The highest goodness is like water. Water easily benefits all things without struggle. Yet it abides in places that men hate. Therefore it is like the Way.
Admire thou the High Way of Water! Is not Water the soul of the life of
things, whereby they change? Yet it seeketh its level, and abideth
content in obscurity. So also it resembleth the Tao, in this Way
In this verse, Lao Tzu describes the Tao as being like water. The paradox of water is that although it is one of the softest of substances, it is also one of the most powerful. Whilst water is gentle and flows around obstacles, it is also powerful enough to cut through rock and erode mountains. This is to say nothing of its essential life-giving properties. All forms of life are completely dependent upon it. Without water, there would be no life on this planet.
Lao Tzu muses that rather than climbing upward, water is content to flow downward, for that is its nature. This is the opposite of most people, who prefer to elevate themselves and are constantly trying to climb their way up the various ladders of life, making themselves ‘bigger’, ‘higher’ and ‘better’.
The rest of this verse offers Lao Tzu’s sage advice for living in alignment with the nature of the Tao. The key points are simplicity, gentleness, kindness and balance. He warns against competing and trying to control others and urges us to be in harmony with the essential nature of life and ourselves. All too often we see ourselves as somehow separate from life. Indeed, there’s an erroneous collective assumption that “me” and “my life” are somehow two separate things. Yet, as much as our egos might balk at the notion, it’s nevertheless true that we don’t “have” a life, we are life! That's a humbling but strangely comforting realisation.
Perhaps we could take Lao Tzu up on his analogy and see ourselves as water, mutable, life-sustaining water, a basically colourless stuff that reflects the tones of the Light that shine upon it...
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. - The Bible
What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep? There was neither death nor immortality then.