The Big Questions are those existential ponderings that we all ask (or perhaps feel) at some point or another: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose? Where am I going?
In some sense, we all ask these types of questions in a fairly mundane way on a regular basis - perhaps not in an overt way, but many times we ask philosophical questions when we think about our careers, make decisions about domestic budgets, or even how we will spend our day (when we have a choice). A central question in all this is: How will I spend my time? Of course, an economist looks at such a question and sees the issue as being one of limited resources and decision to be made that maximises utility. A psychologist, however, sees the question and asks, "What does the answer tell me about the person?" or "What do my answers tell me about myself?"
I can also see that the Big Questions can be viewed on a number of levels. For example, we might ask ourselves these questions about our martial arts practice. You might reflect on your identity in the dojo - ie, are you the same person in the dojo as you are outside its walls? Why spend time training martial arts? What was it that we were looking for that bought us to the dojo in the first place? Does this still apply?
My wife is a very inspiring person. She lives her life in a very genuine way and she can do so because she has worked at it. Her practice of yoga does not end after she leaves the studio or steps off the yoga mat. In many ways, that is when her true practice begins. She strives to take the lessons and values of yoga and apply them to all aspects of her life. As martial art practitioners, do we not have the same opportunity?
Lets look at a common motivation for turning up to martial arts classes: self defence. On the surface, it seems like a fairly straightforward reason for training. However, we can delve deeper into this and ask a few Big Questions: Why are you looking for self defence training? What is your need? The answer to these questions can tell us a lot about a person
I believe the first step in learning self defence is believing you are worth defending. Of course, your family and your children are worth defending too - most people get that. But you must first believe at you are worth defending too. This is important. Stop reading now and start to think about it, and then believe it. Now go to your window, open it and shout as loud as you can "I am worth defending!!". Great. Now do it again and then keep reading.
The question of purpose is related to our search for meaning (if you ever get a chance to read Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, it is excellent). This can be viewed on a number of smaller, but equally valuable levels. We might start each training session with a goal(s) for that session, but we might also ask, "How will I change during the session?" "Will I be a different person from when I started" "How will my martial arts change?". The act of learning new information and new skills changes us - physiologically and psychologically - and training changes us in ways that we can't always appreciate.
Asking these types pf questions is different from setting goals. it is different because it goes to the reason we are there in the first place and whether our practice is taking us to where we want to go. Ideally at the end of each training session we can reflect on what we have learned - about martial arts and about ourselves. The lessons I have learned from individual training sessions are varied. I have learned that I am more competitive than I thought; that my technique is better than I think; and that I can persist for longer and further than I thought. I like the idea that after each session, I will be a better person than when I started (defined by my own personal criteria). In essence, martial arts can be used as a vehicle for self learning and learning about our self.
"Where am I going?" is a tough question because it requires a high level of self honesty. Think about this question: "How is what I am doing right now contributing towards my desired direction in life?" Again, this can be looked at simply in terms of working towards goals, but I am trying to impress the notion that asking these questions in a deeper sense can provide an excellent opportunity for personal awareness and development. Also, by asking these hard questions about ourselves, we can gradually develop a deeper understanding of others as well (which is the topic of my next post). We all have the opportunity to look at our current thoughts and actions and ask if they are contributing to the long term desired version of our Self - or if they are detracting from it.
Self development is often touted as being a benefit of martial arts practice and I agree that it is a benefit that keeps people turning up to class long after the perceived need for self defence has faded. However, self development doesn't happen by magic and we can assist this process and get more from it by asking ourselves some Big Questions - about ourselves and about our practice of martial arts.