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Build Transforming Habits: Inner Balance & Swords

October 30, 20237 min read

The Scholar Warrior Way involves reading books, taking courses and significant self-reflection.   

One assignment for the next two weeks is: Don’t Meddle.

This assignment is the second shortest one that I’ve ever received.  The first one was a philosophy paper with one word.  “Why?”  My answer on the assignment was two words:  “Why not?”

“Don’t Meddle” is meant to alter my perspective in a few ways but, in general, not be so invested in the outcome with pushing, intensity, want, desire, etc., toward a particular goal, outcome or reality.   Humans all have an inner voice. Humans all have an intense vested emotional interest in attaining an objective due to a feeling of ‘lack’.   Humans all have a sense of looking to the past with some regret and the future with anxiety.

What if I could adjust all three with this new thought: “Don’t Meddle.”  I take this direction as a ‘glow with the flow vibe’ which one gets or used to get in abundance growing in California in its heyday.   A critical part of the “Don’t Meddle” is about being Resourced which (as I recall) was having a sense of balance and inner ‘neutrality’. 

These concepts led me to think about a famous Japanese swordfighter, my cat and The Best Place to Be.  Not necessarily in that order.   

Enter the Japanese Swordfighter

Miyamoto Musashi (1534 to 1645) is a Kensei, sword saint of Japan, known for his unique double-blade swordsmanship in an undefeated 61 duels.  He established a style of swordsmanship and wrote “The Book of Five Rings.”  He engaged in the Japanese samurai practice of Musha Shugyo, traveling and engaging in duels in a pilgrimage common in many societies, including Japan, China and the knights of Western Europe.  This quest or pilgrimage is done without the protection of family nor one’s martial school.  

Many people revile battle of any kind but are so naïve as to think that their protestations or meditation would have been a match for the machine guns, artillery or brute force of Hitler’s Socialists, Stalin’s henchmen or Mao’s reeducation camps.  Pol Pot’s mercy?  Putting aside these delusions, one must examine the Japanese culture in his history and context. 

 The sword in Japanese culture represents not just fighting but cultivation of the self.  The ancient Japanese homeland was a place of furious and constant clan warfare, vicious, mercurial and unpredictable until the Tokugawa Shogunate brought a semblance of balance and neutrality to the land.  I remember reading that the Shogun (supreme leader) of Japan moved any rivals or malcontent lords from the center of Japanese lands to the farther edges where they were isolated from the strong center.  A form of balancing in geographic, political and military terms to a point of neutrality.  

In ancient Japan's swordfighting world, the sword masters sought a Zen like enlightenment through their swordsmanship and spoke of trascending life and death.  They called this, not the sword of death, but the sword of life. The sword is killing not people but egoism, duality and illusion. 

In this arena, we find a position of neutrality between Life and Death.  We are not regretful about our past life nor anxious about our future death.  In this arena of neutrality, we find a balance, a contentment, a place of being present in the Now.  In this interpretation, when the Warrior engages in battle, the Scholar seeks this point of neutrality about one's own Life or Death in a lethal engagement.

This point of neutrality could be called ‘indifference’, ‘meaninglessness’, ‘unimportance’, or ‘irrelevance’.  Musashi refers to this consciousness in his “The Book of Void” which examines the nature of human knowledge and more dealing with “That which cannot be seen.”  Void means nothing which I perceive as a dark space without light, feeling, sound, touch, without anything.  This concept is almost impossible for humans with our numerous senses and sensors along with the constantly engaged social media and human interaction. 

Oh My God.  Left alone with ourselves.  What would we do?

We would have to reflect on our own selves and that can be a frightful concept with our triumphs and tragedies, victories and defeats and more. 

To a sword fighter like Musashi, he must live 100% in the moment when a sword is thrashing at him for his response.  Think of it.  Musashi is not thinking when he has to clean up his dojo.  Did he send the best present to his benefactors?  "Oh, have to buy more rice down at the market from that toothless guy."  No.  Nothing.  

At that moment, nothing else matters.  Not even one’s Life or Death.  Just the moment.  A stillness.

Get This: The Japanese Sword Fighting Master focused to engage and live through a microsecond of his blade’s cut. Live in That Now.

In this void is the virtue of self without evil.  "Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness."  In speaking of his Void, Musashi was grasping for concepts and ideas - but he is on an inner pilgrimage for well-being and balance.  His search for "Emptiness" or "Nothingness" reflect some classical Buddhist elements which is empty of good versus evil, wanting or non-wanting.  

Here is where one leaps into enlightenment or Satori.  

How We Swordfight Every Day

We are fighting with swords every day.  Think of the saying, "The pen is mightier than the sword" because words - thinking, speaking and writing - are indeed very powerful. 

Our inner voice serves an important function for human beings.  We combine conscious thoughts with our unconscious beliefs and biases to interpret and process daily living.  This inner voice can be supportive or destructive.  

Now, inner statements are there for safety, calm and assurance.   “Be careful.” “Let’s think about this situation before acting”  “You got this.”  The inner voice also has a destructive side of “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a terrible person” or “You’ll never amount to anything.”

 Whether you are an entrepreneur, athlete, artist, writer, or filmmaker, positive self-talk is essential to your success. Negative self-talk can lead to a perpetual cycle of self-doubt and low confidence. It can also interfere with the ability to make sound decisions and keep yourself motivated. In this blog post we will explore what negative self-talk is and how you can combat it with positive self-talk.

Negative self-talk is the kind of internal dialogue that tears us down—the voice in our head that says we’re not good enough, or that we don’t have what it takes to succeed. It's the voice that tells us we're never going to make it and that we should just give up now. Negative thoughts like these can be triggered by feelings of insecurity or fear, but they can also be caused by external factors such as criticism from others. The problem with negative self-talk is that it typically does not reflect reality, and so it can convince people, wrongly, that they are not only not good enough, but that they can never get better; this paralysis into inaction leads to a sort of mental “prison” where one gets stuck in a cycle of ruminating over their shortcomings and failures.

Positive self talk on the other hand encourages us to look at our strengths and weaknesses objectively and realistically. Instead of saying “I'm never going to be successful” a person engaging in positive self talk might say “I'm having difficulty right now but if I continue working hard I know I'll eventually reach my goals”. By focusing on what we have control over (in this case our own effort) instead of worrying about things outside our control (like outside opinions) we are able to stay focused on what matters most—making progress towards our goals! Furthermore when engaging in positive self talk regularly people tend to feel more motivated which helps them persist even during challenging times.

I use the term “Inner Roomate” because this ‘person’ is someone I have to get along with.  I thank them for their advice – good or bad – and go on my merry way.  I don’t hate them or avoid them or beat them up.  They are my Inner Roomate and I just put them in perspective. 

In cycling back to the beginning, we work toward a "Don’t Meddle" attitude which is balance into neutrality.  The Inner Roommate talk can be both for safety and concern and calm and encouragement.  Balance.  

Part Two:  Cats - Masters of Indifference!

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Michael Mandaville

Michael is a writer, filmmaker and dedicated World War II historian who studies martial arts, action films and is learning more about VFX every single darn day. Oh and a Scholar Warrior

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