Going with the Flow
A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. "I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived."
(Some versions describe Confucius as witnessing this event. Also, in some versions, the old man explains how he has been jumping into the waterfall like this since he was a small boy. )
People's reactions to this story:
"You have to accommodate yourself to life and get used to dealing with your problems as they come. You must learn to cooperate."
"We must adapt to nature. Nature cannot change for us. If you try to fight the natural forces, they will overcome you. Because we are made primarily of water, it is easy to become a part of it."
"Because nature is so much more powerful than we are, we must become one with it in order to survive."
"Humans are not the almighty conquerors that they think they are. We can learn a lot from nature. Nature is wonderful and does not intend to harm. It is humans that are harmful."
"Sometimes we go through life wanting the world and other people to accommodate to us. When they don't, we get rigid and defensive, thereby getting us in trouble and making the situation a lot worse for ourselves."
"Have faith and serenity that everything will work out. When you try to control events, they backfire."
"Work with what life gives you and you will survive."
"Put your life into God's hands and you will be OK."
"Although you may not be able to control your destiny, you always have the ability to think and reason about your situation. This will help you come out on top."
"Too often people are strict in their ways of living. Stubborn people either are left behind or die out."
"You should take control of a situation before it takes control of you."
"Where there's a will there's a way."
"Sometimes even when you do the best you can to adapt to others and/or situations it doesn't help you. In fact, it could make things worse because you could lose your identity. Conformity is not always a good thing. Having an identity as an individual sometimes means going against the grain."
"Don't give in to fear during a dangerous situation. It is fear that destroys you."
"The water is like religion - we have to accommodate to it."
"It's interesting to see how the old man draws a parallel between the physical and spiritual world. You must be one with a crisis. If we accept obstacles or tragedies as universal events and don't attempt to conquer or repress them, then it will not be seen as an obstacle or a disaster, but simply as an experience."
"Miracles do happen. The old man must have been very strong-willed."
"I can imagine the old man's physical sensations when he was in the water - frightened and peaceful at the same time. I remember being two years old and overcome by large waves when swimming at the beach. Perhaps if I had accommodated myself to the water, I would not have been as frightened."
"The man knew he was going to survive and never gave into fear. Maybe that's the lesson - always maintain a positive attitude about life."
"Never lose your temper, remain calm, and take things in stride as they come. If you have faith, things will work out."
"This must have been a very dangerous situation, but then water symbolizes rebirth and cleansing, doesn't it?"
"Oh yeah, right! He was just lucky!"
"I don't know he could have done it 'without thinking.'"
"Sounds like the old man should be a character on a soap opera."
"This story doesn't apply to reality. Wake up!"
"Why didn't anyone who was watching help him out of the water?"
"This old man seems rather arrogant and narcissistic about himself."
"The story reminds me of people who tried to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. They got arrested for that."