SHIKATA GA NAI 仕方が無い (Letting Go!)
January 5, 2020

GAMAN我慢: Enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.

GAMAN 我慢: Enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.

2020 was filled with endless changes that were difficult, challenging, miserable and sometimes downright unbearable.  As I pondered my own 2020 experiences, the image of one of my first childhood toys popped into my mind:  kendama.  Also known as “sword and ball,” it consists of handle (ken), a pair of cups (sara-do), and a ball (tama) connected by a string.  The object of this skill game was to catch one object with another, where both are connected by a string.  With endless trick combinations, it became one of my most frustrating, yet addictive toys.  Unbeknownst to me, this toy was teaching me the Japanese concept of gaman:  to patiently persevere until success arrives. 

Over time, this simple toy began to strengthen my hand/eye coordination, balance, and reflexes.  As I persevered, I improved and executed more complicated tricks.  And then...I got older.  Distracted by the ways of world, my kendama (and its valuable lessons) were abandoned until now.  2020 resurrected my forgotten brilliance of this simple toy and what it was trying to help me remember.  It is a self-improvement tool designed to help me focus my mind, body, and spirit.  Valuable life lessons unfolded with each trick I mastered:

· Focused Goal:  Have a specific goal in mind and then focus on it.

· Practice:  An absolute necessity if you want to overcome difficulties.

· Failure:  It’s totally normal to fail.  True failure is to not even try!

· Patience:  Be patient with yourself and never give up!

· Oneness:  Everything is interconnected and affects each other.

Every Japanese child is taught to gaman until they inevitably become adults who then practice gaman.  The adult version of gaman becomes less of a game and more of an exercise in self-restraint or to “swallow one’s feelings” in order to avoid confrontation.  For many years of my life, I kept these feelings pent-up to maintain the illusion of harmony:  in my family, amongst my friends, in my work, in my community and even in the greater world.  I expected others to just know or guess how I was truly feeling rather than expressing myself freely and directly.  In the end, this just created more suffering not just for me, but for everyone in my orbit.  

2020 has taught me that this time-honored Japanese belief no longer serves me in the same way it was conceived.  Our world is a collection of individuals just like you and me.  When you add us all up, it is clear to me that our current state of the world is a direct result of our collective beliefs.  If we do not like what we see or are experiencing, then we need to examine and change the beliefs that drive our behaviors.  If we choose not to change our beliefs, we are then ultimately responsible for the results and our collective suffering may continue to worsen.  But remember, you cannot change or fix that which you are not conscious or aware of.

As 2021 continues to unfold, I challenge you to examine your beliefs about life and the world.  Ask yourself, “What do I truly believe?”  More specifically, “Do my beliefs support every human being equally and fairly?”  If not, then continue to ask, “Why?” until you get to the root cause.  

One of the most important lessons I learned in 2020 is the lesson of Oneness.  Everything, everyone, and every system in life is interconnected.  Life, just like a kendama, cannot be played or enjoyed if the string is broken.  Our collective string is broken, but we have a chance and a choice to mend it.  The mending starts with you and your beliefs!  Hopefully, we will all win, but that’s up to each one of us.  Choose wisely!