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Master the Devastatingly Effective “Water Strategy”

“Resist not evil” is perhaps the most difficult saying in all of Christian scripture.  Even “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is easier.  After all, we can love and still resist, can’t we?  On the face of it, “Resist not evil” seems ludicrous, a call to surrender to the forces of darkness.  But it contains a secret that is a key principle of self-transformation.


Last week we talked about water.  “Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water, yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.”  Lao Tzu was quite right.  Water not only wears down stone- the preferred method of cutting hardened steel for use in high-precision applications employs high-pressure water jets.  In the Art of War, Sun Tzu writes about the “Water Strategy”- strategists, he says, should be like water, following the path of least resistance.



All of the most effective martial arts use this principle to achieve stunning results.  The secret is to confront any incoming force, not with force in return, but with its opposite, and to do so naturally, automatically.  In Taijiquan (i.e., Tai Chi), this balance is represented by the Eight Energies.  Faced with incoming force, Taiji will roll out of the way or yield and suck it in.  In Baguazhang, combat is visualised as a circle on the ground containing eight trigrams of the I Ching- fire, water, earth, sky etc. (hence the name “eight trigram boxing”).  Faced with one energy, it moves to another.

It’s worth taking a moment to unpack these principles, because they are actually operating on many different levels, and the martial arts are only one area of life where you can apply them.  In the world of physical force, it is always better to avoid strength than to confront it directly, which depletes both sides.  But the same logic applies to many other kinds of decisions in combat, from posture to techniques to attitudes.  The last one is particularly key for us, because this is where the water strategy comes back to everyday life.  The classic martial arts application is confront ferocity with serenity, tension with relaxation, anger with peace and so on.  Aikido is particularly attentive to the application of these principles in real life, and many Aikido stories talk about this (the most famous example can be found here).


Time for a visual.  Draw a circle, with two concentric rings, an inner ring and an outer ring.  On the inner ring, put the various attitudes and emotions of which human beings are capable, with their opposites across from them.  Affection, anger, fear, confidence, appreciation, sorrow, joy- all of these have a legitimate place and expression in human life.  It’s only when they are out of balance that they become a problem.  In the outer track, you can write the distorted versions of the emotion that you encounter.  Next to fear, you could write insecurity, jealousy and so on.  Next to anger- rage, resentment, hatred.

When confronted with an unbalanced attitude or emotion on one side of the circle, you can try confronting it with its balanced counterpart from the other side.  To learn to do this naturally, consistently and effectively often requires years of attention.  It is the most difficult spiritual discipline, to learn to return kindness for rudeness, appreciation for ingratitude, even love for hatred.  You can create peace from conflict this way.  It is never guaranteed.  But most importantly, you preserve your inner freedom.

It requires practice, resilience and sensitivity to make sure that you are adequately addressing the energy that comes at you and to find the strength to stand firm on your side of the circle, but the result is often that the emotions you are confronting can be defused.  If they cannot, then you lose nothing, but you gain the knowledge that the other person is acting out of a more deeply-set pathology rather than momentary impulse.  In that situation, it is even more important to stand your ground and not to get sucked into their emotional state.


On a grand scale, how does this strategy stack up?  The cynical impulse in today’s society tells us that only force can deal with force, that ultimately, goodness is no defense against power.  But is that true?  Gandhi and the Civil Rights Movement are the two counterexamples that people usually point out first, but they are far from the only ones.  The Czech dissident movement led by Vaclav Havel used some of the same methods and achieved similar results.  There are many smaller-scale movements out there today that are using the same methods successfully on behalf of disadvantaged groups.

It is sometimes a very costly strategy.  Some of the most dramatic cases were the Christians martyred for their faith by the Roman Empire.  In most cases, they did not have to die- there was a way out.  But they stuck to their principles, and went to their deaths without bitterness.  They often went out of their way to be kind even to their executioners.  In so doing, they showed a society in which gravitas and fortitude were the ultimate virtues the completeness of their inner freedom.  The result transformed an empire.

But if the cost can be so high, if the water strategy doesn’t guarantee results, then why use it?


We mentioned the importance of inner freedom.  Inner freedom in this sense means that you are the master of your own inner state.  You no longer react to whatever energy other people give you- you respond to it.  Our attitudes and emotions can be like a thick fog when we are faced with stressful situations.  We react instinctively, we activate neural circuits that carry the baggage of previous similar situations, our body floods with hormones and neurotransmitters and before we know it, we’re blinded by our own reaction.  We don’t see other options.  The water strategy returns control to us.  Our inner state becomes our toolkit rather than everyone else’s garbage dump.

But this is only the first level of inner freedom.  What do we use that toolkit for?  Without right intention, there is no inner freedom.  The preferred objective is an honorable peace.  “Honorable” means that we intend to openly and honestly lay out the truth as we see it, minus the emotional baggage we may have attached to it.  It also means that we intend to engage with the other person and gain an understanding of their perspective and deal with it fully and honestly.  The water strategy avoids only the damaging effects of unbalanced inner states, never the conflict itself- on the contrary, it is tenacious and goes to the heart of the matter along the path of least resistance.  Small matters can easily be dropped, but it is better to understand why the other person is in such a state and deal with it if the matter is serious, rather than risk a false resolution and recurrence.

“Peace” means that compassion underlies our whole approach.  You seek to restore right relationship.  The centre of the circle of the emotions is serenity- which is not the absence of emotion but the sublimation of emotion.  But on a deeper level, compassion, or rather, love, is the ultimate centre.  Only with compassion does it become possible to get inside another person’s mind and heart without it being a hostile intrusion, and only if you can do that can you truly create peace.  It is also a good yardstick to check your intentions.  If you are dealing with the other person as an obstacle to be cleared, if you have an ulterior motive of your own, then you can begin to see how you are contributing to the situation.

This is also where the biggest paradox comes into play.  Sometimes, there is simply no way to resolve a conflict.  Sometimes a person is harming others and cannot be dissuaded in a reasonable time.  If you can find serenity and compassion in that situation, you can do what needs to be done.  Even if you’re angry, and we’ve talked about the legitimate uses of anger, you can act without binding your inner freedom to that or any other emotion.

We said in the title that the Water Strategy is “devastatingly effective”.  Hopefully now you see that its effectiveness is across the board – it not only allows you to prevail in any conflict, physical or emotional; it also allows you to prevail OVER YOURSELF.  And what greater victory is there than that?

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Four Unusual Resilience Strategies You Must Not Ignore

What is resilience? Resilience defined literally means the ability to “snap back”, so to speak, after being stretched out or bent out of shape. The ability to overcome challenges, or to “snap back,” can be applied to nearly every aspect of your life: repairing a relationship after being hurt, applying for another job after losing one, looking at a failed test and working hard to ace the next one.

Resilience is about turning failures into successes. But how do we find the drive to pick ourselves up off the ground after we’ve fallen? Here are four unusual tips to become a stronger, more resilient you.

1) Make Every Failure a Learning Experience

Every time you make a mistake or experience a failure, instead of immediately trying to put it out of your mind, pause and think about how it could have been averted. Try to  look back on your negative experiences not as failures, but as opportunities to learn. In this way, your mistake becomes simply another experience that moves you closer to your goal.  Of course, this implies a willingness to feel the pain rather than repress it, as illustrated in the following encounter…

I was talking with a high school student recently about this very issue.  She said, “I would get a report back, and see the failing grade, and all I could think about was that it meant I was worthless (i.e., false interpretation). So I would throw it into the trash, or fold it up and tuck it away. And then I would distract myself in any way I could (i.e., repression of the uncomfortable emotion). And so it became this very unhealthy cycle: bad test, not studying because I was so busy recovering from the previous bad grade, another bad grade. But then I started doing something new. As painful as it was, I’d smooth out the tests and look at every single red ‘X’, every single thing I did wrong (willingness to be with the uncomfortable emotion). I kept the tests, and reviewed them. And failure became okay. I learned something with every mistake. And before long, things started getting better.”

Making mistakes is how we learn. It sounds trite, but it’s important to remember when the lemon meringue won’t come out right and the dinner party is in an hour. Next time, give yourself more time. Use a tried and true recipe, or buy your dessert from a bakery. (No one will know!)

Having failed and moved on, you’ve created resilience within yourself, because when you realize that you can make mistakes and move forward, that’s when you start to take risks and trust yourself. The most successful people are able to accept that sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t, and the important thing is to pick up that pieces and move on.

If you research a little into the background of almost every highly successful person, they almost always overcame so many challenges to get to where they are it’s a little mind-boggling. Take Henry Ford, whose early business starts left him broke five times before he started his successful Ford Motor Company. Or Beethoven, whose music teacher once wrote, “as a composer, he is hopeless.” Perhaps one of the most astonishing stories I read was Stephen King’s, whose first novel, Carrie, was rejected thirty times before he became the publishing phenomenon he is today. As Robert Kiyosaki’s mentor used to tell him in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, “Losers are people who think losing is bad.”

The key here is to recognize the mistake, learn, and try again.

2) Use Music to Overcome Negative Experiences

The effects of music on the brain are profound. This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J. Levitin, contains the following passage: “Through studies of people with brain damage, we’ve seen patients who have lost the ability to read a newspaper but can still read music, or individuals who can play the piano but lack the motor coordination to button their own sweater. Music listening, performance, and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem.”

This phenomenon accounts for the sense of calm and well-being that can wash over your whole body when you close your eyes and listen to music that you love.

Have you ever wondered why you are unnerved by silence? How many times have you walked into a room and by default turned on the TV or radio? Strange as it may seem, this may be a modern spin on a genetic predisposition: as an animal living in the forest, sounds of other animals would be intensely reassuring. As soon as the birds fall silent, it’s a sign there is something wrong, that a large predator is about. This is why one of the scariest moments in a horror movie is not when the music is playing, but in the deep silence when you just know there’s going to be a pop out! Listening to music can calm you down and make you feel like the world is right again.

Music can boost the immune system, help you recall memories, enhance exercising and increase spatial reasoning. Why not harness the power of music to prevail over negativity? Listening to songs you loved as a teenager can make you feel happy and nostalgic, classical music can open your mind, and nature sounds, such as birdsong, can relax you.

3) Use Humor

When there is a problem in your life that needs solving, don’t become mired in frustration and impatience. Try looking at the problem with humor! You may find that trying to solve problems with an open mind and a little creativity can blow your challenges out of the water!

When Antanas Mockus became mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, in 1996, he introduced some pretty humorous strategies to bring order to the crime-ridden city. They were surprisingly effective! To combat the problem of jaywalkers, Mockus hired 420 mimes to gently mock pedestrians who didn’t follow the rules. For example, a person who ran across the road would be followed and imitated by a costumed mime. “It was a pacifist counterweight,” Mockus said. “With neither words nor weapons, the mimes were doubly unarmed. My goal was to show the importance of cultural regulations.”

This may be an interesting method to try to get your child to stop playing video games …

The Columbian mathematician and philosopher also introduced measures such as a “Night for Women” where men were encouraged to stay home and look after the children, and went about asking people to call his office if they found a kind and honest taxi driver (the 150 drivers found were invited to meet with Mockus and discuss how to improve the behavior of inappropriate taxi drivers – they later would form a club called “Knights of the Zebra”). He also appeared in a commercial in which he demonstrated proper water conservation – while in the shower. “The distribution of knowledge is the key contemporary task,” Mockus said. “Knowledge empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change.”

If you’re interested, you can read more about Mockus in this article:

4) Your Emotions Affect the World Around You – Make Use of This

In 1991, Dr. Masuru Emoto of Japan began taking photographs of water crystals – and discovered something absolutely amazing! When he played beautiful music next to a container of water, the water crystals that formed when the water was frozen created beautiful shapes. The same also occurred when he channeled positive emotions at the water. However, when he focused negative emotions at the water, such as hatred and disgust, the crystals that formed were random, misshapen and ugly.  You can get a feel for his research in this excerpt from the famous docu-drama, What the BLEEP Do We Know?

This shows that we can change the world around us using positive emotions as tools for change. When we consider how 90% of our body is water, then we realize the possibilities for changing our own physical makeup into something more beautiful and positive.

Dr. Emoto had this to say in his book, The Hidden Messages of Water: “We must first and foremost live life to the fullest. Our consciousness is what will purify water, and through this we send messages of beauty and strength to all life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could cover the world in the most beautiful of water crystals? How do we go about this? The answer is love and gratitude. I’d like to ask you to take another look at the beauty of the crystals. If all the people of the world can have love and gratitude, the pristine beauty of the world will once again return.”

Using your emotions to make yourself and the world healthier and happier is certainly a pathway to success.

And Here’s the Subtext to All This…

You may have noticed that all four of these unusual and effective methods focus primarily on your mental-emotional resilience.  And yet they can also have a measurable impact on your physical well-being.  Even better, by training you to develop a positive outlook and overcome your inherent tendency to see the glass as half-empty, you’ll find over time that more and more wonderful persons, events and things seem to be drawn into your life.  Don’t believe me?  Just try it!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger