The Value of Rest

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So, I haven’t posted for quite the while. Journeys always have unexpected fjords and canyons and valleys and mountains to cross you see. My most recent obstacles consist of preparing for my final exams and applying to universities. Thus, considering that I am under pressure, and that I haven’t posted in a while, I wanted to write about the value of rest.

You see, there are two perspectives which have danced across my mind. One is that I, at the moment of writing, need a rest from stress and studying- hence I am writing. Two is that I, in the past few weeks, needed a rest from writing- hence I still haven’t posted the next installment of Lessons from the Elements. The situation brings to mind various old proverbs about work:

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.


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You see, the idea is that eventually any endeavour which yields rewards will become tedious if you treat it like work. There are many real life examples of this principle. A person starts a blog and puts out two posts everyday for three days and then never touches their blog again. A child goes to school and is incredibly excited on the first day but by the end of the term they loathe school and long for the holidays. Funnily, by the end of the holidays many people long for school.

And so we come to this idea, or principle if you like, of Rest. Now rest (note the lowercase ‘r’) by definition means “cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength.” What I would like to draw your attention to is the word ‘work’ in that definition. Who decides what work is? Is work something tedious or is it simply an activity? I am going to suggest that we use the idea of work as “that which we feel we must do even if we do not derive pleasure from the act itself.”

The problem then with ‘resting’ is that we are ceasing to work. Why is this a problem? Well because if we are ceasing to work it means we got to the stage where we were, as a matter of fact, working. So we were doing that which we felt we must do even though we were not deriving pleasure from it.

The principle of Rest is that we never get to a stage where we find ourselves having to cease working- because we will never work at all. I strongly believe that if we never work we will be vastly more productive than those who are working. The principle of Rest is thus: to ensure that all activities in which we engage remain pleasing to us in and of themselves. Allow me to elaborate. In the situation where a man goes to a boring job which he thoroughly hates, he is working. He does derive pleasure from the money his job brings, but then he is not deriving pleasure in the act itself. Simply, he is working.

We must do all things in such a way that we continuously enjoy the act of the thing itself. I am writing right now not because I will gain pleasure from people reading my little blog (although that is a pleasure) but because I enjoy writing. Do you see then that the pleasure I gain from you reading this is then simply surplus? And that if nobody reads this at all I wont feel robbed- but the man I described above would certainly feel robbed if he received less pay.

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Ah but how? That is a very difficult question to answer. The first step is simple enough: recognise the natures of work, rest, and Rest. The second, I imagine, is to balance everything you do as a regular activity with something opposite in nature. Sometimes I need a break from writing so I read. Sometimes I need a break from reading so I write. Sometimes I need a break from words so I watch YouTube.

Unfortunately I cannot give you a formula. In part the answer is cliche: do what you enjoy. Do not be fooled by the fact that this is cliche however. Recognise that it is a cliche for a reason- it’s true. The moment you do something you don’t enjoy you are working.

There is only one solution I can see in light of that cliche.

  • Step one: recognise the natures of work, rest, and Rest.
  • Step two: balance all activities you do.
  • Step three: do what you enjoy.
  • Step four: enjoy what you do.

Wait what? Enjoy what you do? What are you even saying? You just repeated yourself you blithering idiot! All these useless words scrawled across a page basically telling everybody something they already know in slightly abstract sentences to make yourself seem smart and to make people feel bad about themselves so they try to change their lives while you don’t even take your own advice what exactly are you getting at I cannot even handle myself right now I’m going to f-*

Shush. It is very simple. Enjoy what you do means to find something to enjoy in everything you do. Ultimately there will be activities we are forced to do. That would mean then that we are going to be forced into work by life. So no. We deserve to live in the best way possible. Towards that goal our brains grant us the ability to change our perceptions. If we are forced into doing something there will always be some reason to enjoy it. I was forced to go on a boot camp for gr.11. I didn’t want to. I did not want to walk 30km with a 14kg pack whilst carrying a four man tent. I worked for about half of the first day of the camp. Then I Rested. I Rested because I found something in the activity to enjoy and focused solely on that. It’s the only reason I did not give up.

Realise the power you have within yourself to dictate what is work and what is play and you will be able to accomplish far more than you thought possible.

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*That little rant in bold was me taking a break from writing so seriously, sorry if the blog post was a bit ramble-y. 

Lessons from the Elements: Earth

Earth is a very profound element. It is not particularly revered in religions besides the worship of, what we now call, ‘Mother Earth’. It is not difficult to ascribe meaning to things like water, fire, and air, due to their prominence in spiritual practices world-wide. Earth, on the other hand, is less thought of. However, I would venture that Earth holds the keys to leadership and humility more so than any of the elements.


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Many would argue that Earth represents opposition to change and stubbornness, I would disagree. The Earth does not resist change, but guides it. Change that happens too quickly can often be detrimental, just look at the ‘democracies’ that Western governments have created after toppling dictators. The Earth guides change gradually, beneficially. Crops don’t just spring forth, they grow gradually and at different times so as to ensure constant food supply. Water does not just instantly form a river or an ocean, instead it must carve a path in the earth, distributing the water underground and across paths formed by the topography of the land. It is in this idea of guidance that we find the teachings of Earth.


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Strength

There is no doubt that the earth is a physically imposing aspect of nature. From mountains to stones and soil, the earth supports not only the growth of life, but also the physical masses of everything that dwells on the planet. Even whilst being tormented by humans (because we are, and have been for years, deeply damaging the earth) it continues to support us. If we think of the earth in that manner then we learn the true virtue of strength of character. It is a pure form of love and requires immense strength to go on protecting, providing, and supporting those who hurt you ceaselessly.

Now, just for clarity, I am not saying we must not be fluid and adapt to situations. I am not suggesting that we let people use us and try to maintain toxic friendships. Even the earth has earthquakes, droughts, and famines.

Instead, I am suggesting that our character must be like that of the earth. If we have a duty we must perform it despite hardships. As Water has taught us, we must not only have fluidity, but fortitude. Earth now demonstrates that which complements fortitude: strength. Fortitude is courage in adversity. Strength is our ability to resist pressure- to act in adversity. There is a reason we say that our characters must be “grounded”. More than that, we must have the confidence to stand by our principles. It is not stubborn to resist those who would change you wrongly. Remember, Earth guides change gradually.

Aside from how we interpret strength of character, Earth also teaches physical strength. To us, this is a lesson of health and mentality. We must be physically strong in body and in mind. To accomplish that which we must accomplish, we must feed the strength of that by which we will accomplish it.

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“Strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.” – Bruce Lee 


Humility

Earth, the strongest of all the elements, is the one which all creatures walk on. One of the most powerful aspects of our world teaches us the virtue of humility. Earth makes itself a servant. It gives of itself so that plants may grow, so that we may build and farm, so that rivers may flow. I spoke earlier of how the earth guides change in a gradual manner instead of resisting it. The chief example of this is in the example of rivers. Water runs over the earth, following the path of least resistance. As it does this, being guided by the topography of the ground, it wears away at the rock and earth beneath it. The Earth lets itself be eroded as the water flows, guiding the water to the sea.

It has been said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. This is exemplified in Earth. It does not think less of itself. It knows it is strong. It raises its mountains high for all to see. But even those mountains, the pinnacles of the earth, have rivers which flow from them.

When we learn to think not of ourselves and instead to think of how we may help others, when we learn to give of ourselves so that others may prosper, when we learn to sacrifice even at the peaks of our achievement, then we have learned humility. There is a reason the old saying goes, “You must be down to earth.”

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Leadership

How then does the earth speak to us of leadership? Simply put: strength and humility are the primary aspects of leadership. It is humility which makes you want to give of yourself that others may benefit, it is strength which allows you to do so.

By ‘guiding change gradually’ through erosion of itself, Earth shows that we should lead by serving. When we give of ourselves and guide people to their benefit in a gradual way, not allowing them to simply rush into things, we foster a sense of trust in others. By using the leadership shown in Earth we not only further others, but further ourselves as well.

If you ever chance to speak with a soldier who has seen active combat and saved a fellow soldier, and then you ask them why they did it, they will say one thing: “They would have done the same for me.”

When you give of yourself to others they know that you are someone who will be there for them. The only natural response to this, is to want to support you too. By becoming servants of each other we are able to grow ourselves and grow others in exponential leaps, leading to a better society.

This is how to lead: Strength in Humility; Humility in Strength. This is the Way of Earth.


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Lessons from the Elements: Water

No doubt you will be familiar with the concept of the five elements: water, earth, fire, air, and spirit/void. In Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings), Miyamoto Musashi uses each of the five elements to explain and teach different elements of his Way of the Warrior. In this short series of posts, entitled Lessons from the Elements, I will attempt to follow in Musashi’s footsteps: sharing lessons I have learned from contemplation of these fundamental aspects of nature.


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Water. Chemically speaking it is one of the most important substances in the universe; it is necessary for life to exist.  Spiritually it is viewed as pure. In the Bible water is essential in cleansing rituals and the creation of life. Jesus even went so far as to say, “Ye cannot enter heaven unless ye be born again of water and the Spirit.” For Buddhists, water symbolises purity, clarity, and calmness. For me, water teaches fortitude, fluidity, and serenity.

Fortitude

A striking characteristic of water is its ability to overcome any obstacle set before it. At its full force water is deadly, decimating entire cities in tsunamis and floods. Even when it is ‘weak’ it has the ability to erode deep into the earth forming massive canyons and caves. Simply by throwing a rock into a stream we can observe the natural inclination of water to overcome. But that’s only the obvious. If we think a little more carefully we can see that this inclination to overcome can show many small, encouraging lessons for us to learn.

Let us suppose that we build a small dam. We take rather large stones and block the flow of a stream. As we observe, we see the water level begin to rise. Take note. We see previously unnoticed lines of water that have managed to find gaps in our stonework. Take note. The water then, not only rising, swells in width. Take note. Eventually the water is flowing over the top, through the holes, and around the sides of our little dam.

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There are four key lessons to be found in this simple observation. The first is found in the rising water levels. Very often we attempt to tackle a problem only to give up when we find ourselves failing. The water, instead of ceasing to flow or trying to create a new river, builds up. To us, this would be the equivalent of asking someone for help. Far from helplessness, this is actually an act of humility and fortitude. Instead of refusing to deal with the problem, we do what must be done to overcome it- even if that means enlisting the help of others.

The second lesson is found in the small streams of water that found their way through the holes in the wall. To a martial artist, this is a lesson in exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. To your average person, this is a lesson in optimism. No matter how big a problem may seem, there is always a way to get through it, even if we cannot overpower it. A wise person will use this optimism, not as a way to avoid trying to fully overcome an issue, but as motivation to continue her efforts in dealing with the issue completely.

The third lesson is in the widening of the water, but I wish to discuss this under fluidity. The final lesson in fortitude is found in the path the water takes after overcoming the obstacle placed before it: it continues down the same river. Now, obviously we know that, in terms of geography this is simply the easiest path to take, and there is much to be said for that observation. However, for our purposes I would like us to view the water following the same path as analogous to us getting on with life. After we have overcome a problem, we must not dwell on it but instead press on comfortable in the knowledge that we have, indeed, overcome that which hindered us.

Fluidity

I said before that the third lesson was to be found in the widening of the water. In our little story this would have been the water’s attempt to simply flow around the dam. For us, it speaks about being willing to adapt. Sometimes it is better to not obstinately bash our heads against something which stands against us because, although we may overcome it, it is simply more beneficial to avoid the issue. As much as we must have fortitude, it must be kept from becoming pride and stubbornness by being tempered with a willingness to change.

Serenity

The last lesson to learn from water is to always return to serenity. Though outwardly we may have to rush with the force of a strong river at first, once we overcome that which besets us we must return to a sound mind and a sound heart. More than that, we must always seek to have this serenity. A river always runs to a calm lake, or the ocean, no matter how many waterfalls it has. Why is this important? Because serenity gives us the ability to accept the things we cannot change. Fortitude gives us the courage to change the things we can, and fluidity gives us the wisdom to know the difference.


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