Covidian Philosophy Hour -IKIGAI | A Japanese Philosophy for Finding Purpose

A disclaimer: I’m not embracing any specific philosophy nor endorsing any path. That’s not for me to decide for you. This is just me passing on interesting ideas or perhaps jump-off points that may resonate with anyone that reads this. This video talks a lot about employment and finding a path there that offers a sense of purpose. I’ve had enough jobs that served no purpose to me than paying the bills, and I’ve yet to find employment that might qualify as a higher path. Rather, I have grown and found purpose in simply going in and completing my tasks there, as promised, to the best of my ability. That’s actually given me more personal satisfaction than I would have imagined twenty years ago. That’s a sort of confession that most of my past unhappiness was of my own doing.

Does my embrace of fulfilling my promises qualify as IKIGAI? No, not really, but it’s enough. I do actually enjoy it and for the most part I enjoy getting up and getting to the tasks at hand, even these days when getting at it involves putting on a pot of coffee and crossing the bedroom. Hello, COVID-19! I enjoy my co-workers and the role I play with them in the office. I try to contribute to a supportive environment by being a team player and being compassionate and and empathetic. Still not Ikigai, but it gets me where I’m going spiritually. So what is this thing? Well, here is what sees to be a useful description:

Purpose can be rather a nebulous concept in and of itself, and the video does explain that it’s not specifically about finding personal satisfaction in something, a job etc. It has to be something that moves beyond yourself; it has to serve the rest of mankind. It’s impossible to argue that the best path to a worthwhile life is in the service of some form to others. I do happen to know people though who’ve burned themselves out working in the service of others, but our passions can do that sometimes. This is really just to say that purpose is not the same as self-satisfaction. It may just come down to dying with a clear conscience, not to sound too bleak.

I wonder if I could succinctly explain my purpose to another individual or group. This would surely be the perfect forum to do so were the words available. Maybe the word purpose though has more to do with a path than a goal or destination. The easiest way to explain my own purpose, in that light would be to say that it’s about living in truth and authenticity, without the truth being so toxic that it kills me. Or to dial it back from there, let me explain that most of my life has been lived in the knowledge of what is not true. Sounds doomer-ist, doesn’t it? It’s not at all. The absence of a solution doesn’t necessarily spell out a doomsday prophecy.

I have, at various points in my life, self-described as a NIHILIST, which wasn’t anywhere close to true. I was merely depressed. Even crabby, old Nietzsche maintained optimism for the future of Mankind, provided they disassembled the edifice of falsehood that society was founded upon. (Insert laughing emoji here). It’s probably more apt to call myself an EXISTENTIALIST, despite that self-description as adhering to any specific school of philosophy sounds awfully bloated and false. Take it for what it is though, to the best of your understanding of existentialism. It’s probably best just to call myself a Searcher. There has been an absence of truth, so the best path forward from finally deciding what isn’t true, is finding something that is or at least living outside of what isn’t. It’s my responsibility, having declared something to be false, to find that isn’t false, or to find meaning. That’s what I’ve been doing and so far so good, it’s working. My life feels meaningful, and I’m not finding myself on a daily basis having to choose of the traditional menu of what’s valuable, or moral or ethical. One important key is that I’m not choosing from the menu of what’s absolutely not moral or ethical. There remains a responsibility to those around me to not step on their happiness and dignity. The irony in that is this practice of keeping a smaller spiritual footprint often involves not demeaning what others find meaning or purpose in. That was a lesson hard-learned. Don’t get me wrong! I will drop a hard shoulder block on a shitty idea. It’s just that most ideas, false or otherwise, are pretty innocuous. They’re not harming anyone.

I probably have a responsibility to at some point spell out the narratives and mythologies that I’ve rejected and/or find no truth or value in whatsoever, but that might require another sprawling memoir. I’ve already written and shelved one of those. I’m really talking about those subjective lists of self-identifiers held by individuals and group that go on to explain what gives them value in relation to everyone else on the planet. This is my family. This is my city. This is my country. This is my favorite football team. This is my career. This is my god. Etc. All of that “I am me and I matter because” stuff. I don’t know. I don’t really want to get too far into it at the moment as it’s all fluid anyway. This is a liminal space. It’s all about a process of becoming and not about a finished product. We’ll see…

People believe in all kinds of things and hold onto those beliefs so tightly, and yet they experience the same weltschmerz, for lack of a better term, as people who believe in nothing at all. Explain that to me, please. It’s easier, as I wrote yesterday, to believe in a lot less and to value a lot less. You can call that cowardice if you like but that would be nonsense. Fewer convictions just means having more time to devote to a sacred few. Strip it down. I’ve often said of material possessions, that it’s easier to have fewer items where each of those few has some meaning or sentimental value, than it is to have many. The more you have, the less each item means. Values and belief systems are the same. Strip it down to the essentials. To what matters.

Be your own god. Find your own meaning. It’s all the same. Just don’t shit on other people. Life is that simple. Anyway, I’m going to examine this Ikigai thing more and do some reading. It’s only fair.

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