The Transformative Power of Nature's Water Element in Spiritual Practice

Exploring the spiritual significance of the water element in nature.

Embark on a spiritual journey as we delve into the earth element, one of nature's foundational building blocks, and its profound connection to the divine Self.

The Five Elements of Nature

The five elements of nature —earth element, water element, fire element, air element, and space element (or ether) are the basic building blocks of all creation. Everything in nature, including our bodies and minds, is formed of the elements.

The elements are progressively dense as they manifest.



The Essence of the Water Element

Water has less density than earth, but more solidity than fire. According to the Samkhya philosophical system, water makes possible our sense of taste and is associated with the tongue as its organ of perception. Think of how important saliva is to our ability to taste! Science tells us that our bodies are up to 60% water—with the brain and heart comprised of 73% water, lungs 83%, skin 64%, muscles and kidneys 79%, and our bones 31%. (U.S. Geological Survey).

Water’s organ of action is our genitals, connected to our capacity to reproduce. We usually experience bodies of water—creeks, rivers, lakes, and oceans—as healing or inspiring. Water has the capacity to move and change, taking on many different forms like rain, snow, ice, ocean, stream, or mist, as well as the ability to nurture and support life.

The water element represented by a flowing river

"I am the taste of water."

—Bhagavad Gita

The Water Element's Role in Spiritual Growth

Water purifies, heals, and transforms. Our thirst naturally draws us to its life-supporting power, and its energy soothes our soul as rain, mist, ocean waves, or river songs.

In nature, water flows to low places, gathers its power, and nurtures life. Water shows us how to realize our soul power and become a nurturing presence. Its central message is this: know who you are, be fully present, and learn to let go.

The Supreme Good is Like Water

Water purifies, heals, and transforms. Our thirst naturally draws us to its life-supporting power and our soul is soothed by its energy as rain, mist, ocean waves, or river songs. In nature, water flows to low places, gathers its power, and nurtures life. As a guru and divine companion, water shows us how to realize our soul power and become a nurturing presence. Its message: learn how to let go.


Practices Inspired by Water

Here are two useful sadhanas, or spiritual practices, taught by the water element.

First, be still and see clearly.

Second, learn to let go and consciously move on.

These practices are similar to the teaching found in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.12: [One can still the mind by practicing] Meditation and nonattachment.

When water is clear and still, it can be a mirror.

Reflections on Water's Wisdom

Environmentalist Joanna Macy tells the story of Akshobhya, the Buddha you encounter when entering a bardo—a space or gap between worlds. A bardo is an unknown place, strange and unfamiliar. It can be frightening but is also a place of potential and transformation. Like this time we are in now.

Akshobhya’s element is water. He holds a mirror of wisdom that accurately reflects everything as it is. In this mirror, one can see the way things are and see the way we are.

It is difficult to see the way things are right now. We look at the news, and we want to turn away. We do not want things to be the way they are. But to find our strength and be open to grace, divine supportive power and presence, we must start with where we are. Start there, then look deeper.

If we don’t turn away but look deeply into the mirror of wisdom, we can see life’s essence. We can see the holiness of it all, the wholeness, the interconnection. We can begin to see what can be possible. Knowing that is a source of empowerment.

When the mind becomes still in meditation or a grace-filled moment in nature, the faculty of discernment becomes a mirror. No longer obscured by the waves of thought, we experience the clarity of deep seeing. We can see the way things are and realize the spiritual essence of what we are.

Thich Nhat Hanh said that when we see a piece of paper, we should also see the clouds in it. Without clouds, there is no rain. Without rain, we have no trees, and without trees, no paper. They exist together—what he termed inter-being.

Now the task before us is to look into the wisdom mirror, see how all things are connected, and recognize our profound potential in this hour.

Embracing the Flow of Life

Still and pure water is a mirror. But water also needs to move; otherwise, it stagnates. The same is true for our spiritual practice; we need both the clarity of meditation and wise action.

We take our mirror wisdom into action by living what we know. Wise action requires staying awake—being fully present to what we are doing. Connecting to the earth, the elements, and being fully present to one another supports that.

There is a bhajan (a spiritual chant) that asks, “O water, tell me, what color are you?” and answers, “You are the color of the Creator. Whatever you’re mixed with, that you become.”

Whatever the mind dwells on, that we become. If the mind dwells on worry and fear, we become fearful and contracted. If the mind dwells on connection and wholeness, we expand, and our divine potential can express.

The version by Stephen Mitchell of Psalm 1 from the Hebrew Bible expresses this transformation so eloquently.

Blessed are those

who have grown beyond their greed

and have put an end to their hatred

and no longer nourish illusions.

But they delight in the way things are

and keep their hearts open, day and night.

They are like trees planted near flowing rivers,

which bear fruit when they are ready.

Their leaves will not fall or wither.

Everything they do will succeed.

The second part of the sadhana lesson from water today is: water does not flow backward. It does not hold on. It seeks the “low places,” which are the openings of possibility. For us to do that, we have to let go of our illusions, clinging to the past, being caught up in what we want or don’t want, and take a small step with love and clarity. That is how we enter the flow.

Baba Hari Dass, a modern-day yoga master, told us how to do it:

Keep God in your heart and move on.

Get quiet, be present, let go of clinging, and take a small step.

Journey through the Rest of the Elements:

the earth element of nature


the earth element of nature


the water element of nature


the space element of nature


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