships by ingesting intoxicating substances has been met by my loving but firm response. Slowly, over time, her hardness began to wear away in the face of the steady drip, drip, drip of gentle but resolute kindness, acceptance, and love. It can be discouraging at times, but as Lao-tzu points out in this verse, we must act just like water and use a soft approach, "for attacking the hard, the unyielding, nothing can surpass it."
Water appears to be something you could easily overpower. However, it's so flexible that once you push it out of the way, it will find its own level below all strong things and patiently enter where nothing solid can block its resting place. Put up barricades, erect levees, and make everything waterproof; yet with enough passage of time, the flexible quality of water will triumph. "The weak overcomes the strong" is a powerful message for you. Remember to stay flexible, willing to lower yourself in humility and appear weak, but knowing that you're in harmony with the Tao. Lao-tzu urges you to be like the master who remains "serene in the midst of sorrow," and evil will not be able to enter your heart.
Water is so soft that it can't be harmed, damaged, or destroyed—it simply returns to its Source to be used over and over again. Boil it until it disappears, and its vapors enter the atmosphere, ultimately to return. Drink it, and it returns after nourishing your body. Pollute it, and it will return after enough passage of time to become purified nourishment again. This is all accomplished because of the element's mutable softness.When you stay soft and surpass the hard, you too will be indestructible. There's nothing softer than water under heaven, and yet there's nothing that can surpass it for overcoming the hard. There's so much wisdom to be found in this analogy: Stay in your soft mode. Hang back when you're about to show how hard you can be. Try patience rather than attempting to rigidly control. Trust your innately gentle self.
Wayne W. Dyer, Ph.D., is an internationally renowned author and speaker in the field of self-development. Wayne holds a doctorate in educational counseling from Wayne State University and was an associate professor at St. John's University in New York. Visit: www.DrWayneDyer.com.

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