I just came back from a Vipassana meditation retreat. After unplugging completely from every element of my normal life for ten days, I’m staying at a quiet house in the outskirts of Boston allowing myself to selectively reintegrate into the flow of modern life.
Since I started doing Taekwondo as a kid, I’ve had to memorize and repeat five terms that are considered the principles of the martial art. These five tenets are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. My mom used to always laugh when she would quiz me on these before my belt tests as a child, particularly the arcane sounding “Indomitable Spirit”.
Now I’m 30 years old and have returned to Taekwondo for the second time in my life after a long hiatus. I stopped for four years during high school to do team sports and again for six years after college when I was building my start-up. I am testing for my next belt and was asked to write an essay describing what "Indomitable Spirit" means to me.
The typical definition for "Indomitable Spirit" is that when things are challenging, you keep going. In that way this tenet is not much different from “Perseverance”. But I like to think that in the past 20 or so years of my life since I’ve had this oddly worded principle bouncing around my head, I’ve come to a more nuanced understanding of what it means to me.
My personal definition for "Indomitable Spirit" really is about spirit. In the stack of things that make up a human: a body, mind, heart, and spirit, the spirit is the deepest, and the one element of our self which is truly indomitable.
No matter what we do, our body will always be vulnerable to physical pain. The body can get sick, exhausted, or be confined against our will. We can’t guarantee that the body won’t be “dominated”. The mind is also vulnerable to doubt, stress, or compulsive thinking that can be beyond our control. And emotions can be overwhelming regardless of, or even because of, our attempts to control them.
The solution to the vulnerability of the body, mind, and heart is not to ignore physical and emotional pain. It is in fact to accept this discomfort fully knowing that deep within, it can’t overwhelm or dominate the deepest part of us - the spirit.
When we view the spirit as a sanctuary, it allows us to shift our attitudes towards the external causes of suffering. While one who allows their self to become identified with the pain they are going through might consider the suffering worthless torture, a practitioner of “Indomitable Spirit” sees these struggles as an opportunity to strengthen and refine the inner sanctuary of the spirit.
For me this practice has grown hand in hand with my study of Taekwondo. In the course of training I’ve faced physical pain and exhaustion. When I’m able to separate myself from that pain, to know that while it impacts my body and mind, it can’t dominate my spirit, then I’m able to suffer much less even while pushing harder.
This practice starts simply with a belief, if we are willing to accept it, that our spirit, the innermost part of our self, is indomitable.