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Relax Completely

To expound and propogate concepts is simple, to drop all concepts is difficult and rare. A quiet mind is all you need. All else will happen rightly, once your mind is quiet.

~nisargadatta maharaj

Depression is the result of overly living in my head, in the mind. It is a disease that results from the mind being the only instrument of managing, living and loving life.

Relationships that are only mental ones, that only live in our heads, will be conditional, for our respective thoughts, opinions, judgements, aversions and adversions will change over time – and if the only basis for the relationship is alignment of those elements, then we are exposed to having nothing but conditional relationships.

If our relationships are based on harmony of mind, body and spirit, then we can see the commonalities that we both share. The air we both need for breath. The heat we both need for comfort. The light we both need for awareness. The foods we both need for life. The spirit, ki, we both need for existence. The basic needs we both experience that influences our choices. The ignorance and insecurities we all struggle to accept. The ambitions and desires we each strive to mitigate. In such a relationship, the link is deeper, and the dependence is less on harmony of mental secretions, and on spiritual harmony – love that is because you and I share life, pure and simple.

Love without an object – that object being the others or the context’s thoughts, desires, judgements, aversions, adversions, body shape or colour, other sensory emissions, actions, words spoken or written, or any other secretions that another can elicit.

Love without an object does not depend on any of my emotions triggered by any of the above – my response, irrespective of the sensations triggered in me, remains calmness, stillness, acceptance, openness, genuine and deep curiosity, needlessness to change ANY aspect the moment – and love.

Love that is fully taking, and fully giving to the moment, and to the context, items and people who make the moment.

Such love does not live nor can exist in the mind.

It exists when harmony of mind, body and spirit are one.

That harmony is, like the body, susceptible to disease and harm from the world which surrounds us.

Aikido, not the physical or mechanical form, but the deeper, spiritual and integral aikido, immunizes us, and maintains the harmony.

Aikido, maybe is not love, but is the prescription for love.

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The techniques of the Art of Peace are neither fast nor slow, nor are they inside or outside. They transcend time and space.

-Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

Detach for all, as silence, stillness and needlessness.

Wanting is attachment. Attachment to an outcome, to a result, to a state of being that is not within our control. Wanting is needing with bite. Wanting is living with tension and desire to have things a specific way, expecting the world to be a certain way, and basing our experience more on the way it should or could be, rather than on the way it is.

Only through detachment from all can true change come, for change through attachment and want, is change that is not natural, but rather contrived, architected, designed. True, long lasting and real change is natural. Like the tree that takes a certain bend because of nature, the wind and flows of the place where it exists, forcing change although possible, is not change that will reflect presence and being.

Detachment is total perception. In detachment for all, there is no desire to change the moment, no need to change the experience, no desire to alter the experience. It is fully experienced, fully sensed, fully perceived and felt deeply.

Detachment from all is fully listening, truly listening, with all senses, with all of my being. Detachment is taking up the ki slack of the universe, sense the ki of all living things, near and far, past and future.

Like when listening to music or another, you are not truly listening if you are talking, verbally or virtually (through your smartphone or other texting device), or talking to yourself in your own thoughts. Words, emanating from yourself in any form, internal or external, indicate that you are not truly listening. Total perception of the moment, including sounds coming from others perceived as structured words, or symbols visually perceived as letters strewed together in logical order – that is “listening”, with total and complete awareness.

Detachment from all is total perception – pure, simple attention of the moment. From that point, anything is possible, everything is free.

A weight settles deep in the pit of your hara when starting to take up ki slack. The space around the shoulders starts to settle, gaps in the inches around the body start to collapse, and an openness in the breath emerges. Parts of the body begin to settle and dissolve quicker than others, and the whole finds harmony, as when one watches the clouds diffuse in the sky.  Some dark clouds take longer than others to disappear, but eventually, one is left but with an open and vast blue sky. Those parts of the body that are still solid reveal something about your state and your balance. Pay attention, not in an attached, “go away will you” state of mind, but rather a “well, would you look at that. I wonder what this is telling me?”

Interesting to notice that when presented as a question, a gentle curiosity emerges, without attachment to the outcome, whereas, the former is attachment, goal oriented, and with tension to boot. Paraphrasing Tohei Sensei, “The one thing o’sensei taught was how to relax – nothing more”.  If a relaxed state is lost, then what is left is tension in the moment, moment to moment, and a feeling of heaviness and “stickiness”.

Our attachment matters much significantly from the inside; attachment to our thoughts, our feelings, our sensations, good to bad, hard to soft, hot to cold. These are always with us, and test us from second to second, hour to hour, year to year, and will be there for as long as breath is present.  Another great challenge, and a battle to welcome, for it is a great foe, are the attachments that the world around us present to us every waking moment.

Pretty things, sexy things, a passing glance, a smile, a frown, a look, an ugly moment, dark places, loud or odd sounds, smells, a hard chair, a cold floor or wind – a good book! Endless are the moments and signals (vibrations of all sorts, at all frequencies) that intersect our senses and our field of awareness. Any and all of these can intersect with our own vibrations, our own natural resonance – and either harmonize with ours for the moment, or attempt to shift our resonance to another frequency. This leads us to loose our center, and rely on external signals and vibrations to define wellness, peace and happiness.  In all of these instances, our ki is taken by the external actor – leading our mind, then our body, our voice, our movement.

When taking up ki slack, our ki is not taken, cannot be taken, preventing our natural resonance from being altered. We then may choose to extend our ki to a moment, an issue or an outcome – but it is by choice, not as the result of it being taken.

When taking up ki slack, the five principles of Aikido then arise.  These five principles at that moment describe the state of coordination of mind, body and spirit. They become not doors, but representations of the result of having harmony of mind body and spirit.  They then are a description, rather than a prescription.

True victory is self victory, right here right now.

Such a victory is the practice of non-attachment, as described above.

Early on in my study of aikido, I had the opportunity to study with an aikikai school in Montreal. I found the two years a good experience but was left disappointed in that I did not feel like I was connecting with the subject matter per se. I’m not sure if it was the school or me. At the time, I was convinced it was the school. But reflecting on those moments, I’m sure it was more the lack of fit between my own journey and the school’s approach to teaching.

And so I spent the following years researching and reading – turning my practice into a study of philosophy rather than one of pins and rolls. It was in that period that I read Steven’s the philosophy of aikido.

In those pages I’ve found the most inspirational and insightful quote to impact my life: masakatsu agatsu, katsu ayami … True victory is self victory.

Stevens states that this was the answer O Sensei quoted every time he was asked the purpose of aikido. At first, I found the answer a bit simplistic, but as I’ve studied over the years, and read other texts, references and books of wisdom, I’ve found myself coming back to this quote, and finding it more profound and deep.

Today, it is felt in my body, and not understood in the intellectual sense. It resonates with the moments when I am fully present and when I am fully aware. As I take my practice forward, I find myself focusing more and more on these few words, and continue to better appreciate what O Sensei implied in his response.

A perfect example of simple, but not easy.

To close today, another wise person also expressed what I believe was the same essence when he stated:

… a person knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, then he has done something real for the world. he has succeeded in removing an infinitesimal part of the unsolved gigantic problems of our day …

~ C.J. Jung

Aikido-: The word “aikido” is made up of three Japanese characters: AI; harmony, KI ; universal energy, DO ; the Way. So the proper definition for Aikido is “The way of harmony with universal energy.”

I recently finished reading the article Manage your Energy, not your Time, by Tony Schwartz and found myself drawing many parallels with my aikido practice, most notably with respect to how the four energy forms outlined by Schwartz overlapped and might in fact coincide with the four principles of aikido.

The four energy forms outlines by Schwartz included:

mental
physical
emotional
spiritual

In summary, Schwartz argues that the various energy forms are constantly in flux and our challenge is to seek a level of balance and harmony between them. Schwartz contends that if you manage your energy, your productivity and output significantly increases. He also contends that in this context, you don’t manage your time, since time is finite and limited. Your energy is for all intents and purposes, much more abundant, renewable and can be accessed once we know how to balance it.

In assessing Schwartz’s work, a question came to me: could the four forms of energy be in fact one energy taking four different forms? Could the energy that Schwartz was advocating we manage better be in fact one energy, the life energy, manifesting in four different ways? If so, there might be a way to represent Schwartz’s four forms of energy against the Aikido principles that provide the way to harmony of mind, body and spirit.

At Ryurei Aikido, the four principles developed by Koichi Tohei are extended to include a fifth principle in “detach from all”.  Again, the principles are:

keep one point
keep weight underside
relax completely
extend ki
detach from all

Through some reflections of my various moments on the mat when the ki was or was not flowing, and harmony was blocked by some issue with energy (ki), I’ve come up with the following proposed relationship between the Aikido principles and the four energy forms. I’ve observed that primary and secondary relationships may exist as well – in essence, each energy form is primarily associated with each Aikido principle, and an alternate energy is also associated, although on a secondary level.

As an example, keeping weight underside (Aikido principle #2) is primarily impacted by the balance of our physical energy. Poor physical energy may result in difficulties in manifesting keeping weight underside. Similarly, weakened spiritual energy may also interfere with achieving effective keeping weight underside.

Although I’ve observed in my own practice the blocking of energy leading to difficulties in manifesting certain principles, I’ve been much more intrigued by the opposite implication: that achieving one of the four principles (and hence all of them, since if you achieve one, you achieve them all) leads to a balance of the four energies. In other words, achieve harmony of mind, body and spirit through full manifestation of the four + one principles, and one can achieve harmony and balance of the four energies outlined by Schwartz. Interestingly, achieving the fifth principle – detach from all – may bring all four energies together at once – possible given that detachment from all in effect liberates us from all external factors, allowing internal energies of mind, body, spirit and heart (mental, physical, spiritual and emotional) to naturally fall into equilibrium.

Observe how your energies are harmonized during practice and note how each may or may not be impacted by your choice of principle, or vice versa, how the four + one Aikido principles bring one or more of the energies into a balanced state. I propose that you consider Aikido as the way of harmony not only with the energy of the universe, but the various forms that universal energy might take in our daily live. In that context, a further dimension of the impact of Aikido can be explored.

I recently read “this is aikido” by Koichi Tohei, and was struck by one portion where he wrote about the relevance of the four principles to one’s state of mind and the behaviors anchored by each of the principles. Although simple to list, I find a resonance between the principles and the challenges I sometimes face on the mat, or off it. For example, when not feeling positive, extending Ki appears to bring a positive mindset quickly to the fore. Keeping weight underside is hugely helpful when there are tough decisions to make at the office or at home. Relaxing completely makes me open and receptive to ideas or thoughts that may not at first glance align with my values and principles. And keeping one point appears to keep one’s mind focused and in the moment.

In summary, from this is aikido by Koichi Tohei :

keep one point

unity of mind

immovable mind

extend ki

positive mind

power of will

keep weight underside

calmness

judgement

relax completely

tolerance

composure

… perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away …

~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry

During a recent session, I was given the opportunity to work with Sensei for the whole of my session. At first it was intimidating, because Sensei is so well versed in the Art. But then it became evident that this was a chance to explore an idea I’ve been wondering about for some time – that coordination of mind, body and spirit is always with us – and that it is our habits and conditioning that overwhelm and obscure our awareness. In essence, the art of aikido is in us all – and what we learn is to remove the pieces that obstruct or block us in achieving the state of coordination and harmony.

It was during a particularly difficult segment attempting to simply stand in coordination of mind, body and spirit that the awareness of coordination was fleeting and coming and going – like a golf ball floating on water – mostly underwater with some occasional surfacing if the waves and conditions enable it. At that moment, the frustration was palatable because I could not get the state of coordination of mind, body and spirit to “stick”. The harder I tried to make it happen, the more the state of coordination just faded away. I kept trying to learn and “do” coordination – to no avail.

It was at that point that Sensei said “let’s try something else” – sitting. The simple act of sitting rather than standing opened up a space where for a brief moment, the thought of “taking away the pieces” came to mind. And so the next few minutes were followed by a state of coordination of mind, body and spirit that I’ve not experience before – calm, steady and relaxed – I wondered if this is what is referred to by some as heijoshin?

The biggest discovery at this moment was that harmony and coordination felt like it was always there –  all I needed to do was to remove what was in the way. In essence, to unlearn rather than learn was the mindset I found myself in – the need to undo, remove and simplify.

As such, my practice experienced what George Leonard would say was a “breakthrough”, as outlined in his wonderful book Mastery. It is after relentless effort and dedication that unexpected moments emerge when the simplest yet most wonderful lessons manifest. Lessons that are more about awakening and discovering what is already there, rather than thinking more needs to be added.

Thank you Sensei for the great session.