At the corner of Rue Rivard and Rue Gilford, there is the Montreal Aikikai, a dojo offering teachings in the Japanese martial art, Aikido. In the front window of this establishment, a television screen plays several demonstrations on a loop. During the day or night, through summer or winter, this cycle continues without fail: seasoned disciples karate chop wood, scissor kick wood, head-butt wood. Pine, spruce, birch, it doesn’t mean shit; it is going to get knocked the fuck out. Near the end of the loop however, there are two men, who I assume to be the resident experts, battling against each other. The fight begins evenly but then, in a mere second, one of the combatants, with a cold, robotic kick, takes out his opponent’s legs. Each time, as I watch the recipient of this attack drop to the ground, I see a look in his eyes which happens only for an instant, an almost serene expression, as though he were about to fall into the arms of a loved one rather than a musty old mat. Apparently he’d momentarily reconciled himself to the comfort of giving up the battle; of finally, after years of mastery, supremacy and victory, letting himself go.
While viewing this entire episode, perhaps I’m just seeing what I want to see. I’m breaking and entering into this man’s mind in the name of empathy when really I’m searching for a means of justifying my periodic bouts of hopelessness. I’m not an advocate for apathy nor do I romanticize the idea of being “down and out” but, like a lot of people in their mid-to-very late twenties, I wonder about the likelihood of success and what this term itself may entail. For many of us who suffer from common, first world problems such as how to find employment so as to pay off student debts, we are also inundated with a further ambition: winning. Whether we like to admit it or not, following many of the “dreams” we’ve been taught to believe in and hold dear depends on walking over the bodies of our opponents. Those who have “made it,” are paraded before our eyes as emblems of triumph. Actors, people paid to read lines, have become spokesmen and women for society; musicians who have abandoned their families and pummelled themselves full of drugs are revered as “survivors;” wealthy psychopaths give seminars on how we can become like them. Achieve, achieve, achieve – beat the competition – get what you deserve – it all comes at us in such a ubiquitous fashion that we can hardly take the time to assess it.
But what if our “fall” is into the arms of a loved one? What if our success is knowing when to bow out of the race and accept that a fulfilling life isn’t dependent upon degrees of dominance? I don’t want to knock other people down. I don’t want to engage in conversations when the whole time I’m only thinking of my next move. I don’t want to be a part of this Machiavellian charade. All I want is enough, which sounds simple when you don’t think about the difficulty of determining just what that may be. Are we pulling up lame for fear of failure? Do we endlessly strive to fill some inner emptiness? I can hear people asking these questions again and again, often apologizing for not having that one peculiar and sometimes inhumane personality type that seems conducive to the most valorized forms of success. Can we let the emotionally suspect, hyper-assertive, risk takers scratch and crawl and beat each other into submission while we put our feet up and say “good enough”? I’m not so sure. For most of us, ambition has an annoying habit of never being satisfied.
If I’ve learned anything from people who seem to have happiness figured out, it’s that success isn’t for an audience. It can’t hinge on a crowd acknowledging your accomplishments or even your peers recognizing your victories – if you’re looking without, you’ll always be without. Success can’t be “won” at the expense of others. It has got to be that quiet feeling you have when you first open your eyes in the morning, when the specifics of the day are still asleep and your mind hasn’t even begun to think about racing. And if, when you’re not obsessing about failing or fighting or anything in particular, you feel that elusive feeling of contentment sneaking its way past all of your defences, then congratulations, you’ve made it.