“The tramp of warriors sounded like a thousand convulsions of the earth. The shouts of warriors, the whistling of arrows, the thunder of the feet of foot soldiers and the hooves of chargers did not cease.”
“Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy.”
“When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.”
“The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’”
(From the Samurai Way)
Each time I visited a successful painter friend of mine I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years. When we got together again I asked, “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel so long?”
She said, “I never finished it.”
I said, “You were afraid.”
She said, “I was terrified of it.”
I know a talented young writer who contacted 100 agents in hopes of getting his first book published. He had worked extremely hard on the book and it was very good. He thought of making it a trilogy, and had mapped out the next five years of writing. One agent showed interest and the writer was hopeful, but then the agent lost interest. Discouraged, doubting himself, having lost confidence, not wishing to be so disappointed again the writer stopped writing creatively and devoted himself to his teaching career.
I know an opera singer who has had a successful career, but suddenly and inexplicably after five years developed a fear of performing and for two years retired from the stage. She’s performing again but doesn’t know if that debilitating fear will ever return.
Each early morning I go into my work room upstairs and settle down to write. Now I’m in my element–confident, contented, primed and ready to work. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words. Generating text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days. I pause, fold my hands in my lap, and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “I am feeling fear.”
“I don’t know. Possibly that I won’t have my skills today; that I won’t be successful; that I’ll let myself down. I really don’t know.”
“Is that so important? Writing is such a small part of life.”
“Right now it is the most important thing possible.”
Bear in mind that I’ve had success writing. Also, I am no coward. I rescued a woman from a would-be rapist–chased him, caught him, fought with him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him till the police came. Yet when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than anything else sometimes I’m scared.
We speak of writer’s block, but that’s too narrow. There are sculptors’ blocks and actors’ blocks and ballet dancers’ blocks—the drawing back (intimidated, helpless) from the art we love and have performed many times before–being stopped by some powerful obstacle or set of obstacles that are not out there in the world, not visible to the eye, but are inside us.
The samurai–the finest warriors ever to walk this earth– were ordinary men and women who were trained to perform extraordinary feats of courage. Just as writers, artists, dancers, or actors face internal obstacles that interfere with their work, so did the samurai. The bulk of his or her training (there were women samurai) was devoted to overcoming those inner obstacles that are no different than the obstacles artists of all descriptions face—anxiety, procrastination, self-doubt, hesitation, fear of taking risks, discouragement, over-analysis, depression, apprehension, impatience, and more.
The release of the arrow is the most difficult problem archers face; they think too much, as often do artists, explaining the sudden loss of spontaneity, the sudden loss of skill. Fear is a dragon that often keeps us from success. The samurai was taught: “Strike through the dragon’s mask.”
The samurai’s mind was trained to be fudoshin—to be “immovable,” to never budge from the main goal (for the artist, to get the work done.) They were taught that when your thoughts get “caught” (toroware), or “stopped” (tomaru) on internal obstacles, you will have trouble executing any action—when your mind gets “hooked” or “snagged,” the way the opera singer’s mind was snagged for two years. Better to acquire tomaranu kokoro, “a mind that knows no stopping,” that flows smoothly from idea to idea without being stopped.
What I did in my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life was to pluck the wisdom of the samurai off the battlefield and apply it to everyday modern life producing a book of musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship” so that people might overcome the internal obstacles that are troubling them.
Zen and the Samurai
The warrior class was the first segment of Japanese society to embrace Zen. From the twelfth-century on Zen became known as the religion of the samurai. What explains the fit between these two apparently different approaches to life?
Zen is many things—a religion, a philosophy, a life-style. It is also a psychology, a psychology of action, grounded on decisiveness, spontaneity, strength of will, adaptability, courage, and bravery. It was this psychological aspect of Zen which appealed most to the samurai, for to rush forward to face the enemy even if only death awaited him, he needed what Zen taught—to act without hanging back, without reservations, and with total commitment.
The elite samurai were members of the cultured, aristocratic upper classes—the daimyos, the lords. Bunbu ryodo “The united Ways of the pen and the sword” refers to the tradition of the warrior artist, master swordsmen who were also poets, calligraphers, and painters. The famed Miyamoto Musashi is considered the greatest samurai swordsman who ever lived. He was also one of Japan’s foremost artists whose work today has a place in Japan’s national art museum.
“A warrior must only take care that his spirit is never broken.”
“Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”
“Let your mind be free to function according to its own nature.”
“Stick to the larger view of things. If your vision is narrow your spirit will be narrow.”
“Adversity in life is essential to training.”
“The end of our Way of the sword is to be fearless when confronting our inner enemies and our outer enemies.”
“If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit. But whatever you do, don’t wobble.”
You needn’t look too far or too hard to see that these maxims and the inner training of the samurai Way apply to the artist’s life. Like the warrior, if the artist is to grow, it will be from within. The artist’s work, like a warrior releasing an arrow, should be like a drop of dew falling from a leaf or a fruit falling when it’s ripe.
© 2015 David J. Rogers
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