Tag Archives: Mastery

“be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.”

― Henry David Thoreau

Our truth is not found in the words or journeys of others.

Others can share their journeys, their observations, sensations and experiences.  Many write eloquent prose to lure others to believe that their way is the way, more often to the detriment of the reader, and benefit to the writer. Through other’s words and images, we can find ourselves taken, attached to their success, their path, and ignore our own.  The words within books and blogs, reflecting other’s stories, are helpful when we remember that, like a picture, they are but a rendition of another’s truth.

When we seek our own truth through experience and insights of others, we may find in those words confirmation or insights into our own journey. Beware!, for we often seek out words that confirm our “truth”, and not words as food and water for our own cultivation.

Other’s words and insights should be like rain – watering our own seeds of truth and exploration, and not become the seeds themselves. To take others words as our seeds is to ignore our own deep seeded truths (no pun intended). In so doing, we may one day wake up and find ourselves in someone else’s garden.  And as pretty and luscious as that garden may be, it will be another’s – and not our own.

Masakatsu agatsu katsu ayame – true victory is self victory – is allowing our own seeds to grow – and allowing rain from other’s journeys to water our own seeds.

Read, learn, study and explore without never forgetting that a great temptation will forever exist to substitute another’s wisdom as our own. Wisdom can never come from outside of ourselves – it is cultivated through patient observation, equanimous being and loving acceptance of every moment.
Others have more eloquently, and succinctly, said the same thing.  What nicer way to close.


“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – E.E. Cummings

“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.”


… 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.