“Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact…Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does.”
– David Allen, Getting Things Done (affiliate link)
Mizu no kokoro
Mizu no kokoro is “mind like water” in Japanese and a phrase found frequently in Zen literature. It refers to a state of mind that mirrors water’s flowing, reflective, and adaptive capacities.
As water flows, so too does a centered mind allow thoughts to flow without the restrictions or clogs of “stuck thoughts.” As calm water reflects, so too does a centered mind see clearly. As water takes the shape of its container, so too does a centered mind that’s open to new perceptions. As a pond returns to glass after the pebble is tossed in, so too does a centered mind return to inner calm after disturbance.
Mind like water and conflict
When I find myself in a moment of tension with another, I’ll sometimes remind myself of the phrase mind like water. I’ll say it to myself and visualize it, if only for a few seconds. It’s a mini-meditation in the midst of a brewing conflict storm. In such moments, I conjure images and sounds like these:
- The smoothness of my favorite kayaking pond when I arrive in the early morning mist, before I put in. I use this one to remind myself of calmness.
- The gently gurgling, clear water in the small creek near my childhood home. I use this one to remind myself of clarity and flow.
- Water taking the shape of my drinking glass. I use this one to remind myself to avoid rigidity.
When you think mind like water, what images come to you? Is there one you’d find calming and centering in the eye of the storm?