We all have a capacity for self-awareness, but to actually practice it and attain it is not a common pursuit. To think about your thinking is not an automatic behavior but rather a disciplined, conscious practice that requires a mindset focused on growth and self-improvement. We rationalize our decisions and behavior in order to flee from reality,
Bruce Lee, in Artist of Life, a collection of his private poems, notes, letters and meditations on everything from psychology to martial arts to life, contains a passage that reflects a moment of self-awareness and why it is so vitally important to our growth. Lee reflects on a moment when he couldn’t understand the admonishment from his trainer, Master Yip. He writes:

“After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.


Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached — not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”

“Be like water” is one of Bruce Lee’s famous quotes, for it reflects his precision, understanding, and vigor both in the martial arts and how he conducted his life. This moment of self-awareness fostered great change within him. The lesson here is that we’re all capable of experiencing these moments. Many times we are unaware of the opportunities that allow us to be self-aware, to learn from our mistakes, and to ultimately change minds and ourselves. It requires us to pause, to think about our thinking, to digest the event and to extract lessons that help us mature and learn.


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