This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.
There’s a Chinese idiom I learned through my Kung Fu practice that translates to “Eating Bitter.” Or, more fully, the willingness to eat that bitter.
In order to train and learn and gain skill and ability and accomplishments in the martial arts, you have to be willing to go through all manner of unpleasant periods.
Not every part of training will be fun.
Not every part of training will feel great.
Not every part of training will lead to immediate growth.
No, there is a lot of training that can/will be downright frustrating, boring, repetitive, difficult, painful*, challenging, embarrassing, weird, confusing, upsetting, and grueling. Physically and mentally and even bits that will directly confront your identity and disrupt your view of yourself and lift up the mask of awesomeness that we all like to hide behind to expose who we are and what we’re capable of.
It doesn’t have to suck – that’s up to us whether we want to turn it into suck – but we aren’t going to be smiling and laughing all the time. (And if we are, we ought to consider we’re not pushing ourselves enough…) No, in those moments, they can seem downright ugly.
Yet, after all the training and after we’ve gotten through those sour times, those moments will recede in the background.
Instead, we are left with a sense of excitement and accomplishment, and only experience the newfound energy and freedom that comes from our training.
Most oddly, those blah moments may even become some of our fondest memories.
Kung fu is, of course, not all that different from other areas of our lives.
There are many things we can, want to, or are forced to take on. Things as equally complex and deep and integral as Kung Fu, things that are physical, or mental, or spiritual, or interpersonal.
Most certainly, when we practice any field of self-cultivation, we are practicing Kung Fu.**
There will be times that are unpleasant, there will be things that confront us in ways we don’t want to be confronted, there will be times (many, MANY times, in my experience) where we will not look good and will be shocked by ourselves, there will be times where we seem to wallow in question and muddlement and sadness and uncertainty and will beg for the insights to come so it will be over.
We don’t have to suffer through that – that’s up to us whether we want to turn it into suffering – but we aren’t going to be smiling and laughing all the time.
And that’s normal. To be expected. And totally worth it.
For what’s on the other side is just like all that training in Kung Fu.
Once we’ve gone deep into it and worked through the muck, we emerge with unbridled joy and peacefulness and connection and relatedness and generosity and ease and grace and peace of mind. There is freedom to be, no matter what the circumstances.
Self cultivation, of course, is also not divorced from the living of our everyday lives. There’s a parallel here as well.
Live has a tendency to life all over us. Things go awry. Plans go sour. Surprises happen. Obstacles emerge. Challenges drop from the sky.
Not everything or every day will be a picnic on the beach.
But if we develop, practice, our ability to eat bitter, and eat our way through all those life situations while bringing to bear all our self cultivation skills, we can ride the unpleasantness and emerge on the other side quickly, with our spirit strong and our experience of life still mighty fine.
And mighty fine is a pretty darn good life to have.
* As a martial artist we learn to distinguish between soreness and general ache versus sharp pain. A good workout will leave you sore, learning something knew might make your shoulder ache, and that’s OK. But a sharp localized pain equals something bad. And overdoing it on things that render you sore will lead definitively lead to that sharp pain of injury.***
** Quite literally. Kung Fu translates roughly to “skill acquired through effort and time.” So it doesn’t actually mean martial art or anything similar, and thus you can have kung fu in all sorts of places, such as good kung fu in cooking, in calligraphy, in speaking, and absolutely you can have good kung fu in the art of living peacefully, freely, generously…
*** Similarly, there’s a difference between eating bitter, and situations in life that are unhealthy, destructive, abusive, wounding, etc.