Ikigai

(Written on 3 Jan ^^. A couple of these posts that I’d written and stored in my laptop to be released into the cosmos now that I’m back in Berlin)

I haven’t been able to sleep since…?2am this morning. I didn’t try to resist the urge to get out of bed and do something though. On my previous trip back I think I remember trying a little harder to lie in bed, think up boring things in an attempt to drift off into sleep but this time, it was almost slightly exciting, getting out of bed in the middle of the night, sneaking around for snacks and some tea (yeah, not helping my own situation much I know) before proceeding to take my time to reply an email to my former Japanese teacher. It’s funny how she mentioned she took the time to write back while resting at home recovering from slight food poisoning, and I too, decided to make use of this ‘borrowed’ time of sorts to reply. Interesting isn’t it, how we decide to do certain things when we have time unexpectedly ‘forced upon us’. Yet, undisturbed by other commitments, these are the times that I find my mind most unburdened and unbridled.

At least I’ve managed to draw out my mind map of sorts, detailing in broad categories the areas I would like to work on for myself for the upcoming year. There’s something nice about seeing things out on a broad sheet of paper. And perhaps I’ll hang it up near a work table back home in Berlin, so that D gets an idea of my thoughts and what I’m hoping to focus on as well.

It’s 8:21 am now and the sun is streaming in absolutely gloriously into my sister’s room where I’ve had to take refuge in since the air condition in my own room decided to act up last night before I wanted to sleep. It’s all part of a grand plan but I’m liking it. This sitting on her bed, basking in the bright rays of morning sunlight that I haven’t had the chance to experience in MONTHS in the gloomy, overcast Berlin winter. It still amazes me, as someone whose spent most of her life living on this tropical island of SG, that is it indeed possible for the sun’s rays to stream weakly in, almost like a poor injured whimpering pup, through the windows in the morning when it’s supposed to be daybreak. I remember drawing back the curtains, thinking it would make a difference but…not at all. The sky remained a ghostly grey with the occasional break of sunlight through clouds only in awhile, before the skies turned dark again sometime between 3-4 pm. Gloomy days indeed. While I complain a lot about the heat and humidity in SG, this sunlight, is something I’ve only now come to appreciate and really treasure.

It felt pretty perfect when I saw Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, on the 5pounds off Foyles list when we were in London. After all, it’s the topic that I’m sort of resigned to thinking that will end up being my Ikigai. Searching for my Ikigai, that is. This book, I would recommend to anyone to read, not just to get an overview of the importance of having an Ikigai (or raison d’être) but also to enjoy quotes from interviews that the authors had carried out with centenarians in Okinawa, and practical steps to finding one’s Ikigai. And if all else fails, at least tips on living a fuller, healthier life as long as possible.

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(On that very wet and cold afternoon in London…^^ It was nice to just sit down somewhere with a Chai Latte and unexpectedly mega slice of brownie…plus the fantastic find of a book!) 

One concept that I found resonated in me a great deal, was the idea of finding ‘flow’ in our lives. That state of 無 or nothingness. Nothing but the present. ‘You are completely immersed in the experience, not thinking about or distracted by anything else. Your ego dissolves, and you become part of what you are doing.’ And the interesting part is, there are actually ways in which we can achieve flow:

– knowing what to do
– knowing how to to it
– knowing how well you are doing
– knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)
– perceiving significant challenges
– perceiving significant skills
– being free from distractions

And the strategies recommended to achieve flow include:

  • Choosing a difficult task but something that is not too difficult because we need to be able to feel we have the chance of achieving it.
  • Having a clear, concrete objective and a focus on process.
    As opposed to having a vague objective or having an objective coupled with an obsessive desire to achieve it while ignoring the process. The latter of which is something I found particularly useful. Common sensical but something that I find I always tend to forget, with my rather goal-driven anxious nature to just obtain results as soon as possible. But a lot of times, that just makes me anxious when I’m not getting there. Instead, clearly planning out the goal, writing down a way of getting there then focusing on the way, rather than the goal as I’m working on it, is something that I feel in my heart will help me in all areas of life.
    Concentrate on a single task
  • Minimise distractions.
    One practical way that was suggested to minimise distractions, is to get a timer (a la Pomodoro Technique, because lots of cute kitchen timers are shaped like Pomodoro or tomatoes lol) and set it for 25 minutes of work to 5 minutes of rest, or 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of rest per cycle.

Another thing which I found interesting, is the concept of Microflow. Something that we can put to practise when carrying out tasks that are often viewed as more mundane. Housework for me, for sure. One way to turn routine tasks to tasks that are more enjoyable, is to ‘add a layer of complexity to amuse ourselves’, because once we can carry out the task with that added level of complexity and try to do perform it a little better each time, it becomes a challenge that we have trained ourselves to overcome.

Something that seems all the more applicable now as I’m in the midst of planning out some routines for the upcoming year is the use of rituals in daily life. It seems that rituals can actually help us enter a state of flow. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the immensity of a goal we have in front us, rituals enable us to focus on the subsets, the process, and on the path to achieving the goal.

“Focus on enjoying your daily rituals, using them as tools to enter a state of flow. Don’t worry about the outcome – it will come naturally. Happiness is in the doing, not in the result. As a rule of thumb, remind yourself: “Rituals over goals.”

Is that not another way of saying, it’s the journey that matters? Or in the words of my incredible Tea Sensei, “Remember, it’s Tea Way and not Tea Goal.”

The fact is, that this is going to be something that I will have to remind myself of time and again, starting this moment on, till I live it and breathe it in my bones. There are too many resonances everywhere in all facets of my experiences and readings to ignore this essential aspect of life.

The authors also suggest using flow to find our ikigai. By figuring out the activities in our lives that make us enter the flow state, what do they all have in common? In this sense, it reminds me of Marie Kondo’s idea of finding out what sparks joy in you. Perhaps flow and sparking joy, are just two sides of the same coin.

And at the end of the book, they throw in a line that made me smile, albeit ruefully.

“There is no perfect strategy to connecting with our ikigai. But what we learned from the Okinawans is that we should not worry too much about finding it.
Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you.”

So easy, yet so hard. Simple, yet takes a lifetime of practice to get right.
I just love it.

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