Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to become a Work of Art - Step One

In my last post The Art of Becoming Art, we discovered a great truth: that the practitioner of a ‘way’, or ‘Do’ in Japanese, transforms it into an art form, and then, the art form transforms the practitioner into a work of art.
Yes, yes, you say, that is all very well and good, a capital idea, very noble, but what the heck does it mean? How can I, who do not practice Judo or Karate-do, put this powerful insight into practice in my daily life, right now?
Well, it is funny you should ask that because I am about to tell you what I think it means and how I plan to put it into use right now.
I intend to stop worrying about the future and the tasks at hand - the outcome. I intend to concentrate on ‘travelling well’ rather than ‘arriving’. ‘Travelling well’ to me means putting the most important things first: health and personal fulfillment, something that I am guilty of neglecting. (As I have told you elsewhere, the reason I know something about philosophy is because I need it!) Health and personal fulfillment will be my watchwords, and the rest will have to take a number.

Step One
We do not have to practice Judo etc. to have a ‘way’. Any task worth doing can be undertaken in a spirit of practicing a way, that is, we can do it by ‘concentrating on the flawless execution of the task’ rather than ‘watching or wishing for the desired outcome'. But we can also apply that attitude as a global philosophy: whenever we worry about the future, about what needs to be done, about what is lacking, we are concentrating on outcomes instead of concentrating on doing what lies to hand. If we spend a lot of time reliving the past, we are not concentrating on the task that lies to hand.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. Buddha

If you are like me, you sometimes feel overwhelmed, oppressed even, by ‘things that need to be done’. My basement is half-painted. The snow has melted and the major garden projects are calling. The pergola is half-finished. My big re-filing project remains unbegun. A dozen tasks, big and small, vie for my free time. And guess what? I have decided to stop worrying about them. To quote John-Roger and Peter McWilliams, authors of the ‘Life 101’ books:

Whenever he thought about it, he felt terrible. And so, at last, he came to a fateful decision. He decided not to think about it.

Meanwhile, the important things like health and personal fulfillment get put on the back-burner ‘until such and such a project gets finished’. The philosophy of living in the present, of travelling well, can be summed up by this quote from Goethe:

Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

When we look back at our lives one day in old age (not that long from now) it is unlikely that we will wish we had spent more time working. It is unlikely that we will wish we had spent more time worrying about money, the kitchen renovations, the pergola. What we will wish we had spent more time doing is something that each person must answer for himself. Indeed it is a very important question. But no one can go far wrong if he puts health and personal fulfillment at the top of his list.
Yes, I will still do ‘the things that need to be done’. After I have been to the gym. When I get back from the Chinese painting course. Yes, finances and financial goals are important. But not as important as health and a good conscience.

This is the way I intend to apply the idea of the Japanese way to my everyday life. But if and when I become ‘transformed into a work of art’, how I will apply it then? Then, it probably won't even occur to me to think about it.
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Photo: Tao (Way) by Samantha Leo

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond