An old year falls, a new one rises.
People will dedicate to change. They will tell themselves that this year will be different. They will commit to change their appearance, their friends, their family, their job. Goals will be set. Plans will be made. Motivation will be high. Intentions strong and good.
Time will pass. Relationships will turn sour. Work will become pressing. The economy more dire. New habits will waver. The diet will slowly fade. The new running shoes will sit in the closet, dry dirt cracked on the floor.
Paper piled high on the desk, no order to be seen. Falling into old routines, the same argument comes up again with your spouse. You respond in the same, usual way – so do they.
People use a new year as an opportunity for new beginnings in their relationships with other people and things. Yet a number on a calendar is an arbitrary thing, without meaning or purpose other than that which we give it.
In the end, it’s just another day, a notch on the wall. But people take it as a chance to devote themselves to their daily struggles.
Pushing against their boss, other employees, the work. Fights with their spouse, the family, their friends. The way they eat. Struggling against the siren’s call of the couch and television.
Sometimes a change is made, new habits are created, but the struggle remains. Committed to running, you begin to run with other people and friends. Secretly you want to run faster than the other people.
A new diet is adhered too – but it’s not enough, you want to be skinnier than her. You get a promotion at work, but you want his office.
Others will struggle against you as well. They will resist your change. Come drink beers with us. Eat more than a salad. We’ve always done things this way. We don’t really need to do that do we? Let’s just walk. I’m already comfortable doing it the old way. I’m too busy. Can you believe she is wearing that?
All these things – the struggle between you and your spouse, you and your job, you and other people, you and anything and everything else – are all illusions.
The only struggle that exists is that between you and yourself.
“Masakatsu Agatsu” – True Victory is Victory Over the Self
An old samurai maxim, masakatsu agatsu – true victory is victory over the self.
Your old habits, routines, and ruts; the same food, the same conversations, the same work; laziness, indifference, reluctance – are all aspects of your old self. The old you who adheres to comfort and the mundane.
Change involves effort, devotion, commitment, and sacrifice. The older version of yourself manifests itself in the things you eat, the people you spend time with, the way you work, the job you have. It comes in the form of your hobbies, where you spend your time, how you conduct yourself.
They’re all only aspects of yourself. The old you. The one who doesn’t want to change.
If you truly want change, growth, achievement, passion, happiness, victory – then you will have to struggle with your old self every day. Beat him into submission. Strangle the life out of him and leave him dead in your wake.
But like a zombie, he will rise again and again, clawing at your feet and attempting to pull you down. And day after day, you will need to turn back and cut him down.
True victory requires constant vigilance, to be on guard against the old routine. Avoiding the well trod paths of the way things used to be. A battle against comfort and convenience.
Are you up to it? Can you avoid the illusion of conflict with other people? Can you commit to defeating yourself?
A final word from Dajian Hiu-neng (大鑒惠能), the Sixth and Last Patriarch of Chán Buddhism:
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks started an argument. One said the flag moved, the other said the wind moved; they argued back and forth but could not reach a conclusion.
Coming upon them, Hui-neng, said, “It is not the wind that moves, it is not the flag that moves;
it is your mind that moves.”