“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” ~Eckhart Tolle
I wake up. I take a look outside.
I take a breath in and just appreciate where this dream has taken me.
I want to be a ninja.
Yeah, it sounds a little strange.
Probably even weirder when I tell you I have a Master’s degree in education, am a former teacher, and I’m about to turn thirty.
You could call it a quarter life crisis, assuming I’ll live to be 120.
But I prefer to call it my life’s calling.
It is my childhood dream. So, when I say, “I want to be a ninja,” I’m talking about the ninja from my eight-year-old brain.
According to my eight-year-old brain a ninja:
- Moves to a far away land
- Trains extensively in martial arts
- Challenges the traditional methods of life and work
About a year ago I quit my job in America. I moved to Japan (a far away land). I now train full time in martial arts five to six days a week.
I’m doing everything within my power to turn this into a lifestyle. I write about my experiences in hopes of encouraging others to make the most of their lives.
It is easy for me to romanticize my life to the outside world, but the reality is that I can get just as caught up in the monotony of day-to-day life as anyone else.
After being in Japan for a year I can get so caught up with achieving my next goal, the next item on my to do list, that I forget how wonderful life truly is.
I live in a land with thousands of years of history, culture, and beautiful architecture.
And with all of this sometimes I can still walk through my day like a zombie.
I’m trying to be a gosh-darn ninja! Ninjas don’t move through a day like a zombie.
So, as I have become more and more aware of this, I have worked hard to make sure I am constantly enjoying my journey. If you’d like to do the same, I recommend trying these 10 action steps:
1. Take discovery walks.
It is so easy for the novelty of my peaceful neighborhood in Kyoto to lose its appeal. So, a couple of times per week I go on a fifteen-minute walk and try to discover ten new things. I have found small temples, a graveyard, a spring with fresh water, a playground, and some new friends.
It’s important to remember that there is always something new to be discovered in our everyday environments. Go on a walk and commit to finding 10 new interesting things. You might be surprised by what you discover.
2. Attend free local events.
When I walk around town, if I notice a sign that promotes an event, I write down the date, time, and location. The best part about these is that they are free and outdoors. I like to head to farmers markets where there is food, culture, and happy people.
Head to your local city or county office and get a list of all the upcoming activities. There are always some events going on. You never know what cool things you might find. If it’s something you wouldn’t normally do, that’s even more awesome!
3. Take lessons or classes.
I decided I would do something where I would feel totally out of place: I started attending Japanese tea lessons.
The makeup of the group includes: green tea, women over forty-five years old, and me, a twenty-nine-year-old dude from America. This is completely out of my comfort zone and new. And to my surprise, I love it!
Push yourself to try new activities, even if you think they aren’t for you. I never drink tea and used to have zero interest in tea ceremonies. But now, I have made new friends and experienced a new side to the culture.
Go out and start something new.
4. See the sights.
Some of the wonderful aspects about Japan are the beautiful temples and shrines. Every week I go out and explore these.
What are some famous sights in your area? Go check them out. If you have already been to them, try to discover something new about them. If there aren’t any famous sights in your area, then go discover ones that aren’t famous.
5. Keep a gratitude journal.
Everyday I write down at minimum five things I appreciated that day. Then at then at the end of the week I look over my list. This means I have thirty-five reasons to be grateful (from the whole week).
Try it out. It can really increase your appreciation of day-to-day life.
6. Create stories.
It’s fun to make up stories in our heads about the world happening around us.
My favorite is creating stories about how people are on their first date. It’s really funny when I do this while in the grocery store!
Why is that person texting on her cellphone? Why is that child crying? Why is that woman giggling?
You might be impressed with your own creativity.
7. Bike more.
I bike everywhere. It’s amazing to me what I end up discovering while biking around Kyoto. I have discovered new restaurants, stores, temples, and even an English movie theatre.
Biking allows me to experience so much more because it is easy to stop, pull over, and go explore by foot. In a car, we move so fast that it is easy to miss out on all the awesome around us.
Go on a bike ride around your neighborhood. You might be shocked at some of the things you have missed while driving.
8. Create a detailed plan for your day.
I love planning out my day because it allows me to include all of the awesome things I want to happen. Time is going to move whether we plan it or not, so I figure why not take control and choose how we live our lives.
9. Get out of your comfort zone.
One of the most fun and challenging things I do is practice my Japanese with strangers. Sometimes, it’s a good conversation, and sometimes it goes nowhere. But either which way, it breaks me out of my comfort zone, and, more often than not, makes me feel alive.
Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone. It can be anything: try a new food, take some dancing classes, or maybe volunteer.
10. Take a break from the world.
Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming living in a foreign country. The culture, language barriers, and challenges can get to me. I always take one day and plan nothing.
I read a good book, eat some good food, play some video games, do zero work, talk zero Japanese, and just relax. We all need a little time to do nothing every now and then.
If we take intentional action to make sure our lives stay fresh, we can enjoy the journey every day.
About Izmael Arkin
Izzy quit his job as a middle school science teacher to follow his childhood dream: to become a ninja. He now works with adolescents who have been through highly traumatic experiences using Aikido as a therapeutic modality to help them heal their trauma. You can find him at mendocinocountyaikido.com.