aikido and life, beyond words

“Zen practice is always about returning to that place where there are no words. Early on, I realized that to use words, you have to live life beyond words, before words, without words. Only then do you have the right to speak.”

– Seido Ray Ronci, “No Words”

Many months have passed since my last blog posting. A significant absence due – in large part, to a long term illness that is on the way to being addressed – in part due to confusion about where I wanted to take my writing.

I started the blog as a way of intellectualizing my aikido learnings, observations and thoughts, and how they overlapped with my Buddhist practice. However, the past 5 or 6 months have been some of the most transformational in my life. Transformational not in the “clouds have parted, and I see the light” kind of way, but rather the “I’m starting to understand in my body what I’ve always understood in my head”. A few events occurred that challenged my modus operandi – good and bad habits developed over 30 years of relying primarily on my mind, intellect and rational thought to guide my life.

The fist event, in late December 2012, was a diagnosis of depression – along with some form of fast cycle bipolar condition. The diagnosis is inconclusive at this time, but the symptoms are quite real, and being fully aware of, and managing, them has been my focus over most of 2013 to date.  Dark, heavy, brooding depression consumed both my mind and my body, shutting down entire bodily systems for days on end. Although I’ve struggled somewhat with the darker side over many years, this recent bout was different – a clear signal to change course in order to avoid rougher waters ahead.

The second was, as a side effect of the depression, coming face to face with my addictive tendencies towards work and career, and the underlying sensations and emotions that accompany it. Courtesy of a ten-day Vipassana retreat in March of 2013, a major shift occurred in the lens through which I’ve seen my life to this point. Much work remains to be done, but like a lost traveller, I’ve found a “map”, a “torch” to guide my way – and now need to use it to guide my journey forward. Finding the “map” or “torch” gave me the hope that there are lands where darkness subsides, and light can fill our days.

The third event was on the aikido mat, an episode one Sunday morning many months ago now. During an especially difficult session, my Sensei, Peter, upon observing yet again my persistent and repeated attempts to overly intellectualize and rationalize what I was experiencing on the mat, said some simple words that he had uttered many times before, words that I mentally understood very clearly, but words which had failed to resonate with my whole being prior to that moment.  “Don’t think so much!”, Peter directed my way. In those four words was the simple truth that I was doing, and had always done my aikido from the mind – an intellectual exercise that could be mastered the way organic chemistry or differential equations were mastered in my engineering degrees. But aikido is fundamentally not, and never can be an intellectual exercise. Although countless Aikido books have been written, and will continue to be written, the uttering of those four words at that moment shifted my practice, and my life forever.

Time had come to begin the work towards true harmony of body, mind and spirit – not harmony of an intellectual nature, but harmony of a deeper, more fundamental and spiritual level – deep work, work that from the outside is largely invisible, but within is profound and foundational.

Part of this work has been to rely much less on words and images from outside of myself – books, stories, videos, etc., and spend more time being attuned to the sensations my body, my mind and my spirit manifest – sensations that tell me much more about what is happening in the moment, and provide a much more accurate and interesting guide for where I should take my aikido practice in the next moment, and the next.

My aikido, like my Buddhist practice, is shifting away from attempting to develop or master some tools and techniques per se, and is now more interested in further enhancing and developing harmony.  We often prevent ourselves from embarking on such new journeys due to our past digressions, commitments and efforts to date, or through fear that we will deeply regret those past decisions, in the event that we discover a better path. In response to this fear, I’ve decided that it is better to have one day on our own journey, than a life on someone else’s.

My blog and writing will change as a result.  Although this entry is wordy, the focus of my writings for the coming weeks and months will be fewer words – ok, I’ll try – and simple reflections of the sensations and moments of what I perceive to be my journey, both on the mat and off, towards harmony of mind, body and spirit.

I look forward to sharing the journey with you – and extend my gratitude to all those who join me along the way. To close, here are some words which attempt to describe what I can’t describe at this time. Enjoy!

Words arise from thoughts.

Thoughts based in our memories of the past, or dreams of the future.

Hence, words are not the product of harmony of mind, body and spirit.

For harmony of mind, body and spirit is the product of pure perception, in the present moment.

Yet many will continue their attempts to describe this state of harmony in words.

Many will expend countless hours and boundless energies convincing others of their descriptions as correct.

Many may even resort to aggression and anger to defend their representation of harmony and peace.

Yet, without words, only the state of peace, balance, harmony and love remains.

And so should your practice be.”

-Dan

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