Barefoot Fitness

Ikigai

Ikigai

Why do you keep going?

"The two most dangerous years of your life are the year you're born and the year you retire." – Dan Buettner

 

At his 2009 TED talk, Dan Buettner talked about his work researching the world's Blue Zones, areas in which people live inordinately long, healthy lives.

The Blue Zone with the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world is the archipelago of Okinawa. Here, men and women routinely live to exceed 100 years of age. At this age, they are still physically capable, fully alert and involved in the world around them. They work in their gardens, play with their great, great grandchildren and when they die it is generally quickly and in their sleep. Their rates of disease are many times lower than much of the world.

Interestingly, Okinawans don't have a word for retirement. What they have is "Ikigai" which roughly translated means "passion" or "reason for living."

While conducting their study, Dan's group used a questionnaire with the Okinawans and one of the questions on it was, "What is your Ikigai?" Nearly all of the people were able to answer immediately.

For a 102 year old karate master, his Ikigai was to teach his martial art. For a 100 year old fisherman, it was continue going out and bringing fish back to his family three days per week. For a 102 year old woman, her Ikigai was to spend time with her great, great, great granddaughter.

In Fight Club, Tyler Durden turns to his passengers in a car and asks them, "What do you want to do before you die?" As Tyler lets go of the wheel and the car veers off the freeway, two men are able to immediately answer.

"Build a house."

"Paint a self portrait."

Jack, the fourth man in the vehicle, yells in bewilderment and fear for Tyler to turn the wheel and steer back onto the road.

Tyler ignores him and says, "You have to know the answer to this question! If you died right now, how would you feel about your life?"

"I don’t know, I wouldn’t feel anything good about my life, is that what you want to hear me say? Fine. Come on!"

It's at that moment that Jack has an epiphany and begins to see what Tyler has been talking about.

It's a much different means of conveying the idea than an Okinawan matriarch playing with her grandkids, but ultimately it's the same concept. Why did you get out of bed this morning?

The word passion is derived from the Latin verb patoir meaning "to suffer and endure." This is where stories like "The Passion of the Christ" get their name. Eventually the word came to mean not only suffering in itself, but also the thing that sustains a person who suffers; what enables them to keep going.

In Man's Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl describes his experiences as a prisoner in two different concentration camps during the Holocaust. The stoic nature of the philosophy he developed there led to his founding of the school of Logotherapy, which is a form of psychotherapy based on man's will to meaning, derived from the Greek word logos ("Meaning").

Logotherapy is based on three main principles:

- Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.

- Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.

- We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

As a young candidate in Naval Special Warfare selection, I once asked a mentor, a highly respected former Team Leader from what was once known as SEAL Team Six, what his first piece of advice would be for guys about to go through training. He related it to his family.

"Just don't quit. All I thought about was that I was going to have to face my family when it was over, and I could never face them, or live with myself, if I quit."

Over the years, I found a similar attitude among nearly all of them men who made it through the selection process. While the ones who quit were able to rationalize that it was somehow acceptable, those who did not almost invariably kept their minds on the thought of their wives, brothers, sisters or parents as if they were watching over them and expected them to succeed.

Recently, while reading back through Viktor Frankl's book, I came across this passage:

" ... We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise."

In this case, Viktor's passion, the meaning behind his life and the reason to continue suffering through it, his Ikigai, was his wife.

What is your Ikigai?

April 21, 2010 by Craig Weller Post a Comment
It was tagged with inspiration, ikigai, motivation, viktor frankl, fight club, and blue zone

Comments for This Entry

  1. Great one... my Ikigai is developing absolute presence in NOW. Not thinking about what has happened or what will come next or striving towards anything but the absolute awareness of the delicious present.

    I can remember being able to do it easily as a child and how time seemed to stand still. Looking out the window on a cold early spring day and feeling as if I could see buds coming out on the trees and not touching them still know how their leaves would feel and look and smell. I have had moments of this clarity throughout my life and I treasure them but I want each moment to be just like that- unhindered by any influence of the past or the future.

    My life is unfolding just as it should and I awaken a new area of my soul as time goes by, however, I do think with some sadness about pockets of time I was "asleep". Times filled with fear and some magic I lost in them.

    There is Ikigai in each moment of my life and it can change like a kaleidoscope. Staying present will mean I get it. When I die, I want to be smiling with the satisfaction I was clearly there and thankful. Complete flow.

    Posted on 06:30PM on April 21, 2010 [permalink]

  2. Craig, thank you for all of your articles. Every article is a stop-down for me. I print them and share them with my brother and a few workout partners for inspiration. You Special Warfare guys are on a completely different level in everything you do, and it is very inspiring. To answer the question-my Ikigai is fitness. I love everything about health and fitness.

    Posted on 07:26PM on April 21, 2010 [permalink]

  3. Craig,

    My Ikigai is to become a career firefighter and my wife and children. Everytime I start to lose my focus on my goals, you post another amazing article that truly motivates me to do my best. I agree with JJ about the Special Warfare guys, I often watch the documentary about SEAL Class 234 while I work out to motivate me not to quit.

    Thanks,
    Scott

    Posted on 09:24PM on April 21, 2010 [permalink]

  4. These days I always wonder if your next post will live up to the standards you have set upon yourself - I mean you have been writing for quite a while now. And you deliver. The challenge is thinking of new topics to post on new thoughts, inspirations etc.
    Thats an awesome explaination of the word passion. Who knew?! Something to think about!
    My ikigai? To face life? Fearlessly? (For me I sometimes feel its a tall order).
    "Life has meaning under all circumstances - even the most miserable ones"

    Posted on 04:05AM on April 23, 2010 [permalink]

  5. My Ikigai is to permanently develop myself and help others to develop themselves!

    Posted on 11:41AM on April 23, 2010 [permalink]

  6. My most recent fitness goal has been to barbell squat (all the way down) 245 pounds for 20 reps. Two weeks ago, I had worked my way up to 16. I was anticipating success the following week but at my next leg day, I managed only 10. I was disappointed. I was nervous about what was to happen this past week when leg day arrived once again. Would I be able to spring back up again, or would I meet defeat? I then received the email about your blog entry and I read it. In the comments section, Scott posted a bit about watching a NAVY SEALS documentary. I was curious and I bought it. I was fascinated by watching these instructors yell at the recruits, telling them to lift up logs when the recruits seemingly had NO strength left to do so. One instructor said something to the effect of, "You guys just THINK that you're tired." What? I had thought that being tired was a solely physical condition. And here was this instructor telling the recruits that they needed to "find it" inside of them. I started thinking about my squat sessions and why I had managed 10 when I had done 16 the week before. I knew it was because I had allowed myself to only expect 10; I had let myself down mentally. It certainly wasn't because of a physical change in myself...it had only been a week and my body hadn't changed drastically in seven days. I then started to think, "If I know that I have 16 reps inside of me...is it possible that I've had 20 reps inside of me all along...and that I haven't allowed myself, mentally, to perform at that level?" Had I been limiting myself each and EVERY week...even the week I had gotten 16 reps? This new information percolated in my brain and I knew that I was going to be able to crank out 20 reps. So, this past Wednesday, I set a new personal best and did 20 deep barbell squats with 245 pounds. Now I'm wondering, "If I had 20 reps at 245 inside of me all along..."

    Posted on 01:49PM on May 02, 2010 [permalink]

  7. I agree w/Craig and James above. Everyone should watch the Discovery Channel documentary on BUDS class 234. It will motivate you in every aspect of your life. I will no longer complain that I only got 4 hours of sleep b/c our son was up all night crying.

    Posted on 06:29AM on May 05, 2010 [permalink]

  8. man this is the best mailing list i ever signed up for.

    I love these articles/blogs.

    Posted on 05:18PM on February 11, 2012 [permalink]

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