“In the world, there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it.”

–Lao Tzu


Recently I have been reading about the creative process and the use of a stream as the channel in which our creative lives flow. I can remember back in Jr High my science teacher stating that water is the universal solvent. Indeed the properties of water are what sustain life on this planet. The ability of water to be a vapor, fluid, solid, its cohesion and adhesion properties, all assist in the process of life here.

Water is a favorite allegory in the martial arts as well, many masters suggesting the need to flow, to fill, to stick, to adapt to the situation the martial artist is presented with. Flowing as a stream or as a raging river, the power or gentleness of water can be very inspirational.

I recall as a child watching water run down the driveway and into the nearby gutter. There the water would literally meander along the bed of the gutter, flowing over and around obstacles. Sometimes the flow would be temporarily halted by a barrier only to eventually flow over or around the obstruction. We would sometimes place obstacles in the path of the water to see how long our small dam would last. Eventually the weight of the water would push on through adapting to the path it was traveling. Other times we would make small boats that were either swept along or left idly bobbing on the surface of the water, depending the waters flow.

The water would flow along, slowing down to fill voids, stop at obstacles, seeming to wait patiently as more water collected and then the water would rush over or around the obstacle, sweeping up debris in its path, adding to the mix and flow of the waters course.

Observing and contemplating the nature of water has helped me to overcome a recent creative block. Where once I was in a creative stream that was unimpeded by any real obstacles, I was suddenly faced with several hardships and restrictions. These appeared suddenly and without warning. The creative flow I had previously enjoyed came to an abrupt halt. Ideas the usually flowed with ease, now became distant and hard to grasp. Thoughts on how to overcome the drought literally seemed to dry up. I floundered about looking for ideas, re-read books to maintain my perspective and attempt to jump start the process of the creative flow once more.

And then it happened. Like the water flowing into a deep void, it had finally filled the void to its brim and suddenly like a dam breaking, the ideas and creativity returned, rushing headlong down the path. I did not stop doing what had worked in the past; I kept practicing, working, observing, and creating.

I feel that the creative process is one that needs to be exercised, just like the practice of the martial arts. Without the constant movement and testing and flow, we become stagnant and are unable to keep the supple and graceful flow of the body intact. Moves that once were easy become hard because the lack of practice literally hardens us into inflexibility and inactivity.

Life can be very similar to the flow of water, the stream we are all involved in. The flow of life moves us along, from one event to another, never stopping, always presenting us with new and interesting challenges. Those events form our lives, our creative lives. Without the experiences of life we cannot express or communicate through our art our feelings, observations, experiences, loves, loses, joys and disappointments.

The stream of my life had stopped to fill a void, an obstacle, and while stopped I was filled with the observations of my life challenges, until at last; the experiences spilled over the obstacle and literally allowed me to see and feel and flow creatively again.

My creative life is one of observation, reading, feeling, touching, thinking, practicing and then learning from what I did or did not do in the making of my art. During the time I was unable to create as much as I wanted photographically, I still lived a creative life, facing the challenges with greater insight than I had previously and with more compassion. If nothing else I learned to live with greater passion and with compassion for those I love and those I came into contact every day. It did not matter if they were family, friend or stranger, it was a lesson I needed. And out of that reservoir that I had previously called a void, I have new ideas and strengths to pull from as I make my way through this creative life.