21 Dragons

In Search of Wisdom

Notching My Arrow

At the Battle of Yashima in 1185, the defeated Heike took to their boats to escape the Genji, who had pursued them on horseback but were halted by the sea.

On their rocking ships, the Heike mounted a single fan atop a mast, taunting any Genji warrior to shoot down the minuscule target.

One of the Genji samurai, Nasu no Yoichi, strode forth into the crashing waves. On top of his stead, he notched his arrow, fully aware that the honour of his entire clan now rested on him.

The sea spray blowing wildly in his face, he took a single breath and shot the fan cleanly through.

I've always liked that story. To me, it illustrates how much power there is in skill funnelled through focus.

I tend to the opposite, chasing after a million and one new interests moment by moment. But one dream which has stayed consistent is the wish to write a novel.

As I started on the latest attempt to do so, I realised just how much ground I need to cover on the mountain laying in front of me, and how I'll need to shed as much weight as I can in order to move ahead. As much as I enjoy writing here, 21 Dragons will need to take a backseat as I work on something even bigger.

Wish me luck as I notch this arrow. 

You Can't Understand Something Until You Know How it Breaks

You can't understand something until you know how it breaks. 

Nothing is perfect in a world with finite time and resources. Everything has its strengths and weaknesses, its point and counterpoint. In the martial arts, you're training to defeat someone who wants to break you. The less you see how your system can be broken, the more vulnerable you will be.

The Imperfect Post

One of the barriers to writing stuff about personal growth is how much of a hypocrite I don't want to feel. I can't help but feel as if I set myself up as some kind of self-righteous paragon when I write about this stuff, when the truth is that I need to listen to it more than anybody else.

It looks as if I've got it figured out when in fact I take days to write a post, when in truth I'm stumbling through my days, climbing up and diving down just like anybody else, and the person writing in calm spirits behind a keyboard is different from the man making his way through the world.

But what's the alternative? To wait until I'm the perfect human being before I start writing? There isn't any such animal. No. The only way forward is to put it out there and figure it out as I go along. Post my ideals and try to live up to them, even as I fall short. I will disappoint. I will piss people off. I will sound like a pretentious creep.

But I am also doing my best to be a better human being.

Cartoon by Gapingvoid.

Cartoon by Gapingvoid.

The Four Nobles

Once you grasp that the only moment is now - that previous moments are gone, never to return, and that future moments are not promised you - you realise the inevitable: Sooner or later you and everyone you know will run out of moments.

It's a terrible weight to bear while you enjoy the present moment of life. Life is inconsistent, temporary, unsatisfactory - no matter how many joys you accumulate, each arises, and eventually passes away. Because everything is impermanent, even happiness, life is suffering. This is the First Noble Truth.

No! This cannot be, you say. I want to be happy and I never want to lose this happiness. I want my things - my house, my car, my wife, my kids, my clothes, my knowledge, my wealth, my prestige, my beauty - and when I get them I never want to lose them. I want them to stay as they are, with me, forever.

When you want impermanent things to be permanent, when you think "if only I had this, then I will finally be happy", when lust drives you out of your mind, you suffer. And the cause of your suffering is your craving - this is the Second Noble Truth.

But are we doomed to live brief lives of happiness amidst misery, and then be snuffed out in the night? You cannot avoid sickness, old age and death. When your body is pierced, you cannot avoid pain. But pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. You might not gain invulnerability, but you can be happy. This is the Third Noble Truth: Suffering can be ended.

And this is the Fourth Noble Truth: the path to happiness is eightfold. You gain wisdom when you have right view and right intention. You gain ethical conduct through right speech, right action and right livelihood. You achieve focus through right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. This is how you become liberated from suffering.

The Gift of Being Gracious

So listen. Be attentive to what people say. Respond, without interruption. You always have time. You own the time in which you live. You grant it to others without obligation. That is the gift of being gracious. The return — the payback, if you will — is the reputation you will quickly earn, the curiosity of others, the sense that people want to be in the room with you.
— Tom Chiarella