Keeping Death in Mind at All Times

Taira Shigesuke's "Code of the Samurai" features a variety of topics, including some that a reader with new goals may find useful.

Taira Shigesuke’s “Code of the Samurai” features a variety of topics, including some that a reader with new goals may find useful.

Many people, including myself, set health and fitness as one of our New Year’s resolutions. Making resolutions is easy. Sticking to them is the challenge.

It is important to set goals as resolutions, ones that give clear instructions and set specific goals and deadlines.

Keeping such goals, however, is challenging in our society, one that tends to reward instant gratification rather than long-term benefits.

One attitude change that allowed me to move forward in my fitness goals was the view that I am in a fight. In this case, my life – both literally and figuratively – was on the line. No one wants a hearth attack, a stroke, or diabetes. Yet we let ourselves fall into these maladies.

I always told myself there was another day, another week, and another month to take care of these things. However, putting off life changes led to declining health and decaying self-worth.

How many of us have told ourselves we will begin to change our bad habits after the holidays? This gives us the convenience of blaming Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even the New Year itself as the reasons for eating too much and watching far too much television.

Early in my change in lifestyle, I bought a book that had nothing to do with fitness or health; however, it provided food for thought, something to seriously think about relating to my health.

The Code of the Samurai, or the Bushido Shoshinshu of Taira Shigesuke, was a guidebook for young samurai, teaching them how to act toward others and to think about their duties.

In Shigesuke’s first chapter, he tells his readers to “keep death in mind at all times.” This is not some dreary admonishment to set around meditating on the morbid or some goth-child’s act of walking around in dreary clothing, acting like nothing matters.

Keeping death in mind means being mindful of one’s actions in the now.

“If people comfort their minds with the assumption that they will live a long time, something might happen, because they think they will have forever to do their work,” Shigesuke writes.

He continues to write that a person who keeps death in mind at all times will avoid getting into fights or engaging “in futile arguments” because such actions have consequences that may be felt immediately.

“People of all social classes … constantly overate, drink too much, and indulge in their desires to an unhealthy degree,” the teacher wrote. Our modern society seems to believe that excess is good, which has contributed to our current health problems. In America, it is pretty easy to be decadent, especially when it comes to eating and leisure.

Finally, the teacher wrote to his pupils to not “assume that your stay in this world will last” because then “various wishes [will] occur to you, and you [will] become very desirous … and cling to your own possessions.”  This materialistic attitude, along with our desire to want it all and want it now, has led many, myself included, to view health and fitness as a lesser priority.

This philosophy hit me hard. It helped motivate me to work on eating and behaving in a way that showed I respected my own life.

I am not suggesting that I think anyone reading this is lazy or materialistic, but such attitudes are powerful in our society. I’ve fallen victim to both of them and continue to at times.

But I learned much reading the Code of the Samurai and still do. For me, my current fitness goal is a priority. If you are struggling with your weight, like I am, what are you willing to give up to change your condition?

There’s no quick fix, but by making fitness goals a priority in our lives, we show that we are keeping death in mind, not allowing unneeded distractions from diverting us to the path of good health.

Copyright 2013 Paul George


Cleary, Thomas. Code of the Samurai. 1st ed. Clarendon: Turtle Publishing, 1999. Print.