Ikigai: The Japanese Art of Purpose

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.” –James A. Michener

We so often think of our life’s path in a linear sense here in the US. We go to college, exchange our youth for adulthood, get a job, have kids, work, retire and grow old. But… what if there was a way to grow old, yet stay young forever, that was at the essence of our purpose?

The Japanese have a term for this: Ikigai. Developed as a subpart of the wabi-sabi lifestyle to really dial into the question as an individual of “Why am I here?”, Ikigai is the art of unfolding or blossoming into who we are. It is thought that we must endeavor to self-realize before we can truly enjoy the essence of our career, family and love life.

The Japanese do not wander through life wondering what their purpose is, but rather cultivate this exploration through intended practice. To the Japanese, Ikigai is the reason we wake up every morning, our raison d’etre.

Traditionally, Ikigai helps us know ourselves to our depths– most consider this knowing as a way to stay forever linked to humanity.

This sense of purpose where play, work, service and passion are often not distinguished from one another is what some scientists even attribute to the Japanese’s high average life expectancy of 83 years.

How then, can we embrace Ikigai in our modern times and be of service to humanity while mastering the self?

In their book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles interviewed residents living in a Japanese village with the world’s highest percentage of 100-year-olds. The residents revealed how they ate, moved, worked and cultivated community to engender their Ikigai. Through this knowledge we learn the importance of looking inside ourselves to determine our own.

To discover your Ikigai, we consider how passion, mission, vocation and profession mutually accentuate one another:

What do I love?

  • passion
  • mission

What am I good at?

  • passion
  • profession

What does the world need?

  • mission
  • vocation

What can I be paid for?

  • vocation
  • profession

Not sure how to fully answer these questions yet? Not to worry. You can begin by answering these 5 questions:

  1. Am I consuming health-giving or health-hindering nutrient-dense foods?
  2. When I get up in the morning for work, does the idea of it enliven me or make me want to go back to bed?
  3. Do I consume information from the media that brings anxiety or fills me with a sense of inspiration?
  4. Am I isolated or connected to my family and community?
  5. Am I participating in movement that keeps me agile and strong, or movement that I need to recover from and leaves me sore?

Think about these basic questions, then take some time week by week to contemplate and answer about passion, profession, vocation and mission.

Free from ego and full of soul, your Ikigai will reveal itself at the perfect time to you. From those that have found theirs, they say the urge is so strong you won’t be able to resist following it… with purpose.

What’s your Ikigai?

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