(An excerpt from our upcoming book)
“It is better to conquer yourself then to win 1,000 battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you.” --Buddha
Too often, we will give up on our paths of improvement, goals and dreams due to fear, lack of belief in our self, depression, anxiety and so on. Stressors at work can make us feel like our very lives are at stake. Too often we will use up our patience being too hard on ourselves so that when we face actual criticism or judgement, we can not only feel attacked, but that our very lives are on the line…
Countless people suffer from anxiety and PTSD, including police officers, interns, residents, generally everyone in the medical field and countless others.
For a moment, relax, sit back and imagine what it would be like to spend your life as a Samurai…
You’re wearing a heavy kimono with your trusty Samurai sword sheathed at your side. You’re healthy with an athletic build and are the protector of the villagers in the town. You may casually wonder where that gong came from.
You’ve dedicated your entire life training by the honor and danger of the sword and even brutal training in martial arts. It’s as they say, “Hard training, easy war,” after all.
Your ability to admire the world you found yourself in is dampened from the unescapable fact that one day your life would become entirely defined by a single slice of your sword. As you went about your days you knew death itself could suddenly rear it’s ugly head out of any random shadow, crevice or worse, from the eyes of an apparently innocent stranger.
Fear of potential death gripped at you with every turn and it was indeed a challenge to always keep your center and be there for the small antics and foibles of others with nothing but a compassion and a smile. It was the burden you bore, alone.
You’d often spend time thinking of what your next battle might be like and practiced it in your head over and over. You knew that whether or not you lived would depend entirely upon your training and if you failed to make it to one more class, that could possibly make the difference between life or death from an enemy you had not yet met, and of who’s face you did not yet know.
Even in that class, failing to do one last form, one last single sword swing in training, beyond what your body was willing to do, could potentially make the difference between life or death.
Since your life was so intertwined with the sword, you naturally had a lot of motivation to master it.
Unfortunately… your wacky Sensei kept insisting that you spent more time painting, enjoying a cherry blossom, enjoying the art of tea making, getting better at your singing, your health, your massage and healing techniques, enjoying the uplifting essence of the wind itself… etc.
It was an understatement to say you were pissed and certain that your sensei was trying to kill you off for being more ‘rebellious’ than the others.
When suddenly, on one fate-filled day, while carrying groceries from the town market back to your temple, you find yourself in an open plain, suddenly facing an enemy Ronin, and potentially, death. Your heart wanted to beat wildly, your body wanted to engage the ‘stress response system’ to try and ‘save you’ by giving you a surge of strength at the cost of a narrow vision.
You had no idea if the Ronin in front of you was more trained in the art of the sword or had a less-annoying Sensei than you did. You had no idea if all that time you spent on meditation and wellness could now cost you your life…
Yet only a peaceful smile slowly crossed your lips. In the face of your largest fears come to life, you find only stillness and certainty of the moment. You breathe peacefully and enchantingly deep. The cries of your body drift away and all that remains is the moment. Instead of being filled with rage, anger and adrenaline you dash with nothing but inner peace and swift action. You tell yourself, “If I am to die here and now then so be it, but I will not go in pain, rage and anger. If I am to fall today, I will go down swinging and with my pride and dignity in hand...”
You strike in slow motion and can see every intention of your opponent telegraphed by their enraged face. That same rage that used to paralyze you into motionlessness before, you’re now trained to face it without worry. You proudly remain facing forward as they fall to the ground with only rage and confusion…
The stress response system will increase pain tolerance, adrenaline and power behind an attack, but it will also make us narrowly focus our vision and become more susceptible to counterattack. Our attacks also become highly telegraphed to anyone trained in fighting.
When we get hit in combat, it’s not because we did the wrong martial art, the wrong move or the wrong block but because we sat there paralyzed in fear and took it.
I was teaching a martial arts class one day and I told them this story and I said, “With that in mind, I want you each pick a random motion.” One by one they all did. Then I said, “Now I'm going to try and punch you each in the face as fast as I can, and you have to do that move you just did before you knew how I was going to attack.” They suddenly all looked very unhappy to be a part of the class to say the least.
I stood in front of the first student, who looked terrified and wanted more direction when I suddenly said “GO!” and launched for their head… Luckily for him, he dodged, and using a pre-determined action that had nothing to do with my attack. All of them dodged.
(NOTE: The only move that doesn’t work is straight forward, but even then, it can be used to smother their attack if done fast enough.)
I told them that in life we too often fear doing the wrong thing, so we end up just sitting there paralyzed and take the hit, but in reality, doing nothing gives us far more injury.
Doing ‘nothing’ is so dangerous that you have a higher chance of getting injured while sleeping in bed than flying in a plane. Our comfy little heavens are dangerous because most people don’t know how to sleep correctly. An odd idea isn’t it? Lying on your left while hugging a pillow and another between your legs is the best but you should spend time watching videos from chiropractors on why that is or at lest what your options are. Stillness over time leads to muscular atrophy and is also when the demons in the depth of our minds come to life and we experience building levels of anxiety, depression and disease as we sit back and watch our dreams slowly crumble.
The dangers of the world, or our potential failures will never be able to do as much damage as our own inaction from fear of failure, our disappointment in ourselves or overwhelm.
Just like the mighty Samurai, I feel we must work on our center so that we can face the challenges of our lives with nothing but pride and swift action.
Just as we can and should learn how to be able to give combat without fear as we swiftly go through our moves, regardless of the outcome, we must also learn to tackle the duties of our day, work and relationships without trepidation, fear, complaints, anger, frustration… for those feeling inevitable create or make worse the very situations we fear.
We can calm our minds and begin to take more and more pride in everything we do from the smallest actions and thoughts, to the large.
No matter the job or industry, this is something we can all get better at.
There’s an interesting Zen exercise to eat an orange quickly. And then slowly, taking time to enjoy every part of the journey. I feel we can apply this to our own actions as well and learn to find enjoyment in the simplest of duties, no matter the strain.
Remember, if a responsible action causes us pain or anguish we must simply work to grow stronger until it no longer causes a negative impact. Working emergency? Nail the wellness activities until your shift no longer makes you sweat!
To our inner Samurai!