"Like all the trigrams, water has a series of meanings, and the combination of those meanings gives it profundity. Water's meanings are like a pentatonic chord; the totality of the chord's scale is its significance.
"At its root, the name of this trigram means a pit in the earth. While there is a word for water, the written character for kan uses the earth radical instead. That indicates that we must not limit ourselves to thinking of water solely in its liquid state. Kan is water splashing over rocks in a ravine; to drink, we must climb down into a dark and slippery pit. That is why kan means both water and danger.
"The next note in our chord of understanding focuses on how water remains uncompromised by danger. Water streams in chasms that frighten us, and yet it emerges unscathed. Water falls from black clouds, from high cliffs, or through ravines. It can squeeze through miles of aquifers and emerge intact. Accordingly, we have made it the symbol of remaining true to oneself. Water may represent flowing downward, coldness, darkness, and liquidity but it also shows eternal integrity. Whether a single drop or a vast ocean, whether ice or steam, water will always re-form itself into its purest state.
"For the third note, we must recall that all life evolved from water. Many creatures still live in water. All creatures drink water. Our bodies are predominantly water; the layers that make us human are thin. We may need the air of heaven, the nourishment of the earth, but we also need the quenching power of water.
"We all have to drink water, and this leads to the fourth note. Not only is water an essential part of maintaining our health, but it can help us heal. It flushes toxins from our system. It provides an essential part of new cells. All over the world, people soak in hot springs, bathe in sacred pools, or drink the waters of remote artesian wells in their efforts to renew themselves.
"For the highest note, we examine the virtues of water worth emulating. Noble persons seek to be as 'fearless' as water. They 'spread' their personalities: instead of holding rigidly to one doctrine, they give equal emphasis to all parts of their personalities. They change as quickly as water. They adapt to circumstance as water fills any void and yet they maintain their integrity.
"Pure water is clear, and this is the ideal of an evolved personality. By facing change with the clarity of water, we act without prejudice and preconceived ideas. Like water flowing into a cavern pool, we enter a situation and fill it completely. Like water that always finds its level, we maintain equilibrium. Like water that always flows downward, we never shirk any task that will serve others.
"Turbulent waters obscure streambeds; still waters let us see clearly. A good mind is clear enough that it perceives, fluid enough that it does not fear danger. The trigram water represents both life and danger. The wise person accepts that the two are one, and calmly follows any situation."