Updated: Aug 28, 2020
“My life is simple, my food is plain, and my quarters are uncluttered. In all things, I have sought clarity. I face the troubles and problems of life and death willingly. Virtue, integrity and courage are my priorities. I can be approached, but never pushed; befriended but never coerced; killed but never shamed.” – General Yi Sun Shin, 16th Century Korean Naval Commander
Only a man who is clear on his unique purpose for being, and unrelentingly committed to constantly embodying that purpose, could speak such profound words. In five sentences, Yi Sun Shin packs more autobiographical information than some authors fit into five volumes.
Here is a man who endeavored to simplify his life, to relinquish the non-essential, to live in austerity; a man who acknowledged that life and death inherently contain difficulties, yet made it his constant practice to face those difficulties exactly as they are without collapsing into a childish need for life to conform to his preferences. A man who took responsibility for himself and cultivated an inner world that benefited the collective. A man who was useful to his people, available to serve; but never to be taken advantage of. A man both peaceful and dangerous. A man prepared to meet whatever the moment brings.
This message, in its broad wisdom, is a call to action for men who feel they need some toughening up as well as men who would benefit from softening.
Men who intuit they must bring the archetype of the warrior more fully into their lives would do well to study and embody these profound words; men who are wanting to implement austerity in their life, to simplify, and to get clearer on living intentionally and with purpose.
My life is simple.
What use is money if one cannot enjoy time? What use is luxury if one cannot enjoy health? Have I learned to value the simple things in life, or have I become preoccupied with accumulating things that only complicate my day, driving me further and further from what is true?
My food is plain.
What is necessary? What do I really need? Am I routinely putting things in my body that are hurting me? Why would I do that? Have I departed from the natural order? If my body could speak, what would it say?
My quarters are uncluttered.
How much do I own, and how much of what I own do I need? Of all the material things I’ve accumulated, which, if any, are truly important to me? How much of my external space have I allowed become cluttered with the non essential? Internally, is my consciousness cluttered? Is my mind free to notice the warm sun and the cool breeze? Are moments of silence available to me, or is my internal space constantly cluttered with wandering thoughts and desires for more?
In all things I have sought clarity.
All things?! Clarity is available in all things? Have I internalized the truth that every waking moment is an opportunity to deepen my understanding of self and world? Have I sought clarity in all things? Could I live in such a way, and what would that require of me?
I face the troubles and problems of life and death willingly.
WILLINGLY. Do I allow myself to acknowledge the troubles of life? Or, have I created expectations that are the source of my suffering? Reciprocally, do I only acknowledge the troubles and problems, allowing the miraculous beauty of life to go by unnoticed? Am I constantly collapsing into a need for reality to be different than it is, or can I accept life on its terms, and not mine. Is it possible that peace is not the absence of troubles and problems, but instead the willingness to turn toward them without preference?
Virtue, integrity, and courage are my priorities.
Am I clear on what my priorities are, and does my daily life reflect them? If someone were to follow me for a day, would my priorities naturally reveal themselves in my actions, or do my priorities exist only as concepts? Do my priorities live in the shapes of my body, my posture, the depth of my breath, and the stillness of my gaze? Or do my priorities live merely as ideas in my head? What are my priorities, and what can I do to bring my priorities fully to life through my actions and the vessel of my body?
“I can be approached but never pushed; befriended but never coerced..”
This encapsulates the center point between the poles of my teaching philosophy – The Savage and The Saint.
A man who would live purposefully should be practicing his capacity at both ends of Savagery and Saintliness, and constantly striving to make the center point his home. In this way, his practice of strength is leavened by his practice of gentility, making his presence a gift to the world. In the center point, he stands as an embodied heart warrior, capable of meeting whatever the moment demands.
Am I available? Am I living in service, am I approachable? Am I useful to my people? Reciprocally, have I allowed myself to be taken advantage of? Have I failed to stand my ground? Have I been pushed?
If it is possible to be both gentle and strong, am I seeking to live in the constant balance between the two?
“..killed but never shamed.”
Have I internalized the truth that I will, inevitably, be killed? Am I vigilantly practicing to be constantly aware that the same force of nature that birthed me will eventually reclaim me? Do I allow this awareness to motivate me to make the changes I need to make to live a life purpose, or do I pretend that I will live forever, thus living a life never fully actualized?
When I close my eyes at night, am I prepared to die at peace? Or when my end comes, will I lay on my deathbed be ashamed of the precious opportunity I squandered?
Yi Sun Shin was a great man, a man of purpose. It is true that not all men are not born to become a great naval commander destined to die valiantly in battle, but all are men are called to identify their unique purpose for being; to relinquish all that does not serve that purpose, to embody the priorities associated with that purpose, and to build a life based centrally on sharing their unique purpose with all beings.
A purposeful life is a hard road that few will ever endeavor to really live, but it is the only way to be killed without shame; and that reward is well worth the hardship.