To "do" or not to "do", that is the question

Sorry, Shakespeare! But why did I put "do" in quote marks? And what is that guy "do"-ing arranging flowers?

Actually, I'm punning (it's a tradition in my family, my grandpa could still make puns even in advanced dementia).

In Japanese, the word that sounds like "Do" 道 ( It actually sounds more like "doe" as in female deer) has a special significance and can teach a lot about how we create meaning in our life.

"Do" means path or way. It's the same word as the Chinese Tao or Dao as in Taoism. When the word is linked to an activity it means "the way of". So you have Budo, the way of the warrior or martial arts. You have Kado, the way of flowers, flower arranging in other words. You have Chado, the way of tea or tea ceremony (although its more often called chanoyu, "hot water for tea). We have Shendo, the way of the spirits, although it is more often written "shinto" which is the indigenous shamanism of Japan.

A "Do" is an art or skill devotedly and patiently practiced from novitiate to mastery

The idea of a "way of" is quite difficult to interpret for us westerners. At one level it is perhaps best translated as "practice or discipline". a "Do" is an art or skill devotedly and patiently practiced from novitiate to mastery. We are already in alien territory here in our modern world where we want results now, convenience, instant gratification and we tend to flit from one thing to the next as soon as boredom sets in.

There is a story about a young man who sought to become a disciple of a great swordsman (Kendo, the way of the sword). "How long will it take to be a master like you?", the young man asks. "Oh, no more than about thirty years", the master replied. Crestfallen they boy asked, "and if I practice really really hard, how long?" "Maybe fifty years", was the reply. "But if I devote every hour of every day to study, how long?". "I'd say seventy years", said the master.

Patience and not being too eager for results, that is the spirit of "Do". "Do", as practice, is about being focused on the process rather than the end goal. It's about finding our reward and satisfaction in the present moment, in the mundane little detail we are concerned with right now. For example, I have a lofty goal in writing this article, to share my vision and help people live meaningful, responsible, skillful lives. Yet my focus right now is simply to create well crafted, elegant sentences that are easy to understand, engaging and of course spelled right. (That's tough for a dyslexic like me). I can become so completely absorbed in the "Do" of words that I lose any sense of myself and actually become the act of writing.

The invitation is to make everything we do into a craft skill, an art form​

To me, approaching the things you do in life as "Do" is a beautiful and rich way to live. The invitation is to make everything we do into a craft skill, an art form. How much in life do we do half halfheartedly, half awake, wanting to be elsewhere? How much in life do we do wanting to get something out of it rather than finding meaning in the present moment? To me, one of the sadnesses of the modern age is that so many people project meaning into the future or even the past rather than finding it now in the doing of our "Do". We are basically missing out on our own life, moment by moment, day by day.

And yes, drinking a cup of tea can be a "Do"

There are deeper layers of significance to the practice of a "Do", but I will leave it to the words of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh to hint at them. And yes, drinking a cup of tea can be a "Do".

“Tea is an act complete in its simplicity.
When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea.
The rest of the world dissolves.
There are no worries about the future.
No dwelling on past mistakes.
Tea is simple: loose-leaf tea, hot pure water, a cup.
I inhale the scent, tiny delicate pieces of the tea floating above the cup.
I drink the tea, the essence of the leaves becoming a part of me.
I am informed by the tea, changed.
This is the act of life, in one pure moment, and in this act the truth of the world suddenly becomes revealed:
All the complexity, pain, drama of life is a pretense, invented in our minds for no good purpose.
There is only the tea, and me, converging.”

So the question really is, to "Do" or not to "Do"

And that man absorbed in Kado, arranging flowers, who does he become when when he is unified with his art?

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Who Am I?

I am Nicholas Hudis an author and mentor dedicated to the path of self-cultivation. After 25 years  as a therapist/coach, I see that the need is not for therapy but for cultivating the skill to live wisely, ethically and purposefully.  I am no "sage" but the wisdom of Confucius, the Buddha and the Stoic philosophers guides me on a daily basis. My desire is to share this inspiration, through my writings and personal mentoring, and make a difference to your life too.

Nicholas Hudis

  • January 25, 2020

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