The concept of ‘ikigai’ is changing my life now as much as ‘kaizen‘ did in the eighties.
I have spent the past two weeks of my leave doing some de-cluttering and ‘make & mend’ on my possessions. I have far too much stuff and it creates a blockage which prevents any sense of spiritual self from taking its place in my life (an old Cherokee belief is that Spirit makes a fragile connection and will only stay if made welcome in our lives–from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain).
I saw the word ikigai in a listing of TED talks and when I heard the meaning, I knew immediately that it was what has been missing in my life, causing depression, ennui, and a general hopelessness as I approach an age which my parent’s generation believed was a time of retirement.
So, I now commence a period of planning and serendipitous trust. My mind desires organisation and order; my spirit is somewhat open to that which arrives unexpectedly.
During the Warriors’ Wisdom seminars run by Stuart Wilde in the eighties, we were given the opportunity to walk on fire. Like many people, I needed to be convinced that I would come through unscathed, or at least with minimal pain. As Stuart was an exponent of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP, a form of hypnosis), he gave our left brains something to work with whilst our spiritual selves plucked up the courage to take the first step onto red-hot coals. His process included the following steps:
- Pay attention.
- Know where you are.
- Plan your walk.
- Walk your plan.
We practiced in groups on the floor of the large meeting room at Campaspe Downs in Central Victoria. We were given a run-down of various groups who used fire-walking as spiritual practice. We shared our fears in the groups (called arbans, from the name for a group of Mongol warriors) that we had formed several days earlier in a conference room in Melbourne. We underwent a series of chants and exercises that had us sweating. We practiced again and again until we were somewhat bored and wanted to walk that frigging plan.
We wrote down our fears on a piece of paper and queued up for our walk across the various fire pits. Some people decided that they would play it cool and not walk; there was no judgement from Stuart, they were just asked to encourage the others.
I stepped up, wanting to go first, probably because I wasn’t sure how long my courage would last. As instructed, I threw my piece of paper onto the coals and watched as it became a wisp of ash in the intense heat. Taking the first step was hard–and I guess we all get the metaphor. Having practiced so much, I was able to focus and keep going. Of course, my feet were not burning up. Much later, I became aware of the Leidenfrost Effect (think of droplets of water jumping on a hot stove top). By walking over wet grass from the evening dew, and by continually walking across the the coals, we were protected by a small amount of vapour that formed on the soles of our feet. To avoid still-burning coals sticking to our feet, we stepped into a bowl of water at the other end.
Learning of the effect did not diminish the power of ‘the plan’ that Stuart had implanted in my memory during a period of fear, or stasis, where I would not normally move forward. This is where I learned the difference between real and imagined danger, something that enabled me to work in the adventure training industry a few years later.
When I hit the age of sixty, I foolishly felt that most learning in life was over and I had entered a time of ‘coasting’ towards retirement and inaction. Wrong-wrong-wrong. The past five years have been a time of my greatest learning and spiritual growth, marked by the need to survive in a new country, and to accept the fruits of solitude. My formerly extrovert self has recognised and adopted the benefits and occasional sorrows of introversion. This has been a difficult, yet not unhappy, time.
For now, I am researching and investigating the role of ikigai in my life. I am inspired by what the Japanese are doing, in particular the Silver Human Resources Centre which operates there. This is something that I am keen to see established in Australasia. Although I can plan and research, I sense that the next step will have more to do with the Three Princes of Serendip.