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The Hidden Costs Of Going Paperless

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”- Groucho Marx

If you were born before the year 2000, books, and paper were probably a major part of grouchoyour life. Books, or at least books as they were known then, are on the verge of going extinct as electronic tablets, Kindle books, Nook, and other electronic devices run the risk of making bound books and newspapers obsolete. When I saw the Groucho Marx quote which starts this article I laughed to myself and said in 2015, the light inside of a dog would be perfect for reading. While there is more ease of access to written information than any time before, we are losing something very healthy by the loss of traditional books, newspapers, and paper reading material.

I remember being six years old and becoming an avid reader. My mother nurtured this desire of mine by enrolling me in what was then called a “book club,” where on a monthly basis you received a book in the mail. From somewhere around 1960 to 1962 I was a proud and probably charter member of the “The Cat in the Hat” book club. I remember receiving my first two additions in this series, “The Cat in the Hat,” and “The read seussCat Hat Comes Back.” For the next two years or so I received almost everything written by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The silly prose of Dr. Seuss were easy to follow and, so I thought at the time, easy-to-understand. His writing, although simple, was actually a lot more meaningful and profound, but that’s a deeper topic for a later article. There probably isn’t a parent truly worth the label of Mom or Dad who hasn’t spent at least a few evenings reading their child “Green Eggs and Ham,” one of Seuss’s classics. For many children, sitting each evening with mom or dad and listening to the same story over and over again is one of the most remembered parts of early childhood. I’m not sure if it would have the same impact if mom or dad reads it on a Kindle or iPad.

Later in life, when a child became old enough to read independently, there began to be a fascination with comics, book series such as “The Hardy Boys,” or the “Nancy Drew Mysteries,” which were eagerly read, swapped, and shared by many children of that generation. Like the work of Dr. Seuss, they were pretty predictable, but we read them anyway often finding ourselves unable to wait for the next chapter, or book. Every Sunday was punctuated by a battle with my older brother over who would get various parts of the Sunday newspaper first. He, being older, always got the sports page, while I had to settle for the comics. Looking back now it’s easy to see the positive benefit it had for our minds, attitudes, worldview, and socialization skills.

The reality is there is something very grounding and secure about the tactile experience of reading a book, magazine, or printed literature. The very experience of opening that book, hearing that binding crack, thumbing through the pages, referring to an index, or checking out a book from the library played an important role in the intellectual and emotional development of anyone born before the year 2000. One would be far more capable of focusing on that book because of the lack of distraction within it. For example, if your reading a Kindle book you also have access to thousands of other books potentially at your fingertips. Not sure about you, but it would’ve been very hard for me to focus on one thing at a time when I was a 12-year-old.

A lot of research indicates today that people who read before bedtime will find it in either sedating or stimulating, depending on which medium they are reading from. Studies show that people who are reading from traditional books, or magazines, are more likely to fall asleep easily than those who are reading electronic devices. Studies done at Penn State University show that iPads, iPhones, and Kindle have higher than normal concentrations of blue light waves than natural light does. Anne-Marie Chang, assistant professor of bio-behavioral health at Penn State summarized their findings, “This is different from natural light in composition, having a greater impact on sleep and circadian rhythms.” The study observed 12 adults for two weeks, comparing when the participants read from an iPad, serving as an e-reader, before bedtime to when they read from a printed book before bedtime. The researchers monitored the participants’ kindlemelatonin levels, sleep, and next-morning alertness, as well as other sleep-related measures. They found that those who read from electronic devices took over 10 minutes longer to fall asleep, had poor quality of sleep, and were deficient in REM sleep – the dream stage of sleep which is vitally important for one’s mental health and emotional stability. The electronic readers also made it more difficult to wake up fresh the next day. Similar studies done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston had a similar finding.

Another aspect of this loss of traditional paper is the spontaneous use of electronic devices in order to capture thoughts. Years ago, I remember having an English teacher or two that required us to keep a journal. For a boy in middle school, this is a real stretch. Girls, on the other hand were more capable of this kind of introspection because of their earlier emotional development.

A couple of years ago, in a hospital-based program that I manage, we had a patient admitted because he posted a suicide note on Facebook. He really didn’t intend to die, but he was desperate for someone to care about him and convince him to get the help that he knew that he needed, but didn’t have the courage to ask for. I can only wonder what would have happened if his “Facebook friends” had decided that they didn’t want to get involved and unfriended him. Of course we all know and have heard stories of people who have completely embarrassed themselves through drunken texting, Facebook posts, or nasty emails sent while intoxicated. Many think that breaking up with someone through a text message, rather than in person, is rather classless and mean spirited. Maybe, maybe not. Previous generations did the same thing, often through a well crafted, hand written, letter. In the electronic age, it seems to be the same thing.

A 2011 report put out by the State of the Paper Industry reported that consumption of paper in North America declined 24 per cent between 2006 and 2009. In fact, the results are the same for the rest of the world with the exception of China. It is estimated that over 20,000 people per day are starting online blogs. It would appear that something significant and revolutionary is happening here, we just want to be a little more clear on the impact that it is having on society.

The reality of this kind of activity is that our deepest, darkest thoughts are temporary and often fleeting. We usually get through it a lot faster than we would have thought. Twenty-five years ago you would’ve gone to the mailbox and retrieved that ill thought out letter the next day. Not so today. The push of a button can make a poorly planned journal entry a viral, and potentially international event.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology as much as the next person, probably more. It’s just that I believe we have lost a lot because of the desire to go paperless in our lives.

“There is, of course, always the personal satisfaction of writing down one’s own experiences so they may be saved, caught and pinned under glass, hoarded against the winter of forgetfulness. Time has been cheated a little, at least, in one’s own life, and a personal, trivial immortality of an old self assured.”- Anne Morrow Lindbergh


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org


Dying Of Civilization: How Modern Living Is Eroding Our Well-Being

“The human race will eventually die of civilization”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mankind has made more technological progress in this century than in the previous 50 years. We are only 15 years into this century, so one can only imagine the kind of pollutionprogress that will be made by the year 2050. One would think that with all this progress our lives would be much more healthier, happier, and fulfilled than they are. What’s going on with all this progress and why does it seem that Emerson was correct over 150 years ago?

The reality is that the progress and lifestyle changes from modern technology come with a hidden cost that research only recently has made apparent. Most of us are quite aware of the cost of these lifestyle improvements on our physical well-being. Here is a brief list of some of them:

⦁ Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol are examples of some diseases that are on the rise.
⦁ Nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of vitamin D, lack of omega-3 fatty acids, lack of iron and other essential nutrients are so common that doctors are suggesting that pills be taken in order to ensure sufficient levels of these in other nutrients.
⦁ There has been an increase in addiction and addictive behaviors. There is more chemical dependence for things such as pain and prescription medication and, although rates of tobacco smoking have leveled off, there is an increase addiction to fast food, caffeine, sugar, and electronic cigarettes.
⦁ Physical fitness for the average American of all ages has decreased dramatically since the mid-20th century. People on the extreme are as fit, or fitter, than ever before, but the average man, woman, or child of 2015 is significantly less physically fit and active. Rather than freeing up time for exercise and fitness, modern life has done just the opposite.
⦁ Sleep for Americans in their prime, productive years averages between five and six hours, significantly less than the eight hours that are recommended. This means that students, much of the workforce, and young adults and raising families are functioning subpar due to lack of sleep. In addition to the physical impact of sleep deprivation, there is a toll that this takes on their emotional health and overall sense of well-being and happiness.
⦁ Hormonal problems, unheard of decades ago, have become quite common. Chemicals in our environment have wreaked havoc with the hormone levels of males. Low testosterone levels, impacted by chemicals in our environment, have become a hidden epidemic that is only recently beginning to be discussed. You can be pretty sure that great grandpa never heard of “Low T.”

All this progress has brought high expectations and, along with it, a lot of disappointment. The number of Americans qualified for Supplemental Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, increased 250% between the years 1987 and 2007. For the years 2001 to 2003 alone, 46% of Americans met the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one major mental illness. Clearly, despite all this progress, suffering continues. It’s quite possible that this progress is, in many ways, responsible for the rise in emotional difficulties.

Even more alarming is the fact that these emotional problems are impacting people at a younger and younger age. In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic: “We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between 10 and 20 times as much of it as there was 50 years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression 30 years ago … the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5 … Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”

In 2011, the U. S. Center for Disease Control reported that the rise in antidepressant use had increased 400% in the previous 20 years. Granted, there has been an increase in the pathologizing of what previously had been relatively normal behaviors, but one would have to also conclude that, in part, technological changes are partially to blame. Here are some reasons that could explain the rise in these statistics:

⦁ Pills. The United States has developed into a culture that attempts to medicate almost any problem or disturbing emotion. This presents problems in and of itself, but also creates a mindset that there is a quick fix oral solution to almost any challenge we face. Pop a pill and instant relief, kind of like the Alka-Seltzer commercials of the 1950s, “Relief is just a swallow away.”
fat-kid-eating-chips-watching-tv⦁ Parenting. The baby boom generation has spoiled our children. Despite our intentions of making the world a better place and our love and concern for the next generation, we have enabled them through seemingly innocent activities such as driving them to and from everything, organizing all their recreational activities, buying them the latest and best technology we could afford, and negotiating all their difficulties with peers, school, coaches, and employers. Of course, the Xbox, 400 channel cable TV with remote in their bedroom, and the 64 ounce bag of potato chips in the cabinet aren’t helping them either. Parenting trends have robbed many children of their right to develop their own resiliency by solving their own problems. As adults, many of them are ill-equipped to solve their own problems, creating feelings of helplessness, inadequacy, and alienation.
⦁ The culture of instant gratification. Modern technology gives us instant access to virtually everything at the push of a button. We carry more computer power in our shirt pocket than Neil Armstrong had when he walked on the moon in 1969. This instant gratification also carries over to things like, preparing food, paying bills, and even waiting to make that phone call. Just reach into your pocket and do it now. When this “do it now” kind of behavior is not available people tend to feel anxious and depressed.
⦁ The lack of physicality in normal life. Exercise through normal, everyday activities has fat mowerbecome a lost art. We either hire somebody to do our activities of daily life or we buy a machine to do it for us. Many of us don’t even brush our teeth, we have a machine to do it for us, that riding mower would probably be a better value for that quarter acre lot we have, Junior needs to have a car, after all, the school is almost a mile away, and of course, there’s never enough time for me to exercise. The lack of physicality is a major reason that many feel anxious and depressed. If your body does not feel up to par, then there’s no way you will feel well emotionally. The mind-body connection is that simple.
⦁ The media. Although we are living in the safest time in human history, media coverage gives most the impression that there is a predator living in every neighborhood, the government is going to sweep in any minute and take away our hard earned rights, and that there are germs and diseases lurking everywhere, waiting to kill us as soon as the opportunity arises. Fear sells, and the media knows this. The human brain is wired to anticipate danger and protect us from it. Many people thrive on the drama of the most obscure news stories, watching the same story repeated from hundreds of different angles. Certainly not the greatest way to achieve serenity. Your own life will give you drama despite your best intentions to prevent it. Why borrow anyone else’s?

My intention here is certainly not to paint a doom and gloom scenario for modern life. Rather, it is to point out that a a lifestyle that combines the best of modern technology, hikescience, and medicine with a little more common sense is the best way to attain fulfillment. Too many get caught up in the instant gratification that modern life and technology seduces us with. Just stop occasionally to consider the cost.

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”- Albert Camus


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Radical Acceptance: Facing Life On Life’s Terms

“Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” – Tara Brach

Most who embark on a life of self-improvement and personal development will run into the crossfit-wheelchair-hspuinevitable roadblock that is the first and most important principle of life:

“Life is painful.”- Buddhism’s First Noble Truth

No matter how hard we work on ourselves, how powerful our intentions are, what caring and loving things we do for others, life is inevitably going to give us something that we hadn’t bargained for that we are bound to find overwhelming. At those moments most people succumb to the inevitable “life sucks” mindset. Whatever the challenge is naturally creates a flood of negative thoughts and feelings. These feelings become engrained, depending on how intense the pain and suffering the life event evokes. Some people get more than their fair share of this type of pain, others not as much. It is, however, inevitable that everybody is going to have to cope with pain and suffering at different points of their lives. Illness, deaths, physical pain, the loss of jobs and relationships, and the declining capacity of the self due to aging are the suffering that all endure. The way that a person processes these events may hold the key to leading a happier and more fulfilling life.

It’s natural for humans to bond with others through difficult times. We visit the sick, attend funerals, and bring food to friends and family when they are suffering. It’s inevitable that someone is going to offer some kind of consolation, well intentioned, but definitely off the mark.”It’s for the best.” “You’ll get over it someday.” “This too shall pass.” (See also “Going Tribal” http://mindbodycoach.org/going-tribal/ )

Life’s pain is not always for the best and it’s not always distributed evenly. Some are consolationfortunate and get a bearable amount, others get more than can be reasonably carried by anyone. Anyone who has lost a child, suffered a life altering illness, or experienced post traumatic stress knows that it is not for the best. The pain will not, and in some cases should not, ever go away entirely. Life’s challenge is to accept what has happened. Radical Acceptance means to accept, not necessarily agree with or like, what has happened.

Radical Acceptance is a concept taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, borrowed from some basic teachings of Buddhism. The context in which the word radical is used is complete and total acceptance of a disturbing or painful event. Acceptance, not liking or agreement, but acceptance. Acknowledging this event as something that has happened and must be endured. Life has given you, for whatever reason, a bad deal. Radical Acceptance begins with that moment when you realize you have essentially two options:
1. Resist, deny, bargain, and argue with it, thereby making yourself miserable.
2. Accept what has happened as a reality. Not anything that you like or want to happen, but something that has, or is, indeed happening.

Radical Acceptance occurs when one stops fighting reality, and accepts it for what it is-reality. Trying to figure out whether or not you have any control over the situation is a critical component to acceptance. (See also “Acceptance And True Wisdom” http://mindbodycoach.org/acceptance-true-wisdom/ ) If there is something you could do to improve or better the situation, then obviously you need to pursue that. If not, it may be more healthy to realize that acceptance of this reality is the only logical way out of the pain and suffering that this event is bringing you.

Reality is very much like that cucumber which becomes a pickle. Once it becomes a pickle, it can never be a cucumber again. Accepting of this is the the most important factor in whether or not one continues to needlessly suffer through an incredibly painful event. With many disturbing life events, such as the death of a loved one, acceptance is the beginning of healing. Once one can accept the loss of a loved one, the next challenge is to find spiritual meaning and significance in the suffering that you are going through. Many use spirituality as a way to cope with pain in a very healthy way, making the loss something that, while never going away, brings meaning to themselves, others, and the memory of their loved one. The Susan B. Komen Walk for a Cure, the ALS challenge, and various other fundraisers are examples of healthy and spiritually meaningful ways that people engage in Radical Acceptance.

Having been a practicing psychotherapist for the past 18 years, I’ve noticed that there are two general ways that people respond to pain and tragedy. Some people are destroyed by, made bitter, and often are never the same. Some people come out of the transformative event seemingly even stronger, and often, despite never entirely letting go of the pain, seemingly finding life more meaningful on a much deeper level. Anyone in my position couldn’t help but ask the same question that I’ve often asked myself, what’s the difference in people who do come out the other side hurt and in pain, but a little bit better, and those that are utterly destroyed?

Those that emerge stronger intuitively process the events in a way that leads towards acceptance that it is a reality that they must deal with, changing it is out of their control, and somehow they are going to make the best of it. Yes, initially both types of people go through the same process of shock and denial, but one group breaks free of these paralyzing emotions, while the other gets stuck in an endless loop of pain and suffering. Both experience pain, but the group that processes a little bit more healthily is able to push through the suffering portion while learning to live with the pain. The pain never goes away for either group, those that come out the other side of the suffering are transformed by it and, in the process of letting it go, seemingly become stronger.

The basic principles on which Radical Acceptance are pretty hard-core. Radical Acceptance teaches us that when faced with painful problems, we have for choices that we must choose from:
1. Solve the problem
2. Change how you feel
3. Accept it
4. Stay miserable

Honest, blunt, but the hard-core reality is that these are the only options one has. Radicalvictory Acceptance teaches that, after the inevitable initial shock and denial, we must make a choice among these four possibilities. If you analyze painful events that you yourself have experienced, or those of others, you’ll come to the realization that these truly are the only choices that we have. Either be transformed, or destroyed.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”- Haruki Murakami

Ultimately, a person comes to the realization that their life, although touched by pain and suffering, can still have meaning and be worthwhile and worth living. You don’t need to look to historical figures, celebrities, or fictional characters defined concrete examples of people who have practiced Radical Acceptance, and practice it well. All of us have people that we know personally, family, friends, and acquaintances, who have come out the other side of horrific pain and tragedy as better people. Learn from these examples and hope that, whatever you face in life, you will be able to do the same.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
– Lao Tzu


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org


Between Stimulus And Response: Developing Your Own Sacred Space

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lays our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”- Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Most of us living in this 21st century have a very strange relationship with time. We know what time is, of course, but it’s helpful to consider its working definition: “Time is a guy mtnmeasure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also measure the durations between events and the intervals between them.” Conceptually, we know that there are gaps between moments in time, or at least there appears to be. Being able to utilize these micro-moments that occur could very well be the difference between a fulfilling and happy life and one of misery and poor choices.

As we all know too well, life tends to come at us very quickly. The more caught up in life we become, the more we are likely to find ourselves getting caught up in a rhythm and flow that life is handing us, often responding to events more quickly, and with less thought than we would like. Wouldn’t it be great if we could slow things down a bit and make decisions coming from a place of a little more thought and a little more awareness? Don’t you sometimes just wish that you could “stop the tape” and pause before making an important decision or taking an action, giving yourself a little time to do the right thing?

In theater, movies, and drama there are a number of literary devices in which the characters do just that. Some of these devices are the soliloquy, the aside, or the fourth wall. In each of these a character will pause, turn to the audience and discuss to themselves, our loud, what they are thinking, what actions they plan on taking, and why. This literary device has been used by playwright William Shakespeare, comedians Bob Hope and Woody Allen, and others as a way of engaging the audience in the deeper aspects of what a character is struggling with. Typically, a character will stop for a few moments, do some thinking out loud, and then return to the action and follow through with a better thought out course of action. Too bad we couldn’t do the same thing in their own lives. Or can we?

Victor Frankl, mentioned in the quote that started this article, was a Viennese psychiatrist franklwho survived concentration camp life during the Second World War. One of the ways that he survived was through separating himself from the horrors in front of him by asking himself questions, pausing to see the larger picture, thereby detaching himself from impulsive thoughts and poorly thought-out actions. He not only chose more prudent behaviors, but he also consciously chose how he thought-and therefore felt-about what he was experiencing. He learned that pausing to ponder and consider how he consciously and carefully chose to process and think about these events made all the difference in the world and how he experienced his world. He learned that he could not only survive concentration camp life, but even thrive in some spiritual ways, as his process allowed him to find meaning and his struggle. (His story is available here as a free download: http://www.anderson5.net/cms/lib02/SC01001931/Centricity/Domain/222/man-s-search-for-meaning.pdf)

Tara Brach, a psychologist and teacher of Buddhist meditation, speaks often of what she refers to as the “Sacred Pause,” a conscious moment where we stop, breathe, and attempt to decide how we are feeling in that given moment. It is a moment where one consciously seeks to find that “space” that Victor Frankl referred to. Finding this space is an acquired skill, but the good news is the busier you are, and the faster paced your life is, the more opportunities you will have to find this sacred space.

Brach suggests that you find time when you are engaged in an active, goal oriented, activity, one where you are likely to get caught up in the moment, such as reading, working on the computer, writing, or engaging in some physical activity. Explore pausing, breathing deeply and noticing what’s going on for you in that moment. Take a few, measured, deep breaths and with each exhale let go of any worries or concerns about what you are going to do next. Allow your body to relax, letting go of any tightness that you may be carrying at that moment. Brach says to “notice what you are experiencing as you inhabit the pause. What sensations are you aware of in your body? Do you feel anxious or restless as you try to step out of your mental stories? Do you feel pulled to resume your activity? Can you simply allow, for this moment, whatever is happening inside you?” Most of us are constantly engaging in a self dialogue, telling us stories that may or may not be true. Noticing what’s going on physically at the moment of the sacred pause will enable us to stop those stories and simply sit with the feeling that exists, rather than create feelings from some internal dialogue.

There are many ways that one can learn to recognize and utilize the gap between stimulus and response. A daily meditation practice is perhaps the best one of them. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate or complicated process, but it does have to be a consistent one practiced a few moments each day. Practicing of the sacred pause can become a meditation practice in and of itself. There is a simple awareness of breath meditation that I teach to many of my clients that they find highly effective which I am sharing here: http://mindbodycoach.org/breathing-101-improving-lifes-basic-activity/ and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iypetAkg_pY

The daily meditation practice is an acquired skill, but if done briefly a few times each day one can recognize its potential. Utilizing meditation in order to identify the sacred pause is an acquired skill, but its benefits can be recognized immediately if accompanied by correct breathing. One of my clients, who has been practicing this skill daily, recently said to me, “It’s almost like time slows down. I have more time to make decisions. It seems like a long time that I pause, but it’s really not. It’s not even three seconds. I think it through and make a better decision.”

Start utilizing this brief moment in your life immediately. Try to identify this sacred pause when you are enjoying yourself in an activity that you love, doing something that is stressful, absorbed in something-anything that you find yourself getting caught up in. STOP, BREATHE, and NOTICE what you are experiencing in a non-judgmental way. Savor the feeling for a few moments, becoming aware of what is going on and how you are physically and emotionally experiencing that space in time. If it’s something noncritical or enjoyable, go back to it when you are ready. If it is something that is stressful or more crucial to your life, take a little more time in that sacred space. Over time you will develop a rational detachment which will allow you to enjoy some things more and allow you to make better decisions with others. In either case, time will appear to be a little bit slower, giving you a greater capacity to act in a way that you will be more comfortable with.

Start learning to recognize this sacred space between stimulus and response. Learn toguy utilize the sacred pause and learn to recognize what is really going on, as opposed to what you think is going, on or perhaps that which you are not even noticing. Increased awareness, and decreased stress can only be a good thing.

“LSD stands out for learning to slow down.”- Santosh Kalwar


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The World Is Your Dojo: Martial Arts Lessons For Everyday Life

Dojo- a Japanese term which literally means “place of the way”. Initially, dojos were adjunct to temples. Also a”place of enlightenment.”

Traditional Asian martial arts have a lot of customs and rituals that are rooted in the Asian philosophy of Taoism, which emphasizes living in harmony with all things. The word “tao” dojois often expressed as “dao,” or “do,”and can often mean the path or way towards attaining enlightenment or understanding. The training hall, or dojo, is a place where practitioners struggle with a physical task in order to find a greater understanding of themselves and their place in the world. People from all walks of life come together to struggle, collectively, and as individuals, for something they know is unattainable- perfection of an art form. It is the exact opposite of what most Westerners would think about a place where people learn self-defense. Many practitioners devote their life to the practice of an art form of combat skills that they never have to draw upon. Often this obsession with their study gets in the way of their life outside the dojo. When a teacher notices that his student is overly involved in training and that it is getting in the way of the rest of their life, he may gently remind the student of the following saying:

Don’t make the dojo your world, make the world your dojo.”

The idea behind this advice is that one trains inside the dojo to be able to use the training outside the dojo, in life, where the real and most important battles are to be won.This is the essence of martial arts, and traditional martial arts would proclaim that it is the essence of Taoism and life. A well lived life is one in which one accepts all that life has to offer and is open-minded to the constant “teachable moments” that life offers us every single day.

Of course, not everyone who practices Taoism engages in martial arts. However, most teawho practice the philosophy of Taoism have rituals that they engage in and practices that they follow that they will never perfect. There is the art of flower arrangement,(kado), calligraphy,(shodo), martial exercises,(budo), and even the tea ceremony (chado)-all practices that Taoists dedicate their efforts knowing that they will never reach perfection. Rather than trying to focus on a goal, practitioners focus on their efforts and acceptance of the challenges of the tasks at hand with the intention of learning more about themselves, and life, along the way.

To Westerners, Asians often seem stoic in the face of adversity, resilient in some way because of their race or some intangible that they possess. It is quite possible that this resilience is from their openness to life lessons that can come in the most difficult of situations. This looking for the lesson that is available in the present moment creates a natural curiosity that leads to acceptance of what is, rather than a desire for something else. One does not need to be a martial artist to experience this, it exists everywhere and in all things.

“Be open to the lesson that life is offering you in the present moment.”-Anonymous

It is a characteristic of Western thought that we “should” be living a life that is happy and pain-free most of the time. We think of happiness as being our life’s natural state. In Asian culture, heavily steeped in Taoist and Buddhist tradition, it is rather the opposite. There is a natural acceptance of the Buddha’s first noble truth of life: “Life is suffering.”

To live, you must suffer. It is impossible to experience life without experiencing pain and suffering. Being open to this truth, rather than being restricted by it, is a liberating experience that helps one focus more intensely and urgently on the joys, beauty, and lessons that life has to offer. Rather than fighting this reality, the Asian tradition allows one to accept this as part of the human experience. Being open to this reality leads to a more rich and fulfilling existence. Taoist philosophy asks is practitioners not only to accept this, but to seek the life lessons that exist in pain and the day-to-day struggles of life with an openness and almost natural curiosity.

Seeking out the life lessons to be learned is perhaps the best way to cope as well as the best way to find the true meaning in life. Acceptance that, more often than not, life is going to be some kind of a challenge or struggle can be liberating rather than restrictive or confining.

Next time life places some difficulty in your path ask yourself, “What’s gem-teaching-children-sanchinlife trying to teach me right now?” Accepting that pain and suffering is a natural part of life, as well as a powerful teacher, can allow you to see that your world is truly a dojo, a place of learning and perhaps even enlightenment.

“Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning.”-Bruce Lee

Whether we realize it or not, life is always teaching us something. Better to notice it and accept it rather than resist.


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

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