Monday, November 29, 2010

Lessons Learned, For Good or Ill: Part the First

I'm a big picture guy. I can often forgive the “little things” that crop up in life so long as I can still get to where I'm going. In other words, so long as the little things in the way don't obscure my view of the big picture, I'm content whatever may come.
I'm also a guy who strongly believes in balance. Too much of anything is a bad thing. And for me, seeking balance is just as much about what you choose not to do as it is what you do do in lieu of something else. (Of course, if you're not careful and wind up becoming obsessive in your pursuits, as I am sometimes guilty, you might end up with doo-doo in your yoo-hoo, and I'm not talking chocolate milk!)
Seeking life's balance in Japan then, has allowed me to contrast my way of doing things with the perceived habits of the Japanese people I interact with on a daily basis. From what I can tell, an average life in northern Japan is scarcely different from anywhere else in Japan, except for variations in dialect and a more agrarian environment—in that, the hours of the day are the same, similar jobs operate on the same premise, and the culinary tastes are largely shared. In fact, it's not the differences that inform me about Japanese society quite so much as it is the shared sameness.
What does that mean?!
The Japanese way: ground yourself in a routine; predictability and functionality rule the day; civic conformity over personal expression. There are certainly qualities here to be looked up to. Routines help us to order our day, and naturally work well with the way our brains learn and retain information. We can all spare to be more functional in our lives or in the way we use and make things (here’s looking at you American car industry!). Predictability can't hurt either; knowing what you're going to do before you do it is a neat trick! And being civic-minded (i.e. valuing citizenship; remember when we used to get grades for that in primary school) is a drum I’d like to beat into classrooms all across the U.S. I can't critique any of these things without instantly making myself a hypocrite in some fashion. At the same time, I can’t help but look at this methodology and compare it to my own on a one-to-one basis.
My way: non-attachment to widespread social “norms”; well-masked but marked-level of zaniness; fearless individuality (not “in-your-face,” but fearless in the sense of being unafraid to be different, or simply be). I don’t feel irreversibly connected to people or places or work or social media. It’s not as if I don’t love and dream about the people and things that come in and out of my life; I simply understand the impermanence of such things, making me somewhat inured to change, and thus less dependent on routines. (This could be a sign that I haven’t found the perfect setting or conditions where such attachment could be fostered, or I avoid them outright?) I enjoy revealing only as much of myself to different people as I deem appropriate (hence the parenthetical question in the last sentence). Maintaining a modicum of mystery in my life is useful and even healthy, so long as I can still let loose and be spontaneous and engage those around me without letting them down. And being a poser is something I’ve never been good at; I do what I do and think what I think because I believe in it, not just because it’s been suggested to me, nor especially because it’s popular.
Both of the above are examples of how to orchestrate one’s life. Life can take many forms, but I think we’d all agree that aiming toward sanity is the very least we can do. There are some aspects of the Japanese life that are quite congruent with how I live my own, and others that very much aren’t. Learning to mix and match what I am with the world around me, constantly reevaluating and even readjusting my comfort level—at times chameleon-like in my pursuits—helps me to aim toward sanity and stay balanced on the narrow road we are all asked to tread.
“Be water, my friend,” Bruce Lee once said. “Now you put water into a cup; it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash....” I try to live life not fighting the course that it takes me, but instead allow myself to be gently shaped by the currents, still flowing at my own pace, and crashing through barriers when a new way must be made. So yes, be water, my friends!