We need to give up something. We can’t have it all. We can’t try to layer wisdom on top of confusion. The spiritual path is about what we give up, not what we get.
– Tim Olmsted, “The Great Experiment”
On the mat, there are many days where the struggle to not use muscle becomes an endless frustration. Old habits of muscles and brawn creep in, which inevitably leads to my inability to exercise the technique. After several years, I’ve developed, patiently, an ever increasing awareness of the energy I use, and when I’ve gone beyond the balance point – the point where tension now reigns, and any technique will be fruitless against a much stronger Uke.
At that point, one of three things are possible. No more, no less.
Using more strength is evidently the choice by many who have learnt, as I did, that more muscle is the recipe to any stiff door, stubborn jar or rude guy in a crowded bus. This option is not without its proponents, although I have experienced once too often that there is always someone stronger, someone with more strength. Using the tug-of-war metaphor, we get even more back into it.
In the completely opposite direction is retreating, becoming soft and limp, a form of running away from the circumstance. Although there are places and times when retreating becomes the necessary course of action, such is not the case when in a situation where uke is clearly before us. In the tug-of-war metaphor, we drop the rope, or give it so much slack that we might as well just drop it.
This leaves us with the option most difficult to learn and accept, the option of giving up, but not giving up. In this option, the rope is relaxed to the point where tension becomes less, but never slack…simply not sending signals to the other. At this point of harmony with uke, there is no slack in the rope, but there is no tension either. Just connection, harmony, blending.
The more we can get the self out of the way, the more clearly we can see the effect of our thoughts, words, and action upon ourselves and others.
– Andrew Olendzki, “Moral Health”
To achieve such a point of balance, harmony and blending, we must become invisible. Not the physical kind, but invisible to the tension and pressures that uke will exert in order to return tension to the moment. We must become transparent to the attempts to re-engage our physical and mental commitment, in essence, stay void of uke’s efforts of reattaching us to the moment.
We must get the self out of the way, get the self detached from the getting, the wanting, the desired outcome. We become transparent and nothingness to uke’s charge. We must surrender and give up getting to somewhere. We are always where we need to be, in the absolute present moment, as long as we remain aware of the fullness of the present.
At the point of balance, harmony and blending, there is silence, there is stillness, and there is nothingness. Although the world strives to fill our space with noise, attractions and desires, there is no room for any of this when we are at the point of harmony. In tension, there is much upon which the world can attach, much into which the body can grasp, much with which the mind can preoccupy itself. In slack, there is no contact, no link, no blending, and so the mind seeks to connect, the body grasps, and the spirit wavers.
Only in the moment of balance, the point where the slack has been fully removed, but tension is not given a home, does harmony manifest. At that point, a vibration becomes our state, a vibration like the vibration of the universe – subtle, profound and ubiquitous. Too much tension, and the vibration stops. Too much slack, and the vibration does not transmit – dampened by the loose rope.
Only when slack is fully taken, and tension is not given, does the vibration conduct. Calm, constant and steady contact, without tension and with no slack, leads to the awareness that is to know the infinite truth.
O’Sensei taught how to relax – not limp, weak and without tone, like the slack rope – but relaxed being without undue or excessive tension – without wanting or getting.
A point of harmony, balance and blending where one gives up getting, without giving up.
“But if your mind is calm and constant, you can keep yourself away from the noisy world even though you are in the midst of it. In the midst of noise and change, your mind will be quiet and stable.”
– Suzuki, zen mind beginner’s mind