Mindfulness and the Samurai

My son recently read a book for his English class, Samurai Shortstop by Alan Gratz.  I picked it up one day and read it through.  Samurai Shortstop is a fascinating historical novel which takes place in 1890’s Tokyo during the Meiji Restoration.  This is a transitional time between traditions and modern values in Japan.  A time, as we are reminded by one of the characters, when Western influences are eroding Japan’s cultural heritage. In the novel, the main character, Toyo, learns the fundamentals of being a samurai with his father who clings to the “traditional” Japanese way of life.

Besides being a good read, the book is infused with examples of Mindfulness. It is interesting to me, that once you start bringing mindful awareness into your life, you recognize mindfulness steeped in many traditions, stories, songs, sports, and ways of life.  Mindfulness is not a new way of focusing your attention; it is a learned awareness that has been around for centuries.

Clear your mind. Let it become empty,” Sotaro counseled him, “so it is not filled with the past or the future, but with the present. The now.”

“It will be difficult at first,” Sotaro said. “The very act of trying to forget will cause you to remember. To help focus your thoughts, listen for the sound of the wind in the sakura.” Sotaro paused. “Do you hear it?”

Later in the book Toyo discusses his samurai lessons with a friend.

We sat around trying to hear the stupid wind in the stupid sakura. I’m supposed to be able to hear it any time I want. But I don’t even know what that’s supposed to sound like.”

You’re not supposed to just hear it,” Fuji said. “You’re supposed to see it too. In your mind. It’s a way to focus your thoughts.”

 “We were taught to meditate before our sumo matches,” said Fuji. “They told us to imagine we were the ceaseless river pushing an immovable stone.  I didn’t really understand what they meant until I went down to the river and really thought about it.  After that, I could picture it anytime I wanted to.”

Mindfulness can be as simple and as frustrating as that. To focus our thoughts without judgement is all that is required; it just takes a little practice, patience and loving kindness.

Embrace the moment!



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