I have been always fascinated, for some reason by the Japanese. I remember, I had a Japanese carnival costume when I was young. My fascination continued to grow when I visited Japan for the JCI world congress in 2010. At that point I was exploring Buddhism as a way of life. I was particularly stricken by the number of elderly Japanese people who looked fit and healthy. They were slim, walked fast, very agile and alert, riding trains on their own. Some years after, I discovered the concept of ‘Ikigai’ that is very much part and parcel of Japanese life. This concept has been explained very clearly by Hector Garcia in his book ‘Ikigai – The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life’. Ikigai has been a long known secret for the people from Okinawa, a small island in Japan with average age at 90!
What is Ikigai?
Ikigai means to live with purpose or reason. It is about making life worth living and life being enjoyable. We can say it is the ‘raison d’etre’ that leads to the ‘joie de vivre’. It is the one reason you get up in the morning and to enjoy life. We can also say that by following our joy we discover, find or reconnect to our purpose in life. I believe it also brings balance, harmony and peace in our life, a sense of fulfilment.
Most of us, nowadays, yearn for this sense of purpose, sense of ‘life is worth living’, this sense of joy. We seek joy, we chase happiness by always wanting more for ourselves, wanting to achieve at the cost of the larger goals of life. For some of us, our self worth is measured by our outer achievements. Maybe having expensive and luxury items, career promotions. Don’t take me wrong, external life desires, achievements and goals are important as long as they reflect our inner soul desires, they are aligned with whom we truly are. Achievements that are aligned with our purpose, that bring a sense of inner peace, harmony and life balance. Achievements that do not at a cost such as burnout, anxiety, disease and disconnection from self and others.
The Japanese are also well known for their strong sense of community rather than individualism, or individual success. Having a strong sense of community also brings forth the bigger picture of life, and will guide us to expanding our awareness to what is necessary for our communities, for Mother Earth, to live in peace, harmony, and in balance.
Feeling connected to the bigger picture of life, will help us understand our reason of being, what we can do to support the community and the needs of others around us. Knowing what to do to serve the needs of those around us by using our strengths, gifts and talents, whilst remaining loyal to our personal values will help us to unlock our own purpose that is already within us.
We all have our own ‘Ikigai’ deep within us. We just need to take the time to bring more self awareness in our life, tap into our passions, what we love to and sometimes also do the inner work and take a leap of faith. Maybe we can start by redefining our perception of success and what makes us happy. Instead of focusing on individual success and achievements, we could start focusing on how we can support and serve our communities. Focusing on the bigger picture of life so that we feel more fulfilled and happy at an individual level.
In Hector Garcia’s view, there are four pillars that help us to connect to our own ‘Ikigai’
- What am I doing that I LOVE and truly brings me joy?
- What does the WORLD NEED from me? (the one thing that the world truly needs from me)
- What do I get paid for? (and this involves training and knowledge)
- What am I really good at?
For example, I know what brings me joy. Being in nature, reading, writing, dancing, learning, meditation, having deep and meaningful conversations, visiting and exploring ancient sacred sites are few examples.
Through meditation, reflection and exploration, I have discovered how I can help others and I also now have a clear answer to this. It is important to know what we need to do to get paid for our mission and purpose. If you feel, for example your purpose is to design and build beautiful eco friendly homes for your neighbourhood, you do need to have the right training and qualifications in order to get paid for it.
However fulfilling our purpose, does not always mean there is money involved. A good example is voluntary / charity workers or maybe even more mums. I personally feel that one of my purpose is to be an inspiration for my daughter.
We all have talents, gifts and strengths, things that we are good at and we can do effortlessly. However, sometimes we are not so aware because we are too busy with life. Or else, our own limited beliefs and programmes are not allowing our gifts to be expressed. ‘I am not good enough’ is an example of a limited belief that denies us expression of what we are good at.
When we connect to our ‘Ikigai’, when we unlock our purpose, we enter the zone, we find flow in everything we do. We can be in the moment effortlessly and enjoy it. This is mindfulness. Time stops, you don’t need to rush. So, we can also find our ‘Ikigai’ when we do the small daily things in life that we enjoy, when we are in the zone, totally present, focused and engaged on that one task that no distraction can take over. As a result we are more creative, productive and we feel happy.
As we can see, one way of being living a healthy, happy long life is through finding our ‘raison d’être’, our ‘joie de vivre’. The guiding reason or reasons, (we can can have different purposes) that inspires us to create beauty, and benefits us and the world around us!
Whilst I believe that in each of us there is a desire to unlock their purpose, I still don’t think that we should push this desire of finding our purpose. I always think it is best to allow life unfold and take inspirational action. For many, including myself, I started unlocking my purpose, after many years of feeling unfulfilled and unhappy in my career. Instinctively, I embarked on a journey of personal development and spiritual growth. During this journey I transformed myself and I unlocked my purpose.
A good way to start is by being curious. Maybe, you can asking these 2 simple questions every morning:
How can I be of service to others today?
What is the one single thing that I enjoy doing and I can do today?
And go for it!
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