This is Water – David Foster Wallace

Dr. Joel Ying, MD

Physician, Educator, Storyteller. He hosts this website for "Living the Present Moment" as a conscious journey of Body, Mind, Emotion & Spirit. Holistic and integrative, his practice includes Tai Chi and Yoga, Craniosacral Therapy, Healing From the Core, Meditation. Always exploring his edges, he shares them in the blog, newsletter, courses, and online study group.

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There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?”
And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

This fish story begins the commencement speech by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. The point of the story? Obvious Truths are the hardest to understand. Education is about learning to think and learning to make the choice of what to think about. Freedom is the ability to choose what to think about and where you will find meaning in life.

Consciousness is a Choice

Consciousness is a choice. Awareness is a choice. Living the Present Moment is a choice. David Foster Wallace tells us that the choice of what to think about is the greatest freedom that we possess. This present moment awareness creates a choice – are you going to have a good day or a bad day? Are you going to be the victim today? How are you going to see the world?

…if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention…. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the … unity of all things.

Default Unconsciousness

The default unconsciousness believes that “I am the center of the world and the world is here to serve me.” When the world doesn’t go my way, I am the suffering victim. However, consciousness means choice. I can take the time to think about this present moment with a wider perspective and  find compassion and the sacredness of the day to day.

This is Water

It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”

Watch the short film below with an abridged version of the commencement speech by David Foster Wallace. The visuals might help you to say: “Oh, that’s what water is!” A link to the full speech (audio only) is also below.

Below is a link to the audio for the full version of the speech.