Is your life beset by struggle, by hardship, by pain, by dissatisfaction, by unhappiness? Truly, it doesn’t have to be that way as you will find out by reading this article.
I’ve been doing a lot of research about Purpose lately since it’s a module component of my Midlife Passionpreneur course. This program is aimed at helping women at a midlife crossroads connect with their heart and passion in order to build their own business (or strengthen an existing one). This course is a powerful journey that gives women a sense of expansion, meaning, direction and fulfilment.
In previous blogs From Darkness to Lightness of Being and Recognising Dharma, I’ve talked much about Dharma – our soul’s purpose, what it is and how to recognise or unveil it. However, on this occasion I’m going to touch on the Japanese concept of ikigai.
What is Ikigai?
Ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: iki referring to life, and kai, which roughly means “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. It embraces the convergence of:
- what you love (your passion)
- what the world needs (your mission)
- what you are good at (your vocation)
- what you can get paid for (your profession).
However, after reading the book Ikigai – it really is much more than this. It’s not just what you do and how you do it, it’s a whole philosophy of life. It’s totally about your attitude to life, not just your relevance to the world, although your perspective on this is intrinsically part of that attitude.
Many of us in the modern world are living in an existential crisis or living in spiritual anguish. This, is where frustration arises; when we live a life without purpose or when that purpose has been knocked off course. Viktor Frankl, a man who studied and wrote about purpose and life’s meaning after surviving the horrors of his Auschwitz concentration camp experience, maintained that this frustration can in fact be a positive thing rather than an anomaly or symptom of neurosis. It can be a catalyst for change – a change in one’s whole life perspective and attitude as a means to foster spiritual growth.
He is quoted as saying:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
According to Frankl’s logotherapy, we don’t create the meaning of life, we discover it. We each have a unique reason for being, which can evolve, adapt and be transformed many times over the years.
Humour can be an essential ingredient to break negative cycles and reduce anxiety. Plus, we all have a capacity within us to do noble or terrible things. Which way we act depends entirely upon our decision or response to any given situation or condition we find ourselves in.
The Role of Resistance
During my training as an Energy Alignment Method mentor, I learnt a lot about resistance. Resistance equates to anything that blocks the free flow of energy – it can be stress, overwhelm, fear, anxiety, grief, depression, discomfort or pain in your body. It’s anything that makes us think negative, devaluing thoughts; anything that makes us feel unwell or less than at ease, less than happy, less than fully invigorated and alive.
Resistance hinders us from living a life of purpose and is very much a symptom of not living the ikigai way.
The Ikigai Way
What is the ikigai way? It’s a reason for living, it’s having something or someone worth dying for. It’s about a positive, easy-going attitude and a high degree of emotional awareness. Positivity is connected to mental and emotional resilience – a type of serenity that detaches from resistance. It’s a particularly important philosophy and attitude when the going gets tough (as Frankl discovered).
A Japanese proverb:
Nana korobi ya oki, translated means Fall seven times, rise eight
Or we can quote the famous Serenity Prayer from Reinhold Niebuhr which embodies the same philosophy:
God, give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
We can equate this to having a healthy mindset. We all know the expression a sound mind in a sound body (“mens sana in corpore sano”). And because of this, ikigai plays an important role in health and longevity.
The Ikigai book* gives us a great insight into how the people on the Japanese island of Okinawa and specifically within its principal town of Ogimi live – their philosophy and way of being. It’s no coincidence that Ogimi is the village/town that holds the Guinness record for longevity, with one of the highest proportions of centenarians and even supercentenarians. At the last count [2020**], 15 of Ogimi’s 3,000 villagers are centenarians. One hundred and seventy-one are in their 90s.
This is a song or ode that the Ogimi locals recite. It gives us an insight into the way we might live a long and happy life:
To keep healthy and have a long life,
eat just a little of everything with relish,
go to bed early, get up early, and then go out for a walk.
We live each day with serenity and we enjoy the journey.
To keep healthy and have a long life,
we get on well with all of our friends.
Spring, summer, fall, winter,
we happily enjoy the seasons.
The secret is to not get distracted by how old the fingers are;
from the fingers to the head and back once again.
If you keep moving with your fingers working,
100 years will come to you.
Many (of the women) on the island still practise the craft of weaving basho-fu textiles. It not only brings in an income, but it gives them a sense of purpose and community. Their craft is practised in a centre alongside others doing the same task and they also use the income to contribute to the village economy.
The Ikigai book talks about finding flow as a way of connecting to our ikigai.
Micro-flow to Well-being and Happiness
Our modern culture links success to achievement of goals. but goals can in actual fact be counter-productive to getting in a state of flow. This is because goals focus our energy on something that is beyond our reach and beyond our grasp, we’re putting ourselves constantly in a state of striving (=resistance). Big goal focus leads to feeling lost and overwhelmed – contracting, resistant energies. Reducing our focus to daily micro-activities that build towards the achievement of a goal is far more conducive to flow energy, to ikigai and to greater well-being.
Even daily rituals can be tools to enter a state of (micro-)flow because humans are ritualistic beings. Rituals permeate daily life and business practices in modern Japan. The emphasis is more on how you work on something rather than the end result. This brings us back to savouring the journey or process rather than the destination or result.
Flow is a muscle that you can train and develop. The more you flex it, the closer you will be to your ikigai.
Interviews with the residents of Ogimi were held to determine their life philosophy or their ikigai in order to reveal their secrets of longevity.
- Don’t worry – avoid anxiety by opening your heart to people with a smile, by engaging in fun activities, preferably involving others.
- Cultivate good habits – from a morning walk, to getting up early, to moving regularly (not necessarily exercising, but moving), to eating healthily with plenty of vegetables and fruit and sleeping well (early to bed, early to rise).
- Nurture friendships daily – take time to smile and greet people daily with warmth and friendliness. Play and have fun together.
- Live an unhurried life – focus on doing only one thing at a time and enjoy the process, rather than place overriding importance on the outcome. Multi-tasking is inherently unproductive and stressful.
- Be optimistic – say positive statements or affirmations, remember to laugh (even when things are tough), help one another, do voluntary work, dance or sing or anything that makes you feel alive and good.
The Ogimi lifestyle is all about sensible and healthy eating, always having something to do – micro tasks that allow them to relax, being part of a strong, giving, loving and supportive community, celebrating life and not taking things too seriously, having an important purpose (or several), having a strong set of traditions, being passionate about everything they do, however small or insignificant it might seem.
As easy as Sunday morning is very much the art and flow of ikigai. A huge factor is actually doing more of what you enjoy and in a way that helps others and gives meaning to you. And when you have found it, do it in micro-flow: mindfully, with less haste, ritualistically and with a deep sense of belonging and purpose.
The Energy Alignment Method along with tools, such as meditation and gratitude practices, are ways I help my clients unravel their purpose and their ikigai. These are methods to help them retune energetically to live a life of flow, grace and ease by greater consciousness of being and by minimising and eliminating resistance even when the next tidal wave or challenge comes along in their business or personal life.
* Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
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