Stepping through ikigai towards Invincible Summer

My dear,

In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.

In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.

In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.

I realized, through it all, that…

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy.

For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me,

within me, there’s something stronger –

something better, pushing right back.

Falsely yours

Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays, (1955).

Shadow on my wall made by my bedside lamp.

Even though the full poem is absolutely stunning and brings together substantial context usually only one sentence in it is quoted:

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

When looking at the previous sentences, they are building towards this summary sentence, and in a way, this sentence stands on the back of the previous; that whatever is around me, whatever I am going through there is something else I can cling to, something lighter, something outside forces cannot break – something invincibly mine. Interestingly Camus osculates between: hate, love, tears, smile, chaos, calm, winter, summer, always landing on what we perceive as positive, that is until the end when he supplants “sincerely yours” for “falsely yours”.

Why does he end on this note? Why build up so much hope and then leave the poem with uncertainty? Does the word ‘falsely’ negate the poem’s hope, or does it do something else?

Just recently I’ve come across the term, ikigai, pronounced (ee-kee-guy). A Japanese term, which loosely translates into life-value or life’s purpose. Iki, which means life and gai which describes worth or value.

My understanding is that this term originated in Okinawa as early as the fourteenth century, however, only became more commonly known in the late twentieth century and now seems to be very popular.  Wikipedia describes the term as:

‘a reason for living (being alive); a meaning for (to) life; what (something that) makes life worth living; a raison d’etre‘

If you google the ikigai a Venn diagram is likely to pop up intersecting four main questions: what do you love?, what are you good at?, what does the world need?, and what can you be paid for? Where these four elements intersect, is your ikigai. The diagram, is thought to have been created in the early twenty-first century and does not originate in Japan with the concept. So although the diagram can be useful it is worth reading more about this philosophy to understand the complexities.

Much of what I have read, at this stage about ikigai, promotes that your passion in life does not have to be huge, it’s not about what society calls success, or having wealth; it can be about finding small joys which enrich your overall experience of life. It is completely unique to you, so trying to be something others might see as successful, will never be your true ikigai.

Similar to Camus’s poem the forces outside of us cannot dictate our self-worth. Camus lived during WWII and was part of the French Resistance, I’m sure that he experienced (metaphorically and physically) pretty dark times, a horrific winter, so his suggestion that within us there is an invincible summer is a powerful statement.

It is hard to always continue to fight, especially when you wake up in the morning and are filled with dread. I know this feeling.

This is winter, tears, hate – all the things. On these days the “invincible summer” metaphor is laughable. Again I just want to bring in this osculation Camus is working with; love, hate, summer, winter… however, if we think about ikigai, we can think of small moments that mark our day with possibilities; morning coffee, talking to friends, and so on. These too are outside of us and cannot fully bring about ikigai, but they can help us get out of bed in the morning.

Tim Tamashiro states:

Ikigai is an action word, a verb: to serve, to create, to delight, to nourish, to provide, to teach, to heal, to connect, to build.

So once we have had that coffee and are out of bed, we need to ACT.

I know that Camus’s poem and ikigai are not perfectly matched, however I love the distance between them, which allows me to move back and forward from both ideas, trying to nudge more nuances out of them. There is a lovely correlation but also something jarring when you put them up together.

Camus is painting a big picture, giving us an epic sense of triumph, where ikigai is in finding the steps, everything in detail. What both, in their own ways suggest, is that our own worth cannot be found from looking outside ourselves. Competition, comparing, or measuring ourselves against others will never give us what we need, it will never point us in the right direction. Our strength MUST come from knowing ourselves. From here we can move into summer.

Jumping back to ‘Falsely yours’… What I have read is that Camus was writing to a person either in a relationship with him, or a previous relationship. His words suggest that he does not belong ‘truly’ to this person. So I’m going to suggest if he is not someone else’s, he is his own. So Falsely yours, but Sincerely mine. How wonderful – to be your own, without pretence.

If you want to find out more about ikigai (because I am no expert), please use the links below.

Ken Mogi : Finding your life purpose with ikigai

Rob Bell: How to reboot your life with the Japanese philosophy of ikigai

Also, Eckhart Tolle takes Camus’s line and works it in with his own philosophy and spiritual teaching, which I found very interesting.

Eckhart Tolle: Precious Moments of Being Alone – Albert Camus’s “Invincible Summer”

Catch you next week xx

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