The miserable man and evil minded
makes of all things mockery,
and knows not that which he best should know,
that he is not free from faults.
So reads the Hávamál (The Words of Odin the High One) from the Poetic Edda. But what does it mean?
To face life with purposefulness and seriousness is difficult, and takes resolve. Criticism and mockery often stops people from pursuing whatever interests them, whether that is learning an art, writing, a martial art, a new vocation, or something else. The fact of the matter is that we cannot be a master at the beginning, and the time to begin will never be right. A person of seriousness and purpose should acknowledge this up front, so that he or she will be easily able to dismiss the critical and the negative.
I’ve had three books published, my writing has also appeared in magazines, and my art has been exhibited in galleries and small museums. As someone who has practiced writing and art for a long time, and martial arts for several years now, I can say that it takes a long time to become accomplished. But that shouldn’t matter even at the beginning. If we practice, we will get better, and eventually we will surpass what we hoped we might one day achieve.
Moreover, if we practice an art — especially one that challenges our self-perceptions (such as a martial art) or challenges our perception of the world (such as researching and writing), then we will grow as a person, overcoming the self that is an obstacle to true understanding. As samurai Miyamoto Musashi remarked in regard to training, “today is victory over yourself.”
The miserable man is only able to mock. He does not dare. He has nothing to teach. He criticizes but can neither create out in the world nor look into himself to see that “he is not free from faults.”
No, practicing an art, a martial art, or a Way, isn’t easy. Perhaps you have just started to practice, or perhaps you have done so for years, but feel sometimes like giving up for no reason. This is normal. Keep going. Yes, indeed, it is challenging. But engaging with the challenging is what makes us stronger, more creative, more adaptable, more perceptive, more hopeful, and more alive. It is through practice that we gain victory over the self that is full of pettiness and doubts, and that is easily led astray by mockery, to become something greater than we — and others — once thought we could be.