Ikigai or What it is worth living for?

by Carla Langner April 17, 2019
Ikigai or What it is worth living for?

Anne Pawlak, mindfulness trainer and tea expert, and Boris Dittberner, life and hypnosis coach, gave a workshop about Ikigai at NION Base. Behind this mysterious and melodious term lies the Japanese way of finding one’s place in the world. But how does it work?

If one’s own abilities are in harmony with the environment, then we are motivated and find a reason to get up in the morning and shape the day, that’s what Ikigai assumes. In anticipation of a comprehensive inventory of my career with Ikigai, I find myself at NION Base at Moritzplatz on a pre-summer April day.

Boris has been working with Ikigai for years. You can’t translate Ikigai precisely into German. Joie de vivre, contentment or simply the meaning of life probably fit best. In contrast to Western culture, which tries to formulate a generally valid answer to the question of the meaning of life, Ikigai allows an individual interpretation. So anyone who thinks of Ikigai as an esoteric half-knowledge is confronted here with a highly pragmatic tool of thought.

Strengthen your concentration with tea

I assumed that I would design my future armed with stickers and felt pens on a whiteboard, the start could not have been more different. Sitting on the floor, as we know it from the land of the rising sun, about 15 participants are waiting for a cup of green tea. Anne explains that 3000 years ago Japanese monks travelled to China to study Zen Buddhism. During their stay they got to know tea as a support for meditation.

The mixture of caffeine and theanine makes the difference, as Anne explains to us. Theanine stimulates alpha waves in the brain, which provide relaxation, which in turn is beneficial for meditation. After this short introduction she fills the kettle. We silently wait for the water to boil. We will drink a total of three cups, looking at the tea leaves and releasing ourselves from the over-stimulation of everyday life in Berlin.

The first cup of tea smells slightly rosy and tastes bitter. The second one has a fruity aroma. The third reminds me of apple scent and is not bitter but earthy. The booming Moritzplatz can no longer disturb my concentration and I am ready to deal with my very personal Ikigai.

Four steps to Ikigai

We start with one of four writing exercises to explore our Ikigai. In the first, we ask ourselves what we like to do. What have we been doing since childhood, during youth and today as adults? Which senses do we use for this and which ones have not been used as much so far? In the lists that Boris has prepared for us and that we now fill, patterns can be found quickly. We also find something very important about likes and dislikes: values that are important to us and that have to be taken into account.

The second exercise deals with what still needs to be developed, our potential. What am I good at? Modesty is out of place when it comes to answering this question. What was there praise or recognition for? That is probably not easy for most people, which is why Boris passes around a two-page list and declares the writing exercise to be a homework assignment. Our western culture has been bluing us from childhood on: selfish stinks. But not in Ikigai!

The third writing exercise is also meant to do at home, which is actually a pity, as it is the sticking point for many: How do you earn money with what you like to do, what is in line with your own values and promotes your potential? Group input would certainly have been an exciting experience for some.

In the fourth exercise, values come into play again. Especially this point distinguishes Ikigai from the traditional search for a profession or vocation. At art college, they always preached that my idea and my collection were at stake. Boris now asks what we could give to the world. This approach could not be further away from the Western egocentric way of thinking. It feels so good to get rid of all the quarrels caused by your ego and open up to tasks that benefit a larger, global community.

What would probably happen if our professional everyday life were in harmony with what the world needs, enriches it or makes it better? Would Monday morning feel easier? Would it be easier to get up early? Would motivation problems disappear into thin air? While my thoughts create an utopia with these questions, Boris brings me back to the ground of facts: “It can take years to find your passion”. But that doesn’t mean that you can not already be on your way. At least that is how it seems to me when I leaf through my writing exercises. I discover the common thread that I have always been concerned with inventing stories and collecting information. Exactly what I do professionally and in my spare time.

The two hours fly by and Anne concludes the workshop with a fourth cup of tea. Everyone is sitting on the floor again, the music is exhibited, the room becomes quiet. The kettle boils water. No noise outside, Moritzplatz is preparing for the evening. The water reaches the boiling point and becomes very quiet. Anne goes from participant to participant and pours the bubbling water over the wet tea leaves. It has become so quiet on this pre-summer April day during cherry blossom season, I can hear my pen scratching over the paper.

This last cup of tea smells sour and fruity and tastes almost salty-bitter like seaweed. I have expected a big questioning of my professional career, but instead I look back on a path that was hidden from me and now shows itself clearly. Passion recognized, vocation found, mission (not yet completely) fulfilled – my Ikigai is doing well.

Picture by Nathan Dumlao on unsplash. Thank you <3

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