Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Book of Five Dings

[I don't think it's come up before but I'm also a martial artist. I've now spent thirty-five years on one martial art, in particular, and the age-old analogies of swordsmanship to artistry are not abstract for me. The following, though, was written years ago as a humorous counter to Minamoto Musashi's classic manual, The Book of Five Rings. As with most humor, some of it is truth.]

By Minimal Magnanimity

There are five terrible surprises in the life of a warrior, or any person, for that matter. These
“dings” can be completely devastating, or merely inconvenient, depending on the circumstances
of the moment and our state of mind. This will be discussed further.

From the moment of conception, we are constantly changing as individuals. Our bodies, our minds, the air, the stars, everything changes, subtly or drastically, from moment to moment. So we have no hope of knowing exactly how things are going to be from day to day. We guess. We play the averages or just stumble along in the rut of our habits. That more of us are not destroyed by the unexpected, the unnoticed, or the unlikely, than are, is merely luck.
Observe every moment carefully. Or don’t. Since everything is changing, studying the present and quantifying the patterns of the past can’t save you from the future. Enjoy something.

Everyone else is a construction of your imagination. Prove me wrong. On the other hand, some of these constructions are nicer to be around than others. Some of them are so wonderful to be around you may be tempted to think of yourself as a minor feature in a universe centered around them. This is foolishness. Still, they make life interesting and you don’t dare assume that they exist to serve your needs, real or imagined. Treat them well or lose them. Of course, you may lose them anyway, see above. Sure it hurts, but don’t take it personally, and don’t whine about it. Who wants to be alone in a universe with a whiner?

Ignorance is a powerful force in the universe, ranked somewhere between gravity and magnetism. A lot of the things we learn, to be the people we are, still stink of mythological stories told around campfires. What we are, what we should be, what we need, are all just heroic inventions created so haphazardly that we can’t even blame someone specific for the trouble they cause. Just do the best you can, try to understand what it is you really want (knowing that everything changes), and don’t take the things you hear any more seriously than you take the things you say.
In a changing world of certain loneliness, don’t expect any really terrific answers to what are, in the end, pretty uninformed questions. Everyone is stupid about a lot of things.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is pick a good spot and refuse to be budged from it. Assemble such armor as you can, observe all approaching hazards carefully, and extend imaginary roots through your feet deep into the solid ground. Become immovable. This is in no way the same as remaining on the couch.
Most of the time, though, you must move to find your successes. Too slow and not enough gets done and you seem disinterested. Too fast and you miss a lot of important detail. Change direction too often and you look like a twit and your achievements will seem accidental. Refuse to alter course when appropriate and you are obsessed, unapproachable, maniacal.
Of course, no one else will ever really understand what you’re up to anyway. Be up to something. Keep moving. Exercise some options.

You can not really know what’s going to be important later in life, or later in the day, so you have to treat everything, every moment, as potentially huge. The smallest, least likely element may make the difference between success and failure. You may be great without ever understanding why. You may suffer unbearable agonies. Don’t worry about it. Anxiety counts double. It also makes you rotten company. Choose instead to be wonderful. Respect counts most of all.

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