Last night I watched one of my favourite movies for the umpteenth time: The Last Samurai. Yes, Tom Cruise is in it, but this is not why I love it. It's because every time I watch it I am reminded of some simple and powerful truths. The line that always gets me comes when the characters are discussing Bushido, the code for the Japanese Samurai: "to know life in every breath, every cup of tea". It's a deceptively simple statement, but it is loaded with a powerful message as we navigate our fast-moving and distracted world.
It's easy to relegate Samurai to ancient history, seeing them only as warriors fighting with swords in an era long gone. In fact, like many other traditions that find their roots in Japan, they were dedicated to a set of principles that aimed to bring true mindfulness to every moment of their existence. I have always found these philosophies alluring, and in my mid twenties I devoured books on the Bushido code, and Zen philosophy in general. I took up karate and Iaido (a Japanese sword art), and I would credit this early exploration with kicking me off on a journey through other eastern and western philosophies, quantum physics, anthropology, living systems sciences, meditation, mindfulness, and brain science.
The one thing I have found is that all roads point to the same simple and enduring message, and "to know life in every breath" is pretty much one of the most beautiful ways to say it.
It means being awake to what is happening right now, to be present with who is right in front of you, and to bring your full self to each action you take. It means investing your precious and limited attention in the things that matter most. It means savouring whatever crosses your path rather than wishing for the thing that did not. In this state, moments seem to linger longer, there is a fullness to even the most mundane experience, and each action feels perfectly complete. To know life in every breath is to live fully, consciously and intentionally.
In this modern world, when I rarely reach into the bookcase because I'm mistakenly treating busy-ness as real life, I thank Hollywood for sending Tom Cruise to remind me that life is so much simpler...and so much more.
"A simple breath, a pause, can make the world of difference." Do Less Be More