The bow twirler

“There is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers.

The teachers are everywhere.  What is wanted is a learner.

In ignorance is hope.

Rely on ignorance.  It is ignorance the teachers will come to.

They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.”*
(Wendell Berry)

There are disciplines that bluntly correct us without any understanding and there are disciplines which make it possible to do what we most of all want to do through our lives.  I am thinking of the latter.

Wendell Berry identifies how learning through discipline begins in the inner places of our lives where we find our most intimate sources:

‘We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness…

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

One’s inner voices become audible.  One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.  The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.’*

A recent conversation with someone around their questions in life left me wondering whether finding the wonder of our own Self makes it more possible to connect with others around us, and the world we are a part of.

Hugh Macleod writes about self-awareness as critical to how we connect and then makes the important clarification:

‘But in order to be self-aware, first one needs a self to be aware of.  And that takes a while.  Often an entire lifetime.’**

Although this may seem self-serving, my experience is the opposite.  In becoming more aware of ourselves we also become more aware of others.  We bring what we have in service to others because there’s something about who we are that cannot be complete without this movement:

‘We do not help the world by choosing to be less or do less; we help the world by choosing to be more and give more.’^

There is always a risk of being destructive, of keeping what we find or have to ourselves, but without that risk nothing that is humanly beautiful is brought to life.  Berry sees us as the species that struggles to be at “rest,” as he names it. A farmer-theologian-environmentalist, he has much to teach us about our connection with our world:

“And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness,  

For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest.


In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.”*

We see ourselves as creators but this is not a term without critical nuance, as Berry continues to uncover when he writes:

“Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone.  In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.”*

Three disciplines i keep believing help find this kind of rest are humility, gratitude and faithfulness: to see ourselves accurately, to be grateful for who we are and what we have (which is different to owning) and to explore ways to lives out these things.  In Ken Mogi’s description of the five pillars of ikigai I find helpful seasoning of these disciplines or practices.  These five pillars are: starting small, releasing oneself, harmony and sustainability, joy of small things and being in the here and now.  Imagine what happens where the warp and weft of these meet:

Mogi tells the story of the sumo wrestler Satonofugi who has not been ablate attain to the highest order of wrestlers.  When Mogi writes about him, Santonofugi is 39 years old and has achieved 429 wins but has also lost 434 times.  Everyone in the world of sumo knows his name, though.

At the end of each sumo tournament there’s a ceremony to close the spectacle.  It’s thought to be an act of pride for the tournament’s victor to enact this and so Santonofugi steps forward with a performance he has made his ikigai (life purpose).  The ceremony involves twirling a bow, a symbol of victory.  Santonofugi is the bow twirler:

‘Rather, it is felt that Santonofugi has found a niche in the world of sumo, a role that he can fulfil with joy and pride, a part of the rich set of traditions that is sumo. […] Even though Santonofugi is unlikely to be promoted any further, he will be very happy, until the end of his career as a sumo wrestler, to fulfil his role as the bow twirler.’^^

There’s something in finding our niche that is about rest, finding our place.  As Mogi summates:

‘In order to have ikigai, you need to go beyond the stereotype and listen to your inner voice.’^^

For the person always wanting to learn, teachers are everywhere, including silence and solitude.

(*Wendell Berry, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair Are the Two Great Enemies of Creative Work.)
(**From gaping void’s blog: Check yourself before you wreck yourself.)
(^From Erwin McManus’ The Last Arrow.)
(^^From Ken Mogi’s The Little Book of Ikigai.)


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