About five minutes into my karate practice yesterday, I realized I needed to sweep the floor; little bits of who knows what were accumulating on my feet – it was dirty and distracting. My karate tradition has given me the concept of Soji, which means cleaning, or maintenance, in Japanese. Like many Japanese concepts it’s a little more complicated than the idea of “chores” that many westerners might think about. It comes with a notion that by doing the work we become better people. In the dojo, the idea is that all of us work to maintain the space, and that cleaning is everyone’s work, that it’s important, and that it’s not menial or to be looked down upon. The maintenance of the place we train is serious business, not to be taken lightly or neglected. It’s part of the ritual courtesy and respect that informs all layers of the practice.
At home, I practice playing the violin in the same place I practice karate, and yesterday as I swept the floor I thought about the benefits my violin practice might receive from the cleaning I had just done. I have been practicing without shoes – I never wear shoes at home – so in the same way that bits of stuff under my feet were distracting to my karate practice, the same might have been true for my violin practice. And of course dust on the floor means dust in the air, and that dust can find its way into and onto the instrument.
But that’s not really it. The main point is that with the violin, I’ve added a new practice to my life. I already had a karate practice, and other types of practice too – things I’ve identified as worthy of making time for. Practicing the violin in a dirty space means I’ve neglected something else that’s important to me. That’s not what my musical passion is supposed to do. Tending to Soji is a reminder that we must be mindful in all aspects of our lives. Moments of Soji remind us that whether we’re throwing a hook kick or pulling the bow across the strings of a violin, none of our actions happen in isolation. Every moment is connected to every other, and every action impacts every other.
Thanks for reading.