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Shikata ga nai 仕方がない

One of the most useful skills we can possess in life also happens to be one of the most difficult to acquire; that is the ability to let something go when there is nothing that we can do about it. To let go is to accept what we can’t change and to get on with what we can, understanding that some difficulties are inevitable and simply need to run their course. This is the attitude of Shikata ga nai – it can’t be helped.


We often take up burdens that we were never meant to carry because we don’t want to accept that we can’t do anything about them. We don’t like to feel powerless so to cope, we tell ourselves that if just think a little harder, plan a little better, devote a little extra effort, then we can fix something that is out of our control. Instead, we create more stress for ourselves and make the burdens we already carry even heavier. Worse, we berate ourselves for being unable to fix things and redouble our efforts, refusing to stop a fight we can’t win. To recognize when a situation can’t be helped is to let go of a responsibility that was never ours to take on.


Accepting what we can’t change encourages us to take a step back from the competing demands of our lives and to consider what will matter enough in the future to be worth our attention in the moment. Just letting things be is sometimes the solution that makes a difficult situation stop bothering us so much; if we don’t perceive it as an adversary, we don’t have to fight it. Instead, we can see it for what it

is: a passing moment in time, like any other. In the interim, we can learn to pay attention to the small things that bring joy to keep us going when we need a little extra push through the difficulty.


Difficult and painful episodes will come crashing periodically into our lives for as long as we are here. Being mindful that they are temporary helps us cultivate the peace to live with them, the strength to overcome them and the courage to move on from them. When there is nothing to do but withstand a storm, it changes us as a matter of course and if we handle ourselves appropriately, that change can be put to growth. As the waves roll in and out, we can let them wash away the old beliefs, ideas and

expectations that no longer serve us and open ourselves to new beginnings with a renewed outlook.


Being perpetually ready to start over parallels the attitude we need to grow in our training. The challenges we face inside the dojo, just as those we face outside, teach us how to withstand an assault without letting it define us or mark us in a way we didn’t consent to. Instead, with experience, we learn to use these challenges to our advantage. We can see this attitude perfected in masters because it translates to a presence they don’t have to assert; they simply radiate wisdom and strength.


Acknowledging when circumstances are beyond our control is the first step to growing from them. Every time we accept a challenge, knowing it will bring troubles that we can’t avoid, we train our ability to handle them. Reaching the point where we no longer allow the troubles that we face to cause us unnecessary stress is a milestone in the journey of life. Internalizing the mantra shikata ga nai helps us

build the character we need to get there.


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