Jim McClellan: The Road to Respite

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You are not crazy. The anxiety and fear you feel are worthy of the state of affairs. Jim McClellan finds some sense of calm and respite in an ancient Japanese tradition.

Given the state of the world right now, it can be hard to find a sense of calm, even though that sense of course remains critical to our well-being. But there are still ways to such a place, and they may be closer than we think.

I used to enjoy fly fishing. I loved the way it required an intense concentration on the world around me . . . the current, the surface tension, the bugs darting over the water. In just a few moments, I could transport myself to another world, where nothing mattered but these observations of things I typically ignore, and the calming sound of a mountain stream.

Recently, I’ve taken up a hobby I can do in my own yard: bonsai trees. Bonsai requires attention to the details of a miniature world: the radial spread of surface roots, the angle of the trunk and branches, the moss and stones. In other words, bonsai trees lead me to the same place fly fishing used to.

That realization reminded me of something I learned in Japan. The character for road, “do,” is found in words like "judo," which is the gentle way, but also in terms like "sado," the way of tea, or "kyudo," the way of archery. There are many disciplines whose names contain this character, suggesting a lifetime path that can open a door to a plane of higher understanding.

Though nearly any practice can help achieve knowledge and purpose. In the end, it’s the clarifying focus that discipline fosters —more than the activity itself — that can lead us to a higher place. I like to think this also reflects a deeper truth, and that these roads are around me all the time, whether or not they’re known as fields of study. If I practice and continue to focus carefully enough, any one of them can lead me to a place of calm and larger purpose.

These roads are open to all, rain or shine. The toll is mindfulness and a simple recognition that the path to mastery is never complete.

With a Perspective, I’m Jim McClellan.

Jim McClellan is co-founder of a logistics software company focused on the wine industry. He lives in Marin.

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