In many ways, the East and West have a different mentality.
Western society tends to be more individualistic, where freedom and choice are highly valued. Yet Eastern societies take more of a collective approach.
In Japan, consideration for one another is key. They are constantly striving to achieve harmonious coexistence. Both discipline and loyalty are highly prized.
That outward balance is also one that is sort internally too — between body, mind, and spirit.
That’s why many of the Japanese principles can teach us a thing or two about finding inner peace.
1) ‘Wabi-sabi’ — Embracing imperfections
How many of us wish away our perceived flaws?
It’s all too easy to become frustrated with anything other than perfect.
But this wonderful Japanese philosophy aims to encourage us to accept our imperfections. Not only that but highlight the charm they hold.
The idea is that all in life is transient. Beauty in nature is always “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.
Rather than be disheartened by this, we should celebrate it.
2) ‘Mushin no shin ’ — Mind without mind
This zen mental state may not be easy to achieve, but the rewards are worth the effort.
Meditators and martial arts practitioners strive for this freedom from mind attachment.
Put simply: To silence the constant chatter of the inner voice.
We have a tendency to over-identify with our thoughts, which can create powerful emotional reactions within us.
But mushin no shin is all about achieving “no-mindedness”.
It’s about letting go of thoughts and judgments to create a relaxed awareness where clarity of mind comes easier.
3) ‘Fudoshin’ — Immovable Mind
Life can be tough, there’s no denying it.
It can be hard to find the resilience and courage to face the trials that come your way.
Fudoshin is about finding complete composure and determination in the face of challenges.
This unshakable will demands calmness of mind.
As Zen practitioner and martial artist Fuyu explains, we become a fearless warrior through peace, not internal violence:
“From a Western viewpoint, the concept of a Warrior (Samurai, Bushi) without anger or rage, a peaceful warrior, can be quite difficult to understand and accept. Being exceedingly dualistic, we can hardly reconcile the ideas of violence and a peaceful and calm mind, but this state of mind was the essence of the Samurai and is today the essence of martial arts like kendo, judo, karate or aikido.”
4) ‘Shikata ga nai’ — It cannot be helped
This one reminds me of something my Mom always used to say:
“It is what it is”.
This seemingly obvious statement holds within it an acceptance of what cannot be changed in life.
It encourages us to let go rather than be dragged.
In accepting our suffering, we at least avoid the creation of anymore. We acknowledge that “there is no other way.”
Sometimes a quiet and peaceful resignation is for the best, that way we at least maintain our dignity.
5) Ikigai — Reason for being
We all want to find our purpose in life.
Without meaning, it can be a struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
Well, this Japanese concept refers to exactly that.
It’s about discovering the thing (or things) that bring us fulfillment.
When we do, we find a sense of well-being that comes from our devotion to it.
But rather than being about purely seeking pleasure, Ikigai is a higher state than that.
The aim is to create a life well lived, not one filled with hedonistic pursuits.
6) Gaman — The virtue of stoicism
This Japanese idea has Zen Buddhist origins and involves staying strong and controlling how you react.
It means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.”
It’s true that stoicism has much to teach us.
- Embracing what you can control
- Seeing obstacles as opportunities
- Striving to cultivate inner tranquility
- Living according to your values
In Japanese culture being able to show gamen is viewed as a sign of maturity and strength.
That involves things like:
- Not airing your dirty laundry in public and instead keeping private affairs private
- Avoiding complaining
- Staying silent in the face of adversity
7) Kaizen — Always seek to improve
Personal development fans will love the idea of Kaizen.
It’s a term that encourages us to always change for the better and seek to continuously improve.
The concept these days is especially used in terms of business where improved standards are seen to help reduce waste and improve efficiency.
But it also goes for any area of life where you should encourage growth.
8) Shu-Ha-Ri — Follow, breakaway, and transcend
This Japanese martial art concept charts the progression of learning, on the way to mastery.
According to Aikido master teacher, Endo Seishiro, when we train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri:
“In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forbearers created. We remain faithful to the forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”
It’s a good model for learning in general.
First, we must concentrate on what we’re being told. Only later can we adapt what we know and add our own flare to it.
9) Mono no aware — Love for impermanence
There’s something incredibly romantic about this next Japanese mindset.
It’s the bitter-sweet awareness that everything is only here for a limited time.
But rather than feel sad about the inevitable loss, we should embrace the time we have.
The love affair that didn’t last. The beloved pet whose time ran out. The rusted orange leaves that are about to fall from the trees.
It symbolizes the passage of time which cannot be helped, and so must be embraced with appreciation.
Perhaps the Western equivalent would simply be:
“Enjoy it while it lasts.”
10) Mottainai — What a waste!
It’s a message our consumerist societies would be wise to heed.
Mottainai conveys a sense of regret or concern over waste. And so it’s the ultimate “reduce, reuse, and recycle” slogan.
Perhaps we may think nothing of throwing something in the trash once we no longer have a use for it.
But in Japan, it is seen as more noble to make the most out of something.
And that doesn’t just apply to material things either.
It is equally about wasting your gifts, talents, and abilities — encouraging us all to live fuller lives and take every opportunity we can.
11) Omoiyari — Thinking about others
Giving makes us happy.
Omoiyari reminds us to care for people and show them sincere consideration.
That may be through volunteering your help. But it doesn’t even need to be about giving your money or time to others.
It can be as simple as your thoughts and words.
For example, reading the room and being mindful of how you behave toward people or keeping your mouth shut to spare someone’s feelings.
It starts with cultivating sympathy and empathy for your fellow man, but it doesn’t stop there.
You then need to go out into the world and put that into action.
12) Shin-Gi-Tai — The balance between body and mind
This one translates as “mind, technique, and body.” And it’s all about how the three combined lead to victory.
We must apply a strong spirit, with well-executed skill and physical effort in order to accomplish anything.
Rather than simply dive into action, we need to take more consideration.
That means thinking exactly about what needs to be done and why.
If you are to reach your goals you must:
- Have a clear vision and know your “why”
- Create a plan of action
- Get to work to make it happen
13) Omotenashi — Offering the best service without expecting a reward
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there to some people, and they’re only out for what they can get.
That means even when they do something for someone, there’s likely to be an ulterior motive.
Omotenashi is essentially about good hospitality but in a mindful way. It’s about attention to detail for the sake of a job well done.
It is done from the bottom of your heart, rather than for reward or praise.
This kind of thoughtfulness is another way we can show others’ consideration.
14) Kiyomeru — Purification
Who knew that even housework could be a gateway to inner peace?!
But through the most simple of rituals, we can better cherish our surroundings.
Kiyomeru focuses on the purification of both the physical and non-physical world.
Personally, I’m a big believer in the “tidy house, tidy mind” mentality.
Rather than be seen as a chore or demeaning work, cleaning is viewed as a way to respect and honor your environment.
In fact, cleaning is seen as an important tool for Zen Buddhists to cleanse the mind.
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