“You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” –Morpheus, The Matrix
The Journey To Wonderland
I am on a journey to wonderland, climbing ever deeper into the rabbit hole that is truth and self-actualization.
I started on this journey almost three years ago because of a growing sense of a lack of direction my everyday experience, a strong distaste for certain aspects of our American culture, and an awareness that I had lost control of the direction of my life. How many of us are floating through life with no real direction, following a path laid out for us by others, living lives completely dis-associated with our core principles? Yet in my interactions with people I can sense that deep down most of use are yearning to live and work in a way that is more personally meaningful.
Perhaps this is why movies like The Last Samurai and The Matrix do so well in the box office. We yearn for what the lead characters in these stories are discovering: purpose, truth, deeper meaning.
Bushido: The Samurai Code
The culture of the Samurai was imbued with meaning, purpose and discipline. Each day was spent working and living as a community, supporting each other, pursuing perfection in every task they set their minds to accomplish.
When it came to soldiering and structure in their spiritual lives, the Samurai lived by the Bushido Code, loosely translated as “The Way Of The Warrior”. This code was not only the moral standard that they set for themselves in their profession of soldiering, but also the way in which they aspired to live their non-soldiering lives. Once feared as sword-carrying government officials, peacekeeping officers, and professional soldiers; the Samurai evolved into spiritual leaders after the outlawing of the warrior class and the public wearing of swords. They evolved to become more concerned with spiritual development, teaching and the arts – the swordless samurai.
Below is a summary of the eight precepts of the Samurai Code of Behaviour, Bushido, as outlined by Nitobe Inazo in his international best-seller, Bushido: The Soul Of Japan. Descriptions pulled from artofmanliness.com.
I. Rectitude or Justice – Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.
II. Courage – Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness and Rectitude.
III. Benevolence or Mercy – Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul.
IV. Politeness – Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste. In its highest form Politeness approaches love.
V. Honesty and Sincerity – Bushido encouraged thrift, not for economic reasons so much as for the exercise of abstinence. Luxury was thought the greatest menace to manhood, and severe simplicity was required of the warrior class.
VI. Honor – a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai.
VII. Loyalty – Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era.
VIII. Character and Self-Control – The first objective of samurai education was to build up Character. The subtler faculties of prudence, intelligence, and dialectics were less important. Intellectual superiority was esteemed, but a samurai was essentially a man of action.
While these precepts may seem contrary to much of what western culture identifies as important values; independence, freedom and individuality; they represent a missing element in our everyday lives-a personal code of moral conduct.
We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, not so that we fit into society’s ideal of who we should be and how we should act, but for our own personal growth, so that we keep ourselves accountable and are able to become our best selves.
The Lieber Code: Lincoln’s Laws Of War
In our own country’s history, our Revolutionary War was fought by men with a deep sense of purpose and direction. The actions our fore-fathers engaged in were truly important, aligned with their deep-seated beliefs and principles. They had to define what was important in their lives, there was not yet a US Constitution or Bill of Rights, nor a thing called a career. This was a time before television, the internet and corporate dominance, when family, community and relationships were foundations of people’s lives. Every day was spent in the pursuit of an ideal way of life.
Lincoln’s Administration published a code that outlined how soldiers should conduct themselves in wartime, to the union forces of the United States in 1863, called the Lieber Code. This document dealt with the ethical treatment of prisoners of war, the treatment of blacks as equals during wartime, and other moral dilemmas stemming from war.
The Need For A Personal Code
Although these examples are taken from times of confrontation, they serve as examples of how we can become warriors in our own everyday lives; deciding what actions are helping us in living fully, and what actions are distracting us from that life.
Not many of us today can say we abide by a code when making decisions that impact our lives or the lives around us. Too many of us live in a sort of vacuum of purpose where we distract ourselves from a system that has strayed from the core values of decent society and has instead embraced more fleeting values. We distract ourselves because we are knowingly contributing to this system, yet we feel helpless to make a change.
This system has so much momentum – like being in a raft being swept down a river toward the endless ocean with no oar and little chance of altering the course and setting our own roots – that many of us feel helpless to affect its trajectory. Indeed, even massive protests on the scale of hundreds of thousands (i.e. the recent massive Climate March in NYC) can hardly hope to change a course that was set, and continues to be directed, by those in power.
In fact, our countries cultural identity and unity of purpose has been literally stolen by media and corporations, by partisan politics, by the bombardment of advertising that distorts our clarity and purpose-in short, by the powerful and the wealthy.
We, as individuals, have been denied a life of purpose by a system that rewards based on conformity and profits above all else, regardless of whether or not these pursuits are personally meaningful. We are all complicit in this system if we choose to participate.
‘Perceiving what is right and doing it not reveals a lack of Courage.’ -Confucius
Unfortunately today, we cannot just float through life and expect others to have our best interests in mind. We need some principles to help us navigate. It is simple enough to navigate through life when we allow those in power to direct our lives, but when we attempt to forge our own path we can become paralyzed without a compass to guide us through all the distractions.
Why Choose Unconventionalism?
The only real way to self-actualize, and have a real impact on the system, is to doggedly forge our own path guided by our own principles. When we live this way we feel balance and harmony as our actions begin to align with our core values. Only if we live in this way can we be in a place that allows us to influence others. Our passion and conviction will stand out against others that are being swept along by the current of public opinion.
In my mind, unconventionalism is just another way of saying that I choose my own path regardless of what others consider correct. The end goal is not to be unconventional, but to be principled.
Unconventional: not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed.
Three years ago I left a path that was comfortable and secure because something was missing. It was a very unconventional choice; to leave a “successful” career and go walk in the woods. It was necessary for me to find the space and time to re-assess the choices I had made and re-define some new ideals for living.
Ironically, I feel closer to these ideals on the trail, in unspoiled nature, and with others experiencing the raw throb of nature’s rhythms than I do almost anywhere else on this planet. But finding happiness and community in the wilderness is one thing. It is quite another to bring those lessons learned back to the “real world” and find a way forward that honors those principles that I committed to on the trail, and do this within a system that is designed for conformity.
By freeing myself from conventionality in this way, I open myself up to all the myriad possibilities of life. Instead of conforming to conventional rules of behavior, I can choose which rules I agree with and define my own rules, via a personal code, in cases where I do not agree.
I do not seek an unconventional life because I want to escape society, but because I want to participate in the evolution of society. I simply reached a point where I cannot bear to participate in a system that I find incongruous to my core values. If that means being labeled “unconventional”, then so be it. The conventional model of making a living in the western world just does not appeal to me.
So how do we make a difference?
We are at war-a war of values. Let us make a difference by example. Let us be bold and accept no compromises on our own personal ideals. Let us define our own personal Bushido Code and live it without compromise. Let us embolden and encourage others to do the same.
Only if we each act individually can we change a system that is being held up by a very small number of powerful individuals. It will simply collapse under the weight of so many with conviction. This can happen over generations, or it can happen much sooner…it is up to each one of us. But this will only happen if we choose to make changes in our own lives, and that starts with honoring our convictions.
We can float on the ocean of life at the whim of someone else’s oar, or we can grab a paddle and add our voice to the conversation. With enough oars in the water, we can steer the boat toward brighter shores.
So take the red pill if you want…it is your choice, you can just be a passenger in life. But if you care about your future and that of future generations, then have the courage to follow your heart, to live boldly, to believe you can make a difference. Have the courage to become a warrior, and watch as our world changes one act of courage at a time.
You only have one life to live. Don’t waste it.
Unconventional Life. Live It. Own It. Quit Worrying About It.
Header Image by Lachlan Hardy