Malcolm X’s transformed himself in prison.
So did Mushashi.
Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel about Mushashi is one of my Classics. Here’s my summary of it:
- Takezo starts out as an unruly and typical young male, salivating at the spoils and glory associated with war. He knows defeat and exclusion and is reborn after a period of intense seclusion and study, as Miyamoto Musashi. Actively seeking the Way, he meets cunning enemies, subversive associates and constant opposition. A man at odds with the conventional way of doing things, by necessity, he has to be unconventional, in both his ongoing education and his tactics. By seeking out the major schools of the samurai art and challenging them, he observes their weaknesses, absorbs their strengths and synthesises his new experience with his own skills and knowledge.
Musashi is the perfect example of the wanderer who, by examining all of the extremes and peculiarities of his discipline, proceeds to surpass them. He studies form to leave form. Musashi emphasises the humility and the constant re-mastery that is necessary to become the best. It’s a tale of the twisting path to utter perfection.
There are two things the story taught me about. Mastery and reinvention.
Looking back through it this morning, I was re-reading some of the passages that describe Takezo’s confinement in a dark cell and his re-emergence as Miyamoto Mushashi. I came across this paragraph, where Takuan, the monk who is punishing Takezo, tells him he has a choice:
“Think of this room as your mother’s womb and prepare to be born anew. If you look at it only with your eyes, you will see nothing more than an unlit, closed cell. But look again, more closely. Look with your mind and think. This room can be the wellspring of enlightenment, the same fountain of knowledge found and enriched by sages in the past. It is up to you to decide whether this is to be a chamber of darkness or one of light.”
We get to decide what we do with our circumstances. They can shape us, break us, define us, teach us or empower us. We can decide whether our current situation is a prison cell or an opportunity to learn and move forward and become stronger.
It reminds me of Robert Greene’s distinction between alive time and dead time, which Ryan Holiday has written about better than I ever could. Please read it.
And then decide, as Ryan advises, to “make the most of every moment as you prepare for the next move or the next event.”