This is going to be a short post. Meditations, from Marcus Aurelius (He touched me on the shoulder once), is one of those books I've read dozens of times and refer to with regularity. It's a treasure trove of profound and useful thoughts. Here is one of those thoughts:
For those who don't know, Bruce Lee was an Asian-American martial artist and actor. He died in 1973 at the age of 33 right before the release of the film that cemented his legend, Enter the Dragon. He considered himself an "artist of life" and focused on cultivating all areas of his life. He came of age in a time when Americans were not particularly friendly to Asians and coming from nothing, became and international icon. He trained people from all walks of life from college friends to famous actors like Steve McQueen. He was just an amazingly dynamic human being which is why his likeness is still being used all over the place from video games to car commercials. I obviously never met the man, but his example and his writings have had a huge impact on my life.
One of my favorite books of all time is his Tao of Jeet Kune Do. I picked it up when I was about 12 years old and it truly changed me. Before I bought it, I was a chubby kid going through the most awkward phase of my life just looking for a way to grow up faster.
I don't think I appreciated the full depth of the book at 12, but I understood the sections on daily exercise and the basic philosophy behind his art form and I ran with it. I started exercising every day between 6th and 7th grade while also going through a major growth spurt. When I came back to school, people literally didn't recognize me.
The physical benefits of following Lee's protocols were great, but going through the process is what stuck with me. The idea of consciously transforming yourself and putting in the work so that your actions can be executed unconsciously was profound to me.
I've read and re-read this book many times over the years, here are my favorite quotes from the book.
Art reaches its greatest peak when devoid of self-consciousness. Freedom discovers man the moment he loses concern over what impression he is making or about to make.
Eliminate "not clear" thinking and function from your root.
Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection within the soul.
The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or in defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.
When there is freedom from mechanical conditioning, there is simplicity. Life is a relationship to the whole.
Understanding oneself happens through a process of relationships and not through isolation.
If emotional control is not well-learned, critical moments in the fight when the emotional tension is highest will result in loss of skill by the fighter. His muscles suddenly must work against his own over-tense antagonistic muscles. He becomes stiff and clumsy in his movements. Expose yourself to various conditions and learn.
Experience shows that an athlete who forces himself to the limit can keep going as long as necessary. This means that ordinary effort will not tap or release the tremendous store of reserve power latent in the human body. Extraordinary effort, highly emotionalized conditions or a true determination to win at all costs will release this extra energy. Therefore, an athlete is actually as tired as he feels and, if he is determined to win, he can keep on almost indefinitely to achieve his objective. The attitude, "You can win if you want to badly enough," means that the will to win is constant. No amount of punishment, no amount of effort, no condition is too "tough" to take in order to win. Such an attitude can be developed only if winning is closely tied to the practitioner's ideals and dreams.
A practitioner must learn to perform at top speed all the time, not to coast with the idea that he can "open up" when the time comes. The real competitor is the one who gives all he has, all the time. The result is that he works close to his capacity at all times and in so doing, forms an attitude of giving all he has. In order to create such an attitude, the practitioner must be driven longer, harder, and faster than normally would be required.
Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I'd studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick.
Intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity of the individual to adjust himself successfully to his environment - or to adjust the environment to his needs.
The more aware you become, the more you shed from day to day what you have learned so that your mind is always fresh and uncontaminated by previous conditioning.
So, we acquire a sense of worth either by realizing our talents, or by keeping busy or by identifying ourselves with something apart from us - be it a cause, a leader, a group, possessions or whatnot. The path of self-realization is the most difficult. It is taken only when other avenues to a sense of worth are more or less blocked. Men of talent have to be encouraged and goaded to engage in creative work. Their groans and laments echo through the ages.
We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. Yet, it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents as well.
If it is true, as Napoleon wrote to Carnot, "The art of government is not to let men grow stale," then, it is an art of unbalancing. The crucial difference between a totalitarian regime and a free social order, is perhaps, in the methods of unbalancing by which their people are kept active and striving.