Shikata Ga Nai – 仕方が無い


Japan and it’s wonders

Although I haven’t been to Japan just yet I have always had a fascination with the culture.  The same goes for most Asian or other cultures that have been around for thousands of years.  To have survived as a culture for so long says a whole lot about a place.  Granted, Americans are comprised of a hodge podge of different cultures and ethnicity we are still a young budding collective culture.  America has only been established in it’s modern presence for a few hundred years.  Japan is one of those places that, like America, has been formed from the combination of many different Asiatic cultures and yet has developed over the centuries as a pure single culture.  Their diversity stops at the granting of a Visa.  They have honed their culture over the centuries and have produced some of the great idioms we hold today as ethics.  Many a great discovery has been made in Japan and they have been, despite lacking pure natural resources, a world leader in industry as well as arts, sciences, and philosophy. 

It seems in my studies of broadening myself I always end up pointing back to Japan for something whether trying to learn Kanji or studying the Samurai ways relating to business models.  They always seem to have a grounded ideology that can be related to things we fumble through in life that we are trying to figure out.  Having fought their way to greatness over the centuries and in a constant gridlock for becoming a world power their story never ceases to amaze.  In the earlier years only a few thousand years ago they were fighting with swords and martial arts.  Combining a blend of meditative techniques and strategic hand-to-hand combat styles to develop the martial arts of Judo and others.  Their prayers and traditions rooted in this style of grace combined with force.  Even through World War II the Japanese were fighting with the Samurai spirit, however extreme it was at the time, and meticulously planning war strategies on America, Russia, China and others.  They have continue to be a very strict mannered yet calm natured people.  That is why it struck me as odd to have discovered this simple yet very profound Japanese phrase which has put my mind in motion.  It tells another story about the people and culture of Japan and also begs to ask some very critical questions about life and behavior in general.  As many of you already know I am a student of Stoic philosophy.  I also want to learn about many other views on life as well so the Stoic mindset is not mutually exclusive in my studies.  I do find it rather funny when I come across things in other cultures that speak to the Stoic teachings. 

Some things are simply out of your control

The phrase Shikata Ga Nai quite literally means “it’s out of your control”, or “it is what it is”.  To hear this as a westerner one might think that this is a sign of complacency or just giving in and not standing your ground for anything.  It is actually a really good lesson in letting things that are out of your control be as they may.  There are times you will have to stand and fight for your values or beliefs, but most of the time there are just things that you have no control over.  These are the things we must recognize and let go of in order to move on to things we can control; our temper, our attitude, our finances, our beliefs, our love and our hate.

They truly and surely are out of your control.  The more you try to fight against this fact the more difficulty and pain you will experience in life.  Have you ever tried to push a large object up a steep incline, or carry a very heavy object up a flight of stairs, or literally or figuratively tried to roll a boulder up a hill?  This is the definition of dealing with things out of your control, mainly gravity.  There are laws of nature and there are laws of man that we struggle with each and every day.  The laws of nature, for the most part, are a fixed object.  They will not change no matter how hard you try to make them change.  You can defy them, but no matter how hard you try you can’t escape the pull of gravity, at least not indefinitely or at your leisure.  Meaning you can‘t simply jump in the air and fly.  Not even birds can, and those who seem to be circling in the sky effortlessly for hours are also just manipulating the currents of hot air in the sky.  The laws of man however are a little more negotiable.  However negotiable they are, there are still a lot of man-made laws and rules that are hard to overcome.  This leaves a lot of things outside of your control.

If we bring it down to the personal level and away from the global scale it is even more difficult because now you are not dealing with universal or collective laws and rules, you are dealing with rules and laws put forth by an individual who at any moment, can change their mind.  As much as I would like to say Shikata Ga Nai or simply Shikata Nai is made for the universal stuff, I think it applies much better at the individual level.  Understanding the rules is one thing, and following them is something completely different.  Rules on a global or large scale are almost easier to follow because so many other people are confined to follow them as well.  When a lot of us have to follow the rules, as much as we might bitch about it, we tend to follow them a little more.  Personal rules are tied to beliefs and values which can come in the form of many different medium.  You gather values and beliefs from the very onset of your life all the way until your death.  This is a constantly  changing view of the world depending on the person.  Change, by it’s traditional meaning is to “make or become different”, according to the english dictionary.  How much different is acceptable?  It’s all subjective depending on the person.  We don’t really change our minds about things until we have been educated in such a way to understand things from a different perspective.  This is the true test of growth in a person as far as I am concerned.  One who is able to evaluate input from all kinds of different things in order to conclude their own opinion and then some time in the future, contest that very opinion which they held so closely to for so long.

This week for me has been quite turbulent and peppered with all kinds of challenges, not just physical or mental, but also emotional.  I have spent much of my week questioning some of my beliefs and values as well as letting myself understand that some of the things I have held very close to in the past would have served me ill had I used those same beliefs today.  Be strong in your values and beliefs but don’t discount that changes may need to happen.  Remind yourself of the fundamental truths in your life.  Remember that not only do you have to love yourself first in order to be equipped to give love to others, you also have to believe in yourself, trust yourself, understand yourself….  if you ever want to be able to do the same with others.