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” is 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 who 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 life 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.
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