Careful Consideration

When Musashi Miyamoto wrote The Book of Five Rings in 1645, an instruction manual on the art of swordsmanship, after 30 years of rigorous training and reflection, at the end of each subsection, around every 50 words, he issued a reminder to the reader: “This should be given careful consideration.”

Time and again, Musashi cautions those eager to learn, prompting them that the words must be thought upon, and the actions must be practiced. At first, I thought, “Isn’t that obvious?” But apparently, even in 1645, a time when, at least during the brief periods of peace, there was little else to do but read and think, people still needed reminding.

In today’s ever-distractive world, of course, those reminders seem more than appropriate. You can’t grasp a sentence like the following by casually skimming it once: “The mind is not dragged by the body, the body is not dragged by the mind.” Nor can you master the skill of “being aware of opponents’ swords and yet not look at the opponents’ swords at all” without some serious hours of training. “This takes work,” Musashi wrote.

The world now offers us more ways and sources of learning than ever, but the fact that few methods are worth teaching — and few teachers worth learning from — remains the same. Often, we’d be better off studying the right few sources in great detail, meditating on them deeply and repeatedly, turning to them again and again when new situations call for it, rather than chasing one new quick-fix, band-aid, latest-podcast-book-video-approved-by-society’s-latest-starlets every time we encounter a new dilemma.

Learning is like swordsmanship: You can pick up a new weapon each week and never master any of them, or you can wield the same reliable tool over and over again, thus turning it into your irreplaceable, ever-dependable companion.

Make room for some novelty, sure, but most of the time, stick to a small, curated selection of the mentors that work for you. It might feel limiting at first, but in time, you’ll see that in reinterpreting their seeming rigidity, you’ll find all the flexibility you need.