Must versus Want

Art by Shozo Shimamoto, made by hurling balls of paint on to a canvas at high speed.

“If the dedication to the thing the individual is dedicated is defuse, the quality is apt to be poor and weak.”  — Howard Thurmon

The path we take to live happily starts with a decision to do what we “must do” and not merely what we “want to do.” We cannot trick ourselves into doing that which we don’t really care about regardless of what others think or even what we think. It’s the paramount reason why people don’t exercise, don’t eat well or behave as they should in general despite knowing better. For the typical person, the day to day actions support neither biological intuition nor scientific rationale. And as such, this conflict leads to a life of constant inconsistency and inconsistencies create unalleviated stress and unhappiness, and ultimately, spiritual death.

“Some people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until seventy-five.” —  Benjamin Franklin

In Walt Disney’s 1940 animated classic Pinocchio Jiminy Cricket responds to Pinocchio’s inquiry “what’s a conscience?” According to studies, the average four year-old asks over 400 questions a day!

The answers on how to do anything and find success — in pretty much anything — is all out there in books and in writings and videos all over the internet. And it’s all FREE. Despite this modern reality, people everywhere are still obsessed with finding all the tricks and techniques on HOW to do something, thinking that’s the answer to their problems. But the far more important question we should be asking ourselves is WHY. It’s the relentless question children ask the most when they are young. Only after years of being told “it is the way it is” do they give up such inquiry, leading to a life of doing whatever they’re being told to do whether that be from family, friends, the government, the education system or the corporations that we work for and the messages they spread.

“To produce art is to do something beyond your capabilities.” — Shozo Shimamoto

But should we be leaving the reasons to live and the corresponding designs of our lives in the hands of others? Are our capabilities and talents predeterminately limited by society’s current rules and expectations? Are we only to be defined by what we own, measured in material accumulation or social approval? If we’re not careful and don’t stay adeptly aware and curious, we’ll be insidiously trapped into a kind of daily indoctrination that leads to a life on auto-pilot. There is truth in the statement that says that if we don’t design our own lives others will design them for us. Or to put it another way, those who don’t set their own goals end up slavishly working for those who do.

“Your silence will not protect you.” — Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was an influential American poet and activist who fought boldly against racism, sexism, and homophobia during the 1960’s.

There are countless people out there who say they’d die to be doing something else or be someone else but don’t do anything about it. They could hate their jobs, their environment or their relationships but instead of changing things up, opt to hang around and put up with the misery. Allowing fear and expectations to rule, some people become bitter, feeling unappreciated for their sacrifice, their deal with the universe a sham. Unfortunately, the truth is there is no deal — we may have offered it to the world but it was never accepted. The universe owes us nothing. We can only think and do what lies in accordance to our principles, ones we choose to adopt or, if needed, ones we create ourselves. Until we spend the time to ask why and ponder over such matters of empirical importance, there is nothing to live for or any grounding on which to live by. And the quality of our art (i.e. our expression) has no choice but to reflect our state of understanding.

“The art of peace is the art of learning deeply, the art of knowing oneself.” — Morihei Ueshiba

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, seen here throwing an opponent into mid-air. Despite being born “weak and sickly” and under 5′ 2″ in height, the great Sensei managed to become one of the greatest and most influential artists and thinkers of our time.

To be an artist is to face those questions everyday. Why are we here? What are we doing? And does it matter? When faced with such profundity, we are forced to stop and ponder. We slow down so that we can see and hear and truly listen. Then we discover simple things such as the fact that our material and social status are of little importance. We begin to unshackle ourselves from our self-imposed constraints of conformity and begin to see that only how we behave — as defined by our actions and expressions — matters. We become unique individuals again and begin to take responsibility for being so.

“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensible, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” — Henry David Thoreau

Legendary Disney animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston lived long and happy lives as artists completely devoted to their craft.

Once free from expectations, a life of experimentation begins as we consciously choose what to say yes and no to. For artists, this experimental phase is what drives us as creatives. It’s a phase that I personally hope lasts a lifetime. Doing something new. Living anew each day. What’s to fear if it’s the unknown that intrigues and excites us?  It’s no wonder artists live long lives (provided they can overcome alcohol or drug addiction and depression). Not too many artists suffer heart attacks on Monday morning, which is when most heart attacks occur just as people go to their day jobs. Again the process is what matters. All the studying, practice, learning, failing and growing IS the fulfillment we so desperately strive for.

“In this form of study there will no less familiarization with what is generally found in all technical study. You will acquire a habit and ability to select and correlate. You will become a master and organizer of means, and you will understand the value of means as no mere collector of means ever can.” — Robert Henri

The Dragon Flag exercise (named after Bruce Lee himself) tests the ultimate core of the body, the abdominal muscles. After years of rehab from spinal surgery, I’m now again able to do several sets of these everyday (as part of a plan to get back into top shape). I do this not because I wanted to but because I felt I had to as a symbol to myself that I, and I alone, control my life.

Once we discover that we must devote our lives as creatives, we begin to move forward. So we set goals, even as they serve only as targets. Targets in which to practice how to focus and apply our physical, mental and emotional energy. This day-in and day-out intense exertion is what makes the life of a craftsman. And, even though the results themselves don’t ultimately matter, by the laws of nature they tend to favor the well-practiced.

Living free is hard and serious work. No one said it was easy. But it is simple.

“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway.” — Robert Henry