What a Bird Taught Bruce Lee

gull

It’s always a pleasant surprise to spot a bird in an unusual place. One of the places I love finding birds is in books. I recently read Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, it’s a collection of essays and writings by the man himself: Bruce Lee.

In one essay, Lee is meditating alone on a boat. It is here that he begins to unravel the famous metaphor that later turned into the maxim “Be Water My Friend.” Lee was an incredible thinker, a man born in San Francisco, one who grew up in Hong Kong, and later majored in philosophy at the University of Washington. Like his fighting style, his thoughts were a blend of many styles, both Eastern and Western.

It is while on the boat, meditating on the qualities of water that Lee spots a bird:

“Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then as 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 bird 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.

I lay on the boat and felt that I had united with Tao; I had become one with nature. I just lay there and let the boat drift freely according to its own will. For at that moment I had achieved a state of inner feeling in which opposition had become mutually cooperative instead of mutually exclusive, in which there was no longer any conflict in my mind. The whole world to me was unitary.”

-Bruce Lee essay entitled “A Moment of Understanding,” published in the book Bruce Lee: Artist of Life

I’ve grown to associate birding with mindfulness–the birds passing before my eyes and my thoughts passing across my mind. In fact, part of the appeal of birds is that they are momentary creatures, their presence so immediate yet so short-lived. It is a reminder to be present and to accept the discoveries of any given day.

This is one of the unspoken lessons I’ve learned while birding–the importance of presence and acceptance.