Want to be smarter? Want to be wiser? Do you want both? Being smarter and wiser would be ideal. In one sense, smart can be analytical: Solving problems, consequently making the best choice possible. Here’s practical smart: “Maybe taking that naked selfie and storing it on my phone might be a bad idea.” You think? Pretty much the stories of nude celebrity photos hacked from their phones, and displayed on the Internet is WTF? Definitely, not smart.
Smart defines in brilliant and ‘out-of-the-box’ problem-solving. Consider the Millennium Problems: The 7 great Mathematical proofs, that have yet to be solved. One is the Navier-Stokes Equation:
This equation governs the flow of fluids such as water and air. There is no proof for the most basic questions like: Do solutions exist? Are they unique? A proof would provide certainty and understanding of the equation.
The smartest, most genius may spend their lifetimes solving or proving one of the Millennium Problems. That scale of smart extends far beyond me. I have a Masters in Electrical Engineering. My Thesis Advisor Dr. Tom was truly brilliant, the ‘real smart guy’. Although I’m smart enough.
Dr. Tom taught me the Art of Thinking. Ask the pertinent contextual questions, the “right” questions that reveal the possible paths. Often, the actual answers are inconsequential. Explain the most complex concepts in a simple story so that everyone can get it. Don’t overwhelm in the details. Simplicity trumps complexity. Always be mindful of the bigger picture. In this kind of thinking inquiry: Smarter emerges.
The Art of Thinking gets the “bigger picture”: Ask questions of discovery. Ask what’s possible.
That Art of Thinking applies in looking at life. Instead of asking what governs the laws of fluid mechanics, ask “What is my purpose in life?” “What will be my legacy?” That inquiry transformed my study and training in Aikido and martial arts.
Zanshin is a fundamental principle in martial arts mastery. Perhaps, wisdom arises from zanshin?
Author James Clear writes of zanshin:
“Zanshin is a word used commonly throughout Japanese martial arts to refer to a state of relaxed alertness. Literally translated, zanshin means ‘the mind with no remainder.’ In other words, the mind completely focused on action and fixated on the task at hand. Zanshin is being constantly aware of your body, mind, and surroundings without stressing yourself. It is an effortless vigilance.
In practice, though, zanshin has an even deeper meaning. Zanshin is choosing to live your life intentionally and acting with purpose rather than mindlessly falling victim to whatever comes your way.”
I read Samurai Yagyu Munenori’s The Sword and the Mind, a gift from Sensei Dan years ago. One of the greatest swordsman Munenori referred to zanshin as “true mind”. Distinct from mushin, “the empty mind”. The “remaining mind” is being effortlessly present, purposeful in battle, purposeful in life.
In Aikido Sensei constantly said, “Everything natural.” The paradox: Years of relentless dedicated training forges natural. You arise from the training.
James Clear writes of the Japanese Proverb:
“There is a famous Japanese proverb that says, ‘After winning the battle, tighten your helmet.’
In other words, the battle does not end when you win. The battle only ends when you get lazy, when you lose your sense of commitment, and when you stop paying attention. This is zanshin as well: the act of living with alertness regardless of whether the goal has already been achieved.”
Zanshin is in the continual training. There is “no free lunch”. I guess “no free bento” in this particular conversation.
Zanshin is being present: Of what occurs both internal and external to you. You are purposeful in who you are and in what you do. Zanshin occurs a lot like wisdom. One might think?
Oscar Wilde wrote, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Perhaps, we get older and wiser in zanshin. Wisdom is in the bigger picture. Be smart. Practice common sense. Maybe wisdom, too, sources from within your heart, your compassion, and your purpose.
Before Christmas last year, I had dinner with Alyce, my late Sensei Dan’s wife. Alyce told me about her granddaughters. I asked about Courtney. I had taught her Aikido when she was 13 years old. She came to the Dojo with Grandpa Dan for a few months. Courtney is now a Mom with two daughters of her own.
I said, “Courtney would have been good at Aikido.” I told Alyce that she was strong, not just angry. Alyce smiled knowingly. Courtney’s anger was all too familiar to mine own.
Courtney came with Sensei to the Dojo when she was having a tough time adjusting to middle school, constantly fighting with her Mom. Her Mom just didn’t get Courtney. Not many people got who she was, except for Sensei.
Sensei and I spoke about Courtney prior to her Aikido instruction. I was the only one he wanted to train with Courtney. He said, “She’s having such a hard time. Makes you wanna cry.” I got it. Sensei’s compassion was wisdom.
When Courtney lived with Alyce and Sensei for those couple months, she would wait for Grandpa to come home from work so they could play cards together. Sometimes she’d make Sensei late for Aikido class, because she wanted to show him the card trick she had learned.
Alyce said the two became inseparable. Before saying “Goodbye”, Dan would pat her on head and say, “Be good.” Courtney visited Dan in the hospital every day until he passed away a few years back.
Sensei’s wisdom accepted Courtney for who she was, not what others wanted her to be. He loved her for herself. Like Sensei, I saw the greater within Courtney. In teaching Courtney’s anger, I was really teaching me. Sensei and Courtney taught me to have compassion and forgiveness for others including me.
In the end, I think we teach those most like us. Karma. In doing so, we heal and discover our own measure of peace. In doing so, I open myself to wisdom.
Years later, I bestowed Sensei’s wisdom. One Sunday morning after Aikido practice, Sensei sat outside the Dojo smoking, as he usually did. I came outside to ask if he wanted to go to lunch. He looked up with tears in his eyes. He said, “Alyce is sick.”
Alyce was in the hospital. She had collapsed earlier in the week while playing golf with her friends. The Doctors didn’t really know what was going on, so they kept her in the hospital for observation.
Sensei was afraid. I got it. I got him. I didn’t say a word. I just sat down beside him. I was present for him. I had compassion. When he was good to go we both left, and had lunch together. Alyce recovered and now lives alone, after Sensei passed away several years ago.
I believe that wisdom discovers us, when we’re open to it and follow our hearts. Wisdom discovers us from arising from within us. Wisdom is being present, having compassion and forgiveness. Wisdom is the greater part of being human. Amen.
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