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Ten Thousand Things Are One

“Be in the dojo wherever you are. It is your choice—live like a sage or exist like a fool. — Awa Kenzo, Zen Bow, Zen Arrow

“Do your best at each and everything. That is the key to success. Learn one thing well and you will learn how to understand ten thousand things. Ten thousand things are one; this is the secret place of understanding you must find. Then everything is mysterious and wonderful.” — Awa Kenzo, Zen Bow, Zen Arrow

We ought to try to master at least one thing in our lives. Most everything in the world is out of our control, beyond our capability, more than we can grasp. These things may weigh on us heavily, constricting our belief in what is possible. We forget sometimes that what is possible is simply one thing. With focus and effort we may just yet master this one thing, or perhaps we just get good enough at it to learn something about ourselves.

I dabble in a lot of things, but really try to master very little. I’m a fair gardener, but no farmer. I’m a pretty good manager of people but I’m not exactly giving Ted talks on the role. I can hold my own in chess against most humans but have never beaten a computer set to destroy the ego. I can turn a phrase now and then but read a sentence from Hemingway or Didion and see the journey to better must continue. I can do my best at each of these things and still never be the best at any of them. And that’s okay.

We all want to be good at whatever it is that we are doing at the time—who wants to fail? But mastery isn’t a game for dabblers and motion going-throughers. Mastery is about paying our penance and focusing on one thing above all other things to reach a level far beyond mere competency. It’s okay to aspire to mastery, but we ought to see that the journal to mastery is a cul du sac on top of a lonely hill. The view may be grand, but we don’t know the neighbors. Knowing our end game is an essential element of the game.

The thing is, the game isn’t mastery so much as constant improvement and awareness of who we are choosing to become. It’s always been about the journey, not the score. The mile markers on our journey are the level of awareness and understanding we reach at each phase of our life. We know when we’re in the right place, and when we’ve fallen behind. The opportunity in our lifetime is to find the pace that works best for us.

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