In every form of practice, whether meditation, medicine, or mixed martial arts, the external challenge or opponent disappears and we are left with the internal opponent, our own patterns of reaction that prevent us from effectively meeting or facing what is arising. From this perspective, courage consists in being able to endure the patterns of reaction without being immobilized or carried away by them. Thus, in daily life, when you run into problems, regard the problems simply as features of the landscape that have to be negotiated and focus your effort on meeting the reactive patterns that prevent you from doing what is effective, appropriate or necessary.
A recent posting by über blogger Leo Babauta entitled “The Way to Be” was insightful in how he described ‘melting’ as a way to be with someone challenging our balance and centering. Most notable in his description of ‘melting’ is the imagery of blending with the other – not looking to change or alter the other – but rather to simply blend, accept and become one with the other.
Although Leo’s treatise is not rooted in aikido, his presentation of melting is a metaphor worth considering when engaging an opponent or Uke.
The Way to Be
By Leo Babauta
Last night I received a phone call from a loved one, someone who I love deeply but have struggled with internally because I’ve been worried about his health.
I want to help him, because I feel I’m losing him.
I want to show him my habit method, so he can give up smoking and drinking and eating unhealthy foods, can take up exercise and meditation, and all of a sudden be transformed into a healthy person again.
And of course, I can’t. I want to control something that scares me, but I can’t. I’m not in control of the universe (haven’t been offered the job yet), and I’m not in control of anyone else. I want to help, but can’t.
So I melted.
Not melted as in “had a meltdown”, which sounds wonderful if you like melted foods but actually isn’t. I melted as in I stopped trying to control, stopped trying to change him, and instead softened and accepted him for who he is.
And guess what? Who he is? It’s wonderful. Who he is — it’s super awesome mad wonderful. He’s funny and loving and wise and passionate and crazy and thoughtful and philosophical and did I mention crazy?
I melted, and accepted, and only then could I actually enjoy his presence instead of worrying about losing him or changing him.
And this, as I’ve learned, is the best way to be.
We can stop trying to change people, and just melt into their presence, just notice who they really are, just appreciate it. We can stop complaining about our life circumstances, about our losses, about how the world is, and just melt into it.
Just accept. Just notice. Just appreciate.
This is the way to be.
Many treatises, reflections and words of advice have come from the world of warfare. Numerous historical pieces are mandatory reading and re-reading in leading military schools and academies.
But what of the world or work, notably one where collaboration is not the norm?
Many of those principles apply more than ever in a work world where adversarial, hyper-partisan and, in some cases, physically violent environments exist. Although the later is thankfully rare, the level of mental, emotional and verbal aggressive behaviour – what would be called bullying by any other name – remains all too prominent. Just watch a few minutes of any modern democracy’s parliament or seat of power to get a flavour of what is considered “normal” behaviour – behaviour that would send any child to the principle’s office or in suspension for a week.
Such aggressiveness in our common moments at work leaves one wondering : what classics can one consider to becoming a warrior in a business suit, a warrior who does not become part of the problem, but rather brings stillness, harmony and peace to every moment.
A few books I’ve found inspirational range from the spirit of war to the spirit of peace – yet are all routed in the spirit of victory over an adversary – which in all instances, once you’ve removed the focus on the external enemy or adversary, leaves one facing the most daunting adversary of all – ourselves.
The Art of War
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the quintessential war literature classic. Covering the breadth of warfare, it is rooted as much in philosophy as in strategy and tactics, if not weighted more on the former. Somewhat difficult to approach for the non-initiated, repeated visits to this historic text will slowly pay off in broadening one’s toolbox of stratagems, tactical approaches and principles for honourable victory. A definite must have in any leader’s library.
The Book of Five Rings
Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings is less well know than Sun Tzu’s Classic, but no less influential. Musashi is considered Japan’s greatest ever swordsman, and his reflections on conflict, strategies and tactics reflect a more philosophical core than one of battle stratagems. As with The Art of War, The a book of Five Rings is ultimately a treatise of philosophy, and will require multiple visits to begin to fully appreciate Musashi’s insights into the art of the sword – the soul of the samurai.
Clausewitz is the modern Art of War, routed in Clausewitz’s extensive experience, and deep knowledge of the art of strategy and tactics. Although, like the other works, it can be mistaken as a technical text, Clausewitz does commit considerable attention to the moral and political aspects of conflict – in essence acknowledging that peace is the ultimate aim of war. His most famous quote remains “the best developed plan never survives first contact with the enemy” – a core stratagem in any strategic context – and one that merits much study in our modern age.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo drafted this as a “guide for life” for the samurai partly in response to their slowly eroding role from warriors to servants. Quite difficult to approach at first, the Hagakure is filled with many concise, yet deeply reflective, almost koan-like passages that can keep one contemplating the deeper meaning of life, death and service. Although more typically reserved for the martial artist seeking a treatise from a zen-routed samurai, it does present some valuable insights for the executive seeking guidance in balancing life and conflict-laden work.
The Unfettered Mind
Yagyu Munenori, major samurai rival to Miyamoto Musashi, was provided by a zen monk named Takuan Soho, what some consider the least known, but arguably the most relevant book on warfare. Although it does not come across as a text book on war and strategies, it is effectively the most important treatise on warfare – a guide to how to master the self, the mind – the ultimate challenge in any time of conflict and adversity. The Unfettered Mind requires, like many comparable works, repeated reading and subsequent introspection, but the results of ones efforts in learning to master the mind in times of conflict are nothing short of life altering. The Unfettered Mind remains of the few classics on self mastery yet to be discovered as a classic.
The Art of Peace
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the art of Aikido, was, in the end a man of peace, a philosopher and one who embodied peace – in the true sense of one who lived peace by way of harmony of mind, body and spirit. Although many of his writings and reflections have been captured in various forms, Ueshiba’s the Art of Peace is the antithesis of the Art of War, not only in title, but from the basis that ultimate victory is about self mastery, self control, self victory. The Art of Peace is, like Aikido, short on content, but deep on substance and meaning, with each passage first appearing harmless, yet filled with koan-like brilliance. If the Art of War is about warfare facing outward, the Art of Peace is about warfare facing inward – providing a way to masakatsu agatsu katsu ayame : true victory is self victory right here right now – the answer Ueshiba would share when asked “why do you practice Aikido”?
Although many other classics could be included, such as Machiavelli’ The Prince, the above amount to my personal “desert island” picks which would keep one reading, reflecting and re-visiting for many lifetimes, all in the pursuit of masakatsuagatsu.
The following is fully inspired by, and heavily borrowed from, the 5 principles of a profound workday, courtesy of Leo Babauta. I highly recommend Leo’s words for inspiration and solace.
‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’ ~Laozi
The Profound Visit to the Dojo
1. Empty: In Silence and Solitude. When your mind is full, you have no room for change. When your thoughts are full of noise, you have no space to think.
Empty your mind. When you have an empty mind, you can fill it with anything. Only with this emptiness can you create something truly different.
Clear your thoughts. Find space for silence and solitude. With this space you’ll be free, free to see the truth, to create beauty.
2. Slow and Mindful. Rushing paradoxically leaves us with less time — speed means we don’t pay attention, and so the moments on the mat disappear rapidly and leave us before we notice.
Slow down, and pay attention. You’ll be able to focus on your movements more, and though you’ll do less, you’re technique will be more profound.
Be mindful of every movement, small or large. Enjoy every motion.
3. Profoundly Creative. Don’t use the gift of your visit to the mat for mindless repetitive tasks. Don’t end the visit with nothing to show for your work.
Start each visit by creating. Make the space at the beginning of your visit to the mat to create, before you get lost in rushing, urgency, or the desire to see the end of the class.
Create something amazing. Delight your Sensei and your ukes. Leave them amazed, wanting to not end the session. for you.
4. Simplified. The principles for a profound visit to the dojo might seem difficult to most people, because there just isn’t the instinct or desire to do less. The only way to create this type of visit to the dojo is to simplify.
It’s the key to everything else. Subtract. Pare everything down to its essence.
What’s on your mind right now? What are the principles that actually need to be present in your practice? Remove everything else.
What do you do every time you visit the dojo? How many of those things can be eventually pared down? Be simplified?
Simplify, and you’ll be able to find emptiness, solitude, silence, slowness, and mindfulness in your practice.
5. Flexible and Natural. This type of visit to the dojo might start to sound rigid, but in truth when you create space you also allow yourself the flexibility to deal in the moment with any change, any attack.
The natural flow of things is change, and if we are rigid we aren’t able to deal with changes. We become frustrated, anxious, angry, flustered.
If instead we have no expectations of what will happen each visit, and deal with changes as they come, we let go of that frustration and anxiety.
Be open to whatever happens. Be flexible. Deal with change as it happens, and you’ll find true profoundness doesn’t come from within us, or from external sources, but in the space between the two.
It comes from the eternal space between all things.
It comes from the universal Ki.
‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry