The image of the Samurai in the West has interminably been fixed on our collective consciousness in Hollywood movies, for example in the Last Samurai and 47 Ronin.
While we, as men, naturally fixate on the warrior’s fighting prowess depicted in these films, what often goes unnoticed is the subtle-ness of “warriorship” before the battle. While it is clear from a historical position that the Samurai’s ultimate goal was to protect his lord, their visceral understanding of the impermanence of life, allowed them to share a deep understanding of living life to the fullest each and every moment.
As Sun Tzu so eloquently noted:
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.— Sun Tzu
In the Hagakure, a classic 300 year old book about bushido (the way of the warrior), the author writes, “If you keep your sword drawn and wield it about then no one will dare approach you and you will have no allies. But if you never draw it, it will dull and rust and people will assume that you are feeble.”
The lesson here is that, there is a fine balance one must acquire in living a life of presence. Come across as pompous and arrogant and people will avoid you, come across as feeble and scared and people will take advantage of you. Being present, means showing up with a sense of inner confidence, that is neither overbearing, nor undisclosed. You pull your shoulders back, you stand up straight, and you smile. When you reach out your hand to shake another, you do so with firmness, not strength. When asked, or are required to announce yourself, you do so with clarity, and precision, but not with loudness. As they say, first impressions matter, and if you fail at it, you can never take that moment back.
Ask yourself, as you move around this world, and as you interact with people, how are you showing up? If you could see yourself, how would you view yourself? As Tsukahara Bokuden, a famous swordsman of the early Sengoku period noted, “Mental bearing (calmness), not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai. A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant.” Being confident then, which I would suggest is neither pompous, nor arrogant arises out of one’s mental bearing. A man who is rash, angry, and enforces his presence onto others, only shows that he is at his core, a mind engulfed in a tornado. A calm mind, exudes confidence that is felt by all, and as a presence in the room that captures their attention. Samurai knew all to well, that this calmness of mind, came from being mentally present. The goal of all Samurai, as Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi noted is to develop an “undisturbed mind” which he suggests “is like the calm body water reflecting the brilliance of the moon. Empty the mind and you will realise the undisturbed mind.”
If you look closely at your mind, you will see that it spends most of its time on the past or future. Much of what it takes hold of, are irrelevant, energy draining, and self sabotaging thoughts. We spend so much of our time worrying about how we look to others, or what other people think about us, that we loose sight of our inherent personal power. While how you show up matters, showing up as a fake, is worse than not showing up at all. Our inability to find that inherent personal power within us, is because our mind is not “empty” but rather cluttered, not to dissimilar to a hoarders house. We trip over things we don’t need, and are confronted by obstacles we forgot we created.
Our deepest fear is that if we let go of all these thoughts that we have spent so much time investing in, and nurturing, that we will lose ourselves. But as Togo Shigekata, a Samurai proclaimed, “One finds life through conquering the fear of death within one’s mind.”
In other words, it is in our attachment, that we suffer. In this sense, it is not so much what happens to us on the outside that causes our suffering, but rather how we interpret it on the inside. We create elaborate stories, to justify why we feel the way we think. Our ego beckons us to be right at all times. But what would happen if we just drop the story? What would happen if we just showed up in the world as we really are, not how we want others to see us, or how they say we should be? What freedom awaits, to simply just be who we are?
Emptying the mind, and dropping the story, is paradoxical. By doing so, you show up with inner confidence and a sense of clarity that needs no defining story. Without even trying, people see you just as you wish they had always seen you.
You show up with presence, simply because there is nothing fake about how you are showing up to begin with.