Ikigai – A Hero’s Journey

My quest for existential JOY began early. First memory: probably one or two, lying on my back on the lawn, in summer, gazing into the clear San Diego sky and feeling amazed that I exist. The beginnings of a profound sense of gratitude, which I later learned is foundational to a sense of existential Joy – the joy of being.

Existential joy, as I define it is independent of outside stimuli. It therefore can exist even in times of stress or pain. It simply exists. It is the ultimate form of self-reliance.

A bit later in life (1971) at the age of nineteen, I volunteered to serve a two-year mission for my church. I was sent to Japan, a place I knew absolutely nothing about. My mission to the Japanese revolved around a central message, “Man’s Search for Happiness” which was the theme of the church’s pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair of 1970. During my two years in Japan I experienced existential Joy at a level most never experience in a lifetime. I learned infinitely more than I taught, as teachers always do. Others experienced it too.

That 2-year period was anything but easy. I struggled to learn the Japanese language like nothing I had ever done, often crying myself to sleep, discouraged and mentally exhausted. Yet in the depths of despair, I found purpose and meaning, something the Japanese language has a unique and wonderful word for. It is “ikigai” and before I learned that word, I experienced it.

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.[1] The word translated to English roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”[2] Each individual’s ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. It reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which the individual feels at ease. Activities that allow one to feel ikigai are never forced on an individual; they are often spontaneous, and always undertaken willingly, giving the individual satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. Wikipedia

The loving, passionate energy I put into those two years paid back incredible dividends throughout my life. Because I had achieved a level of mastery of Japanese, I was given more opportunities to serve in senior level business positions, developing big American retail brands all over the world, starting with Japan. Today, there are tens of thousands of stores (ihop, 7-eleven, Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s to name a few) that I was instrumental in establishing. Those stores provided jobs and income and customer convenience to millions of people. My heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to serve and impact the lives of so many. IKIGAI.

But, along my journey, I became disillusioned with some of the selfishness, greed and politics that go along with functioning in large corporate environments.

Hero’s JourneySo, about thirteen years ago, I left to develop an intentional community with lofty goals that involved my ikigai based on self-reliance, integrity and mutual love, service and an abundant lifestyle within a closely bonded community. In October 2006, I purchased about 750 beautiful, remote acres on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, the Grand Canyon of the Southeast. It was just three months before the sub-prime mortgage Real Estate bust. It was my personal version of the “hero’s journey”. It was filled with all the elements of such a quest – challenge, failure, loss, disappointment, betrayal, fear, forgiveness, redemption and more. My life came into question as did my quest for existential joy. I fell into a state of depression as we teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years, living in a state of lack. We now live simple, debt-free, peaceful, abundant and happy lives, but it was a rough road getting here.

There is a place in the iconic hero’s journey where the would-be hero falls to a low state. Then, through another mighty struggle with his own demons, overcomes. In the next stage of the quest, he returns home to teach what he has learned. This stage solidifies his learning and sets the stage for his next adventure. This is every brave man or woman’s journey.

And so was my struggle to recover existential joy. I have always been a deep-thinking introvert. My mentor boss at Dunkin/Baskin, upon his departure to head up Red Lobster, which he turned around and then took private, gave me a memento that still reminds me of my strongest talent. It is a brass giraffe because he said I always had my head in the clouds. It’s true. I am a big-picture visionary. I see trends and opportunities coming long before my peers and I develop detailed plans in my head to take advantage of those opportunities. One of the guys on my team once told me that I was exceptionally self-aware. I wasn’t sure how to take that at the time, but I have come to appreciate what a wonderful gift that is as well.

Over the past two years, I began an earnest quest to understand and recover existential joy – to define all of the principles that contribute to it and to develop self-mastery in applying those principles. Because of earlier life successes, I wasn’t in unexplored foreign territory, but I was beginning from the bottom of a pit that, in my hero’s journey, I had fallen into. Thankfully, my gifts of self-awareness, introspection and vision enabled that quest. I am now prepared to share the results of a lifetime of seeking existential joy.

My previous post speaks of some of those principles – productive creativity, meditation and gratitude. As described in the above Wikipedia link that defines Ikigai, the path to finding it is unique for each person and cannot be dictated or forced. It requires a great deal of self-awareness to discover one’s unique talents, gifts, passions and so forth. But, I believe there are solid principles beneath all that messy uniqueness. These are universal. They apply to everyone. My daily discipline involves testing these principles against the rigors of life to see if they hold up – always – and figuring out where and how the unique pieces fit into the universal principles. To date, I have identified and tested over a dozen discrete yet inter-related principles.

In coming posts I intend to share my discoveries. I hope to find a larger audience who will seek, test, find, validate and share joy that leads to wholeness of their life and then share it with others. If you are interested in the discipline that brings ikigai, or what I call existential joy, please subscribe and share my posts. Then share your experiences by commenting.

For those serious about accelerating your path to joy, come to my place in the Village. I will teach you my personally proven methods of practical, applied meditation. In peaceful, private natural places for deep meditation, like our waterfall,

the Beech Treehouse,

huckleberry point lookout

Overlook #17

or several ancient Indian rock houses on the property.

Discover who you are, your talents, passions, demons and opportunities to thrive. I will personally coach you how to practice the discipline necessary to change your life against your will, habits and addictions, to become your best, most joyful and prosperous self.

Call or text for an appointment or a stay-over. (931) 450-2426.

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