- Miyamoto Mushashi
- Think of what is right and true
- Practice and cultivate the science
- Become acquanted with the arts
- Know the principles of the crafts
- Understand the harm and the benefit to everything
- Learn to see everything accurately
- Become aware of what is not obvious
- Be careful even in small matters
- Do not do anything useless
I was on the train the other day and I started re-reading The Book of Five Rings. The nine rules that Mushashi notes are the key to learning military science seem to apply to all endeavors as well… including living. In a way I think most of the problems we face in both life and work stem from the fact that we don’t follow such a set of rules (not necessarily his). That day, I spent time reflecting on two of my favorite rules.
My first favorite of the rules is ” Become aware of what is not obvious.” Though, you must have a good objective eye and awareness. I don’t think we train enough children and young people today to really wait and notice things. Think about it, we’re all walking around with headsets in our ears listening to our music or podcasts and living in our own encapsulated bubbles. During my morning walk the other day, I purposely left my headsets at home. I wanted to hear what was going on around me, notice more. Besides there’s part of me that feels that when you’re wearing the sets, you’re a bit vulnerable because you are not really paying attention to what’s going on around you.
Many of us at work operate in such encapsulation. Sometimes we work in a dysfunctional workplace so we remind ourselves to focus only on ‘our part.’ At the very least, we miss opportunities to function better in our roles, at the very most we don’t see the causes for the dysfunction or how possible solutions for fixing it. In the cases of some companies or workplaces this the growing dysfunction can lead to financial ruin or bankruptcy. If my experience in life so far has taught me anything, it’s the value of understanding how the details fit into the larger picture. However, sometimes seeing this picture and using it means you have to do a lot of work.
Still, I can see Mushashi’s rules, like any set of rules, being misapplied or perverted in the sense that certain individuals can become paranoid and nitpicky when it comes to rules such as “Be careful in even small matters.” There are some people, including myself, who tend to overthink things given enough time on their hands. Perhaps that’s where applying a Zen philosophy towards living comes in. Again, it’s about achieving a certain balance, and observing some unwritten rules of nature. This often stumps us here in the West because we almost always need to have everything explicitly stated for us unless we’re operating on blind faith.
Understand the harm and the benefit to everything. This is so important to me, to understand both the good and the bad sides to the things that enter or influence my life. For example, why is the Internet great? It puts a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips. Why is it bad? There is so much information I can easily get overwhelemed or side-tracked and I require a greater amount of focus to get my work or even thinking done.
Still, asking these questions to probe both the ‘good and bad’ of things has served me well throughout my life as long as I can use the information to make decisions well. Plus, there is a part of me that questions blind adherance to anything. Last night at dinner my brother (and husband) spent a bit of time dissing things like twitter and social networking. In their discussion I heard messages like:
- It’s a waste of time
- It might be good at first, but once everyone does it, it all becomes noise
- Why do I care what other people think?
I had to jump in on their piss parade and say, you cannot really make judgements about things until you truly try them. And I suggested that trying Twitter meant more than just loggin in and checking it out for an hour. It means participating in larger conversations or joining groups or communities or doing several searches for keywords and information. I did acknowledge that this particular social media has become inundated with marketers and advertisers which make it harder to separate the wheat from the chaff, but that there are tools and aps that help you do that. Moreover, I noted that the limitation of expressing yourself in less than 140 character might have an appeal to many people who seek to express their experiences and states of mind succinctly.
So there is a good and a bad to everything. You simply have to take more than a second look.