A New Language For Creative People
A newspaper reviewer of my book Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life thought that a unique feature of the book is that it exposes the reader to an exciting new vocabulary–Asian terms for self-improvement for which there are no Western equivalents. The book begins with an example of what the book is about: the application of the psychological and spiritual insights of the samurai, the most remarkable warriors ever to walk the earth, to the everyday lives of ordinary working people—the most magnificent people of all.
It says: “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,” and tells the story of a sales woman who uses insights from the samurai Way to overcome her fear of an intimidating prospect and makes a sale.
I think it will be worthwhile to apply a select few of these terms to the lives of creative people–the Way of the artist, the Way of the writer, the Way of the composer, the architect, the performer–since so many creative people read my blog and the concepts will be so beneficial to them. As you read, think of the many applications there are to your creator’s life as so many people have.
Musha Shugyo: Samurai Training. Samurai were trained to fight in the service of a lord—with supreme self-confidence, courage, bravery, and superb skill with weapons. Four things were especially important to samurai:
Duty—we must make good what we owe.
Self-Control—body, mind, spirit, emotions under control.
Commitment to Immediate Action—“The Way of the samurai is immediacy”—no delays.
Constant Self-Improvement—no resting on your laurels; always striving to do better; to develop your skills to the highest level you’re capable of. What creator is not trying to improve?
Ryuu: Dragons. For samurai warriors of feudal Japan all obstacles in a person’s mind, heart, and spirit were “dragons.” A creator’s dragons are no longer of the fire-breathing variety that scared him or her as a child. They’re now a different species entirely, and to become all the creator you wish to become you will have to break completely free of them. When a samurai overcame a dragon he was “striking through the dragon’s mask.”
I arrived early at a conference room where I was to speak. Two men and a woman who’d come to hear me were early too and were at a table with their copies of Fighting To Win open. They seemed to be working hard and I asked “What are you working on?” The woman said, “We’re discussing our dragons.” The main dragons the samurai faced and creative people face too are:
Fear: Creative women and men experience fear most every day. The samurai set out to master fear, to learn to be no more ruffled whatever he was facing—however terrible–than “someone sitting down for breakfast.”
Being Afraid to Take Risks: The desire for certainty, the sure thing, often makes us cowards. There’s no room for sure things in a creator’s world. Samurai were taught that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade—edge in close, take a chance. Why aren’t we more confident and bolder?
Thinking Too Much: To be creatively free creators have to learn to think much less about what might go wrong.
Doubting Yourself: The creator’s most powerful dragon is dwelling again and again and again on his shortcomings, on what he lacks.
Hesitating: Wanting to do something but stopping.
Cowardice: The Chinese language permeates the Japanese language. The Chinese character for “cowardice” is composed of two symbols, “meaning” and “mind.” Creators are often finding too much meaning in things—he or she thinks too much—often worrying and fretting and dissipating their creative energy, that fuel creators need so much of. If you believe you’re thinking too much and that it’s driving you away from instead of to your work, this could be a dragon you’ll want to get rid of.
Try to make it a point to remember the term tomaranu kokoro. No small thing in samurai fighting, it has been called “the secret essence” of the samurai Way. More important, it’s relevant to the Way of the Creator. It means “a mind that knows no stopping.” If you have ever seen a master swordsman in action, you’ve witnessed tomaranu kokoro. Without once stopping he attacks, feints, cuts, slashes, turns, leaps, spins, and thrusts in a whirlwind of action.
The reason he is able to move so smoothly, effortlessly and quickly, his sword a blur, is that he is doing the same thing in his head. His body moves without stopping because his mind is tomaranu kokoro. His mind doesn’t stop to worry, to ask “what if”—“What if I lose?” “What if I die?”—or the creative person’s “What if I’m not good enough?” It doesn’t stop for anything. It keeps moving and facilitates the movement of his body. You can see that tomaranu kokoro is an ideal state of mind for the creator–an uninhibited, free, fluent, effortless yet focused mind and body.
Toraware—its opposite–means “caught,” and tomaru means “stopping” or “abiding.” You might want to remember them too, because they help explain why so many exceptionally talented creators are not as successful as they have the potential to be. It’s when your thoughts get caught (toraware) or stopped (tomaru) that you have trouble executing a creative action. It’s when your mind doesn’t flow from one idea to another but gets hooked or snagged on self-doubt or worry or anger, etc. that you are prevented from fully functioning creatively. Recall the last time you had problems with a painting, sculptor, story, composition, or performance and you were upset or troubled. It was because your thoughts got caught or stopped; they didn’t flow. You were all tied up—your mind, your body.
Whenever you find your thoughts getting caught or stopped, tell yourself to remember toraware, “caught,” and tomaru, “stopping.” More important, tell yourself to get back to tomaranu kokoro, the mind that knows no stopping, and return with confidence to your work. Let your mind be free to function according to its own natural free-flowing nature.
Fudoshin: The Skill of Making the Body Obey the Mind and Immovable Mind
Have you ever run in a marathon, felt pain, thought of stopping but refused to? If so, you’ve tasted fudoshin, immovable mind. No matter what you were going through your mind wouldn’t budge from the goal of finishing. The samurai spoke of iwoa no mi, “rock body” and wanted his commitments to be as immovable as a mountain. Why not yours?
The skill of making the body obey the mind is this: going into action—getting your work done, being creative, thriving, reaching success in spite of your dragons. Not letting any dragon stop you. You needn’t go off to the top of a mountain to overcome a dragon. You can say, “OK fear, come along if you want. “ Self-doubt, hesitation, thinking too much—you can’t stop me.” “Come on, tag along. But you cannot stop me. I’ve got a story to write, an etching to complete, a performance to give, a career to manage.”
Every day in studios, work rooms, and theatres some creators are thinking: “In order to do it (whatever it is) I’ve got to first overcome my problem—my fear (or shyness, lack of self-confidence, bad habits, indecisiveness, etc.). Once I get rid of that baby, I’ll be all right. Then I’ll be able to create my great work.” The real problem isn’t what they think it is. It is not the fear or lack of confidence. It’s their belief that the fear has the power to prevent them from doing what they should be doing.
If the creator forgets about himself and his dragons completely and focuses only on adapting to what his creative life path requires of him, no dragon will ever stop him. The dragon has no right to stop you. But your mind must be immovable. Keep your mind focused on the task. Put negative emotions out of the equation.
In my next post, Part II of this topic, I’ll discuss more samurai concepts creative people can apply to improve their work and lives.
© 2016 David J. Rogers
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