Category Archives: Samurai Techniques

The Self-Concept: Freeing Up Your Creator’s Mind and Personality

In those happy days when I was starting out and writing books during the night while my wife and children slept, I was a business consultant during the day. One client was an anal-type organization–lots of rules, very little freedom, business workers in office cubiclesdictatorial–and many disgruntled employees. You might have worked in an organization like that. You may be working in one now.

One rule was that no one from one unit was to visit another unit during working hours. They were serious. Wherever you went you heard people saying, “Don’t get caught out of your unit.”

Your creator’s self-concept–self-image, self-estimate–is your internal, private opinion of the kind of creator you are and of the actions you are or are not capable of performing as a creator. It directly controls how successful you are in your creative endeavors and how full and satisfying your creative life will be. Like that nutty rule, your creator’s self-concept says, “Whatever you do, don’t get caught out of your self-concept.”

Your behavior has absolute trust in your creator’s self-concept and believes it and obeys it. You may have decided after five years writing that you’re a pretty average poet, so you work only hard enough to write average poems, never expecting to do any better. Your self-concept is perfectly content with mediocrity although you may have the potential for greatness. It is continually telling you to stay inside its definition of the kind of person you are: “You’re a decent painter but let’s face it, you’ll will never be much more than that.”

Many people I’ve met and you’ve met tell themselves they’re not creative. They realize that creativity could make them happier, but they claim they just don’t have it. Many people think, “Oh, a painter is creative, or a novelist or an architect. But I’m not a bit creative.” Yet researchers have demonstrated that the self-concept is so powerful and yet so malleable and so easy to change that the moment–the moment–people start thinking “I am creative” instead of “I’m not creative,” creativity increases. They can write and paint and perform dramatic roles passably well.  Now they have a creator’s self-concept.

Disappointments lead some creators to think, “I can’t produce really superb art work. . .sell my stories to magazines…make a lot of money…place my paintings in the best galleries…get in a good show… compete with young creators…” and so on.

Many creators have such narrow self-concepts they’re living in a unit that’s only a fraction of the size of their true creative ability. They possess the capacity to accomplish high creative goals but they don’t realize they do. Other creators have wide and expansive self-concepts. Their actions are bolder. They are self-confident. They expect to excel and often do.

What’s holding narrow self-concept creators back? Don’t look at me. I’m not holding them back. You’re not holding them back. They are holding themselves back. Some creators—maybe you know a few of them—have self-concepts so narrow and confining that they have made themselves incapable of doing anything significant. Often they don’t even try.

Many of you reading this are fiction writers. But we are all fiction writers. ALL SELF-CONCEPTS ARE FICTIONS; THEY ARE ALL MADE UP.  They are not real in the way a flower pot is real or a desk is. They are merely ways you have chosen to view yourself. From this insight it’s a short, leaping step to the next: “Hey, since I made up this damned self-concept and I’m not happy with it, and it’s holding me back, all I have to do to increase my possibilities and free up my creator’s mind and personality is to create another one and act accordingly,” or “Do I need a self-concept at all?” If your self-concept is right for you—if you’re happy with it—by all means keep it. But if it’s bringing you creative disappointment after disappointment and discouragement and you’re dissatisfied with it, you’d better, I think: (1) change it, or (2) operate without it.

I want to tell you two stories:

Story One: “The Storekeeper and the Thief”

In Japan in the nineteenth century, storekeepers were considered lily-livered weaklings. One storekeeper became sick and tired of this reputation. To prove that it was totally false he took lessons at a martial arts dojo. He devoted himself religiously and after some years he became an expert. After closing his shop late one night, the storekeeper and his wife started home down the dark streets carrying the day’s receipts. They had just turned the corner when a man holding a knife stepped out of the shadows and ordered the storekeeper to hand over his money.

At first he refused, but when the thief charged him, growling, “You miserable merchant, I’ll cut you to pieces,” the storekeeper lost his courage, fell to his knees, and began to tremble with fear. Suddenly his wife cried out, “You’re not a storekeeper, you’re a master of the martial arts.”

The storekeeper turned his head and looked at his wife. “Yes,” he said, “I am.” He stood, a warrior now, totally fearless, completely calm. He let out a powerful katzu, “battle shout,” and leaped at the thief. He defeated him easily.

Story Two: “The Teaman and the Ronin

In feudal Japan, a servant, a poor practitioner of chado, the Way of tea, unwittingly insulted a ronin, a masterless samurai. Outraged, the ronin challenged the servant to a duel. “I’m not a warrior,” the teaman said, “and I’m very sorry if I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to. Please accept my apology. ”But the ronin would have none of it. “We meet at dawn tomorrow,” he said, and as was customary, he handed the terrified teaman a sword. “Go practice,” said the ronin.

The servant ran to the home of a famous sword master and told him the terrible thing that had happened. “A unique situation,” the sword master said. “For you will surely die. The thing I might be able to help you with is isagi-yoku, the art of dying well.”

While they talked, the teaman prepared and poured tea. The masterful way he did it caught the eye of the sword master. He slapped his knee and said, “Forget what I just told you. Put yourself into the state of mind you were in as you prepared the tea and you can win this fight.” The teaman was shocked. The sword the ronin had given him was the first he had ever held. “What state of mind?”

“Were you thinking ‘I’m a teaman?’ ” asked the master.

“No. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

“That’s it!” The sword master laughed. “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head, ready to cut your opponent down. Don’t think you’re a teaman or that you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

Image of kendo {{PD-1923}} The next morning the ronin appeared on the field and the teaman immediately raised his sword overhead, his eyes on the ronin, his ears waiting for the battle cry. For long moments the ronin stared at the raised sword, and the determination in his opponent’s eyes. Finally the ronin said, “I cannot beat you.” He bowed and left the field.

The problem of these two men should seem familiar. Their predicament is one we all encounter every day. Our opponents aren’t usually thieves and they certainly aren’t wandering samurai ronin, but that’s not important. Those weren’t the main opponents anyway. The primary battle, the main event, was going on inside the storekeeper and the teaman. To win on the outside, each had to deal with a faulty, inadequate, self-defeating self-concept.

Option One: “I’m a Warrior, Not a Storekeeper.” Changing Your Self-Concept

Many creators are overlooking their creative abilities. They persist in thinking they’re storekeepers when if they just thought differently about themselves they would see what warriors they have the potential to be. Listen to the things you say about yourself and think about yourself that begin with “I am,” “I’m not,” and “I can’t.” They are your self-concept in action. And they directly control what is possible for you.

 

Robin tells herself, “I’ve been working on the thing I call ‘My Novel’ for years and can’t seem to finish it. It’s embarrassing. I have no will power.”  And because of it she has real problems getting the damn thing off to a publisher. Ariel tells herself she’s not intelligent enough to write a Hollywood screen play. She doesn’t realize that intelligence is not fixed and final in a person, but can increase with use and with it her concept of herself as an intelligent woman.

Creators are what they are because they keep telling themselves they are. If they stop telling themselves they are, they change. If creators say to you, “I just can’t talk in front of large groups,” or “I’m not the sales type,” or “I’m not a really clever person,” and then ask you if there is anything they can do about it, you might suggest that they never, never say that again. Then suggest they counter every “I’m not” or “I just can’t” with a firm “I am” or “I can.”

Saying it isn’t enough.  What is in your head doesn’t count for anything unless you translate it into action, “body knowledge.” It’s not enough to think, “Hey, I’m not just a storekeeper, I’m really a warrior after all.” To defeat the thief you have to fight, and you can because:

 All behavior is nothing more than an act, a performance.  Acting is easy. Everyone can act. We are all performers.  As soon as a public speaker realizes that she is not a lecturer but an actor, her presentations get good. To BE confident, ACT confidently.

Find a model, someone who does well what you would like to do. Watch how she does it, then do it the same way yourself. Or borrow from a number of models.

Option Two: Operating Without a Self-Concept

The sword master advised the teaman, “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head. Don’t think that you’re a teaman or you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

In sales training sessions I gave I often used a simple role-playing exercise that’s designed to demonstrate the teaman alternative. The teaman alternative is not replacing your old, limiting self-concept with a new and improved one. It’s not thinking you’re a cowardly storekeeper or a poor teaman, but it’s not thinking you’re a warrior either. It’s not holding any self-concept in mind, but just taking action, doing something.

After everyone in the training group had played the part of a sales person making a presentation to a potential customer, I asked them to list the things that they did well during the role-play and the things they would like to improve upon. Then we discussed the “like-to-improve-upons.” Sam said he was no good at thinking on his feet. He went blank. A real salesman, Sam said, is able to handle himself smoothly.

Gerri said her problem was talking too fast. Her words came shooting out so fast she often said the wrong thing. She got flustered. She blew sales.

One by one, they all had to tell me about their “improve-upons.” Midway through every description of a problem I stopped the speaker and said something like “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I’ll tell you what: show me how you would like to be able to do it.” Then I just sat back and watched the amazing thing that almost always happened. Virtually every time, they were all able to do what they said they had trouble doing or could not do at all. Now they were acting.

Sam, for example, actually did think on his feet, and responded smoothly and quickly to the prospect’s objections. Gerri actually became a more composed, together, non-flustered and relaxed saleswoman. Shy people who wished to act more boldly and self- confidently actually did. Those who wished to improve their body language did so. And tough, defensive people who “always” argued and who wanted to be more friendly and warm succeed in acting that way.

I had prompted each of the role-players to act directly without letting their self-concept affect their performance at all. They were doing before their self-concepts had time to inform them, “You just got through saying you couldn’t do that, so it doesn’t make any sense for this guy to ask you to.”

What the role-players learned is precisely what the sword master taught the teaman: You can do what even you believed you couldn’t if you forget about your self-concept totally.

Seeing how easy and effortless it was to forget about a previous self-concept and just act, just be, just perform was exciting for everyone. It was an unforgettable life learning experience.

Man painting a pictureDo whatever you’re doing  creatively without any thought about your “I ams,” “I can’ts” and “I’m nots,” or any concern about “what bad thing will happen if I fail” or “what great thing will happen if I succeed.” You’ll be unhappy whenever your internal opinion of yourself makes you concerned with yourself instead of the creative action at hand.

The creative action at hand–the story or the painting to be crafted, the role to be played, the dance to be danced–they are all that matters, they are the main thing.  Forget about everything else. Watch what happens. Watch your creative life change.

 

Parts of this post appeared in different form in my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work And Life

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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The Warrior Creator

My thirty-seven year old son Eli, a school principal and YA author, and a wonderful man, has been a strong supporter of my work since he was a little boy and went with me to store after store while I autographed books. It’s he who suggested I write a blog. That’s when I said, “A what?” So three years ago that’s what, with my wife Diana’s technical help, I started to do.  I hope my blog friends are reading this post and will benefit from it. A few years ago Eli called me and said, “Dad, in an internet reader’s poll Fighting To Win has been maned the best motivational book ever written.” I said, “Well, how do you like that?”  Any creator knows what a joy it is to have his/her work praised. (That’s one reason we work so hard isn’t it?)

Hand with penAnd any author knows that if he writes a book that catches on, he’ll never get rid of it. He will become identified with it the rest of his life.  So here I am, the author of Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life. I’m happy to say that that prescriptive how-to-do-it self-improvement book is a classic that since it first came out thirty years ago has been widely used by people of all kinds here and in Europe and Asia as a guide to actualizing their wonderful talents that otherwise may have lain dormant and unused. It started as a book popular with people in the work world, particularly business people, but then quickly spread to people in the arts.

Over the years I’ve received thank-yous from accountants and sales people, and painters, writers, opera singers, composers, movie directors, actors, musicians, and so on–people who’ve come to realize that whatever their walk of life might be, the psychology of the warrior fits them to a T because they are thinly disguised warriors too.  It’s a tribute to Fighting to Win that it Is still available as an eBook, is still being read, and is still changing lives.

I turned to the study of the samurai way of life as a result of hard times taking a terrible toll on me. I experienced far too many disappointments and was cheated in business by people I had trusted. I was looking for something that would Samurai swordsman in silhouettesalvage me from the kind of misery I was experiencing and in the samurai Way found strength as well as insights, strategies, and techniques I could use to pull myself out of the awful lethargy I had settled into. By way of the book, magazine articles, TV and radio, the internet, and speeches, I’ve been fortunate to meet many wonderful people. They have told me that they too have found solace from setbacks and gained the psychological and spiritual wherewithal to excel in their careers through samurai wisdom and what I call “the inner skills of creative people.”

The samurai of Japan were the greatest warriors who ever walked the earth. Trained to perform phenomenal feats of courage and fearlessness, they were stern, quiet, utterly serious people who devoted their lives to developing their skills, spirits, and minds to the highest possible level.

Just as all creative people face internal obstacles that interfere with their lives, 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 you and I and creators of all descriptions face—anxiety, procrastination, self-doubt, hesitation, fear of taking risks, nervousness, discouragement, crippling over-analysis, depression, apprehension, impatience, anger, and more.

Japanese Character for Warrior

Japanese Character for Warrior

Creators and warriors both begin as ordinary people with the potential to be exceptional and memorable, to apply themselves and acquire impressive skills not everyone possesses, and to develop talents and excel at their chosen life path–their “Way.” Each Way is different: the Way of the painter is similar to yet totally different from the Way of the actor, which is like but different from the Way of the writer or the ballet dancer, etc. At a certain point in their training and development, they cease being ordinary anymore, but have become extraordinary. They have wholly recreated themselves.

To function superbly in their chosen role–the painter to paint, the writer to write, the performer to perform, the samurai to fight–of necessity all must be brave,  be bold, take chances, and resist discouragement, fear, hesitations, and self-doubt. Ideal warrior creators have the courage of a lion, the boldness of a gambler, and yet the sensitivity of a butterfly. Critics and nay-sayers are not capable of intimidating them–nothing does. Think how liberating it is to be incapable of being bullied by agents, by publishers, by directors. They are not flustered. Now you are thinking how glorious that would be. When they are facing critical moments, their goal is to be as relaxed as a person sitting down for breakfast, and that’s possible.

I’m sure you know many creators who encounter the fear of performing their craft–that’s one of their fears. When I Empty canvas on easelvisited 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 first thing since that was what I was the most curious about: “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel for so long?”

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

I know a singer who has had a successful professional career, but suddenly and inexplicably after five years developed a fear of performing and for two years retired because of it. She read the book, applied what she read, resumed her career, and was more successful than ever. Her ordeal of not being able to perform matured her.

Fear–there are a thousand of them–is the creator’s most formidable foe. You know that: fear of not being good enough or creative enough or smart enough or talented enough, of being rejected by an audience, of never reaching the success you dreamed of since childhood.

Some creators are afraid even to enter their work room in the morning. The creator’s fear tightens him/her up. Confidence disappears and self-punishing self-doubt takes its place. Their thoughts don’t flow as they did when they Archer about to shoot an arrowwere confident.  To create becomes difficult if not impossible. But once creators learn to defeat fear, their minds and spirits are immediately rejuvenated, and creativity flows out of them in torrents: the novel takes shape; the just-right color is added to the canvas. What can possibly stop them now?

Warrior creators must always be ready to overcome almost unbearable personal impediments that might stop other people and to overcome scores of obstacles of all sorts standing between them and their highest ambitions.  Every year thousands of painters and thousands of writers and other creators give up and quit–just quit–and thousands more are getting ready to quit right now, possibly you. Hopefully they’ll eventually learn that adversity can’t be avoided and in fact is essential to a creator’s development.  If only they had persevered a little longer. Persistence is a creator’s good and faithful friend.

When you are a warrior creator your spirit must be strong and poised, in the words of the samurai strong enough to bring down “a wall or iron.” If you are knocked down you must not lie in bed and moan and whine, but must jump up. Knocked down seven times by circumstance you must jump up eight. You must take care that your spirit is never broken, whatever happens.

Your “depths” should never be penetrated. Inside the warrior creator is a tiny core of strength that nothing can touch. You must control your breathing so that energy is released like steam from an engine because the work creators apply themselves to is unbelievably difficult. Tremendous vitality spread over a whole lifetime and put into every poem, every sculpture, and every actor’s role is needed if one wishes to create.

Like samurai, warrior creators strive to remove all psychological blocks, and learn specific techniques for doing that, and having done that to be able to function freely without conscious effort, the way do when you are your most creative. When you are at your best and well trained everything is automatic, the fluid movement of a master swordsman, the ease of the gestures of a violinist, the sure brushstroke of an experienced painter, the rhythmic typing of a writer in the zone.

The work seems to do itself, and everything is easy. The release of the arrow is the most difficult problem the archer Dew falling from a leaffaces. Like the inspiration of the artist, the release “should be done without thought, like a drop of dew falling from a leaf or a fruit falling when it’s ripe.” One’s every creative act should be like the release of an arrow.  I’ve seen people like that and so have you.

All that warrior creators need is within, in their minds. Your mind holds all the secrets.  The meaning of all things is within, not something that exists “out there.” Warrior creators “grow from within.” You should leave your mind alone and not complicate it with fruitless anxieties and jealousies so many creators experience. Only then can the mind function uninhibited, in the state of highest creativity.

The mind of the warrior creator must never get “caught” or “snagged” (toroware), or “stopped” (tomaru) on internal obstacles like a fish on a line but should always be flowing smoothly from thought to thought to thought like an unimpeded river. When warrior creators are at their best, their hearts are undisturbed and at total peace, their bodies and minds operating without conscious direction. To the master in any field, to execute their art is no more difficult than to breathe or utter their name.

When most productive warrior creators are confident and self-possessed, they are certain that sooner or later they will succeed. There can be no doubt about that. They are disciplined.  Their egos are under control. They look squarely at reality and never flinch from it. If up ahead is something unpleasant, well, up ahead is something unpleasant, so let’s get to it right away and get it over with.

Warrior creators are always trying to improve themselves. Tomorrow they should be smarter, stronger, more knowledgeable, and better skilled than they are today. They do things mindfully, deliberately, and are fully committed. Whatever they do they have every intention of completing. They are “immovable” and don’t budge from their important goals.

Warrior creators are designed to move. They know that when things are done leisurely, seven out of ten turn out poorly. Poster saying "Action is your natural inclination, a fulfilling life your true destiny"The Way of the warrior creator is action, action, and more action–getting things done, not procrastinating, not delaying, not stalling, but finishing what you start without delay and going on to the next thing.  The main goal of all creators is production–to produce works, an actor to play many roles, the writer to write many stories, the lithographer to work with many plates. No creator is more able to produce voluminous works than men and women of action.

The warrior creator knows that when you encounter calamities, it isn’t enough to say you’re not upset, but it is best to “dash forward bravely and joyfully” to meet the difficult situation.  What you fear the most you must get to first. Warrior creators accept whatever they are doing and flow with whatever may happen. They are taught to expect nothing but to be mentally and physically prepared for anything.

They focus: the concentration of the artist is astounding to the non-creator. Their lives are focused too, to enable them to do their work without interference. Among their affairs are many responsibilities, but no more than two or three “matters of greatest concern.” The most important time in the warrior creator’s life is the present moment: “There is only one purpose of the present moment, but a person’s whole life is just a succession of present moments.”

For the warrior creator every moment brings with it a CHOICE POINT at which one’s whole life can change: “From this point on, after this present moment ends, shall I be strong or shall I be weak, shall I commit myself to my craft or continue playing at being a painter, shall I buckle down and see what I can become at last?” These are crucial questions.

The warrior creator is to think what a frail thing life is and is reminded that every day of his/her life may be the last. Poster saying "The delicate cherry blossom doesn't last long in the wind that blows it from the tree."There is no fear of death. So warrior creators dedicate their lives to the fulfillment of their obligations to others and to themselves. They have an obligation to their art, their craft, and to live with the energy and flexibility that go into a creator’s every work: “Never let the thought of a along life seize upon you, for then you are apt to indulge in all kinds of wasteful dissipation.”

The warrior creator turns back again and again to the creative work to be done in this much too brief life, this single blessed moment that is occurring right now.

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work

Part One of Two Parts

In the lives of great creators past and present, we find many characteristics that equip them uniquely for their role, especially tremendous powers of concentration. Those same powers of concentration are readily available to you.

Concentration is the heart and soul of creative work. How to develop and sustain it is a concern of actors, painters, dancers, pianists, composers, writers, and all other creators. Unless you bring to bear all the mental and physical alertness and clear-mindedness that you have the potential for you will not be enjoying the best conditions for your creative work.

Creators who can concentrate their mind like brilliant beacons of light at will can focus anywhere and can work under any conditions, and whenever they wish. For example, even fledgling actors are able to routinely commit to memory many pages of complex dialogue in a short period because of the phenomenal ability to concentrate they’ve had to acquire if they wish to act.

Make a pact with yourself: when you do creative work let nothing interfere with the only life that exists at the moment, namely the life of an actor or dancer or sculptor, and so forth. Just kick everything else out of your mind. All your life now for this time is the role your whole being has equipped you for because you have a love of your craft. There is no separation between you and it. It is part of you as much as your arm.

Concentration is an ability most people have not developed. Their minds run wild. That people generally are so poor at concentrating is shown in the fact that patrons in an art museum look at a work on average for 1 1/2 seconds. But out of the necessity of producing a stream of tangible works of high quality, many creators have disciplined their mind to be clear and not to wander. Those creators remind me of this famous story about concentration from the samurai Way. Samurai are ideal examples of how with application a person can increase his or her mental powers substantially and turn them to practical results, how ordinary people can become extraordinary.

Centuries ago in Japan there lived a man who had devoted himself completely to kyudo, the Way of the bow. Early one evening he was walking in the mountains when suddenly he saw a flicker of movement in the shadows. It was a tiger, its back arched, ready to pounce. Without hesitation the archer nocked the arrow. Concentrating all his power in the shot, since it might be his last, he let the arrow fly. A direct hit, right in the head. Without stopping to examine the dead animal, the archer continued on his way.

The next day, though, he became curious and returned to the spot. But hard as he looked he could not find the dead animal. He was about to abandon his search when he saw his arrow, lodged in a huge boulder. It hadn’t been a tiger after all, but his concentration had been so intense and his shot so powerful that the arrow had been driven into solid rock.

From this incident came the famous maxim about concentration and power in any Way of life–business, athletics, the arts, everyday life, and more: “Ichinen iwa wo mo tosu:” “The focused mind can pierce through stone.” (From Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life.)

One-pointed, stone-piercing concentration is the ability of you, the creator, to direct your attention exclusively on the challenges of the work at hand as they appear, and being able to prevent any stray, muddling, interfering thoughts that aren’t related to solving the creative problems confronting you.

Also from the samurai Way , applicable to the Way of the creator, is the story of a contest:

The greatest archers in the land were invited to the contest. A fish was put up on a pole a great distance away. Asked by the judge if they could see the fish, one by one the archers said they could. One last contestant stepped to the line.

“Can you see the fish?” asked the judge.

The archer replied, “I’m looking at its eye.”

This was the champion.

Learn to concentrate on the fish’s eye and you’ll often find success in creative work. You will produce more works, and the work’s quality will improve.

I proved to myself the benefits of concentration in another context when I was a bodybuilder. I said, “I’m going to devote myself to this and see what happens.” It is as much a craft with high standards of performance and traditions as acting, painting, and writing. For the body builder and the writer at work a single stray thought not belonging to the performance breaks concentration. A lift is wasted, an injury is possible. The writer loses that one thought that would have conveyed exactly what the text needed. I worked hard and concentrated totally on each separate lift and every repetition with remarkable results. I had put into practice the words of champion bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger: “One lift with concentration is worth ten lifts without concentration.”

The first quality of the creator’s concentration is an alert, undivided, focused, attentive mind that has nothing left over for anything unnecessary, irrelevant, and inessential while you are creating. As much as possible you want your concentration to be uninterrupted while you work and to not be diverted from the task involved in creating, or divided for any reason. How does a creator work on developing an alert mind?

Preparation: You begin preparing your mind for the task of writing well before you sit down at the computer, on sculpting before you enter your studio. Skilled actors don’t wait until they get to the theatre, but prepare themselves for their first entrance on the stage while they are still at home. On the days they are to perform they don’t clutter their minds with all sorts of unimportant things that have nothing to do with playing their role. When they arrive at the theatre they may not stop to engage in idle chatter that takes their mind from their performance. When they are putting on their makeup in front of the mirror they are solving problems and finding inspirataion.

In the morning start the day by thinking of the novel you’re writing, or the painting, or the role you’ll play when the curtain goes up tonight, of what you want to have accomplished creatively when your work days ends. And think of it in the afternoon and before you go to bed.  Think of it when you drink coffee and brush your teeth. Think about it whenever you can. Scribble notes about it on napkins when you’re having lunch. You must be a novelist, actor, painter, etc., the whole day, not just an hour or two.

Harmful emotions like anxiety, fear, envy, discouragement, and self-doubt are threats to your concentration. So you must learn to concentrate on the task and forget the emotion.  As much as possible, put how you’re feeling out of the equation. Tell yourself your emotions are irrelevant at the moment; you’ll take care of them after work.

Take your mind off what you’re feeling. You can feel afraid to write, as many writers do, and still write, and you can still do what you doubt you can do if you don’t let the fear and doubt stop you from concentrating. And too, once you’re engrossed in creative work, however poorly you were feeling before, your mood almost always improves and becomes more positive, optimistic, hopeful, confident, even blissful.

While you’re working develop your attention so that no extraneous thoughts interfere with the work. Don’t worry, for instance, whether you’re at your best today or you aren’t, or think about what might happen if you succeed and produce a great work–the glory, the applause– or if you fail–or if you have the sniffles or would rather be making love. Don’t fret about bills or personal problems or what you’ll make for dinner. Again and again bring your mind back to the work because right now it is the most important thing.

It’s hard to change your concentration from low to high if the environment you’re working in isn’t comfortable. It may not be comfortable for me, but it has to be for you.  For example, I am very comfortable with chaos–not in my personal life, not at all, I crave tranquility there. But in my work room chaos is welcome. To me in chaos there is order. But my wife tsk-tsks, and says, “It amazes me that you can possibly work under these conditions.” To placate her I say, “You’re right. I have to organize this mess.”  But between you and me I have no intention of ever organizing the mess.

You have to find an environment in which you can flourish, or create one. Many writers work in restaurants. I see them in the Starbuck’s down the street. Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway wrote in cafes and was extremely productive. But home is best for me. F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t have a comfortable work setting because of his wife Zelda’s constant interference.  She would take Scott away from his work to have fun and play pranks. One night she collected all the women’s purses at a party and boiled them. Whatever the place you work you should be able to go to it, focus, and be productive.

A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. Simply by being there ready to work repetitively the same time day after day after day the power of good habits goes into effect. Some creators’ work habits will strike you as strange.  The poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) splashed ink on her clothes to give her a feeling of freedom when she wrote, and poet A.E. Housman rarely wrote unless he was sick.

For high quality, uninterrupted work to happen, not all, but most creators need isolation and solitude. To get rid of distractions some creative people eliminate newspapers, TV, clocks, telephone calls, emails, face book, and unnecessary conversation. One study showed that following an interruption for an email or phone call people were so distracted that 40% of the time they didn’t get back to work, but moved on to something else. If you quit 40% of the time, how long will it take you to finish your novel?

All your mental powers should be aimed in only one direction–toward the work at hand. But your creator’s imagination is always boiling over with ideas and has a playful impulse to lead you astray. To keep out even the smallest distracting sounds, the wonderful and eccentric Marcel Proust who was so focused on writing that he never learned how to open a window or boil a kettle of water wrote in a cork-lined sound-proof bedroom. “If you’re silent for a long time, people just arrive in your mind” (novelist Alice Walker). But some creators concentrate best when it’s noisy:–a jack hammer under their window, a baby shrieking. Which do you prefer, silence or noise?

 

I’m planning to publish Part Two of “Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work” in a few weeks. I hope you’ll look at it. It answers an important question every creator asks: “It’s easy to be absorbed in the creative problem if it’s interesting–that’s not hard at all. But what if it’s not interesting? What if it’s boring? (Creative work is often tedious.) You still have to solve the problem.  What can you do?”

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Samurai Concepts for Creatives Part 2

In the last post, subtitled, “A New Language for Creative People,” I applied Samurai terms to the lives of creatives to show that those terms have relevance to writers, artists, composers, architects, and actors today, a thousand years samurai-statueafter “the tramp of warriors sounded like a thousand convulsions of the earth,” and “the shouts of warriors, the whistling of arrows, the thunder of the feet of foot soldiers and the hooves of chargers did not cease.”

Do: The Concept of a “Way”

The Japanese “do” (pronounced “dough”), means “way,” short for “way of life” or “life path.” That a discipline is a Way is indicated by the do suffix at the end of a word. Thus kendo (ken, sword; do, way) means “sword Way,” or Way of the sword. Bu (warrior) do (Way), refers to the attitudes, behavior and life-style of the Samurai warrior.

In kyudo, the Way of the bow, no quiver is worn and the archer fires just one arrow. From this the archer is to learn daido, a “principle that operates in all things.” The archer is to come to value his life more fully, for each arrow is like the japanese-flowers-ikebanatotality of his life. You have but one life; thus you shoot but one arrow. The Samurai was taught, “The Way is your daily life.”

A serious writer’s or artist’s life is a “Way,” for example, the Way of the Writer,” “the Way of Writing,” and “the Way of the painter or sculptor”– just as in Japan there is the Way of floral arrangement, the “Way of flowers,” and “The Way of tea.” It’s axiomatic that what applies to one teapot-37046_640Way has application to all the other Ways. For example, a basis of the Way of the Warrior is showing courage in the face of adversity. And a writer or actor and painter too faces adversity and will benefit from having a warrior’s courage.

When creating is a Way you say to yourself, “I am full of unrealized potentials and special gifts that need to be developed, and am what I make of myself. I take full responsibility on myself and am choosing a creative’s life of my own free will.  I have felt that creative calling for a long time.  So many years and days allotted to me have passed and I believe I haven’t gotten far enough. I’m clear now and I have stores of energy in me that will make possible extraordinary achievements. My life now will be an existence that I’m designing to my own specifications. I have the conviction that the life I now envision is the life I was always meant to have.”

On the creative’s Way you’re committed to:

  • Finding a best outlet for your talents
  • Perfecting your aptitudes and skills
  • Discovering and expressing yourself
  • Creating beauty
  • Expressing truth
  • Communicating with a public
  • Learning a discipline, becoming part of a tradition
  • Prevailing over difficulty
  • Developing and improving
  • Being paid and/ or compensated in other ways such as through recognition and acclaim
  • Finding pleasure in creating and the creatives’ life

Skills can be taught, but a Way can’t. There’s no searching for a Way. It comes to you on its own when you’re ready. And when it does come, you know.  As a boy-paintingchild, you begin writing or drawing no differently than anyone else, but at some point—it could be at the age of five or a hundred and five–you begin creating more purposefully than other people. Then almost without being aware of how it happened, out of the processes of creating,  gaining knowledge of your craft, and the craft’s world, and growing in skill, you are “taken” by it fully and completely and find yourself on the Way of the painter, writer, or actor, etc.

The logical end of the creative’s Way is to become a Real Writer, or Real Painter, or Real dancer, and so forth—to become known by your family, friends, teachers, and audience, and to define yourself as “someone who is serious about creating.”

Let your work become a Way.

Mokuteki Hon’I: “Focus on Your Purpose’’

When as a person doing creative things you discover what you must accomplish with your talents and that becomes a major goal there comes something new and extraordinary into your existence. You’re electric with that rarest of qualities—intensity. Doing the work as well as you’re able becomes a Purpose.

The Samurai was taught, Mokuteki hon’I, “Focus on your purpose.” With a purpose your every act takes on power. Obstacles, once so intimidating, fall away because your purpose is more powerful than the obstacles. You feel a zest, a tingle. Your imagination is on fire. It is strength to be of one mind, complete and undivided, fully committed to a life with purposes.

When you make a purpose out of what a moment before was merely a responsibility, or a chore, or a duty by thinking, “This, what I am doing now, is a-focused-mindmy purpose,” extraordinary achievements become possible. Impediments become light as feathers.

Begin every project and every day, every time you return to work after a break, with your purpose in mind. Say the words, “Focus on your purpose.” I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve said “Focus on your purpose” aloud to myself and been inspired by those words. Thousands.

Kufu: “Struggling, Wrestling, and Grappling with Something

Until a Good Solution Is Found”

I was interviewing people for a job that required the ability to write reports. While he wanted the job, Jack confided that he had a problem—writer’s block. Anyone who will apply for a writer’s job and be so honest as to tell the person doing the hiring that he has problems writing is my kind of guy. He told me more. “When I sit down to work, all that I want to say seems clear to me. But when I actually start I have a tough time. The ideas and words don’t come. I try, but after about an hour I give up. What do you think I should do?”

“Don’t quit after an hour,” I said.

The point I was making was a simple Samurai one. I was telling Jack to kufu his way out. Some problems are one-hour problems, others are two or five hour or longer problems.

Kufu. It’s a wonderful concept that applies equally to the small everyday tasks and problems in a creative’s life and to the big ones too. It means giving yourself completely to discovering the solution or to finding the way out of your difficulties and to your creative goal.

It means to struggle, to grapple, to wrestle until you find the solution. It is holding nothing back in reserve. It is closing ground on the problem and never retreating or hanging back. When you take the kufu, grapple-your-way-out approach, you know that somewhere ahead of you lies a breakthrough point, a moment when you will get the better of the creative problem or the task. It is there awaiting you. All you have to do is remain concentrated and focused on the goal.

“Who knows,” I told Jack, “but your breakthrough point could come at sixty-one minutes or seventy-five or may take days. If you give up after an hour, hand-299675_6401you’ll never reach it. Kufu your way out of this writer’s block.”

Months later Jack came to tell me that he had gone back to his writing to try the kufu approach of staying with it, trying it again and again, no matter how long it took. Suddenly, he said, writing had become not totally effortless, but noticeably less difficult.

No one is spared resistances to the creative breakthrough experience. Jack continued to encounter concentration problems from time to time, but he had learned what many people never learn: the kufu spirit of staying with it until the problem is solved.

Makoto: “Sincerity”

Makoto is the Samurai precept of precepts and a concept of action that the Japanese of today value above all others. It is usually translated into English as “sincerity.” But it does not mean sincerity in the sense of “I’m sincerely pleased with our conversation.”

Makoto means putting absolutely everything you have, everything you are into an act—all of your heart, and all your spirit, mind, and all of your physical strength.  To hold anything back in reserve or to hesitate in any way whatsoever is for the creator to act . . . insincerely.

Creative people are tremendously productive individuals who at their best practice makoto every day, putting all their talents, skills, and training into their work, holding nothing in reserve.

The Samurai terminology I’ve described in the last two posts express ideas that have been useful to creative people everywhere in the world as they all aimed so steadily at perfecting their skills and so devotedly pursued their Way.

japanese-garden

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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The Perfect Creative Personality

The Perfect Creator Is Bold

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your creative potential free? And you will not do that without being bolder.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. The teacher came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our creative lives, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life. It’s a quality of excellence, of greatness, in every discipline, paint-33883_1280every field, especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks. Even becoming creative at all carries risks. Creating seriously isn’t a typical life. Most careers are much less risky.

For almost all people—creative men and women among them–the problem isn’t being too audacious, but not being audacious enough. Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life and your creativity are going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward boldly. Boldness brings a new intensity and sets you apart. When the situation is unclear but the outcome is important, be bold.

I’m interested in the samurai way of life and wrote a book about it. I find in it many analogies to creative peoples’ lives. In kendo—samurai swordsmanship—there’s a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms fighter-155746_150of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent frightens the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman is bold and knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade. Your greatest future success in your creative life may lie close to the blade.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Sincere and Has Integrity

The true center of our experience with any kind of creation is the sense that someone with a mind, a personality, and a range of experiences is trying to communicate with us. That sense accounts—if it’s favorable–for much of the pleasure we get from the work or performance.  What a creative person is water-lilly-1227948_640intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally radiates in the work and can’t be hidden. Herman Melville said, “No man can read a fine author, and relish him to his very bones, while he reads, without subsequently“ forming “some ideal image of the man and his mind. And if you look…you’ll find the author has furnished you with his own picture.”

The  most loved creator is the one who’s able to develop a relationship with the audience that goes beyond liking and beyond friendship to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity we find in the work or the performance. Sincerity is what I sense all through the works of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee. Anyone who can write so beautifully and so sensitively, honestly, and intensely must be trying to pass on to me something that he cares deeply about.  (See especially Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.) The sincere, intimate creator invites us in to her inner life and says “Here I am.” The sincere creative man or woman is trying hard to convey something directly to me as well as he or she is able. And I respond.

Good creators have integrity. They are whole and authentic. When we have integrity we guarantee we aren’t faking, or deceiving, or compromising. It’s futile to think we can hide ourselves from the audience for very long or fool them into believing we’re something we’re not. The person we are—with our history and our points of view and perspectives and opinions–comes through clearly.

A creative person’s authentic voice isn’t achieved by adding something, but by the opposite process—by subtracting what’s pretentious or phony. Every creative person is different from every other. There are no duplicates. But whatever he is like, we’re trying to locate him, understand, and admire him.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Fearless

All athletes, business executives, adventurers–and cab drivers, accountants, homemakers—and all creative people of any kind know that the single emotion that most often holds them back is fear. Hardly a single day goes by without most people being afraid of something.

Every early morning I go to my work room upstairs and settle down to write. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words that generating work-space-232985_640text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days, and certain days it’s powerful and tries to keep me from work. On those days I pause, fold my hands in my lap, gaze at the screen and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “What I’m feeling right now is fear.”

Author Joan Didion wrote, “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning.. I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.”

I ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”

Bear in mind that I’ve had many successes in writing. I’ve proven myself. Also, I am no coward who’s easily intimidated. I once 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. I was heroic. Yet, when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than I do anything else, sometimes I’m scared.

Each time I visited a painter friend 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.”

The goal is to be fearless when facing your creative responsibilities and tasks and obstacles, as many creative people are. Or to learn to be unafraid, or being afraid, to face up to fears and conquer them. There are creative people who are totally fearless. They don’t experience any fear whatsoever, the way some soldiers are fearless—and happiest–when under fire in combat.  Such creative people have a high threshold of fear, just as some people have a high threshold of pain.

janet self protrait3

Janet Weight Reed, self-portrait http://janetweightreed.co.uk/

There are creative people who experience fear and are stopped by it. They may be superb creatively but that doesn’t matter. They’re at fear’s mercy. When you’re stopped by fear, you have only the slightest chance of being successful. That’s why the top is such an exclusive place—because fear stops so many people from reaching it. Thousands upon thousands of wonderfully talented creative people fall by the way and simply quit–hundreds or thousands every day– because fear paralyzes them and they aren’t able to recover. There’s no premium on gifted creators. Gifted creators with indefatigable courage are a rarer breed.

Then there are other creative people who feel afraid but conquer their fear by nevertheless doing what must be done. They feel as afraid as anyone else, but they react differently. They have a lower threshold of fear than the fearless person. But they don’t permit their fear to stop them. You look at them and you can hardly believe your eyes. You know they’re afraid, and yet are unstoppable. They know that the best way to conquer fear is to do what you fear to do no matter how afraid you are. And that you can do.

sea-gull-939474_640In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the old man Santiago is in his skiff out on the sea when a small bird lands on the boat to rest. The old man talks to it, saying that the bird can stay for a while but then must fly away, taking his chances like every other bird And so must we creative people take our chances, afraid or unafraid.

 

Paintings by Janet Weight Reed, one of my favorite artists and bloggers, are featured in this post. When I told her I was writing a post on boldness, fearlessness and sincerity and would like to use a piece of her artwork, she sent me three paintings, saying:

If ever a painting of mine symbolises boldness and fearlessness, it is the attached (large oil on canvas) self-portrait.   It was painted in 1989 during one of the biggest turning points in my life and career.     I keep the painting with me as a reminder of what it is to persevere through seemingly impossible obstacles.

The hummingbird  (watercolour) also symbolises for me the same traits.     They have been significant in my paintings, large and small over the past 35 years, symbolising the ‘unseen magic’ of our world….a source to be tapped into during times of great duress.

When I observe the life of cats (small and large) – I see the same traits…..

Loving all Janet’s work, it was very difficult for me to choose one of the paintings, so I have included all three she sent me.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Living with Commitment and Power

When I was writing Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your work and Life and getting ready to send the manuscript off to Doubleday, the publisher, a good friend with my best interests in mind made it a point to come over to my house one afternoon to warn me. He said, “You’re not going to talk about death are you, Dave? It will be too depressing for your readers because your writing is always so optimistic, hopeful, and inspiring, and that’s what readers will be expecting. No one wants to read about death. No one wants to be reminded they’re going to die. I know, I know very well you have this belief that a writer must always tell the truth and owes it to the reader to never not tell the truth, but leave that out of your book. Even your editor won’t like it.”

Fighting to Win shows how the wisdom and philosophy of the samurai, the greatest and most spiritual warriors who samurai-161642_640ever walked the earth, applies to the everyday lives of anyone who can read the book, and will help them—old people, young people, students, movie stars, writers, artists, business people, teachers—anyone–Americans, Frenchmen, Swedes, Russians. And since death was so ever-present in the lives of these samurai men and women whose role was to risk death in battle without flinching or running away, how could I ignore death?

Warriors are taught to act boldly and decisively in the face of inevitable fate. In his “Primer” for samurai, Shigesuke Daidoji says, “The idea most vital and essential to the samurai is that of death, which he ought to have before his mind day and night, night and day, from the dawn of the first day of the year till the last minute of the last day of it . . . Think what a frail thing life is, especially that of a samurai. This being so, you will come to consider every day of your life your last and dedicate it to the fulfillment of your obligations. Never let the thought of a long life seize upon you, for then you are apt to indulge in all kinds of dissipation.”

Hagakure, a famous samurai text, says, ‘Every morning make up your mind to die. Every evening freshen your mind with the thought of death.”

“Freshening” your mind with the thought of death might seem a grim way to spend time; on the contrary, it is anything but. Those who are totally aware of how short their life will be—and who can feel the importance of that fact in the deepest corners of themselves—live a completely different kind and quality of life than the people who drift mindlessly along, never letting the thought sink in that in a relatively short time they will be gone.

All truly living things–creators in particular–have an urge to grow, to continue growing til the end of their lives.

In Japan the samurai is likened to the delicate cherry blossom which doesn’t last long in the wind that blows it from the japanese-cherry-trees-324175_640tree. One moment it is there and the next it’s gone. The same is true of the samurai and you and me. You are a cherry blossom and I am a cherry blossom too.

Every person with vitality and spirit chooses to die hard; to not go gentle into that good night and to fight against the dying of the light. If you’re a person with spirit, you’re no fool. You know death is going to get you, but it’s going to have a battle on its hands. While alive, you’re going to live without wasting your limited time being worried, cowardly, tentative, or putting things off for a tomorrow that might not come.

When you live with the full knowledge that death is always stalking you, you feel a quick surge of powerful energy, a sudden spark that overcomes you. When you live in the samurai style—as if you are already dead—you operate even more vitally. You acquire extraordinary courage, boldness, and decisiveness. You’re not timid any more, not about anything, any task, any impediment. You “go beyond the trifles of the world.” You fear nothing; you are fearless.

You reach a state of seishi o choetsu, “beyond life and death,” where even the knowledge of your death no longer frightens you. All that matters now is making use of the tremendous power you suddenly feel inside to accomplish all you set your mind to and to find your true destiny, a power strong enough, says the samurai “to bring down walls of iron.” And then your every act takes on an intensity that you have never known before. You live with commitment and power, two feet higher and  three steps faster than everyone else. And you find that you have incredible control over the conduct of your life. You find that there is not a single obstacle you cannot overcome.

The Rabbit and the Fox

A wise master and one of his students went for a walk through the countryside. The student pointed to a fox chasing a rabbit and said, “Oh, the poor rabbit.”

cottontail-rabbit-938478_640The master said, “The rabbit will elude the fox.”

The student was surprised. Maybe the old man’s mind wasn’t so sharp anymore. He said, “No, you see, the fox is faster.”

“The rabbit will get away,” repeated the master.

“What makes you think so?” asked the student.

“Because the fox is running for his dinner, but the rabbit is running for his life.”

The first step in living at the gut-level is understanding that we are all running for our lives.

An Exercise

The exercise is a short one. Read this . . .

The first man asked, “How do you feel?”

“Like one who has risen in the morning and doesn’t know whether he will be dead in the evening.”

“But this is the situation of all men.”

“Yes, but how many of them feel it?”

. . . and feel it.

I sent the manuscript off and ten days later my editor called to talk about it. He started by saying, “We love that section about the samurai and death. I was worried about how you would handle that. You made a potentially depressing subject inspiring. One editor would read those pages and pass them on to another editor and say ‘Look at this’ and now we can’t imagine the book without them.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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The Inner Skills of Creative People

I’ve been writing blog posts for writers and artists for sixteen months and over that time have published about 120,000 words. And though I’ve been a professional writer for many years, have written national and international best-sellers, startup-594126_640 (1)been contributing editor to popular magazines, have had published non-fiction, poetry, and prose, have advanced degrees, have taught in graduate schools, and have been studying, reading, and researching about the arts all my adult life, very rarely will you find me writing anything about how to write or paint better because that is not my main interest.

I will not tell a painter how to paint because I don’t know enough about that. But even if I did I probably wouldn’t talk about good technique or good use of color except to say I recognize them when I see them. I will talk about what made great artists tick and why they’re so special. And I will say that people who do great things are great in themselves.

I know enough about writing to have taught serious writers and found great pleasure in that and discovered I have a lot to say. I’ve written about extraordinary writers—the most extraordinary ever to write. But you won’t hear from me these days anything about developing characters, scenes, conflicts, and episodes, or how to write dialogue, or generate a mood, or structure a plot, or that kind of thing. There’re plenty of books, magazines, web sites, classes, and blogs for that. People have been writing about those things for 2,000 years.

My interest—the territory I have staked out for myself—are The Inner Skills of Creative People, for there, I think, inside, in your spirit, will be found the magical difference between adequate creators and great ones.

ballerina-534356_640_copy2I write freely, unabashedly, happily of human qualities that distinguish one creative person from another such as strength (suggesting that every day it’s worth a creator asking, “Am I strong today? Will I be strong?”) And I write about courage, persistence, tenacity, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good writing moods and bad writing mood, and ideal writing moods. And self-resilience, enthusiasm, guts, self-motivation, energy and your capacity for work, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, resilience, maintaining at all times a high hope of succeeding, and other spiritual dimensions of you. I teach Buddhist and Hindu non-attachment so that the writer or artist might become selfless and dispassionate, and free himself from debilitating envy and worry that so recklessly destroy talented people.

I write about self-doubt, the creator’s curse, and I write about creator’s confidence because confidence may be the most important factor of all. Creative people fail because: (a) they lack the necessary skill, or (b) they have the skill but don’t have the confidence to use that skill well. More fail because they lack the confidence and not because they lack the skill. If you have confidence and faith in yourself you’ll reach higher levels of success than other creators of equal ability who lack them. So much of realizing your long-held hopes—possibly you’ve had them since childhood–is a result of knowing exactly what they are, wanting badly to achieve them, and believing that you can. Confidence precedes success. All great creators are confident.

A poet who lived several hundred years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high Gods have placed sweat.” No outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without a lot of effort on the part of the creator, however much natural ability or how many technical skills he/she possesses. So I write about sweat.

I write about creative patience because patience makes artists and writers more successful.

martial-arts-291051_640I write about warrior artists and writers—and warrior actors and ballet dancers—because warriors know things and possess skills that enable them to go through life 18 inches off the ground and to move faster and live more intensely, with stronger commitments and greater seriousness, than everyone else.

I write about production because to produce a work—a painting a sculpture, a poem, a stage performance—is the reason for being of a creator. Everything—all the creator’s training and education, habits and routines, dreams and hopes—are aimed at that central goal: no matter what is happening around you, to get the work out. Some writers and some artists are 25 times more productive than others.

Out of the mass of experiences of a life, you (1) must somehow or other settle on the creator’s way of life, which is a distinct way of being; (2) must have the personal makeup necessary to excel as a creator; must possess the (3) knowledge, (4) persistence, (5) confidence, and (6) complement of skills necessary to excel, and must (7) minimize your weaknesses and develop your strengths.

The creator who has technical skills, but lacks these spiritual inner skills will not go as far as he could, or may not go far at all. What you are—what you are made of, what constitutes you, what you stand for—is so important.

Your technique and your spirit must be united. Creators grow from within.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

 

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Writer and Artist Warriors

sunset-190922_640My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman who had the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I’d had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published—the odds were against that as they are against any book being published–and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed, that I didn’t have what it took. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. She whispered in my ear, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you. Write it for me.”

I returned home and organized my work space and set to work, thinking of her “Write it for me.” I told my wife, “I’ll close the business and I’ll finish the book in one year, and during that year we will have no income.” My wife said, “I understand. Go ahead. It’s important.” Nothing could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was discouraged that purpose made me return to the book and to work till dawn, to sleep a few hours and get back to work for a year until the book was done. While I was working on it I thought, “I’m making a book Sharon would be proud of.”

I dedicated it to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage,” and that word meant a lot to me because in this life everyday courage is so important.

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My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life came out and has been called “an underground bestseller” because with almost no advertising it swept the country and my life was changed in so many ways. The book became known in my family as FTW. It went through multiple printings, and appeared on bestseller lists; the cover price rose and rose. FTW discussion groups took shape in big cities and remote towns in America and Europe. Articles about this strange book with the Japanese symbol “spirit” on its cover appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines alike. The book was read by generals, governors, and dancers, writers, artists, and riveters, heart surgeons, business executives, retirees, and sales clerks. It began being included on university required reading lists. It was not about Anthropology, Physics, or Botany, but about how to live. This little book is about musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship.” It teaches the skills and passes on the insights of samurai warriors adapted to everyday life.

It is an optimistic and encouraging book. That’s how I intended it. It is full of promise, full of hope. It teaches strength and makes you strong. It says we have but one life, but this one life can be changed in an instant. It can become two lives. The life before the changes and the richer, more fulfilled and stunning life after them. We can renew ourselves and start fresh at will on a new creative course, a more fruitful course, a better course any moment we wish, putting aside disappointments, discouragements, false starts, and failures and emerging as full-blown, skilled, exceptional artists or writers. Every living thing, every artist, every writer, has an urge to grow, to realize its full potential. My life tells me that. I believe it more every day.

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

The book teaches us to persevere, to be brave and not hide from difficulties, but to race forward to meet them so we may overcome them all the more quickly, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. It teaches that we must never be stationary, but must be always moving at a good clip toward a better life, never slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set back by circumstances. “When you meet calamities and rough situations, it isn’t enough simply to say you’re not flustered. Whenever you meet difficult situations dash forward bravely and joyfully.”

Readers started contacting me, and I was happy to get to know them and listen to the stories they told me. In the revised E-book edition I mention a few of their stories.

A Hollywood movie director called me and said he felt that people in that aggressive film industry had been “eating him alive.” A successful opera singer wrote me and told me she had been overwhelmed by a sudden and inexplicable fear of performing. She felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do and stopped singing. They read FTW. He became more assertive, self-confident, and successful; she overcame her fear and went back on stage and resumed her career.

A newspaper was having serious financial problems. Its existence was in jeopardy. And so the publisher was going to launch a five-day intense telephone subscription sales campaign using 100 sales people. The publisher, who was also a playwright, was confident that exposure to FTW ideas would inspire them, and had me speak to them for an hour. Following the campaign, he called me and said that the campaign had been a huge success–the staff was fired up and the result was thousands of new subscriptions. He said, “You and FTW saved the paper.”

The book teaches us the samurai concept of mo chih ch’u, “going ahead without hesitation.” It’s not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Once you can say to yourself “This is what I want to do”—“Write the novel I’ve been talking about so long;” “Rent a studio;” “Move”– then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch ’u. Why delay when life is so brief and the most important time of your entire life is this present moment?

I shouldn’t have to ask where you intend to go in your career. I should be able to tell by watching you and hearing and reading about you. Your undeviating aim should be to reach the fulfillment of the creator’s life you can envision, letting no impediments keep you from it. You know that in this life you’ve chosen rather than the other 5,000 easier lives you could have chosen, courage is a necessity, that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back in reserve, and that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Getting closer each day to a more fulfilled creator’s life, becoming extraordinary, your energy and strength will be boundless. Others will let go of their dreams, but you never will. You’ll draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust yourself for the sake of your happiness.

You must never lose the expectation that no matter what, you will succeed. Your art will work out. Your book will be published. Your skills will get better and better, equipping you for your craft in ways you haven’t dreamed of yet. Knocked down, maintain your confidence that all will go well as long as you get up. Knocked down seven times, get up eight. For that is how a better creator’s life is reached. Like a warrior, you must only “take care that your spirit is never broken.” Never let disappointment and discouragement “penetrate to the depths.” “Wear your existence light as a feather.”

The samurai warrior spoke of internal “dragons” and “striking through the dragon’s mask.” The samurai was taught what we should take to heart: “When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.” When your blocks are removed you will write, paint, sculpt, or perform without conscious effort. “Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’” After reading the book people ask themselves, or ask their friends, “What is holding me back? What are my dragons? How can I overcome them?”

dragon-149393_150Ask any small child what a dragon is and you’ll get an earful of terror and horror. You and I both believed in fire-breathing dragons until we discovered that the only place they existed was in our minds, that they were merely products of our imagination. They only “lived” and had the power to frighten us because we granted them license to. They died and no longer troubled us when we revoked their license. All obstacles inside us—in our minds–are dragons. They are no longer of the fire-breathing variety. They are now a different species entirely. But the effect of scaring us and making us draw back in horror is precisely the same. The goal of the warrior writer and artist is to strike through dragon’s masks and free himself/herself of obstacles so the mind is “free to function according to its own true nature.”

The five most powerful dragons samurai—there were women samurai too–were trained to strike through, and artists, writers and performers must train themselves to strike through, are any kind of fear, the fear of taking risks, thinking too much of what might go wrong, doubting yourself, and hesitating, particularly when that golden but fleeting opportunity appears. If the samurai was afraid, didn’t take risks, thought too much, doubted himself, or hesitated, he would lose—possibly his life–because of fear most of all. A creative person must be bold; fear cripples her: “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Overcome fear and nothing can stop you.”

The one constant factor in warfare as well as a writer’s and artist’s life is uncertainty. Half the things you try to accomplish are obscured by it. Risk and danger and fear and self-doubt are always partners. You do not go into the arts if you want a secure, uneventful life of ease. In samurai swordsmanship there is a move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In a creator’s life, as with that sword move, it is only by edging yourself in close to danger and living more dangerously that you approach great success. Who are those artists and writers who are least satisfied with their lives? Precisely those gloomy writers and artists—and actors and dancers– who regret, now when it’s too late, being timid and playing it safe all their lives.

bird-226700_640As an artist or writer, you must have an immovable mind—a mind totally committed to facing with calmness and composure any fate, circumstance, or challenge a creator’s life throws at you. An artist’s or writer’s life is often filled with troubles. But you must never let them disable you: “Forget about death, forget about the enemy, forget about yourself, keep your thoughts motionless.” Then you will “flow with whatever may happen.” Then your craft will blossom and you will reach your destiny.

Unless you have mastered your mind and body, you cannot beat your enemies on the battlefield.” Take up one idea. Make that idea your life, recalling,  “No matter what it is, there is no hardship you can’t overcome.” Like a warrior “When crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Boldness and Success for Artists, Writers, and Everyone Else

“Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men.”                                                                 —French Novelist Antoine St. Exupery

Be willing to incur danger.

When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning.

We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap.

 The Value of Living Dangerously

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your artistic potential free, and you will not do that without being bold.

For most people the problem is not being too audacious and bold, but not being bold enough. After serving as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower returned to civilian life speaking of the value of “living dangerously,” and that resonates with artists and serious writers; that resonates with everyone.

Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life, your work, your art is going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look particularly grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward confidently, even if you don’t feel up to it.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. He came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our personal life or our artistic life, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

People want to know more about boldness. I was asked to write an article on the subject for Success magazine and the article received one of the magazine’s highest readership scores ever.

 Boldness and Success

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life, and that it is a quality of greatness in every field of human endeavor, possibly especially in the arts where courage is not a luxury, but a necessity. The great names in the arts could not have attained great success had they not taken great risks. Boldness is part and parcel of writers’ and artists’ lives. Even becoming one carries risks. What if Ernest Hemingway had decided he was more likely to be successful if he played it safe and wrote the way everyone else of his era wrote and did not risk failure with a writing style no one had ever seen before? You must be bold to tell the truth in your work and reveal your authentic self to an audience.

It could be that right now you are hanging back from making a decision and taking decisive action because you’re afraid of taking the chance. But success often resides in one place: on the other side of those risks. You were never happy in your career, but you could have remained in it and led a secure and good enough life. But the career wasn’t you at your best. You wanted more than good enough, so you took a chance on a different career. Now you’re happier.

In kendo–Japanese swordsmanship–there is a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent scares the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foes’ blade. Your future success in writing and the world of the arts may lie close to the blade.

Psychologist Gordon Allport said, “To be able to make your life a wager is man’s crowning achievement.”

Strategies: Take the Necessary Chances

  • Realize that every important choice involves risk. You make a choice. Your hopes are high, but the choice could always be a bad one. Nevertheless, you take your chances, overcoming self-doubt, and coming close to the blade and risking defeat, you succeed. In your life you’ve had your share of close calls. By the slimmest margin things worked out for you. They could have been disastrous, but they weren’t. And now, even in hindsight, you know that you would make the same choice again, your eyes wide open. We must make honest choices without illusion, with the full awareness of the consequences–either way.
  • Take a chance of failing. What better way is there to learn to succeed than by failing? If you never fail you’re aiming too low. You take the chance and try, but you fail. You take another chance and try again, but you fail. But you’re learning all along. Then you make corrections, take a chance again, and try again. This time you succeed. But you wouldn’t have succeeded if you hadn’t failed and taken a second or third chance. Or maybe it was your hundredth chance. You were wise: you found out what would succeed by finding out what wouldn’t. Fainter hearts would have given up, but you didn’t. You didn’t make the mistake of being afraid to make one. You were like a bulldog. You sank your teeth in and wouldn’t let go.
  • Be willing to incur danger. If your life consisted merely in avoiding risks, it would be extremely mediocre. Being courageous even in the midst of uncertainty brings a new intensity and sets you apart.
  • Be strong in the face of criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground.
  • Plan ahead–as well as you can. Plans are representations of possible reality, but are not in themselves reality. We look ahead and what do we see? We see that half of the factors on which our decisions are made and our actions are taken are obscured by a kind of fog. Some things will always be ambiguous. We will never see the lay of the land exactly as it really is. Nevertheless, those decisions have to be made and those actions have to be taken. You can’t stand around hoping to be totally sure, or go around asking people, “What should I do next?” Whatever important action you are contemplating now, you have no choice but to live in uncertainty as to whether it will be the right one.
  • When the situation is unclear, but the outcome is important, have courage. There is no greater courage than the courage to risk being wrong.
  • From time to time in our life, a moment of great opportunity opens up before us and invites us to take hold. Often we’re too cautious, or too preoccupied, or just too lazy or stupid to pluck it. The maxim goes, “Opportunity knocks but once.” Why is that such a popular saying when there’s no truth to it? Opportunity knocks constantly if we listen closely enough. It’s knocking all the time. Sometimes it’s knocking so hard it’s deafening.
  • When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning. An opportunity will present itself to you–today, tomorrow, another day. All life long you have to be on your toes, being alert to great opportunities, and recognizing that here it is—your special moment. Then you must grasp it despite knowing that nothing is guaranteed.
  • Have high expectations, but be prepared for anything. A study was done of “failure prone” people. They had two noticeable traits. One was the illusion that they were immune to bad luck. The other was the illusion that they could control life’s events. When events that they had no control over struck they were thrown off balance and they failed. The more consistently successful people took the unexpected into account. They prepared themselves for it. When it struck, they were ready. Knowing that at times the unexpected will appear and challenge your goals, you should prepare yourself. You must make the unexpected expected. You must have options in mind and be bold with them. What major goals are you pursuing? When the unexpected arrives, what are your options? What will you do?
  • Never be rash. Boldness stops at the outer edge of the impossible. There is one great disease we should be forever vigilant of–egotism. We should guard ourselves against self-infatuation and the notion that we’re invincible. We aren’t fit for everything. We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap. We should be willing to incur danger, but must never underestimate it. We should never undertake actions without sufficient means to support them, and should always obey our sober judgment.
  • Move forward if it’s to your advantage. If it isn’t, stay put. You’ll win a struggle when you know when to struggle and when not to struggle. Some courses of action should not be followed, some opportunities should not be pursued, and some decisions should not be made.
  • If you have to worry, do it beforehand, never after. In his book Psycho-cybernetics Maxwell Maltz told the story of a woman who while playing roulette observed players who were totally at ease before they placed their bets. The odds seemed not to matter to them. But when the wheel began to spin they became agitated and worried. She thought how ridiculous that was. If they were going to worry, they should worry before they placed the bet. After the wheel was turning, they might just as well forget their worries, relax, and enjoy the game. It came to her that she did the same thing in her life. She made many personal decisions without considering the risks, and after making them she second-guessed herself and worried endlessly if she had done the right thing. From the roulette experience she learned to work hard to make intelligent decisions and to do whatever worrying she was going to do beforehand. Her decisions improved; her life improved. Making better decisions, she started worrying less.
  • Maintain a strong mind. However risky, even dangerous your choice, and however excited you are, maintain a serenity under that excitement so that your judgment remains untouched and free. Show courage, decisiveness, strength of determination, and coolness under pressure even when you’re deepest in trouble or the most discouraged.
  • Lead a lifestyle of painstaking preparation combined with bold, sweeping action. Calculate what you can. But once your calculations are done, take action. Like a swordsman, develop your talents to the highest possible level and meticulously prepare yourself for the great event; then edge in close to the opportunity before you.
  • Be great at the critical moment. Most of the time life places no great demands on you. But at certain times the consequences are great, and the pressure on you is extreme. It is then that you must rise up and be equally great or all will be lost. It’s when you come through then that you’re at your finest. It is precisely when you are in dire straits and your prospects seem dimmest that you should be at your best. Then you must rejuvenate yourself with a limitless courage. You will never be as great as you are at that critical moment.

What will be your critical moments in your artistic career?

Will you be great?

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Non-Attachment: The Solution to an Artist’s or Writer’s Problem

It’s a paradox that when we detach ourselves from thoughts of ourselves and how we’re coming across and do with concentration solely what’s necessary to do to create good art, many obstacles disappear and no longer trouble us. Then the work we do is infinitely better and the artist’s life we lead is infinitely happier. We just do our work as well as we can and live our life as well as we can because that’s how work should be done and an artist’s life should be lived.

“Victory goes to the one who has no thought of himself.” (Chozan Shissai, The Way of the Sword)

 Archers and Artists

bows-and-arrows-650474_640(1)Two thousand years ago Chuang Tzu wrote a description of a situation so relevant to painters, writers, dancers, and other artists of today that he could have written it this morning. He wrote that when an archer is shooting and no external prize is at stake he possesses all his skill. The moment a prize is riding on the shot, even a brass buckle, the archer becomes nervous and loses confidence. If the prize is more valuable, as a quantity of gold, “he shoots as if he were blind.”

Describe that situation to archers today and they will tell you what they tell me: “That’s exactly what happens.”

The archer’s skill hasn’t changed, but the importance the archer has attached to the prize has made him care too much. Because he is thinking more about winning the prize than simply shooting the arrow he becomes anxious and his performance suffers.

When realizing that a critic, an editor, an agent, a reviewer, a gallery owner, a potential buyer, an audience will soon be evaluating the work, for most artists, even the best and most highly regarded, the self-conscious uneasiness begins.

Crippling self-doubt and fear of not succeeding and falling in someone’s estimation are not only the archer’s, but the artist’s, major internal obstacles, haunting many artists, writers, composers, and performers, replacing self-confidence with discouragement at the first hint of possible failure, and making many magnificently talented people give up and quit their art rather than endure them.

So the question is: How can artists keep from going blind?

 What is Non-Attachment?

On the one hand, making a painting or story should be its own reward. The artist should be happy just because of the fulfillment inherent in the artistic work itself. He shouldn’t care whether the work will be liked by others, or whether he will receive public recognition and possibly wealth. But he does care, and the conflicting motivations of art for its own sake on the one hand and art for profit or other external signs of success on the other put the artist in a quandary, particularly if to achieve success he is asked to make compromises and do things he does not want to do. Is there a way to solve this quandary?

misty-364498_640To non-attach means to be totally engrossed, completely absorbed in the fulfillment of the task before you, whatever it is, and the full realization of your art and your potential, giving everything to them and nothing but them, forgetting everything else. Bullfighter Juan Belmonte, the greatest torero of his era, an artist of the bullring, wrote, “I forget the public, the bullfighters, myself, even the bull.” Japanese samurai, the most action-oriented and decisive people ever to live, were advised that to be effective in action they must “forget life in the face of an opponent, forget death, forget the enemy, forget yourself.” Free yourself from any preoccupation with yourself—your fame, your wealth– and you’ll overcome impediments to your best work because your focus will be on the work 100%, nothing left over for anything else. All your attention will be brought to bear on the one thing to be written, painted, composed, or performed.

The non-attached artist is the most conscientious of people. All actions are equally important to him or her. Non-attachment doesn’t mean to be indifferent to the results of your efforts, or not to be ambitious. Be active, be industrious, like a sculptor, make chips, be ambitious, accomplish goals, emphasize actions, get things done.

If fame or fortune, success, honors, and achievement come your way, that’s fine, that’s wonderful, that’s something to be happy about. But the mistake we make is getting caught up in them, hungering for them, clinging to them, needing them desperately and, measuring our self-worth against our ability to achieve them. If we make that mistake and don’t achieve them, we’ll feel we’re failures. Just put your mind, your spirit, your energy–your whole being–into the action at hand, the person at hand, the life at hand, the writing or painting or dancing at hand, and forget everything else.

 The Woodworker and “Outward Considerations”

woodwork-166695_640There was a master woodworker who made such beautiful works that the king himself demanded to know the secret of his art.

“Your highness,” said the woodworker, “there is no secret. It’s all very simple. When I set out to make a chair I enter the forest and look for the right tree, the tree that is waiting there to become my chair. I cut it down and set to work. I clear my mind of everything else. I become oblivious to any reward to be gained or fame I might acquire. When I’m free from such outward considerations I just do exactly what I have to do, using all my skill.”

When you free yourself from everything else, and again and again bring your concentration back to what you have yet to do, you’re at your best. The woodworker produced masterpieces, but didn’t worry about producing a masterpiece. The highest performers in field after field—business and industry and the arts–are motivated by the work itself—to do the best job possible–and not by external rewards. Even though they are more successful and receive those rewards more than other people, they aren’t driven by them.

When you work best you accept yourself with no strings attached. Finally, at last, you don’t have to prove yourself. You just do whatever is there for you to do. If you’re a woodworker you absorb yourself in creating the finest chair you can, never stopping to think of what glories will be yours when you produce a masterpiece. If you’re a baseball player you don’t worry about how cheered you’ll be if you get a hit, or what a goat you’ll be if you don’t. You just step up to the plate, keep your eye on the ball, and when it gets close you swing the bat. If you step to the podium and worry about what the audience is thinking of you, you won’t be totally focused on what you have to say, and you’ll fumble and stumble. But if you just concentrate on the words you’re speaking and speak with sincerity, you should do well.

cabbage-flower-204087_640Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote, “I was not born happy….In adolescence, I hated my life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more about mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might almost say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more. Very largely it is due to diminishing the preoccupation with myself.”

 The Process of Brushing Off

One person may be 25% taller than another or 25% more intelligent. We think that’s pretty significant. Yet some people are 50 or 100 times more creative than others. Creative artists are the best workers in the world. They are models of human motivation and productivity. They will work alone long hours for years, without feedback, without recognition, without praise, overcoming hardships and setbacks without flinching, always returning with high energy to the work which life has equipped them with a talent for, often producing a vast output. Yet they often meet hostility from critics of all sorts unparalleled in other fields.

English writer Rudyard Kipling would go on to establish himself as a master stylist with a staggering ability with words and to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But early in his career a publisher wrote him: “I’m sorry, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Vladimir Nabokov, also a dazzling stylist, received this message from a publisher in response to Lolita: “I recommend that you bury this under a stone for a thousand years.” Many successful writers, artists, and actors, like painter Jackson Pollock, who revolutionized painting, have been told, “You haven’t an ounce of talent.”

When you non-attach you brush off such attacks, insults, and unfair criticisms because you’re not seeking anyone’s approval. If there is one thing famous artists will tell you it is that you work best and are most powerfully motivated to create and will surmount even major obstacles when you’re not thinking of anyone’s liking but your own.

Such a confident attitude gives you courage. In response to so many heartless rejection letters from editors, novelist Henry Miller, who was not one to suffer fools, said, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off telling me these things?” It is often the artist who’s not seeking approval who receives it.

 Not So Eccentric After All

Many creative people are considered eccentric when they aren’t eccentric at all. They just non-attach and are less at the mercy of people’s opinions. They genuinely don’t give a hoot what others think. Independence is a cornerstone of the creator’s personality.

Composer Igor Stravinsky was doted on by people who knew of his greatness. But he enjoyed himself more when in the company of people who’d never heard of him. Maurice Ravel, possibly the greatest piano composer of the twentieth century, was always averse to writing and talking about himself. When complimented for his creative ideas, Thomas Edison, as creative a human being as ever lived, declined credit. He said that ideas were “in the air,” and that if he hadn’t discovered them someone else would have. Of the handful of Emily Dickinson’s poems published in her lifetime, not one bore her name.

 Strategies

Practice letting go of any preoccupation with yourself. Nudge your attention away from yourself and back to the work at hand and the actions the art calls on you to perform, and you will excel. Just render the drawing; just write the novel, just perform the dance, just market your work.

  • Whatever task you’re performing say to yourself, “This one thing I’m going to do as well as I’m able. I am not concerned with myself. I am indifferent to everything but the quality of my work.”
  • Refuse to frighten yourself with anxious thoughts of all that’s riding on your success, of the honors that may be yours if you succeed, or of the horrors if you fail. Just bring your focus back to the objective at hand and watch obstacles dissolve. If wealth, fame, or accolades come your way, they will without your worrying about them.
  • Be bold in the face of harsh criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground. Be unruffled under fire—cool and calm, unintimidated. Never let undeserved criticism weaken your confidence. They are wrong; you are right! We remember Rembrandt and Michelangelo; no one remembers their critics. You must never lose unshakeable confidence that you have the ability to produce quality art and will succeed sooner or later.
  • Always try to improve, but never dwell on your imperfections.
  • Place your emphasis on developing your skills to the highest possible level above everything else. The higher your skills, the higher the goals you’ll achieve and the more clearly you’ll express yourself, your vision, your voice.
  • Do what your life calls on you to do for its own sake. Engross yourself in it–big job or small job, important or unimportant, praiseworthy or not, paid or unpaid. Give freely of your talent without expecting anything in return.

CalderArtist Alexander Calder was asked why sculptors like to produce large works. He answered, “It’s more exhilarating…and then one can think he’s a big shot.” Rare are the people who can live five days without getting caught up in themselves–or five minutes. Ninety percent of what we talk about is ourselves and 95% of what we think about is ourselves. Our preoccupation with ourselves creates many of our miseries.

But when we become non-attached and focus on our work and the steady development of our talents to the exclusion of every other concern, we stop worrying about being big shots and talking and thinking so much about ourselves.

Then our work leaps up and becomes exceptional.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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