The Japanese word Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) describes an alluring concept. It means, one's reason for being. Ikigai is the things that gives zest to life, engenders a sense of meaning and purpose and brings great joy and happiness. In the western Life Coaching world this is often described as living your best life.
Ikigai is shrouded in mystery. Many believe it is something you need to find. I disagree. As a life long seeker of Ikigai and one who is very happy to report that I have found mine, I have a different insight to share.
I propose that Ikigai is not something you can manifest through force of will, find on a spirit quest or have ordained to you from sources on high. I am going to introduce you to the theory that Ikigai, is not something outside of yourself that you find. Rather, it is a byproduct of a process or method that anyone can train. At the centre of the method, is an optimal state of consciousness called Flow State.
Flow is defined by researchers as an optimal state of consciousness where people feel their best and perform their best. You have definitely experienced this at some point in your life. It is that moment where whatever action you are involved in becomes so engrossing you loose yourself in it. Time does funny things. For example, seconds stretch into what feels like an eternity or entire days slip by in what feels like mere hours. The activity is so richly rewarding you don't mind it's toil. It is rewarding in and of itself. You can have moments of pure brilliance in said activity and it feels effortless.
Flow feels like you are gaining cognitive capacity. Intuition says more of your brain is working because you feel better than normal and perform better than normal. Turns out, the opposite is true.
In Neuroimaging studies observing the brain in flow the Prefrontal Cortex shuts down. It is called transient hypo-frontality. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that adds many layers of complexity on top of normal waking perception, chiefly, your sense of self as separate from everything around you.
When you really need to perform, like in an 'oh shit' moment, where you are careening towards disaster, all that added complexity is computationally expensive and slow. Turn that off and reactions become faster, decision making becomes near perfect. For a brief moment you are a little superhuman.
At lease in the realm of activities that you possess sufficient skill that you can meet the demand of the task before you, this is called the skills challenge balance. More on that in a moment.
Unfortunately flow is fleeting because the neurochemicals needed for it to happen are limited. After a flow experience you need to rest to replenish your supply before you can tap into flow again.
The fleeting nature of flow is a big part of what makes it so compelling. More than perhaps anything else, flow is the carrot that reinforces behaviours that go against the evolutionary prerogative to conserve resources and put energy into things that help with survival. You can't eat a glide, so why is skiing valuable as an activity? Because it elicits flow.
One of the most important triggers for flow is focus. When attention is focused like a laser beam on the task at hand the switch to flow state get's flipped. What we are talking about is attention in the present moment resulting in the loss of the sense of self. Starting to sound familiar?
Enter Yoga, Stoicism, Buddhism, Taoism, Martial Arts and a countless array of meditative traditions. In Yoga, which is one of the earliest meditative systems, there is an ascending progression of practices. The top level is called Samadhi, translated from Sanskrit to mean, bliss. When you read the ancient yoga texts, Samadhi sounds just like flow.
So this is why I combine Yoga with Snow Sports Training. Yoga trains the skill of focussing attention. Combine this with physical skills tackle various objectives on mountain and Voila! You have opportunities for flow on snow. But there is something important to consider.
Remember I mentioned the skills challenge balance. The sweet spot for flow exists just a hair above your current skill level where there is struggle. In the world of snow sports too much challenge and you risk injury, too little and you are bored.
And this is where flow and Ikigai meet. Ikigai is your reason for being. It is your sense of meaning and purpose, the fuel for passion, what makes life rich and enjoyable. It is your bliss. Most importantly it is....
THE THING YOU ARE WILLING TO SUFFER FOR!
You need a certain willingness to be in discomfort, fear, doubt. All the ugly emotions that arise when we are really pushing our limits. This willingness to suffer is called Grit and you need it to build skills to meet ever higher challenges train focus and ignite flow.
Flow is like miracle grow for skills. Because of it, training, the process of getting better, becomes rewarding in and of itself. Fixation on the outcome of training goes away. It is just a distraction. It is the process of attaining mastery that makes meaning and purpose. It is meaning and purpose arising from the process towards mastery that creates Ikigai.
So there you have it! Your reason for being is already within you. It lies wherever your deepest fascination lies.
Do what you love to do so much that you are willing to suffer for it. Develop grit, cultivate focus and train skills to leverage flow to move up the skills challenge ladder. Gain mastery, meaning and purpose through the process, and you will find Ikigai.
My Ikigai is to be a coach for people who want to achieve mastery in the world of skiing. I am fascinated every time I witness the incredible eureka moments where my students achieve something they previously could not have imagined being able to do. In these moments, I vicariously get to experience flow through them as well as the flow I get through masterfully applying the arts of teaching. I am in love with the process of continually getting better at this.
Over the eighteen years I have been teaching skiing I have witnessed my students pull off some incredible things in settings where I combine on mountain skills training with the full system of yoga practice. I have spent a long time experimenting with various experience designs that immerse guests in a flow rich learning environment so that they can experience mastery, meaning and purpose. For a few, this process has become their Ikigai.
I am very excited to announce that I have founded an adventure wellness tour company called Reclaimer Mountain Experience! I offer day long, weekend and week long experiences that combine Yoga, Flow Coaching and Mountain Sports to teach clients how to tap into flow and fall in love with the process of gaining mastery. This year I am rolling out Yoga for Snow Sports experiences, please see below my upcoming weekend retreat at Jasper Marmot Basin. I have much more in the wings, stay tuned. ;)
Christine Davidson is a Ski Instructor, Yoga Teacher and Peak Performance Coach on a mission to make humans awesome!