How to be Like Water: Wisdom from Bruce Lee & Tao Te Ching

In the ancient Chinese tradition of Taoism, there is a huge emphasis placed on living in harmony with the way of life, known as the Tao. The best way to do this is to achieve the flow-like state of Wu Wei.

Wu Wei is the process of non-action, an ancient Chinese concept that centers around cultivating an effortless mental state.

When you take on the state of Wu Wei, you are like water in nature. Abundant, effortless, in no rush but always reaching your end goal. If you want to be successful and lead a more fulfilling life, read on to learn how to master the state of Wu Wei.

Wu Wei is Being Like Water 

Though the words Wu Wei translate as “non-action” or “non-doing”, it does not literally mean that you can sit back and just do nothing. The true meaning is being able to put yourself in a mental state where everything comes naturally to you. Effortlessly. A state where everything you do is aligned with the universe and life can flow through your actions without being forced. 

But what does all of this mean? 

We can better understand the concept of Wu Wei when we look at the elements in nature. In nature, water flows easily without struggle, and without rush. Water takes its time to flow, but it can flow everywhere. It can even flow through the hardest rock surfaces and erode giant boulders along the way. 

To be like water suggests that you too start focusing less on ‘doing’ and more on ‘being,’ letting your actions flow freely and effortlessly. Become fluid like water and you will be able to do whatever you set your mind to. 

As Bruce Lee says: 

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Water can drip and it can crash.”

More common sayings that can help broadly explain what Wu Wei is, are “going with the flow” and “not trying to turn back the tide.” Basically, staying true to yourself and doing what comes naturally to you, not what’s forced. 

How to Achieve the State of Wu Wei

Wu Wei in Taoism has two layers of meanings. The first is to follow the law of nature; live in harmony with it and do not destroy it. The second is to follow the flow of humanity; not to force your thoughts and actions but rather to let them be. This way, everything will happen the way it is meant to. You will reach your destination, just like water reaches the sea. 

Again, this doesn’t mean sitting back and doing nothing!

Working hard towards your goals and dreams is vital to achieving them. Rather it means putting in your efforts and surrendering them to the workings of the universe. Don't ruminate about the results, those are out of your control. Don't force or cling onto things that aren't meant to be. Live knowing that everything will be as it is meant to be. 

For example, when you write your New Year’s Resolutions or your To-Do list each day, think about what you are writing. How much emphasis do you place on each thing you MUST do; on each resolution, you MUST fulfill? 

Writing goals and expectations like these are – in a way – limiting you and causing you disappointment.

What happens when after 3 months into the new year you have failed to lose those pounds? Chances are you will chastise yourself, give up, or wallow in your disappointment, thinking that you’ve failed. Or if after 3 months you’re doing better than you imagined? You will have limited your progress with your “goal.”

Instead, let yourself be inspired by going to the gym, doing sports that you love, and rewarding yourself for every accomplishment. 

If things are meant to happen, they will happen naturally. If they are not, then there is no need to force them. Recognize the forces of nature and go with them instead of trying to push against them. 

When you are in the state of Wu Wei, you are more receptive to ideas and inspiration than when you’re trying to force inspiration to come. Things flow naturally and you are able to be more creative, more productive, and more efficient because you are focused.

Just like water, you are in the flow. 

Wu Wei in the Modern World

In the world today – especially in the West – things are moving at lightning speed. We are increasingly burdened by deadlines, too busy to notice the beauty and abundance around us. We are moving 'unconsciously.'

The truth is, it is hard to achieve Wu Wei when everything around you is pushing you in the opposite direction. It requires courage, wisdom and resilience to go with what’s natural to you. Other people might mistake you for being lazy or irresponsible or convince you to work harder and faster. It is easy to be influenced by these people and fall back into your old habits. Habits of forcing yourself against the flow, doing things without conscious awareness.

But the truth is, when you let things unfold naturally and loosen your grip on your expectations, you will take on a state that attracts abundance. 

Many artists, writers, and musicians have achieved the state of Wu Wei. They let the universe flow through them and write, play, or paint when they feel inspired. They do things they love to get them feeling inspired, to get their creative juices flowing. And once they are in the flow, everything comes naturally to them, because it comes from their heart. 

According to the wisdom of Tao Te Ching: 

“There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without words, and the advantage arising from non-action” 


In order to find your true path in life, one that brings you unlimited joy and abundance, you should aim to achieve the state of Wu Wei. 

When you feel that you are in the flow, you will feel like water; strong, effortless, unstoppable. Ideas and inspiration will come to you without you having to chase after them. Life becomes easier and you will enjoy it more. 

Focus your actions on what comes most naturally to you, what you are passionate about. Don’t do; just be. There is nothing more you need. 

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