Last night as a comment, someone asked, "you always write about the Dharma, what do you actually mean when you say Dharma?" Good question, yes?
The simple answer for me is that the Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha. And in my constant reference to the Dharma I am talking about how to apply (if you want to call it theory or teachings) the words of the Buddha to my everyday life. If the Dharma says "have faith", what does that mean to me, how do I take the idea of faith and actually make it mine and use it on a daily basis. If I just read about faith and think about faith but never really let it move out into my actions I may "know" about this aspect of the Dharma in my head but I haven't really tasted it. I haven't lived it. I haven't covered it in tears or brushed the dust off it. So while in simple terms I think of the teachings of the Buddha as "The Dharma" an integral part of it is, as the Buddha said "make it true for yourself". He encouraged this working with the Dharma. So for me the Dharma is the basis for how I live my life, it is always there in the background. In a way it's a part of the "Self" with a capital S, as opposed to the little self or ego. Maybe it's like if we all have "Buddha Nature", we all have "Dharma Nature".
If one of the eightfold path is Right Speech then how does this aspect of the Dharma work in my life? If I say I'm practicing Buddhism but never think about the gossip I engage in over coffee or how I talk to my daughter or my mother or my spouse where is the Dharma for me? And I think we get to these places in stages, gradually peeling that metaphorical Buddhist onion. First we have a niggle that maybe what we just said wasn't so nice. And then we see how we are somehow drawn to do this, how we repeat this unpleasant behaviour. Until one day we catch ourselves before the words come out of our mouth. It can be tricky and it takes time --- a lifetime. But in my mind this is what the Dharma is. It's a guideline, a little reference book, a little light that I hold my actions up to and examine. Is that a good thing to do? For me it cuts through the confusion. I can always think about "where is the Dharma in this situation?" Where is the opportunity in this difficulty? It brings me sanity when my mind goes to the crazy channel, not that I don't spend some time shopping on the crazy channel. But somehow the Dharma channel is always playing in the background and as I watch my environment, I pick up the cues and finally hear it loud enough so that it helps point me in the right direction.
So it is important to study the Dharma and know what it says. Otherwise how can it guide us? And as in any learning process there are various ways of studying the Dharma. We can read about it, listen to talks, go to retreats, be involved with a Sangha (a group of like minded practitioners) meet with a teacher. We start with the basics and then refine our practice I think. We work with our own personal stuff. We all have different learning styles so some ways work better for different individuals.
In my mind there are some essential ingredients to working with the Dharma. First you need to do some form of study. Then you need to do some sitting meditation. Some of my best insights into what I should do or what my little self is up to, come when I'm sitting. We need to be willing, willing to be honest with ourselves, willing to be uncomfortable, willing to be humble, willing to be disturbed by the truth. But willingness is a key ingredient. And I think at some point it is good to have a teacher. For me my teacher helped (helps) clarify the confusion, calls me on my stuff when it's easier to pussy foot around it. "Oh my daughter would think I'm just her crazy old mom if I said that to her." And teacher just raises her eyebrow. Or when I think I've mined a Dharma gem all the way down to the bottom, my teacher will say, "I didn't get that you really felt your mother's pain at a heart level." I might initially reject one of her suggestions. I might feel insulted and huffy, but if it is a true statement I always see it's truth in the end. I can see what I might be pushing away.
So to make a short question long (a task I apparently excel at) the Dharma is the teachings of the Buddha and how it relates to my life in a moment by moment way. I could go to Wikipedia and get you the Pali definition and a more in the "head" description, but I know you can do that on your own. For me the Dharma is alive, it lives, it breathes, it enlightens. It is the bringer of sanity and truth. I can't imagine living anywhere but steeping in the Dharma.