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What have you come here to learn?

When new students showed up in Aikido class, one of Sensei’s favorite questions was, “What have you come here to learn?”

When Sensei asked such a question, you could be sure he wasn’t going to accept the first answer someone gave. I was intrigued to see that no one seemed to have a reply that was well thought out. Myself included!

The longer I studied Aikido the more I felt Sensei’s question was a kind of Zen koan, a paradoxical question designed to show the inadequacy of logical thinking. When he asked this question, a common scenario went like this:
“Why are you here to learn?”
“I’m here to learn Aikido.”
“Oh,” sensei would reply. “And what is Aikido?”
“Aikido is a martial art,” the student would say.
“Ah, and what is a martial art?” Sensei would ask.
“A martial art teaches self-defense,” the student would reply.
“Well, if your aim is to learn self defense, you could spend your time much more effectively studying Judo or Karate,” Sensei would respond. “Perhaps you’re in the wrong dojo.”

I rarely raised my hand when Sensei asked questions, but once when he asked why we were sitting there in his dojo, I raised my hand and replied in a clear voice, “I don’t know.”

“Ah,” sensei said. “Finally someone with an honest answer!”

“If you don’t know why you’re here, why waste your time?” he asked.

“Well,” I replied, “studying Aikido helps me understand that a lot of what I think I know doesn’t hold up when put to the test. And a lot of what I do in life, I have no idea why I do it. Aikido is a mirror that helps me look at myself and realize my inadequacies as well as my strengths.”

Sensei smiled and said, “Not a bad answer. It’s good to realize there’s so much you don’t know, as long as you’re confident in your ability to learn.”

“Everyone comes to class wanting something,” Sensei said. “But few students come with the idea of giving. When you’re filled with wanting, you feel empty inside and don’t want to give away the little you sense you have.

“A hungry man hoards what is his and doesn’t share it with others. On the other hand, if you’re already feeling full from all the knowledge you have, you won’t have the hunger to learn something new.”

Sensei pointed to a student who often came to class and said, “You tend to focus on wanting to perfect your technique, and you wind up losing sight of why you’re here. If you were to focus instead on why you’re here, your technique would likely suffer, and you’d wind up with more questions than answers. Are you comfortable with not knowing?”

After a brief pause, he continued, “You need to pay attention while understanding that you won’t know exactly what to pay attention to until after you’ve found it.”

Sensei looked at another student and said, “When you stop fighting with yourself, you’ll realize you already have everything you need. Already having everything you need, you’ll be much more willing to give to others. The more you give, the less there will be to defend.

“If you get to the point where you have nothing to defend, you’ll discover no one wants to attack you. Once you’ve experienced this, your study of Aikido will take on a very different importance. Then you’ll be ready to take your learning to a new depth of self-discovery.”

“You see,” sensei said, “the reason I ask these questions and say the things I do is that your reason for being here determines what you will learn and who you will become. ”

Creating a self-fulfilling prophecy

It was Friday night and the class was full. Over in the far right corner of the dojo, two students were giving each other a hard time, and I knew this was going to upset Sensei. Sure enough he growled at them a couple times telling them to lighten up, but if anything they only became more aggressive. Finally Sensei had had enough and he called the class to a halt.

“Go to the front of the room,” Sensei said to the two aggressive students. “I want you to perform for the class.” Once they got there Sensei turned to the rest of us, gave a wink, and said “Now let’s see which one of them is better than the other.” He then told them to perform a specific sequence of moves.

Immediately, it looked like they were involved in a mud wrestling contest rather than Aikido. Both of them moved awkwardly, neither one of them had good footing, and it was hard to discern who was the attacker and who the defender.

After a couple minutes of watching, Sensei told them to stop and sit, as he moved to the front of the room. “There are so many things wrong here it’s hard to know where to begin,” he said. “The two of you perform as if you were identical twins. You look alike and have the same bad habits. I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me you grew up in the same household.”

“The first point that sticks out is that both of you act like righteous victims. Acting as if you’re better or more correct than the one who’s attacking you. With the mind of a victim, you’re focused on getting attacked, rather than correctly focusing on nothing in particular. As I’ve tried to tell you many times before, you energize and strengthen whatever you focus on. So with your focus on the attack, you make the attacker stronger than he’d normally be. Needless to say this leads to your self-fulfilling prophecy of performing poorly.”

“Next,” Sensei said, “Convinced you’re not as good as you think you should be, you set about proving your various dojo partners are even worse. When attacking neither one of you attacks correctly. In fact, you both usually do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. When a specific technique calls for the attacker to overextend themselves by leaning forward, both of you under- extend and wind up leaning backwards. This makes the called for response to the attack more or less impossible to perform. You’re not proving the incompetence of your partner, you’re only proving how foolish you are.”

“The last point I want to make for today is the following. It’s amazing and sad to watch how strongly both of you critique each other, while at the same time neither one of you seems to have the ability to properly critique yourself. You each strive to increase your self-image, by demonstrating how much more you know in comparison to your partner. You both have a strong desire to prove the other person wrong, as a way of proving yourself right. This leads me to understand that both of you have little self-confidence, and low self-esteem. Not only is neither one of you learning anything by practicing, you’re instead strengthening the bad habits and lack of self-confidence you both had when first entering the dojo. I ask you now to bow and apologize to each other, bow and apologize to the entire class, and then please leave. Don’t bother to come back again unless you’re ready to change your mindset and cooperate.”

The Mind of Aikido and Water

While in Japan I’ve had the opportunity of meeting many exceptional people. One of those was Senta Yamada, whom I met for the first time when visiting a friend.

Uncharacteristically for a Japanese person, Yamada Sensei moved his hands a lot as he spoke. He did this to portray his perception of the movements essential to what he called the “mind” of Aikido and water, whose relationship he explained as follows:

While you sit there, please breathe freely and move your body slightly, so that you can feel the movement and mind my words suggest to you.

Water unites all the world’s land masses, large and small, connecting what is seemingly separate, distant, and different into one seamless spherical whole.

Water has an intelligence, a mind. In Aikido we strive to embody this same intelligence.

We direct the flow of our energy so that it accords with that of others. When encountering those appearing angry and frightened, we make special effort to dissolve any sense of separation, distance, or difference.

And even when moving away from others, we do so with the intent of joining with and returning back to them.

Water not only joins together the land masses of earth, it also unites the earth and sky via never ending cycles of precipitation, movement, and evaporation.

This is the same process human beings mirror in birth, life, and death.

Just like water, we come from heaven, spend time on earth, and return back to heaven once again.

Becoming, being, receding. Living, dying, recycling.

Water expands and contracts depending on circumstances, and the same is true of the human spirit.

When you are harsh to a child, his or her spirit contracts.

When you love a child, his or her spirit expands.

The presence of water throughout our ecosystem is similar to the presence of fluids in the body, enveloping and uniting its cells and tissues.

The mind of water, the body’s circulatory system, and Aikido all have the same intention—to move with, absorb, nurture, cleanse, renew.

When everything is experienced as an integral part of the One, there is no disease, no attack, no separation, death, or destruction.

Regardless of the form it may take—rain, mist, steam, dew, snow, ice—water always has a spherical mind.

This mind of roundness is a key principle in the mind of non-dissension.

In Aikido we project a full round presence to our adversary and flow with their movements.

Just like water, we offer no hard surfaces to bump up against, and nothing to grab hold of.

We encourage our adversaries to follow their course of action to its likely outcome, in the same way water follows the path of gravity downhill … ever moving towards center until the time of renewal.

Regardless of the obstacles it encounters, water does not stop, it does not give up.

It searches endlessly for the path of least resistance, and when there is none it rests, consolidating its power until it is time to rise up again.

Waiting for another opportunity. Waiting for the proper moment … an opening.

A single drop of water has little power, but many drops joined together can sweep away everything in their path, with the relentless force of a tsunami.

Water joins with, is absorbed by, and surrounds.

It does not strive to act separately, but waits to be moved by the forces of nature.

With a constant mind of effortless rest, renewal, and movement.

As calm when doing as when simply being.

We can realize the end of every journey as a new beginning,

every destination as temporary, every goal as cyclical.

Beginning complete

We remain complete

With nowhere to go

Nothing to accomplish

Nothing to fulfill

Except our destiny

Our returning

Is never in question.

Twelve fundamental premises of Seishindo

Twelve fundamentals that support learning, adaptation, and personal fulfillment
These are the principles that guide my work with clients

1) Human beings are self-organizing systems. We are each born with an innate ability to learn, and adapt to life. We each possess the instinctual ability to recognize, create, and maintain, health and well being.

2) Change is inherent in the differences and potentials that drive a universe that is not at rest. The ability to adapt is one of the primary rewards of learning.

3) A state of dynamic relaxation in which we feel alert and fully alive, supports our ability to learn, adapt, and thrive.
When we’re dynamically relaxed, we do just enough and nothing more or less, to perform in a graceful, efficient manner, At such times there is not any need for excess efforting or tension.

4) The body as well as the brain in our skull, is intelligent, and “mind” resides in the body as well as in the brain.

There are currently five main avenues of study we draw upon here:

A.   Research by Dr. Michael Gershon and others show that we indeed have a second brain in our gut (the enteric nervous system). This concept has been known in most every Oriental art form for thousands of years.

B.    Research conducted by Candace Pert presents a model of a “mobile brain” that moves throughout the entire body. Her work leads to the consideration of the brain as a dynamic and ever changing information network that is present throughout our entire system.

C.    Research by Stephen Porges, puts forth the Polyvagal Theory. A theory that emphasizes the pivotal role of the heart in social interactions and emotional well-being. The theory states that the vagus nerve, a nerve likely found only in mammals, provides input to the heart to guide behavior as complex as forming relationships with other people as well as disengaging from others. His theory has stimulated research and treatments that emphasize the importance of physiological state and behavioral regulation in the expression of several psychiatric disorders including autism and provides a theoretical perspective to study and to treat stress and trauma.

D.   The study and practice of “Shin shin toitsu” Aikido, as developed by Koichi Tohei.

E.    The study and practice of “Noguchi Sei Tai” as developed by Haruchika Noguchi.

When we work within these models we can quickly understand that most of the system-wide activity of “our mind” takes place outside of our everyday conscious awareness.

We can indeed utilize and learn from this subconscious intelligence of the body, and this proposal forms the basis for the change work done in Seishindo.

5) High-quality learning is best facilitated by becoming aware of and consciously responding to, four brains, instead of just one.

A. The enteric nervous system

B. The heart

C. The limbic brain

D. The neo-cortex

When we are aware of and consciously respond to four brains, we greatly increase our ability to act with wisdom, creativity, emotional balance, and compassion.

6) All of the various electro-chemical and neuromuscular reactions that occur in our body are systematic in nature and when taken as a whole such reactions can be considered to make up a somatic language.

Our ability to communicate in and understand somatic language is wired into our system at birth and forms the foundation of our memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and our ability to live and sustain ourselves.

Our somatic language is at least as sophisticated, systematic, and complete as our native verbal language. Somatic language does not use or require verbal language in order for our body to completely understand what is being communicated. Somatic language is what allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue, and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the course of our lives.

7) Our memories and our emotions are seamlessly intertwined. Our body and all of its cells and tissues retain traces of our previous experiences. Our memories and our emotions are made up of bio-chemical and neuromuscular activities that form the basis of our consciousness, are habitual in nature, and affect our perception of our current experience. Long term memories are activated by our entire system, as a byproduct of our experience.

8) Much of what we accomplish when learning and adapting takes place outside of our conscious awareness and is orchestrated by the subconscious intelligence of our body (the somatic self).

Exceptional learners in any one particular field rarely know specifically what they do when they perform with excellence, they “just do it” by accessing the information network of their entire system.

In regard to our overall health and well being, we have limited conscious awareness of how we go about secreting enzymes and hormones to digest food and support various life sustaining functions, or how we activate our immune system. A healthy person nonetheless effectively performs such tasks on a regular basis.

9) The system known as “I”, contains all the resources necessary to live a fulfilling life.

At the same time, the information that passes us by without being noticed or used, is always much greater than the information we are aware of and utilize.

Great hope, seasoned with a reasonable dash of humility would thus serve all of us well.

10) The personal difficulties we experience when attempting to maintain a healthy, emotionally balanced life, are largely due to

A. Habitual patterns of holding excess energy within our system.

B. Habitual patterns for organizing and utilizing only a selected portion of the incoming information available to us.

When we hold onto excess energy we inhibit ourselves from rebalancing, reorganizing, and adapting, to meet the challenges of ongoing events, thoughts, and feelings. Such holding patterns inhibit our ability to remain physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. When our somatic-emotional system supports a varied range of information gathering, organization and utilization, life moves through us in a continual process of change and rebalancing.

11) Any behavior, experience, or response may serve as a resource or limitation depending on one’s belief system and perspective.

In alignment with this thinking we believe it serves a person well to consider that: “There are no mistakes, only outcomes. There are no failures, only feedback.”

Following this line of thinking we say-

In our experience it appears that most people believe it’s particular events and circumstances that determine the course of their lives. We believe people will be better served by considering how their reaction and response to particular events and circumstances determines the course of your life. One person’s moment of failure and defeat, can be another person’s moment of awakening and rededication.

12) A system that is adept at managing complexity and diversity is a system that is open to learning from new information and distilling solutions from multiple realities.

A diverse system has elements that are different in nature, kind, character, and quality. Diversity is ever present in the non-equilibrium environment that we live in, and indeed the ongoing viability of any system depends on a certain minimum requisite amount of diverse elements. A lack of diversity leads to a limited pool of information and alternatives, and solutions that will tend to be somehow incomplete, incorrect, and repetitive.

It’s the ability of a system to embrace, comprehend, utilize, and unify the multiplicity of interrelated elements in a given situation that leads to high quality solutions and adaptation. In such systems, the concepts of “right” or “wrong” are less important than the correlation and complementarity of divergent sources of information. Robust systems thrive on complexity, and use it as an impetus for fostering generative compromises that enhance the overall integrity of the system. In unbalanced systems complexity tends to create a state of confusion and chaos.

In the practice of Seishindo we believe it serves you well to:

Fine tune your ability to be aware of:

A. The bio-chemical and neuromuscular activities that usually take place outside of your conscious awareness, but that nevertheless form the basis of your consciousness.

B. Your information gathering, processing, and utilization strategies, and how you can expand upon what you’re currently capable of.

C. How you sometimes tend to habitually hold onto and thus inhibit the total flow of energy within your system.

Practice various “whole self” exercises that promote a free flow of energy within your system, and a more balanced somatic-emotional experience.

Learn how to better utilize both your somatic organization and intelligence as coordinated by your enteric nervous system (the brain in our gut), and your cognitive organization and intelligence as coordinated by the brain in your skull.

Seishindo works from the supposition that much of what you understand cognitively is derived from your verbal interpretation of your somatic language. In Seishindo we look first at the body and its somatic communication, in order to understand the psyche. We begin by getting a felt sense of the communication of the body.

Next, we look to enlist the help of the innate subconsciously generated somatic intelligence, to bring about meaningful change. This change is wrought by our innate and preverbal sense of what needs to be different somatically in order to bring about a greater sense of psychological health and well-being. Once the somatic experience has begun to change we can then engender a heartfelt conversation, to integrate the dual intelligences of the cognitive and somatic, into a generative experience of the self in relationship with itself.

Grassy plains and horses – Innovation?

Innovation: Is it a quality of positive thinking you need to develop, or a common thread in the fabric of all of life? 

The evolution of every person, every business, and every living thing in nature, takes place “in relationship with” all of the rest of life. Here is a story to explain this concept. In the industrialized world, man has decimated grassy plains, in order to build cities and urban sprawl. A major decrease in grassy plains leads to a major decrease in horse populations, since they have less plains to roam over, and urban trails are better suited to cars than to horses.

As we decimate our natural surroundings to build our cities, people look to somehow bring “a bit of nature” back into their life. You can think of a suburban lawn to be the bonsai equivalent of the “grassy plains” that were stripped away to build the urban sprawl that you might live amongst.

When creating the grassy plain known as your lawn, you will of course want it to be firm enough to walk on. You will thus rent a roller that you fill with water in order to make it heavy. As you push the heavy roller around on your newly laid sod, the weight of the roller will press the grass and the earth below it, and make it firm. If instead, you took the water you used to fill the roller, and fed it to a thirsty horse, the horse would roam over your suburban grassy plain, and the horse’s hooves would press the earth and the grass until it was firm. This would save you a lot of work, plus the fee for renting the roller.

Next, in order to maintain your lawn, you will need to buy a lawn mower. Over the course of many Saturday afternoons you will spend many long hours walking the lawn mower around your yard as you cut your grass. If instead of buying a lawn mower you bought a horse, the horse’s teeth would cut the grass for you. And the horse, being more intelligent than a lawn mower, walks itself around your property, without needing you to push it and direct it as to where to go. The horse could be maintaining your grassy plain, while you are in the house relaxing. What the horse does at its leisure (trimming the grassy plain) you do only with a great deal of effort.

But not to worry, for you are very proud of your beautiful lawn and perhaps at times even happy to maintain it. And in order to do the best possible job of keeping your lawn healthy, you discover that you have to fulfill one more function that the horse naturally fulfills for the grassy plain. You need to substitute the lawn food that comes out of the rear end of the horse, by going out and buying a bag of fertilizer. What the horse gives freely and amply, you wind up having to pay for, and work to spread around.

The decimation of grassy plains and the concurrent sharp decline in horse populations, has forced man to co-evolve “in relationship with” grassy plains and horses. In the process, man has had to put in a lot of hard physical labor, and innovate many different tools and products, in order to make up for the horses.

Personally, I would prefer a lot less innovation in regard to horse replacement tools and products, and a lot more innovation in regard to how we can preserve nature and spread the workload around a bit. I am sure that grassy plains would prefer to grow naturally, with the horse as the caretaker, rather than man with his machines and chemicals.

*This story has been adapted from a Gregory Bateson story in his book “Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind“.

The Clock is Ticking

How do you react to deadlines? How would you feel if someone said “Hurry up, the clock is ticking and we’ve got to get this completed!”? How well do you cope with stress? Isn’t it amazing to notice how radically your experience of passing time changes depending on the circumstances, with little correlation to the steady flow of time as shown on a clock.

Have you ever sat in a waiting room with a clock on the wall that went “tick tock, tick tock” over and over and over again, until such time that you either wanted to run out of the room, or throw the clock out the window? This kind of experience is especially excruciating when you are waiting for something that you really are not looking forward to, like a treatment from your dentist. In particular, when you are feeling stressed out you experience time distortion. In some instances like when waiting for your dentist, one minute of clock time seems to take forever. At other times when you are working towards a deadline, time appears to slip away without your knowing where it went, and you are left wondering why you are accomplishing so little.

Waiting for a train that is twenty minutes late, when that train is bringing your loved one back to you, is very different than getting to the train station early with your loved one and waiting twenty minutes for the same train to take your loved one away from you. The train is the same, the station is the same, your loved one is the same, and the time on the clock is the same, but somehow, your emotional experience of “twenty minutes” is quite different.

It is important for each of us to understand how the fixed passage of time as measured by a clock, has little to do with our emotional experience of time. Rather than being under the illusion that time rules our life, we will do well to recognize that it is our emotional experience and our mindset that determines how we relate to the ticking of the clock. Restrict your breathing and tense your muscles and time invariably will appear to speed up. You relate to time according to your expectations of what will transpire. Expect that you will be successful and the clock on the wall appears to offer you a bit more time. Expect the worst and you will have difficulty keeping up.

What can you do to have a healthier perspective in regard to time? The first thing you can do is breathe slowly and deeply. When you slow down your body clock, the clock on the wall appears to slow down along with you. The next thing you can do is check in with your body. If you create a feeling of expansion in your body, by aligning your posture and releasing your muscles, time will appear to expand somewhat as well. Furthermore, you can notice your surroundings and extend your awareness out into the space around you. When you extend your awareness to take in the wide range of sights and sounds taking place in your local environment you will also extend your concept of time. Lastly, realize that with any luck, you will have tomorrow to accomplish what you were not able to accomplish today. Every new day, brings new opportunities for appreciating your life and the people you care about.

There is no more important person to love than yourself

It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for me to lose contact with the part of myself that generates my emotional experience. Does the same happen to be true for you?

There has been a great deal of research that shows that many people who work in the “helping professions” (and this very much includes stay at home mothers) suffer from what has become known as “Compassion Fatigue” or “Helping Profession Syndrome.” You can become so focused on helping others that you lose touch with how important it is to also help yourself.

I write about this now because of an experience I had yesterday; that might very much speak to your experience as well.

My legs have bothered me since I was a young child. I often have pain in my knees, and it is exactly this condition that led me to become involved in my life’s work. I am known as a skillful bodyworker and yet I find that I rarely use my bodyworking skills on myself. I seem to forget that the skills and sensitivity I use to help others can also be used for ME.

Yesterday my left knee was bothering me, and I finally decided to take the time to help myself.

I sat on the floor with my left leg fully extended. I then took a minute to center as I felt my leg as it was at that moment. Next, I used my hands to feel what my leg wanted to have done to it. I felt for the sore spots and I began to gently and lovingly massage my leg.

Breathing deeply, I massaged my leg slowly and tenderly, yet firmly. I asked my leg to tell my hands what it wanted, and I asked my hands to communicate a story to me of what my leg was saying. I “heard” my leg say, “I am tired and I don’t feel like I am getting enough help in supporting and carrying the heavy load I have to tend with.”

My leg also said, “I feel somewhat neglected and taken for granted. I don’t really feel like I am fully appreciated for fulfilling a challenging task.”

“Hmm…” I thought to myself, “Doesn’t sound all that different from what the rest of me sometimes says!”

Next, I used my hands to reply to my leg. Through my touch I communicated,

“I love you.”

Then I said, “I am sorry for not being more attentive, responsive, and appreciative.” Through my touch I said, “I really care about you and I am going to establish a closer relationship with you from here on out.”

Finally I said, “I very much want to hear from you, without your needing to use pain to shout at me. I will be more attentive to, and more appreciative of our relationship.”

I sat there for a few moments, breathing loving energy through my hands into my leg.

After a while I heard a soft whisper.

“I love you, and I have been very lonely, waiting for you to show up. Thank you so much for caring about me.”

And those words really moved me.

I came away from this experience with a sense of being whole and healthy. I had become one with myself, in love.

The experience I describe does not require any learned skills. All you need to do is take some time and have a heartfelt appreciation for yourself and your needs. When it is all said and done, THE most significant person to enter into a relationship of love and service with is yourself! There is no more important person to love, than yourself.

What is your relationship to Time?

Have you ever thought about how your orientation to time profoundly affects the way you are in the world? Each culture has its own unique way of relating to the concept of “time”. Some cultures perceive time as a room that is lived in. The “room” of time is a constant that stays the same, as we change during the course of our lives. American culture seems to more and more think of time as a commodity there is never enough of. When time is “wasted” a person misses out on an opportunity that may never present itself again. Still other cultures experience time as being circular, without a beginning or an end, and with no clear markers as to past, present, and future. No matter how we think about it, our relationship to time has a profound impact on what we believe is possible. Here is a story to illustrate what I mean.

Years ago I belonged to a healing community in the States. A women who was a member of the group had an infant who was born with a serious condition which was meant to limit the young child’s life span to only three or four years maximum. The woman was totally committed to the health and well being of her infant, and she spent every waking moment praying for her baby. Her prayer went something like this: “Dear Lord, please heal my baby and help him to be fully healthy.” She offered up this prayer countless times a day.

After some months of praying, and with the child’s condition not improving, the mother spontaneously had an important “truth” present itself to her. She realized that in praying for her child to be healed, in a deeper sense she was acknowledging the “fact” that indeed her child was not well at this time. In effect she was saying/praying “Lord, my child is currently ill, and I am asking that you heal him and make him healthy in the future.” She realized that if she was praying a similar prayer for herself, it would be difficult for her to feel good about her chances of being healed if she was continually reminding herself that she was currently not healthy. She realized that even though her child was way too young to understand the words of her prayer, that somehow her words would not be fully supporting her child in feeling and being healthy now as well as in the future. With her new understanding of how her concept of time was deeply affecting her prayer, she revised her concept and began praying the following: “Lord thank you for the health and well being of my child. I am eternally grateful.” Rather than praying for how she wanted her child to be different in the future, she prayed “from the future” and brought her prayer into the present. She prayed from an understanding that her child was “already” healthy, and that he was simply in a rebalancing stage that if allowed to run its course, would naturally bring about a continuation of his healthy state as time went on.

After many months of praying her new prayer the condition of her child slowly began to change. The doctors were surprised and confounded. Little by little the child blossomed into full health, like a flower that is awakened to life by the warm inviting rays of spring sunlight. He eventually entered school along with all of his buddies, and wound up being a shining example of the power of love, gratitude, and an empowering understanding of time.

Please give yourself the gift of believing that you are already everything that you always wanted to be. Breathe into this radical concept, and then simply allow and encourage yourself to grow into your new sense of self.

The whole universe is learning and evolving. How about you?

This article takes a broad look at the topic of evolution, and how it relates to you and me. All of life is intelligent, all of life is learning and evolving, and all of life is adapting to change. It is quite fascinating to think about how the learning that you do is not all that different than the learning of an ecosystem, or a baby bird.

I find it invigorating to consider how creativity, and the ability to learn and adapt, is a natural capacity built into all living systems. The ability to learn is an instinctive and primary trait that is a sign of life itself. Human beings, companies, forests, the ocean, the entire environment of earth, and the solar system. All are living systems, all are intelligent, all are learning, and all are adapting to life… And in the process of all this “living” each system will radically change over time.

It might just be me, but as human beings it so often seems that what we want to be able to do is adapt and change, WHILE staying the same. A feat that is indeed impossible. Learning, evolution, and change, go hand in hand. We can’t have one, without the other two. In regard to the natural world of living organisms and ecosystems, evolution is learning on a grand scale. Evolution is nature learning. Species and ecosystems adapt, radically change, and evolve over long periods of time. Nature “learns” what to do in order to maintain a certain stability, which invariably means adapting to the change in the status quo.

When we take a broad perspective and view the ongoing process of the evolutionary change that takes place all around us, it is clear that nothing stays the same, and also that no one organism or no one “aspect” of the natural environment changes on its own. All of life is involved in a marvelous swirl of co-evolution. Co-evolution is an integral part of adaptation, an integral part of the relationships we share with other life forms, an integral part of you and me. All the learning done by any one species, individual, or ecosystem, is always done in relationship to the learning of “others”. All of life spurs on the innovative process of change and learning in all of life. The system known as “universe” is never static.

The likelihood of any organism or environment surviving and perhaps even thriving, over the long run, depends on the ability to adapt to adverse conditions, new patterns of interaction, and ever changing rules. Evolution is a conservative game of trial and error. All systems, all organisms, (including human beings) are in a constant state of evolution, and thus we are never complete as we are. Evolution is progressive. All of life evolves from the simple to the more complex. The learning and change involved in evolution does not take place in a linear manner, but rather in a highly complex manner where change in any one aspect of a complex system, in some way begets change in all and every other aspect of the system.

In the ongoing process of evolution (be it biological evolution or economic evolution) the environment both causes and selects the characteristics that are most necessary for successful adaptation. You might ask yourself “How does ‘the environment’ cause and select the characteristics that lead to successful adaptation?” A very interesting question to ask! With all of the competition, with all of the seeming chaos, with all of the never before experienced circumstances, how does the system itself stabilize and protect itself in order to evolve and survive? Nature manages to rebalance itself within certain limits that foster its preservation, the economic landscape invariably does the same and “you” of course are also evolving in much the same way. There is an intelligence doing the deciding, it just is not an intelligence that we can honestly say is “me” or “you”. In every living system, excess leads to moderation and deficit leads to short term proliferation. Information is constantly being exchanged and adapted to. The whole universe is learning and evolving. How about you?!

The similarities between Aikido and NLP

What you read here are the notes of a talk that I gave recently about the similarities between Aikido and NLP.

These notes were written with my dual perspective as an Aikido instructor, and a Trainer in NLP.

Aikido is a martial art that can help a person achieve a greater sense of relaxation and well-being, grace, balance, compassion, and overall awareness.

The principles of Aikido can be incorporated into our daily life and we can achieve immediate benefits from our study. Students come to learn how changes in their physical/mental/emotional state affects all that they do. All people of all ages, regardless of their fitness or condition, can benefit. It is hoped that students come away with an increased overall feeling of well being, health, and vitality.

NLP: “Neuro” Signifying that all experience is received through the neurology of our 5 senses;

“Linguistic” referring to the coding of the information received through the 5 senses into language;

“Programming” as a description of the way in which this coding is organized by the brain.

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a field of study that can help people to achieve greater creativity, relaxation and well-being, compassion, grace, and intelligence, in the performance of their life’s activities. In this sense the potential outcomes can be very much the same as in Aikido.

The techniques that NLP uses to help a student become more advanced in the study and application of the art, have a great deal of similarity to the principles of Aikido. John Grinder, one of the founders of NLP used to call Aikido- The physical expression of NLP.

The originators of NLP decided to study people that performed with excellence.

One of the main purpose of NLP is to help students transfer the formulation of excellence as studied in others into one’s own life.

In Aikido, Ueshiba sensei studied with various masters in the martial arts. One of the main purposes in Aikido is to help students transfer what they learn on the mat into their everyday life. In Aikido we are not meant to be learning how to fight, but rather we are meant to learn how to live in a heartfelt generative manner.

It is very important to note that NLP in one way of thinking, is a synthesis of what has been learned by studying the patterns of various exceptional people. Aikido is a synthesis of the process of various exceptional martial artists.

The creators of NLP carefully noted what they observed while watching several geniuses in particular, perform in the course of their work. NLP distilled the principles of high quality performance/learning that were uncovered. In order to teach these principles, exercises and techniques were created in order to give the student an experiential understanding of these principles. The exercises and techniques of NLP are much more signposts to be followed, rather than skills to be mastered. The same is true of Aikido. In the real world we are not meant to apply exercises or techniques, but rather we are meant to be able to adapt the exercises and techniques to the situation at hand. It is the ability to adapt what we know to the situation at hand that is a beginning sign of mastery. This is a process of learning how to model excellence in one’s self and others. Flexibility, expanded awareness, openness to not knowing, and “knowing” what to do while not knowing, are some of the important ingredients for every student.

It is important to keep in mind that each student makes NLP and Aikido into a different study, depending on what it is they have in mind to accomplish.

NLP people tend to say that 90% of all communication is non-verbal, meaning that the actual words spoken are only 10% of what is being communicated. Akidoists tend to say that we must learn to understand our counterpart’s “mind” by using our “hara” or “one point” (which is characterized as an area in the lower abdomen), to tune into the “hara” of our counterpart.

There are many metaphors to describe our perception of life. Some people say that there is a kind of “glue” that holds everything together. Other people say that there is a common thread running through the entire fabric of life. Aikido calls this “glue” or common thread “Ki:” or Universal Energy and we practice in order to have an experiential understanding of “Ki.” I believe that NLP practitioners have the same task.

Aikido students approach their study from a beginning place of experiencing one’s physical body in relation to movement, balance, and flow.

Most NLP seems to begin with a more thought oriented approach that explores the common thread of how each mind works when in an optimal state.

We can use the study of NLP and Aikido to form habits that are more beneficial then the one’s that we are currently performing. We form new habits via the exercises and roles that these arts require us to carry out. As we learn the “proper habits” of these arts we hope to be able to concurrently generalize these new habits into the various other parts of our lives where they “fit”.

Ethical/Perceptual Framework

The model of teaching and learning that I am explaining suggests the importance of always considering what is best for ALL parties concerned in any given situation. This attention to “The whole” as compared to attention to one or more of the various parts of the whole, is in my mind the very essence of these two systems. In NLP, even as a salesman or other person involved in working in a field that requires swaying the client towards a particular service, product or way of thinking, the model requires that we assist the client in clarifying their needs and objectives, so that they act in their OWN best self interest. In Aikido, even when we are attacked, we are meant to take care for the attacker, as well as for ourselves. When we act in such a manner (in either art form) it is natural for the other person to develop a sense of trust and a more enduring commitment to relationship with us, and thus they will tend to take “our” needs into consideration as well.

In Aikido- “Keeping one point” (becoming centered) leads to a balance of mental and physical activity. We hope to achieve this in our study of NLP as well.

In NLP and Aikido we look to understand and feel that there is always a cybernetic loop of energy between “self” and “other”. We are all already connected to everything.

In both NLP and Aikido it is suggested that we continually extend our “ki” and send our mind/breath freely, out into the Universe, while “keeping one point” (remaining balanced) and maintaining a state of dynamic relaxation.

In both NLP and Aikido it is suggested that you learn how to understand the emotional impact of your partners beliefs, their sense of identity, and the way in which they perceive the situation that exists in the moment.

In both NLP and Aikido it is suggested that at all times you respect your counterpart’s “ki”. In this sense we can say that it is important to respect your counterpart’s model of the world. We work at understanding how to understand and respect our counterpart, while at the same time not necessarily agreeing with their model of the world.

In both NLP and Aikido the student explores “putting myself in the place of my counterpart” which amongst other things means understanding how I would react and feel if I had the same model of the world as my counterpart. We work at “becoming my counterpart” by adapting their breathing pattern, posture, and movements. In NLP this can be called “creating rapport.”

In both NLP and Aikido we work at learning how to perform with confidence. Especially at those times when the conscious mind does not know exactly what is occurring, or what to do next.

I see both NLP and Aikido as practices that can help us have greater awareness and compassion, while simultaneously accessing the full potential that exists at any one time.

When someone is in stress they tend to use only their “most valued” and most habituated modes of coping, rather than the full range of their abilities. This can be likened to a person in a rowboat that is sinking– The person will toss things out of the rowboat in reverse order of importance, until at last they are left with only what is vital to their survival and well being. In our study of NLP and Aikido we are meant to put aside what is not necessary, until we find ourselves embodying “the little bit that remains”– A pure heart and a simple mind. This means that we have less complications to deal with, but are left with much greater potential, compassion, and commitment.

The Body – The Somatic Self

The body can be considered to be a form of ongoing communication, a shaping of and container/containment of all of the messages (chemical, electrical, nutritional, verbal, etc) that we receive and transmit in the course of our lives. When considered as such, we can understand that the overall health, shape, size, proportions, and flexibility of the body is greatly affected by everything we take part in, and all that we believe in. Consider a young Japanese boy training to be a jockey, as compared to a young Japanese boy working out every day in the gym and at the dining room table, in order to become a Sumo wrestler. It is no coincidence that these two boys will have a very different sense of aesthetics, and different ways of approaching life’s challenges, just as a tiger has a very different way of being in the world as compared to a porcupine. The overall health, shape, size, proportions, and flexibility of the body, is an ongoing communication process, and not only does our body contain all of the messages that we receive and transmit in our life, but to a large extent our body determines how and what we receive and communicate as well.

The body can further be considered to be a symbolic translation and transformation of all of the communication/information that we receive in the course of our lives, both from our own internal world, and the external world as well. In order for the body to “make sense out of” all of the various food, chemicals, and electrical impulses that flow through it, it requires a certain intelligence that can translate all of the various input received, in order to give such input meaning, and react “logically”. This intelligence of the body is what I call “somatic intelligence” and this intelligence appears to be organized and controlled largely by the enteric nervous system (what Dr. Michael Gershon calls “The Second Brain” in his book by the same name). The body is able to “speak” a neuromuscular biochemical language that makes it possible to understand and direct all of the massive information exchange that it takes part in, on a moment to moment basis. We create and continue to shape and modify our body to match our experience, and vice versa as well. We shape our body in order to facilitate meaning making, and communication.

Pre-verbal Knowing- Your intuition

As we move from a pre-verbal somatic experience in very early childhood to a verbal rational experience as we grow older, we often tend to disassociate from our earlier and more intuitive form of “pre-verbal knowing”. As we grow up in an industrialized world, we get taught to disconnect from the animal/intuitive/somatic world as well as the world of nature, and in the process our bodies, feelings, and connections to self and other suffer immeasurably.

When you experience something directly, then you can sense there is a way of knowing that precedes language and cognition. Usually, this form of “knowing” cannot be fully articulated, understood, or sensed, by the cognitive self, but is “valid” nonetheless. This pre-verbal somatic knowing is what we strive to learn more about in the study of Seishindo.

One of the main ideas in Seishindo is to melt the thinking mind, so that one can reenter into a relationship with the pre-verbal somatic part of our self, which is indeed intelligent. The purpose of our study in Seishindo is not to change a behavior or to change one’s self via one’s practice, but rather to come to a deeper understanding of one’s true self. The “truth” of what you want to understand is found in the realization of who you truly are. This is a knowledge that comes prior to the need for verbal language. This is a knowledge that comes prior to the need to think.

The world is much too complex and fertile to be fully understood and adapted to by use of the rational mind alone. The more time you spend focusing on trying to find the “correct” answer or method, the less open you will be to sensing the wisdom of your pre-verbal somatic self. When you don’t know the answer, focus on the fact that currently indeed you do not know, and rest easy with this knowledge, rather than attempting to grasp a solution. Give your thinking mind a rest, so that the intuitive somatic mind can come to the forefront and more fully assist you in the creation of solutions. When the somatic mind is used more fully, our fundamental perception of self and the world changes, and our awareness and our ability to be solution oriented increases. When we enter into such a state, the intelligence of the entire system will create the changes that are necessary for our health and well being, as well as for our business success. Easier said than done perhaps, but well worth the effort.

In reading about world renowned stock traders, venture capital business people and futurists, I have found that they consistently make the same basic statement in regard to how they work: “With a good deal of background and experience one can predict long term trends of the future, but it is impossible to predict what will occur tomorrow. When it is all said and done, there is way too much information to sort through prior to making a decision, and much of the information that you do receive is contradictory in nature. In the long run you are only left with your intuitive sense of what to do and not do. Correct action or theory is not based on an absolute. My decisions come from a hunch. An intuitive sense of what has been, what is, and what will be.” This intuitive pre-verbal form of knowing is what we will be exploring in the articles available on this site. Which is not to suggest that we will help you to better play the stock market!

Correctness, Profound Truth, and Paradox

Our usual and “correct” ways of explaining the world, who “I” am, and where “i” am going, are often severely tested in today’s world. This is particularly true at times when we feel disrespected, angry, confused, or demoralized, and we do not yet understand what will constitute “right action”. At such times our current understanding of our circumstances is not all encompassing enough to understand the paradox that envelops us. Usually at such times a search for only one answer or understanding is simply not enough.

Niels Bohr, the 1922 Nobel Laureate in Physics has been quoted as saying:
“The opposite of a correct statement is an incorrect statement. The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.” Bohr used the word “complementarity” to characterise the relationship between apparently contradictory phenomena. It is only when seemingly contradictory phenomena are “understood” or appreciated as a whole, that we can begin to offer a temporarily complete description of what is, or what needs to be. In order to feel into the profound truth we need to somehow comprehend, we need a larger less opinionated understanding of the world, our relationships, the environment, and the universe. In short, we need a way of knowing that embraces paradox, and goes beyond what “I” know or believe to be true. This is a form of wisdom that welcomes diverse, complementary concepts of what is “correct.”

Such knowing involves a discourse between our emotions and our intellect. A discourse between self and other. A discourse that is much more comprehensive than a dialogue about right and wrong. A discourse that invites a softening and opening up to the complementarity of what initially appear to be polar opposites. A discourse that requires passion, compassion, and commitment. A discourse that embraces differences, as integral parts of the whole. A discourse that can at times feel dangerous, but yet holds great potential.

In Seishindo we strive to open up our discussions, and our hearts, to the possibility of feeling into profound truth. The paradoxical nature of deep truth is what the Zen student is meant to explore in their practice. In order to make progress, the student is implored to think and do less, and simple “be”. Not at all a simple task, but a task that can be highly rewarding.

Have you been holding onto certain beliefs in your professional and personal life that have been holding you back? What would happen if you surrendered your beliefs and left yourself open to discovering something new? You just might be very pleasantly surprised.

Perfection

I want to talk about the importance of “not-knowing”. Learning something new about ourself, and the world we live in, often requires that we first un-learn what we have learned in the past. We often get taught very powerful yet incorrect lessons as we go through life. For instance, a child incorrectly gets “taught” by a screaming adult, that he is careless, lazy, selfish, or just plain dumb. When the child naively believes what the screaming adult is “teaching” him, the likelihood that the child will learn new and life affirming things about himself in the future, will tend to be seriously impeded. In order for the child to free himself up for new learning, he will need to first “not-know” some of what he has learned in the past. Another way to say this could be “What will I need to unlearn, before I can learn something new?” When wanting to understand the truth, we have to return to our true nature and let go of our opinions, our current condition, our understanding of what is right and what is wrong. When our mind is clear, talking, words, and thinking are not necessary. The truth is just like this.

What we learn in the course of our life, determines the purpose, importance, and outcomes, that we extract from our experience. Whatever we feel we learn about ourself over and over again winds up becoming part of our identity. Our identity sets the foundation for our beliefs. Our beliefs determines how we will be predisposed to act and react in the future. Learning-identity-beliefs go hand in hand. In order to learn something new and life affirming about yourself and the world around you, you will usually have to change your personal sense of identity, and some of your long held beliefs.

Perhaps you say “This all sounds reasonable. Now tell me how I can go about changing what I am learning, my identity, and my beliefs!”

One possible answer would be the following words from a Sanskrit mantra: “Om. This is perfect. That is perfect. From the perfect, comes the perfect. If from the perfect the perfect is taken away, Only the perfect remains. Om, peace, peace, peace.”

Such is the sense of perfection we get when holding a baby. This sense of perfection, is the inherent blessing that exists as the essence of everything. This sense of perfection is present at all times and doesn’t require any healing or change to take place. This sense of perfection is dynamic rather than static, and welcomes the necessary ongoing changes of life. You are invited to simply notice what is, rather than attempting to correct what you believe needs to be different.

In Japanese flower arranging it is common that one of the branches in the arrangement is bent or broken, to signify that the arranger has attempted to present the flowers in a “natural” state. It is the “imperfection” of the broken branch that leads us to understand that the arrangement is potentially “perfect.” We encourage you to look for and appreciate your “broken branches” as a sign of your uniqueness and perfection.

Each one of us, no matter how seemingly evolved we might be, has imperfections and personal ego attachments. These imperfections and attachments are not something to be overcome or transcended, but rather something to be understood, appreciated, and accepted in the course of our life journey. If we do not honor and appreciate our individual shortcomings, then a part of us will always be feeling that we are somehow needing to be fixed.

Learning and Adapting with a Dual Perspective

We can consider each person to have at least two minds or “selves” (a somatic self and a cognitive self), and two brains – the brain in our skull and the brain in our gut (the enteric nervous system). This means that at the very least, each person is bilingual, speaking their native verbal language, as well as somatic language.

The brain in our skull organizes the intelligence of our cognitive self, our intellect, and our verbal language. The brain in our gut organizes the intelligence of the somatic self, our emotions, and our somatic language.

The experiences we generate and make meaning out of with our somatic self are dependent on the pre-verbal sensing of the ongoing changes in our physiology and emotions. We understand our sensed experience by filtering it through the meaning making processes of our somatic language, and this preverbal understanding of experience is archetypal/universal in nature.

The experiences that we generate and make meaning out of with our cognitive self are dependent on the processes we use to translate and “fit” our somatic-emotional experience into a rational framework that can be further understood with the use of verbal language.

A “relational self” is realized from the acceptance, reorganization, and synthesis of the two complementary yet different realities of the somatic and cognitive selves. In this sense we can say that one plus one equals three.

Seishindo suggests that at any one time, people tend to identify with one of two basic perspectives when perceiving and understanding life – the somatic self/mind or the cognitive self/mind. Dividing each person into two possible categories is of course a limiting and artificial construct, just as when we use the terms “unconscious mind” and “conscious mind” but useful nonetheless in helping us to understand how we learn and adapt to life.

The cognitive self is associated with the brain in our skull, thoughts, strategies, mental abstractions, and descriptions of one’s life. The cognitive self understands life mainly by passing it through the filters of verbal language and socially constrained thinking. The main avenue of communication for the cognitive self is one’s native verbal language, and the conversations that we have with ourselves during the course of our internal dialogue, as well as the conversations that we listen to and take part in in various community settings.

The somatic self, on the other hand, is associated with the body, the enteric nervous system (the digestive system), emotion, intuition, movement, a non-verbal felt sense of nature and one’s experience, and the archetypal presence of the collective experiences of all human beings. The somatic self communicates its experience non-verbally yet systematically. It does so via biochemical and neuromuscular reactions.

Dr. Michael Gershon has done some ground breaking research in regard to understanding the importance of the enteric nervous system. I believe that as time goes on it will become more and more evident that what Dr. Gershon calls our second brain is one and the same as what Oriental cultures have for thousands of years been calling hara or tanden. Most if not all Oriental art forms teach the student to focus their attention in the lower abdomen, and to perform with this focus being the primary source of intelligence. In Self-relations terms (as developed by Steven Gilligan), we are advised to tune into “the tender soft spot in the belly” in order to learn from and synthesize the intelligence of the somatic self with the intelligence of the cognitive self. It is just such a dual perspective that helps us to have a fuller understanding of our total experience.

The enteric nervous system or hara, organizes information differently than the brain in the skull, and thus the enteric nervous system offers you a viable alternative to your intellectual experience of life. If you organize your experience differently, you will definitely have a different perspective, and thus a different reaction to what is taking place. By melding the perspective of our somatic intelligence with the perspective of our cognitive intelligence we tap into a new realm of possible solutions. It is the somatic self’s ability to sense what is taking place, along with the cognitive self’s ability to negotiate amongst various distinctions, words, strategies, and abstractions that allows for the evolution of a mature “relational self” as the term is used in “Self relations Therapy”. The ideal is to embed the experiences of the somatic and cognitive selves, one within the other, and in the process to create a new and different experience that includes and at the same time transcends both.

Tapping Into Dual Sources of Intelligence – Part 3 of 3

Cognition, Soma, Mind, and Emotions, are One Complete and Indivisible Unit

“Bill” comes to me concerning problems he is having in his marriage, and as a secondary issue he reports that he is suffering from dangerously high blood pressure. I notice as he sits facing me and begins to talk about his work, that he begins to rock ever so slightly forward and backward, that he is slouching just a bit, with his head ever so much tilted to his right. I also notice that he tends to hold his breath when he pauses, and his face gets red at these times in particular. After a few minutes I distract Bill by asking him about his recent fishing trip to Russia. He really enjoys telling me a few fishing tales, and I notice that as he tells me these stories his posture straightens up ever so much, he is now moving his trunk in a barely perceptible, gentle, right to left rocking motion, as he now tilts his head slightly to his left, and breathes deeply each time he pauses to regale me with another story. Having noticed all of this I ask Bill if we can get back to his original issue while I stand behind him and place my hands gently on his head and neck. Bill is familiar with my work and he is thus comfortable with this form of interaction. (Otherwise, gaining much more rapport and further explanation would be necessary before I would offer to engage in helping him with “hands on” work.)

Thus far, Bill has no idea about what I have noticed concerning his rocking movements and posture, because in this instance I do not want him to try and consciously change what he is doing. Bill is a perfectionist and I don’t want his need for “perfection” to get in the way of his somatic intelligence. I am hoping to help him bypass his usual habit patterns as a first step toward learning something new.

As Bill begins to again tell me of his business difficulties, he again unconsciously moves his trunk forward and backward, and he starts to slouch again. I gently guide him with my hands, without words or any other form of logical explanation as to what I am doing or what I want him to do. I subtly suggest with my hands that he very gently change his posture, and without any verbal form of acknowledgement, he does so. I let his change in posture stabilize and then I begin to suggest with my hands that he move his trunk ever so much from right to left (the way that he tends to move when he is enjoying himself) instead of from front to back (the way he tends to move when he feels stuck.). Most of all of this time Bill continues to talk. Next, my hands suggest that he tilt his head ever so much to his right like he does when he talks about fishing. Now he finds himself discussing his problem while sitting and moving in a way that is quite different from his usual way of eliciting his problem. In working together with Bill, his cognitive self begins with a focus on his problem state, while I help his somatic self to begin to elicit a state of well being. In this way, his somatic intelligence becomes a context for dissolving fixed problems and allowing new solutions to arise. His body leads his brain, which changes his mind, and thus his emotional reaction. Indeed, after a short while Bill states that somehow the problems in “our” marriage don’t seem to be quite as insolvable as before. (He unconsciously switches from “my” problems to the “our” problems of he and his wife) He says, “Funny as it might seem, I am already beginning to imagine some potential solutions.” As he starts to generate some initial solutions his head becomes more balanced over his torso and he is definitely breathing more fully than before. At some point I take my hands off of him and come around to sit in front of him while he continues to think and talk in a solution oriented manner. Now I begin to use various Self-relations processes to assist him in melding his “new” somatic experience with the cognitive understanding that will help him to actually go out and utilize what he has learned. He comes back for a follow-up session in a week’s time, and reports that he and his wife have definitely been doing somewhat better, and he feels like there is definitely hope for a better future. I work with him some more in the same manner as I did last time, but this time filling him in some on what is taking place. Towards the end of the session I teach him two relaxation exercises and send him home to practice. Ten days later I get an email from him which says “Went to the doctor and my blood pressure was down for the first time in six months! Wouldn’t you know it, getting along better with my wife and lowering my blood pressure were bound to go hand in hand.”

In Seishindo we believe that changing the condition, usage, and awareness, of the body helps shift emotions, cognition, and behavior, and brings the entire self into a state of greater balance and well-being. We don’t so much try to get our clients to maintain a somatic-emotional balanced state, as we teach them how to get back to this state when they find that they have strayed and are suffering dis-ease.

In Seishindo we usually don’t create a sharp differentiation between problems of the body/health issues, and problems of the psyche/psychological issues. Indeed we find that often when clients come with psychological issues, the first positive changes they notice is in the condition of their overall health and body usage. The same is true “in reverse.” Clients come suffering from the pain of a car accident or a lingering sports injury, and they might likely report feeling happier and more at ease in life in general, a week or two prior to noticing any physical improvement. Cognitive intelligence, somatic intelligence, mind, and emotions are all woven together into one indivisible and highly creative whole. For educational purposes we can talk about body and brain, intellect and emotions, or conscious and unconscious mind, as if they were separate, but in the living of our life it is just this sense of separateness, that is a sure sign of a living system out of balance.

Learning and adapting with a dual perspective

Self-relations suggests that people tend to identify with one of two basic perspectives when perceiving and understanding life- their somatic self/mind or their cognitive self/mind.

The cognitive self is associated with the brain in our skull, thoughts, strategies, mental abstractions, and descriptions of one’s life. The cognitive self understands life mainly by passing it through the filters of verbal language and socially constrained thinking. The main avenue of communication for the cognitive self is one’s native language, used in both intrapersonal (internal dialogue) and interpersonal conversations.

The somatic self, on the other hand, is associated with embodied knowing, poetry, emotion, intuition, movement, a non-verbal felt sense of nature and one’s experience, and the archetypal presence of the collective experiences of all human beings. The language of the somatic self is based on a “felt sense” of the present moment, emotional states, bodily reactions, and the relational connections to all we come in contact with. The somatic self communicates its experience nonverbally yet systematically.

In Self-relations terms, we are advised to tune into “the tender soft spot in the belly” in order to integrate the somatic and cognitive selves. The somatic self’s ability to sense what is taking place, along with the cognitive self’s ability to negotiate among various distinctions, words, strategies, and abstractions allows for the evolution of a mature “relational self.” The ideal is to embed the experiences of the somatic and cognitive selves, one within the other, and in the process to create a new and different experience that includes and at the same time transcends both.

Some premises of Seishindo

Recognizing the importance of a relational self, Seishindo is based on the following premises.

1) A supportive environment in which one is accepted, protected and respected will greatly increase one’s ability to learn, adapt, and change.

2) Each person has an innate ability to recognize and create their own personal state of somatic-emotional well-being.

3) To a large extent our feeling of somatic-emotional well-being is determined by our overall sense of balance/imbalance throughout the entire system known as “me” and extending out to include all that we come in contact with.

4) A state of dynamic relaxation in which we combine relaxation with movement and a lively sense of awareness is a crucial element in supporting learning. When we are dynamically relaxed we feel alert and fully alive, and ready for something “good” to happen. We do just enough and nothing more or less, to perform in a graceful, efficient manner without inducing excess effort or tension.

5) Every living system is a communication network that has the instinctive ability to successfully self-organize, that is, to organize one’s “self” and the local environment in order to survive and thrive . Effective self-organization promotes a sense of somatic-emotional well-being and leads to successful relational engagement in the world.. When our physiology is balanced and relaxed and our overall mental and emotional state is healthy, we establish an optimum network for information flow. One of the best ways to stimulate self-organization is to bring a system into a temporary state of imbalance, and then support and allow the system to instinctively rebalance itself. “Imbalance and supportive rebalancing” could for instance involve going to a specialized retreat center for a week in order to work on giving up smoking. The cessation of smoking will likely initially lead to a sense of imbalance. The supportive atmosphere and counseling available at the center could then help to lead towards a healthy rebalancing of ones behavior and feelings.

6) The ability to adapt and change is part and parcel of the act of self-organization. An individual who is dynamically relaxed and continually reorganizing has the greatest likelihood of adapting and changing. The ability to adapt is the reward for learning.

7) A diverse system has many different elements. Diversity is ever present in the non-equilibrium biosphere that we live in; without it, a system cannot sustain itself. A lack of diversity leads to a limited pool of information, alternatives, and solutions that will usually tend to be somehow incomplete, incorrect, and repetitive. A system adept at managing diversity is open to learning from new information and distilling solutions from multiple realities.

8) Human beings are made up of diverse yet interrelated and interdependent parts. Our ability to embrace, comprehend, utilize, and unify the different elements of a given situation leads to high quality solutions and adaptation. The concepts of “right” or “wrong” are less important than the correlation and complementarity of divergent sources of information. For instance, living in a bi-cultural family unit will necessitate that we embrace, comprehend, utilize, and unify various beliefs relating to religion, ethical behavior, and cultural norms. In the process of creating a supportive and loving family unit we wind up developing a “new” culture that is a rich synthesis of the cultural background of both parents. Robust systems thrive on complexity, and use it as an impetus for fostering generative compromises that enhance the overall integrity of the system. In unbalanced systems complexity tends to create a state of confusion and chaos.
9) Well intentioned attempts to create change in our lives often only tend to further amplify what is perceived to be problematic. High quality learning and adaptation usually requires an paradigm shift in the way we think and react to the world. For instance, the behavior of an adolescent boy who is deemed to be irresponsible will often further deteriorate when the child is faced with ever more stringent demands from his parents. As a parent, understanding how we can better support the child to develop as a responsible adult, will open up many new possibilities for changed behavior that do not seem possible in an authoritarian relationship.

10) Most of our behaviors and thought processes are habitual in nature. Whatever is habitual tends to feel natural, and what is natural often feels unnatural. Lasting change and learning often requires that we change deep seated habits.

An alternative model of psychotherapy

Somatic psychotherapy attempts to influence clients at their somatic level of experience. They are asked to lead with their body and follow with their rational mind.

Since Somatic Based Therapy assumes that much of what we understand cognitively derives from our verbal interpretation of our somatic language, we tend to look first at the body in order to understand the psyche. We begin with both the client and the practitioner getting a felt sense of the communication of the body. Then we look to enlist the help of the client’s unconsciously generated somatic intelligence, to bring about meaningful change. This change is wrought by the clients innate and preverbal sense of what needs to be different somatically in order to bring about a greater sense of psychological health and well-being. Once the somatic experience has begun to change then I create a deeper conversation using the various processes of Self-relations Therapy to integrate our dual intelligence into an experience of the relational self.

I hope that what I have explained in these few pages leads you to experiment more with somatic based forms of therapy and have a greater appreciation for your somatic intelligence. Please keep the following in mind. First, I have offered a simple explanation of phenomenon that took me years to understand and are actually quite subtle in nature. Learning how to help people change their unconsciously generated movements and posture usually takes quite a bit of training. If you don’t do it just right, people feel like you are simply pushing them around. Second, each person manifests their movements in their own particular and unique manner. Some people tend to move in various oval shapes, and others weave a bit of a figure eight. Some people are very stiff in their neck but move their trunk a good deal. Other people are fairly rigid in their trunk and move their head and neck quite freely. Still others move in a richly varied combination of ways that defy description. Third, changing your posture and the way you move and breathe has a marked effect on your emotional state, and your psyche, but just as importantly, all of these changes will help to facilitate one’s relationships with others, and an overall sense of belonging in the world. The guiding principle in this work is that we already possess or have access to all that we need in order to live a “successful” heartfelt life. When we respectfully approach our clients and experience their true magnificence we can enter into a relational loop that will help the both of us to realize that we have the potential to live life more fully than we usually realize.

Part 1
Part 2

From: Walking In Two Worlds: The Relational Self In Theory, Practice, And Community

Tapping Into Dual Sources of Intelligence – Part 2 of 3

This article, is an explanation of the principles of the discipline Seishindo, and can also be an aid in further understanding Self-relations Therapy, as developed my Stephen Gilligan. Along the way, what you read might give you some additional insight into how you think about and react to the world.

The Body-The Somatic Self

When working with a client who was an athlete that regularly suffered stress injuries during her training I asked her to “Let your body move some as it feels some of its injuries…….As you move, let your body recall exactly how it has been injured at various times……And then at some point, freeze your body…Sit still…And tell us what your body wants to say in regard to all of the injuries it has received.” After taking a few minutes to breathe and move her body my client stopped moving and spoke these words, “You don’t understand what I am capable of and what is beyond my means. I feel like you are punishing me.” The moment the client finished uttering these words, I asked her to begin moving again, and while moving I asked her to tell us what her body was wanting to say now. This led to a very fruitful conversation about the client’s sense of self worth and how she tended to feel that she wasn’t as talented as other athletes and thus had to work harder than them. She said she was now realizing that she had to love herself with just as much determination as she used in improving her athletic performance. She said, “You can’t enjoy the win, if you can’t love and appreciate the person that did the winning.”
The above treatment session revolved around: Having the body move as it would in the situation that was being explored, and then having the body freeze as it would when injured. We somatically recreated the initial debilitating situation and then while duplicating the “freeze frame” so common to injuries and problem states, the client verbalized what they felt when in this state. From there we melted the freeze frame by once again moving, and we tapped into the wisdom of the body when it felt free to move and express. The client’s body knew what it wanted and needed and the messages it offered up to the rational mind were of great emotional importance.
The body can be considered to be a form of ongoing communication, a shaping of and container/containment of all of the messages (chemical, electrical, nutritional, verbal, muscular) that we receive and transmit in the course of our lives. When considered as such, we understand that the way we use our body effects our emotional state, and is influenced by past experience, and what we believe. Some of our deepest beliefs are those that we are not consciously aware of having.

The language of the somatic self

A client comes to discuss his “utter failure” in his new job as a marketing manager. As he talks I note that his shoulders are rounded forward, his body is tilted somewhat backwards, he rocks just ever so much from side to side, his head is tilted towards the left, and he talks rather quickly while breathing in a shallow manner. I wait until he has told me his story and then I gently say to him “Please change your somatic language so that you can foster greater success in your business activities.” He is willing to comply so I suggest that he does the following –

I ask him to open up his chest and round his shoulders back slightly, tilt his trunk forward ever so much, rock gently from front to back, and tilt his head towards the right. Once he has initiated all of these changes I say to him, “Please tell me what you feel in regard to your work situation now that you are embodying a different somatic conversation.” Basically what I have done is asked him to shift each component of his somatic language that he was embodying while feeling stuck, so that his body could communicate differently which in turn will help to generate a new verbal conversation, and a different set of beliefs.

As he begins to speak I have to remind him to maintain the somatic shifts that I have suggested. His initial response to my reminder is “I have trouble talking while sitting like this.” This is just what I would expect him to say, because his somatic communication as suggested by me, is no longer a match for his verbal conversation. I encourage him to proceed nonetheless so that we can learn from this experience, and he starts to talk once again while maintaining the different somatic conversation that I have suggested. As he continues to recall his past “failures” while maintaining a different physiology, his somatic shifts lead him to spontaneously shift his explanation of his work experience. He starts to talk about how his new job has given him the opportunity to learn unpleasant yet powerfully important lessens in regard to marketing, and how he is beginning to realize how many of his past marketing assumptions needed to be changed to match the conditions of the marketplace. He spontaneously begins to “reframe” and change the meaning of his work experience, and after a short while he states how he realizes that “not being right” has been tough on him, but that he actually is becoming a much better marketer than he was in the past! He is beginning to understand on a deep experiential level, that when we change our physiology we change our somatic conversation, which in turn leads us to change our “relationship to” what transpires and the “meaning” that events have for us. Reframing the meaning of our experience in this manner, usually begins outside of our conscious awareness, and it is a natural and spontaneous response to changes in our physiology and somatic language.

The language of the somatic self is wired into our system at birth and forms the foundation of our memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and our ability to live and sustain ourselves. This somatic language is at least as sophisticated, systematic, and complete as our native tongue. This language of the somatic self that we begin to understand while still being in our mother’s womb, is what allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue, and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the course of our lives.

The language of the somatic self does not use or require verbal language although it interacts with it continually, like a music group improvising with a singer, or a horse and rider traversing a path in the forest. The language of the somatic self is the pre-verbal communication that helps us to connect to the outside world, and allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue. It is part of our mammalian consciousness, is intuitive and relational in nature, seems to direct us to join with other life, and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the entire course of our lives. This language forms the foundation of our memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and our ability to live and sustain ourselves, and connect to others. Much in the same way that words are systematically joined together in infinitely varied combinations, to form the content of our verbal language as used by our cognitive self, the various components of our sensory experience are systematically joined together in infinitely varied combinations by your somatic self, to form the language of your somatic self. This language “spoken” by the body makes it possible to understand and direct all of the massive information exchange that it takes part in, in collaboration with the brain in our skull. This is a language of immediate experience as compared to verbal language being a communication of abstractions.

Translation and Transformation

In another instance I was working with a teenage boy who compulsively overate pizza I asked him to “Move your right hand back and forth from the table to your mouth, as if you are eating your eighth slice of pizza and move your mouth as if you are chewing….But do so a good deal faster than usual……..As you continue to move….Tell us what your body would say if it could translate your movements into words.” In a couple of minutes time my client translated his body’s movements into the following words, “I am really getting worn out by all of this activity. I need to take a rest” I said to my client, “Please continue to move for a little while longer, and then when you are ready…suddenly freeze your movements with your right hand somewhere held in space… And have your body translate its feelings into words.” He froze in midair and his “body” replied “Enough is enough. Stop eating! I feel like you are attacking me with all of this food.” As soon as these words were spoken I urged him to begin moving again, but to do whatever movements felt best to his body. After about one minute’s time I asked him to translate the movements he was having now into words. This led to a meaningful conversation in regard to the client feeling that no matter what he did in life his parents were standing there saying “Enough is not good enough. You need to do more and better!” As he took some deep breaths and continued to move he said that he was now understanding that it was important for him to live up to the needs of his body and his emotional self, even if what he needed did not match the needs of his parents.

The movements, posture, breathing patterns, tilt of one’s head and neck, and the body’s flexibility or lack of it, forms the basis of somatic language. The body knows the meaning of this language, and when it is asked to translate this language into your native tongue, the results are most often poetic or metaphorical in nature, and somewhat astounding to the cognitive mind.

Make an extremely loud noise and a person or animal tends to immediately stop moving, and the blood leaves the extremities and travels to the vital organs. Each and every time, every living mammal tends to have the same basic response. Massage your baby’s legs some as you change their diaper, and unless they are hungry, they are sure to gurgle rather than cry. Place yourself in a cold climate and your pores will tend to close up in order to retain heat. Go to the tropics and your pores will open to help facilitate an efficient heat exchange. Swallow a poison, and your somatic intelligence will induce you to vomit. Swallow a tonic and your body will quickly absorb it. Tense your stomach muscles, round your shoulders forward, and breathe in a quick shallow manner, and your system will soon report a sense of overwhelm and fear.

Our body translates and transforms all of the communication and information it receives in the course of our lives, both from our own internal world, and the external world as well. This ability of the body to constantly carry out complex translation and transformation processes requires a highly sophisticated “somatic intelligence.” This intelligence of the body can be considered to be our “mammalian consciousness” and tuning into this consciousness brings forth our relational, intuitive, poetic, and feeling qualities. Continue–>

Part 3
Part 1

From: Walking In Two Worlds: The Relational Self In Theory, Practice, And Community

Tapping Into Dual Sources of Intelligence – Part 1 of 3

This article comes from the chapter I wrote for the book “Walking in two worlds: The Relational Self in theory, practice, and community,” edited by Stephen Gilligan and Dvorah Simon

Let me begin by piecing together for you, how my work relates to Self-relations therapy. Some twenty five years ago I began to study psychology and Ericksonian hypnosis. The practice of hypnosis and self hypnosis began to open me up to the immense possibilities of the power of one’s thinking, and the effect that one’s thinking has on one’s physical and emotional well-being.

About three years into my study of hypnosis, a friend told me about what he was learning in regard to coordinating his body with his spirit or ki, as it was taught in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. Based on his description I was hooked before even taking my first class, and in a few years time found myself living in Japan and becoming a full time Aikido student.

One of the major differences between my beginning understanding of hypnosis and that of Aikido, was that I initially thought hynposis took place in the head, and that Aikido was about learning how to use your body differently. Later on, as I got a tiny bit more sophisticated in my thinking I surmised that hypnosis took place “in the mind residing in the head” while it seemed that my Aikido sensei was saying that during Aikido the mind was meant to reside in the lower abdomen. As my Aikido studies continued my sensei explained that indeed the mind was eminent throughout the entire body, and we were told to place the center of our mind in our lower abdomen and “think” and act from there.

It was at just this point in time that I started to hear about an hypnosis teacher in America by the name of Stephen Gilligan who was using what he had learned in Aikido and his other awareness training as an adjunct to his work in therapy and hypnosis. When I first went to Stephen’s classes it was a kind of homecoming for me. I was back in America, and was studying with an American sensei, and this sensei was teaching a form of therapy that matched many of the same things that I had learned in Japan. One of the first things I learned as I began to study with Stephen was hearing him tell his students to “Place your center in your lower abdomen and feel yourself and your experience from this tender place within yourself.” This was very exciting to me as it exactly matched the Aikido concept of placing the center of one’s mind in the lower abdomen.

Understanding from Aikido how to think without needing directions from the brain in my skull and receiving that same wisdom from Stephen was fascinating for me. One of my Seishindo students recently paid me a great compliment when he said to me “Sensei, I have never met anyone that can not think, better than you!” It is true, that after studying Aikido for a while you notice that your ability to act spontaneously and gracefully is actually aided by not using your rational mind as the main source of your intelligence. And in this regard the similarities between Aikido and Stephen’s work started to become much clearer, as I now understood from his training that the power of one’s intellect is not the main source of intelligence when one is in a trance.

In Aikido we learn to sense and react without needing to rationally consider what is taking place. We occasionally used to play a game when fooling around outside of the Aikido dojo. The game involved three students and three metal cups turned upside down and sitting on a table. While the students had their backs turned the teacher placed a small treat like a piece of chocolate under one of the cups. The students would be given a signal, and they would turn around and grab for the cup that they thought had the treat underneath. Invariably certain students had a high percentage of correct guesses, while other students rarely guessed correctly. I would like to say that I gained a lot of weight from playing this game and eating all of the candy, but this is not the case. Initially I guessed incorrectly just as much as most students. It was only after a period of trial and error that I began to understand how to switch off my rational mind and rely on my intution. Little by little I began to realize that the intelligence of the body (somatic intelligence) plays an important role in our ability to relax, improvise, and react gracefully in the face of challenge. Another important point that I noticed from my practice was that the feeling I got when doing certain Aikido relaxation exercises was very similar to the way I felt when doing self hypnosis. By shifting my attention to my body (my somatic self) in Aikido, I could relax in much the same way that I could when shifting the way that I related to the thought processes of my cognitive self in self hypnosis. Many times I have heard Stephen ask, “Where is your attention now?” “Where in your body are you feeling your problem?” Answering this line of questioning necessitates that we shift our main focus of attention away from the cognitive self and towards the somatic self.

The next piece in the puzzle that relates my work to Self-relations is my study here in Japan of something known as Noguchi sei tai. In Japanese sei tai can be said to mean “correctly organized body” and “Noguchi” is the name of the teacher (sensei) that created this particular form of sei tai. Noguchi Sensei (1984)* had already passed away by the time I got to Japan, but his students taught me how to do special exercises that allowed me to use my body in a new way, and release my excess energy. Noguchi Sensei used to say that the body and a spinning top are similar: “If a top isn’t spinning, and if a body isn’t moving, you can’t realize what they are meant for and how to use them.” One of his main premises was that people tend to use unconsciously generated muscular tensing patterns to organize their body and hold onto excess energy in their system. He said that unconsciously tensing various parts of the body inhibits the body’s natural movements, and produces stress and excess tension in the system. It is this holding onto excess energy and the concurrent inhibition of movement that causes illness and less than full health in general. It was his premise that the more serious a person’s health condition, the more they were holding onto excess energy. When you release excess physical tension, you discover that your unconsciously generated body movements change, along with your thoughts and your emotional state. Noguchi sensei said that physical tension and emotional tension are realized as two sides of the same coin. This is something that Stephen also teaches in Self-relations.

A second premise of Noguchi sei tai, as I understand it, is that you need to find a way to encourage and allow the unconscious organization patterns of your body to release with a minimum of direction from your conscious mind. In almost all instances attempting to consciously and willfully change one’s posture and physical holding patterns rarely gets the results that one would desire. The simple reason for this being that conscious thought processes usually involve unconsciously tensing one’s body, such that we freeze rather than free up the nervous system and muscles, to act. In Self-relations terms we would say that the mind that creates a problem is not the mind to use when looking to change one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. The use of the conscious mind as one’s main source of intelligence is often not enough to get the desired results.

Noguchi sensei developed special exercises to help accomplish the unconsciously generated release of excess energy by entering into a state of spontaneous movement. When practicing these exercises I soon noticed that my experience was similar to what I achieved with my Aikido and self-hypnosis practice. By this point in time I was beginning to have a first hand experience of the two centers of control that each person has: One located in the head (the cognitive self) and the other located in the abdomen (the somatic self). It soon became apparent to me that influencing one’s behavior through mental strategies produced different yet complementary experiences from influencing one’s behavior through tuning into the unconsciously generated intelligence of the body.

For example, it is commonly known that well constructed affirmations/mantras can help people to perform more effectively in life. I often suggest to clients who want to be better public speakers that they develop a mantra to the effect of “Relaxed, Confident, and Appreciating the Audience.” Such a mantra can often be quite effective, but the effect will be limited if the client fails to realize that when he does public speaking, he tends to tense his shoulders, round his posture, and breathe in a shallow manner. Superior performance is thus best facilitated by concurrently giving one’s attention to both the communication of the cognitive self in the form of a mantra, and the communication emanating from the somatic self, in the form of posture, movement, and breath. Listening to both “selves” simultaneously gives us the highest quality results. Repeating one’s mantra while concurrently feeling into, relaxing, and expanding, one’s physiology.

In my work with individual clients I began to experiment with having them enter into a relaxed state of awareness by teaching them how to tune into their breathing, posture, and unconsciously generated body movements. I would have them sit on the front half of their chair, take several deep breaths, and then begin to softly and gently adjust their posture, by letting their body move in whatever way it wanted to. I would say something like the following: “Jim, I am talking to you now, and I would like to ask Jim to not move his body….. Instead, I would like to ask your body to move itself, in whatever way it would like to, whenever it is ready to do so, and without the well intentioned advice of Jim.” In the course of this work I soon began to see that when people become actively aware of their body without attempting to consciously change or direct what they are doing, that indeed the body will begin to shift itself, without the need of conscious intervention. The body knows what the body needs. This led me to understand that when wanting to enter into a state of altered consciousness, being sensitive to and subtly influencing the communication of the body was just as important as being sensitive to and subtly influencing the verbal communication that emanated from the brain in one’s skull.

Although my individual practice and my work with clients was progressing well, I still didn’t quite have a complete model for understanding how to coordinate and work with each person’s dual intelligence – somatic and cognitive. I was beginning to realize that the piece I was still missing was finding a way to facilitate better communication between the rational mind and the body. It is Stephen’s work in what is now called Self-relations therapy that helped me to finally synthesize a model of working with people that melds the intelligence of the cognitive self and the somatic self (our dual intelligence) into a single experience of what is called in SR “the relational self.” When we experience ourselves as the relationship between our cognitive self and our somatic self, and join this relationship to our interaction with the outside world, we are able to better generate a sense of health and well-being.

S e i s h i n d o

What follows, is an explanation of the principles of the discipline I have developed, called Seishindo. What I present can be an aid in further understanding SR, and can also perhaps give you some additional insight into how you think about and react to the world. Continue–>

Notes
* “Order, Spontaneity and The Body” by Haruchika Noguchi;
Zensei Publishing Company, Tokyo, Japan.

Part 2
Part 3
From: Walking In Two Worlds: The Relational Self In Theory, Practice, And Community

Some Thoughts and Ideals to Ponder

Pondering the following thoughts and ideals can likely benefit you in many ways.

  • The meaning of your communication can be understood by the response it elicits in others.
  • The “map” that you use in order to help you “navigate” through your life should not be confused with the actual territory that the map is meant to represent. The world that you believe in, is very different than the world that many others believe in.
  • Everyone lives in their own unique model of the world. What we each individually perceive and understand is our own unique version of reality and is not duplicated in any other living being. Rest easy with this knowledge and you afford yourself the possibility of many new and wonderful learnings that are not available to people who believe that their version of the world is THE correct version.
  • No matter how poor their performance, people always do the best they are capable of, given their unique model of the world, their currents skills and abilities, and the situation at hand.
  • People have all the resources necessary to make any desired change. Actually activating these resources can be another whole story.
  • Hold the positive worth of each individual as a constant, while sometimes questioning the value and appropriateness of their behaviors.
  • “The Problem” is, that you do not fully recognize the true magnificence of who you really are, and in the process of not fully recognizing your own magnificence, you will tend to devalue both yourself and others.

Somatic-Emotional State: Feeling, without the need to think

Your somatic-emotional state at any given moment in time (the feelings you have prior to thinking about what you are feeling) is made up to a large extent, of a specific habitual recipe of biochemical and neuromuscular activities that you tend to perform without conscious awareness. Bringing awareness to and regaining a natural relaxed control over the activity of your entire system affords you the ability to positively affect your emotions, and your overall health and sense of well being – your somatic-emotional state. Your psychological state on the other hand is usually deemed to be mainly dependent on what takes place inside your head.

Many of us, over the course of time, lose the ability to fully communicate with our body, and we lose the ability to be fully aware of the communication of the body. It is the communication patterns of the body that lead to our emotional state, and our verbal communication patterns. When you limit your ability to communicate somatically and be aware of your somatic conversation, you also limit your ability to feel your emotions, communicate verbally, and be aware of your verbal conversation. Of course your overall state of health and well-being will be affected as well.

The greater your ability to be aware of and embody a full potential range of somatic communication, the greater your ability to communicate verbally and “understand” what you are feeling.

One of many possible ways to think about how we experience life is the following:

Body + Language= Emotional Experience

What we mean here is: The overall condition, usage, and awareness of one’s body, plus the way in which one uses language to describe one’s experience, go together to make up one’s CURRENT emotional experience of self, another person, and or an event.

1. Change the condition, usage, and awareness of your body and you will change the way in which you use language to describe what has or is transpiring, which in turn will change your overall emotional experience of the issue being considered. The six somatic “avenues” that we find most accessible in changing the condition, use, and awareness of the body are, a) Posture, b) Balance and carriage of the neck and head, c) Movement and Flexibility. (This includes muscular holding patterns and micro-muscular rocking movements), d) Breath, e) Facial Expressions, f) Eye movements that occur when thinking about what you want to say, and what you feel. These variables will be of primary importance in determining A) One’s emotional experience. B) The language used to explain one’s experience, and C) One’s ability to be solution oriented. Each person systematically and habitually, orchestrates these variables depending on how they perceive the events and relationships they are dealing with. Making the “correct” changes to these variables will alter the way one perceives what is taking place, and the changes or solutions one believes they are capable of making.

2. Change the way in which you describe your experience, and you will affect and change the condition of your body, which in turn will change your overall emotional experience. We can describe events differently simply by changing the speed, rhythm, tone, volume, and pauses used in our description.

3. Changing one’s emotional experience, will affect and change the condition of one’s body, which in turn will affect and change the language one uses to describe one’s experience. Emotion consists of language AND body – a system that is coherent at a deeper level. When the emotional state changes there is a concurrent change in the body, and in the use of language (including one’s thought processes). If the way we use our body changes and there is no shift in our language usage/thinking, then the bodily changes we experience have not reached our emotions. In such cases long term change is unlikely. If our language usage/thinking changes and there is no matching bodily shift, then our new “ideas” are not having an emotional impact on us. Once again, in such an instance long term change is unlikely. When the emotions truly change, you will notice a change in the body AND in language.

Fundamentals That Support Learning & Adaptation

Today I would like to explore ten fundamentals that support learning and adaptation.

1) Human beings are designed as self-organizing systems. We are each born with an innate ability to learn, and adapt to life. We each possess the instinctual ability to recognize, create, and maintain health and well being.

The ability to adapt and change is part and parcel of the act of self-organization. Change is inherent in the differences and potentials that drive a universe that is not at rest. The ability to adapt is the reward for learning.

2) A state of dynamic relaxation in which we feel alert and fully alive, supports our ability to learn. At such times we do just enough and nothing more or less, to perform in a graceful, efficient manner without inducing excess effort or tension.

3) The body as well as the brain in our skull, is intelligent, and we can consider the unconscious mind to reside in the body as well as in the brain in our skull. Recent scientific research by Dr. Michael Gershon and others show that we indeed have a second brain in our gut (the enteric nervous system). This is a concept that has been known in most every Oriental art form for thousands of years. Other research conducted by Candace Pert presents a model of a “mobile brain” that moves throughout our entire body. Her work leads to the consideration of the brain as a dynamic and ever changing information network that is present throughout our entire system. When we work within the models presented by Gershon and Pert, we can quickly understand that most of the system-wide activity of “our brain” takes place outside of our everyday conscious awareness.

We can indeed utilize and learn from this subconscious intelligence of the body, and this proposal forms the basis for an emerging field of study which has come to be called “Somatic Psychology.” Tapping into the subconscious intelligence of the body can positively affect how you feel about yourself, the amount of stress you experience in trying to keep up with an ever changing environment, and the degree of success you have in interacting with and adapting to the world around you

4) High-quality learning and adaptation are facilitated by utilizing two sources of organization and intelligence in a complementary manner – our somatic organization and intelligence as coordinated by our enteric nervous system (the brain in our gut), and our cognitive organization and intelligence as coordinated by the brain in our skull.

By tapping into our somatic organization and intelligence we gain a second source of information (a different perspective) to balance, contrast, and complement, the organization and intelligence of our rational mind. By tapping into the intelligence that is resident in the body people can rekindle their innate and creative learning abilities.

5) All of the various electro-chemical and neuromuscular reactions that occur in our body are systematic in nature and when taken as a whole such reactions can be considered to make up a somatic language.

Our ability to communicate in and understand somatic language is wired into our system at birth and forms the foundation of our memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and our ability to live and sustain ourselves. Our somatic language is at least as sophisticated, systematic, and complete as our native verbal language, and it does not use or require verbal language in order for our body to completely understand what is being communicated. Somatic language (the language of our body) is what allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue,
and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the course of our lives.

6) Our memories and our emotions are seamlessly intertwined. Our body and all of its cells and tissues retain traces of our previous experiences. Our memories and our emotions are made up of bio-chemical and neuromuscular activities that form the basis of our consciousness, are habitual in nature, and affect our perception of our current experience. Long term memories are activated by our entire system, as a byproduct of our experience.

7) Much of what we accomplish when learning and adapting takes place outside of our conscious awareness and is orchestrated by the subconscious intelligence of our body (the somatic self).

Exceptional learners in any one particular field rarely know specifically what they do when they perform with excellence, they “just do it” by accessing the information network of their entire system.

In regard to the maintenance of our overall health and well being, we have limited conscious awareness of how we go about secreting enzymes to digest our food, the hormones that we secrete for various life sustaining functions, or the process we use to activate our immune system. A healthy person nonetheless effectively performs such tasks on a regular basis.

8) The personal difficulties we experience in our attempt to maintain a state of somatic-emotional balance are largely due to habitual patterns of holding excess energy within our system, and our habitual methods for organizing and utilizing only a selected portion of the incoming information that is available to us. When we hold onto excess energy we inhibit ourselves from rebalancing, reorganizing, and adapting, to meet the challenges of ongoing events, thoughts, and feelings. In the process, we inhibit our ability to remain physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. When our somatic-emotional system supports a varied range of information organization and utilization, life moves through us in a continual process of change and rebalancing.

9) A system that is adept at managing complexity and diversity is a system that is open to learning from new information and distilling solutions from multiple realities. A diverse system has elements that are different in nature, kind, character, and quality. Diversity is ever present in the non-equilibrium environment that we live in, and indeed the ongoing viability of any system depends on a certain minimum requisite amount of diverse elements. A lack of diversity leads to a limited pool of information, alternatives, and solutions that will usually tend to be somehow incomplete, incorrect, and repetitive.

Complex systems are made up of diverse yet interrelated and interdependent parts. It is the ability of a system to embrace, comprehend, utilize, and unify the multiplicity of interrelated elements in a given situation that leads to high quality solutions and adaptation. In such systems, the concepts of “right” or “wrong” are less important than the correlation and complementarity of divergent sources of information. Robust systems thrive on complexity, and use it as an impetus for fostering generative compromises that enhance the overall integrity of the system. In unbalanced systems complexity tends to create a state of confusion and chaos.

10) When wanting to engage in high quality learning we will do well to “speak” to our self in a way that the somatic self can best understand rather than mainly relying on verbal instructions given to the cognitive self. The cognitive self strives to “correct what is wrong” and or “do what is correct” and in the process we tend to pay attention to “fixing” or improving specific parts of a total activity. When we pay attention to specifics, we tend to have internal dialogue and strive to correct separate “arcs” of activity, rather than paying attention globally to the overall activity we are involved in. We become pre-occupied with what we think we “should” be doing, rather than being fully engaged.

When wishing to learn a new activity or subject matter, improve our performance, or re-program the self, we will do best to communicate mainly via felt sense, images, and “the aesthetics of sound” (Volume, rhythm, pace, and resonance.). In short, we will do best to communicate primarily to the somatic self, while allowing the cognitive self to be somewhat passive. The language that your somatic self understands best, is NOT your verbal language. Once again, this is a premise that is central to Seishindo. We need to give the somatic self an active role in learning. In order to accomplish this, we need to speak more directly to the somatic self, and fully engage our pre-verbal experience.

Cultivating Ki Flow and Mindfulness, Manifesting Mind

Starting Line
This article is the second in a three part series. In my first article in this series I talked about “Energy, Spirit and Mind” and introduced how these terms are used in Seishindo. In this article I am going to talk about how to cultivate “ki” the energy that is the source of all life. If this is the first article in this series you are reading, you might want to first read my last article, so you have a better understanding of how we think about “ki” in Seshindo.

No one has absolute knowledge (except through faith) of where ki originates from and no one knows where our personal ki goes to after we die. Ki springs from the depth of the universe as well as from the depth of our soul. The way of ki is a gigantic and fascinating mystery, and one that is well worth exploring. In studying ki we can come to a deeper understanding of ourselves, our relationships, and the world we live in. Our study of ki can help to liberate us as we become better attuned to the music and poetry of our heart and soul.

Having an experiential understanding of the nature of ki leads us to encounter a natural, creative intelligence, that far transcends the abilities and powers of any one human being. Ki is the common denominator we share with all of life. I believe that ki is essentially, expansive, mutable, and supportive of life, and that it can adapt to an endless variety of forms and functions depending on how it is received, shaped, and utilized by our system.

I wrote above that ki is “supportive of life” and I want to explain this a bit more here. Ki supports life when our system is able to let it flow unimpeded, like when when our immune system spontaneously heal wounds or illnesses. Ki also has the potential to be destructive in nature when it’s flow becomes either stagnant or blocked, as in the case of the body being ravaged by cancer. Noguchi Sensei, the man that developed “Noguchi Seitai” (a Japanese system of health management) used to say “Illness is due to excess energy being trapped in the body. The stronger the illness, the more energy there is trapped.” One of the main purposes of Noguchi Seitai is to facilitate the release of excess energy held in the body so that the body can operate freely, and without impediment. This is also one of the main functions of Seishindo. When the body is stable and able to move freely, our thoughts patterns and emotions will be stable and flowing, and health and emotional balance will be fostered. In my first newsletter I wrote “The quality of our life is not dependent on the circumstances we encounter. The quality of our life is dependent on what we learn from the circumstances we encounter.” In this issue I will say, “The quality of our life is not dependant on the quantity of ki available to us. The quality of our life is dependent on our capacity to maintain a free flow of ki throughout our system.” Our belief system, as well as the way we facilitate the generation and flow of ki within our system are the major determinants of the quality of our life. Free flowing ki energizes and nourishes the body. Blocked ki can damage us and weaken our ability to adapt. The cultivation of free flowing ki is thus an important activity to explore because the manner in which we cultivate, use, and expend ki, is what determines our health and well being, and who and what we become over time.

One of the main functions of Seishindo is to help people cultivate the ability to be calm, fully present, and feeling one’s emotions and bodily sensations, without the need for internal dialogue. When we are at one with our self and our experience there is no need for internal dialogue, for there is no “other one” to talk to. Present in one’s body, present in one’s brain, and aware of and connected to one’s emotions and the environment, but not requiring or engaging in internal dialogue. This is a very special way of being. A way of being that can help us to fully actualize our self in the world. This is a way of being that can help us to deeply connect to our ability to respect, love, and heal, self, other, and the world around us.

Main Course
At every moment in time the ki within your system speaks to you via a somatic language that is as refined, systematic, and complete as your verbal language. This transformation of ki into somatic language is the basis of the non-cognitive wisdom that we call “intuition.” Becoming fluent in this language can help you maintain your health and well-being, foster more heartfelt relationships, and assist you in expressing your creative and healing gifts when working with others in various contexts. When you do “just enough” and nothing more or less, you will create the context for your body to be structurally balanced, flexible, and free to move. This is the way you are designed to be, and at such times your ki flows freely. Structurally balanced, flexible, and free to move and change, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

We have a chemical-electrical-muscular response to events, other people, circumstances, and the intake of energy via food, sunlight, water, and other sources. People further react to: presently occurring events, thoughts about possible future events, memories of past events, and internal dialogue. To a large extent, the responses we have to the energy we encounter and generate are dependent on:
1. The way we use our body (structure, movement, flow).
2. Our system of beliefs, and
3. The default neuromuscular biochemical pathways that we have developed over time due to a tendency towards habitual reactions.

The changes that take place in our body and brain are highly systematic in nature, and these changes determine the quality of our emotional responses, and our ability to think in a creative manner. Something occurs, and we spontaneously feel, think, and react in a specific manner, all of which leads to our somatic-emotional experience. For the most part we have limited awareness and understanding of what actually changes within our system, to cause a change in our somatic-emotional experience. We generalize the “feeling tone” of our experience and we give these generalized feelings rather unspecific verbal labels such as “happy” “in love” “ill” “hungry” “depressed.”

You can think of our various somatic-emotional reactions to life as “recipes”. Increase the blood pressure ever so much, restrict the flow of blood to the extremities a certain amount, increase the speed of your heartbeat, induce certain chemicals into the bloodstream, breathe more shallowly, and think about what could go wrong, and you have created the recipe for “fear.” We each create these somatic-emotional recipes outside of our conscious awareness, and without the conscious knowledge of what the “contents” of each recipe are. Most of this activity is coordinated by what in Seishindo we call “somatic intelligence,” the intelligence of the mobile brain within the body. The task we face when wanting to live a balanced creative life, is to heighten our ability to sense the components that make up our various somatic-emotional recipes, so that we can continue to adapt and maintain a system that is expansive, balanced, and free flowing. When our system facilitates the free flow of ki, we maintain a state of health, well being, and creativity.

1. There is a dynamic life force (ki) which pulsates through each of us. Most people have developed a tendency to inhibit the flow of energy and movement created by ki when presented with challenging situations. When the natural flow of ki is inhibited, the natural flow of information available (images, sounds, feelings, and “solutions”) is also inhibited. Allowing a free flow of energy and movement throughout our system facilitates a free flow of information and thus high quality learning and adaptation.

2. Ki flows best in a system that is balanced in structure, porous, flexible, expansive, and well oxygenated. Therefore in Seishindo we suggest any and all physical exercises and mindfulness training that helps you to accomplish just such a state. This is the kind of state that increases your resilience, adaptive and healing powers, and energy flow. Aikido, Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, Gyrontonics, and various Seishindo practices are excellent for this. The idea in all of these practices is to increase your awareness of what is taking place in the moment, while entering into an experience where you “stop stopping” yourself, and your thoughts and reactions transcend the limitations of your habituated “everyday” pace and rhythm. When we use more of all of our self and less of any one part of our self, our system will tend to be healthy and highly responsive.

3. Breath moves ki and delivers oxygen to the system. Oxygen and ki are highly supportive of health, well being, and the formulations of solutions. Every thought we have and every emotion we experience, affects the flow of breath and thus ki, within our system. When we are able to maintain a relaxed breathing process appropriate to the situation at hand, we maintain a free flow of ki, our emotions tend to be balanced, and our thinking tends to be solution oriented. There are many different disciplines that offer various breathing exercises. Any well conceived breathing exercise will be extremely helpful in “training” you to maintain sufficient amounts of oxygen in your system. In my last article I presented the Heartbeat Breathing practice. You can find this practice here.

4. Under normal life conditions, when a system receives a “shock” it adapts and rebalances. Extreme life conditions such as trauma result in extreme adaptations, and quite often the rebalancing part of our recovery does not take place. Usually during times of trauma the person’s energy, musculature, and thought patterns “lock” part way through the cycle of experience, and the natural and necessary rebalancing back to center, does not occur. When we block the natural flow of ki in our system, we block the flow of the “river of life.” Meaningful and lasting change requires shifts in the autonomic, peripheral, and enteric nervous systems, to occur. Such change requires a provoking of the natural wisdom of the body and its capacity to re-balance so that we release the locking of our musculature, and a new higher level of systemwide organization can be allowed to unfold.

The Noguchi Seitai exercise of “Katsugen Undo” offers an excellent method to help release the system so that you can once again open up to the possibilities of life, and facilitate the free flow of ki within your system. (More on this later.)

5. The response of “dissociation” or numbing our ability to feel can be quite helpful as an anesthetic under conditions of pain and extreme helplessness. Such responses however become detrimental to our overall health and well being when they are adopted as a generalized response to potentially painful or frightening situations. It is natural for our system to release the anesthetic of an operation after and hour or so, as our system comes “back to life.” It is also natural to release the dissociative patterns learned when feeling helpless or in pain, so that we can enter back into a life of pain AND pleasure, sorrow AND joy. We need to discover a path for entering back into the flow of life so we can regain access to the full range of emotions that are available to a healthy emotionally balanced individual. When the sensation of flowing ki is anesthetized we lose our ability to feel into the ebb and flow of our experience. Heartfelt supportive relationships are of great benefit here in helping us to trust that it can be safe to feel again.

6. Whatever we avoid, whatever we are unable to feel and bring our awareness into, does not change. When our system does not change, our ki becomes stagnant, and our life force is weakened. When working to re-claim parts of ourselves we have lost contact with we will do well to begin by gently feeling each and every part of ourselves, so that we can eventually come to know that we are whole. Every part of our self is worthy of loving attention and when we bring loving attention to injured or neglected parts of our self, we foster the flow of ki, a softening of the body, and the opening of our heart. Various mindfulness exercises such as meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga, and Aikido, can be very helpful in this regard.

The challenge of living a heartfelt healthy life is threefold:
1) Gain conscious awareness of how you generate your somatic-emotional experience.
2) Recognize the ingredients of the somatic-emotional “recipes” you generate as a result of your experience.
3) Change the recipes you create, and thus change your relationship to your experience and your life “story”.
If you are able to change the habituated and highly specific somatic-emotional reactions you have to events you will transform the way you express your emotions, think, and react.

In order to assist each person in being able to change their consciousness we have developed various practices which I explain one by one in our newsletters. These practices are designed to make the transparent aspects of your experience more obvious. The practices help you to notice and effect changes in various aspects of your experience that were previously outside of your conscious awareness. By taking part in these practices you will learn how to intuit and react to the seed somatic-emotional experience that forms the foundation of your verbal explication of life. In order to cultivate ki, cultivate mindfulness. In order to cultivate mindfulness cultivate a love for all that lives, and all that you are and aren’t.

Over a period of time by performing mindfulness practices, you will also be more likely to understand how to help others change their experience as well.

Practice
In regard to the Seishindo Practices in general, and the theories espoused in the Seishindo newsletters I feel that it is important to say several things.
1. Each person’s life is rich and complex and I am not wanting to convey that any one practice or exercise is “the answer” in regard to living life more fully.
2. When I espouse various theories relating to ki flow, I make such statements fully knowing that we do not live in a vacuum and thus the manner in which we relate to our environment and those around us, is always of paramount importance as well. The degree to which we experience happiness in life is only meaningful in relation to the happiness we share with others.
3. Living one’s life with greater awareness and mindfulness is a gift onto itself. This is the gift that I am hoping to offer in regard to the practices and theories I espouse.
4. These are many valuable paths for achieving what you want in life. What I present in this article is simply one of many ways.

A practice that relates to what you have been reading is entitled “Katsugen Undo”. Roughly translated from the Japanese, Katsugen Undo means “Natural movement that renews life at its root.”

The basics for this exercise are taken from Haruchika Noguchi Sensei and “Noguchi Sei Tai”. “Sei Tai” basically means “properly ordered body.” Noguchi sensei used to say that the purpose of Katsugen Undo is to create an orderly way to unconsciously move the body, while affecting those parts of the body that we cannot move voluntarily.

When we hold onto excess energy we inhibit our self from rebalancing, and thus we inhibit our ability to remain physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. In terms of what we are exploring together, the above means that we often tend to create a body structure and a concurrent potential for movement that constricts the flow of ki. The greater your ability to facilitate the flow of ki, the greater your ability to facilitate a healthy state of calmness and well being.

The Ki of Aikido – An Oriental Concept of “Energy”, “Self” and “Mind”

Introduction
This article is the first as a three part series. It will introduce you to the concepts of Energy, Self, and Mind, from an Oriental perspective.
The second article in the series will talk about cultivating “ki” within one’s self.
The third article will discuss how an Aikido practitioner attempts to sense, understand, and blend with the “ki” of their partner, and point to how you can use such a mindset in your daily life.

Preface
There are many different ways to perceive, utilize, and benefit from the energy that is available to us in the course of living our life. What follows is my experience of energy (“ki”) while performing Aikido over the course of more than twenty years. Certainly there are likely to be many other Aikido practitioners that would explain their experiences and beliefs in a manner that is somewhat different than mine. I offer you here, one experience, my experience.

Aikido
Aikido is a Japanese martial art, and it does not have an attack form. We do not kick, punch, or in any other manner, attempt to hurt our opponent.

The meaning of Aikido:

“Ai” To gather or harmonize.

“Ki” Universal life force/energy.
This is the energy that we share with nature and all living beings.

“Do” An artful path of discovery.

“Aikido” An artful path of discovering how to gather and harmonize the energy of the universe.

When we sense and move with the energy that is manifesting throughout the universe we find that we have a greater ability to live a life that is healthy and fulfilling.

“Ki”
In Aikido we believe that all human beings utilize and share a common energy source (ki) that helps to run and maintain our environment as well as our individual human systems. We believe that since we all share a common energy source, that in some important way we are all truly members of the same family, and truly sharing our lives with all of nature. We do not have an attack form in Aikido, because attacking an opponent would be like attacking a family member that you love. Attacking an opponent would also be like attempting to damage the flow of Universal energy in the world, and such acts are likely to have many far reaching consequences.

In the Japanese language words that use the concept of “ki” are common.
“Gen-ki” means “root energy” or one’s “personal health”.
“Ten-ki” relates to “heavenly energy” or “the weather”.
“Hon-ki” relates to “original energy” or “the truth”.
“Yuu-ki” relates to “brave energy” or “courage”.
“Ki o tsukete” means “attach your energy to what you are doing, or “be careful”.

The origin of ki?
Where does ki originate from? In Aikido the answer is poetic in nature rather than scientific. It is suggested that ki was “born” at the same instant as the rest of the universe, and that we are all born from the ki of the universe. Ki is considered to be an energy that we all have equal access to. It is an energy that courses through our system if we do not restrict it. In Aikido we believe that excess tension physically and emotionally, fear, hate, greed, and anger, all cut us off from the universal source of ki. Our daily practice involves working at maintaining a balanced state physically and emotionally, and indeed, practicing ways to cultivate physical and emotional balance is much of what the study of Aikido is about. In Aikido physical and emotional balance are meant to be two sides of the very same coin. Physical balance helps to engender emotional balance and health, and vice versa as well. Often in my professional work with individuals I find myself first addressing the clients physical balance when they come wanting to resolve emotional issues, and I do the reverse as well. I often first address or explore how emotional imbalance might lead to the physical difficulties they are experiencing.

“Ki signature” mind, spirit-Energy manifests as spirit, spirit manifests as mind
Energy manifests within each individual as spirit, spirit manifests in each individual as mind. In some way that is a mystery to all of mankind, the freely available energy of the universe is transformed by each person into one’s own unique “ki signature”, spirit, mind. No two people have the same exact “ki signature”, just as no two people have the same exact written signature. No two people have the same exact spirit, no two people have the same exact mind. The unique way that we each take in, utilize, and expend energy, can be considered to be our “ki signature”, mind, or spirit. Each person starts with the same source of energy, and manifests this energy in a way that will never exactly be duplicated by any other human being.

Thought, body structure,and movement, shape the flow of ki, into spirit/mind
Think of the freely flowing water of a powerful river that comes upon a series of fairly large rocks spread out across the river bed and extend up beyond the water’s surface. These rocks affect the flow of the river but they do not change the nature of the water itself. Ki flows through the river bed of our brain and body. Our thoughts, body structure and movements, are like the rocks in the river bed. These are the main elements that shape ki into individual mind, or spirit The flow of ki is uniquely transformed by each human being, but the nature of the ki itself, is not altered in the process. Just as the pattern of rocks spread out along the river bed is never exactly duplicated in any other place on earth, the pattern of our thoughts, body structure, and movement is also never exactly duplicated. All mind is similar, but no two minds are exactly alike.

A heartfelt understanding of the nature of our spirit will help us to create a healthy alignment of our thoughts, body structure, movements, and actions. When every aspect of our self is fully aligned we have a much greater ability to think, feel, and act in accordance with what is best for us in any given moment. We are better able to adapt and change in a manner that is supports the well being of our entire self and our surroundings.

The misnomers of “mind-body” and “mind and body”
A definition of “mind” that I often use it in my work, is the following:
“Mind is a dynamic, self-organizing, creative system, capable of overcoming physical and temporal constraints. Mind uses and manufactures energy in order to support the self and one’s surroundings, trade information, and adapt to change.”

When considering this definition of mind, we can say that mind manifests equally in the body and in the brain in the skull. Because of this I believe that the terms “mind-body” or “mind and body” as used in the Western world, are somewhat missing the mark and tend to lead to a certain degree of misunderstanding. If you ask a Japanese person to point to their mind, usually they will point to the area of their heart, or they will point to their lower abdomen. If you ask the average Westerner to point to their mind they will point to their head. This is why I think the terms “mind-body” and “mind and body” were developed in the Western world. I believe that the average Western person thinks of the term “mind” in relation to “thinking” or “thought”. Oriental philosophy considers “mind” to be immanent in both the body and the brain. In Aikido we say that we practice in order to calm the mind, by coordinating our thoughts, the actions of our body, and our breath. Or we say that we practice in order to further empower and actualize our mind by coordinating our thoughts, physical actions, breath, and spirit.

When looking to calm our mind we give our primary attention to calming our breath and our heart beat, which will tend to lead towards a relaxing of our musculature and a slowing down or cessation of our internal dialogue. If we calm our body we will tend to calm our cognitive thought processes. Calming the mind can also be accomplished by giving primary attention to the speed, rhythm, and tone of voice of our internal dialogue. If we calm our cognitive thought processes we will tend to calm the body. When we calm both our cognitive thought processes and our body, then we calm our mind. Cognitive mind and somatic mind are part of a recursive feedback loop. You can’t affect one without affecting the other.

Integrating the Intelligence of your Five “Brains”

Many of us live our lives shuttling back and forth between two seemingly different identities that often conflict with each other. Our rational self tells us we need to lose weight and exercise more, while our emotional self has us eating potato chips and watching reruns on TV. These two conflicting identities, living in a single human being, is what I often encounter when clients come for therapy or coaching. The client’s rational self says “I should,” and their emotional self says, “Even though I know I should, I can’t.” Clients come to me hoping to resolve this conflict and to live in a manner that honors and melds the relationship and desires of both identities. This integration of self is one of the primary tasks of personal development.

We can understand a great deal more about why so many people struggle with integrating their emotions with their intellect by looking at the architecture of our total human intelligence. With regard to the information I would like to present here, and speaking simplistically, science currently tells us that as a result of millions of years of evolution, each human being is now the proud owner of an intelligence made up of five brains. Having five brains gives us the possibility for much greater flexibility in living our lives, but having four brains, each performing different functions, also makes for the challenge of integrating information and experiences that are often seemingly contradictory. Just as when we add on new peripherals to our slightly out-of-date computer system and wind up with problems the maker never dreamed of, for the most part we don’t seem to know how to meld the ancient process of emotional response with the newfangled intellectual responses that sprang to life with the development of the neocortex. This integration of the self is one of the primary tasks of somatic approaches to “change” work, and it takes a good deal of wisdom, trial and error, and exploration.

FIVE BRAINS

1. The somatic brain/enteric nervous system (located mainly in the gut).
This brain came first in evolution and existed in very early organisms hundreds of millions of years ago. The enteric nervous system plays a major role in digestion, and in the production and output of the various hormones that are crucial to our emotional and physical wellbeing. For instance, the enteric nervous system produces approximately 85% of the system’s serotonin, a key element in regulating our emotional well-being.

2. The reptilian brain

This brain orchestrates breathing, heartbeat, swallowing, visual tracking, and the startle response. Although reptiles are said to not be able to experience emotion, all of these body functions as just listed do significantly affect the emotions of human beings. Shallow breathing, darting eyes, and an increase in heart rate will very definitely lead to a feeling of fear or anxiety.

3. The mammalian or limbic brain

This brain appeared after millions of years of evolution, and led to animals having emotions, and to suckling and rearing of young by their mothers. The limbic brain melds the circuitry of the enteric nervous system and the reptilian brain into our sense of emotion. Emotions were felt and acted upon long before the ability of animals to reason. Indeed, emotion comes prior to thought, and that is exactly where most people run into great difficulty. Our emotional experience is an immediate and primal response that has very little if anything to do with our ability to reason.

4. The heart

Over the last decade or so more and more researchers have been designating the heart as another seat of intelligence. The heart orchestrates and determines much of what takes place in our system, and learning how to tap into the rhythms of the heart can go a long way towards helping us to live an emotionally stable life. Through the use of mindfulness exercises and biofeedback, we can indeed change the rhythm of the heart, and in the process we become better able to manage our emotions.

5. The neocortex

Last but not least, in its most highly developed form, the neocortex is the singular gift of humans. The neocortex gives us the ability to reason, deal in abstractions, communicate verbally, and be goal oriented. The neocortex has little if any true understanding of emotions. Although talking about our emotions can definitely be of some help, rarely can an intellectual understanding of our deeper emotional patterns help us to change the way we feel and act. Thank goodness, this fact of life is more and more appreciated by therapists, and others responsible for helping people gain and maintain emotional health.

Even with the intelligence of five brains to draw on, we still often find ourselves unable to rectify the paradox of reason and emotion. To live a balanced, satisfying life, each of us needs to learn how to better embrace, appreciate, and synthesize the emotional wisdom emanating from our enteric nervous system our reptilian and limbic brains, and our heart, with the intellectual wisdom of our neocortex. By better attending to our emotions, we help the neocortex to be less of an autocratic leader, and more of a team player. When we are emotionally healthy, we tend to be physically healthy, too, and our worldly goals take on new meaning. Without attending to our emotional experience, we find little solace in our achievements, possessions, and relationships, and little true satisfaction.

THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE AND EMOTION

Our enteric, reptilian, limbic, and heart brains, along with our body, orchestrate and “speak” a language that is at least as complete, sophisticated, and grammatically correct as the verbal language of our neocortex. This preverbal language is the language of love and emotion, and it determines the framework that verbal language is constructed from. Increase your heart rate, breathe shallowly, and constrict your muscles, and this somatic communication will lead you to report that you are tense and ill at ease. Relax and calm your physiology and breathing, and this somatic communication will lead you to a very different verbal conversation, and a different perspective of who you are and what you are capable of. Our feelings emanate from the body, and are reported on after the fact by the verbal centers of our brain, much like a journalist reports on news events. Without a bodily reaction, there is no news to report. We can gain a different perspective of our life by listening to our newscast, but rarely will talking about what has taken place change the emotional experience generated by the body.

When our emotions and our intellect are at odds, invariably we find that the language of our body and the language of our intellect are communicating conflicting messages. When our heart says “No” and our intellect says “Yes,” we rarely wind up achieving our goals. By better understanding how we generate the primal messages of love and emotion that our body communicates, we can meld our emotional and rational desires into one comprehensive whole. We often instead subvert or deny our emotional longings by telling ourselves what we “should” be doing. For millions of years prior to the upstart neocortex coming along, the regulation of the body’s systems was successfully carried out by the enteric nervous system, reptilian brain, limbic brain, and heart. Try as we might, we simply are not designed to have our rational mind tell the body what to do and how to feel. We cannot command ourselves to secrete the various enzymes necessary for high quality digestion, and we cannot willfully direct ourselves to no longer feel heartbroken, depressed, or incompetent. To change our emotional experience, we need to speak to our body in the language of love and emotion.

WE ARE A RELATIONSHIP

Each human being has a primary set of internal relationships that make up the self. Indeed we can say that the primary unit of “self” IS relationship. No one part of the system of self is the commander in chief. No one part of the system is any more intelligent than any other part. Living a fulfilling life is a team effort of the entire self. We need to cultivate a deep appreciation for the vital communication that emanates from the body, and communicate to the body in a supportive life-affirming manner.

How to do this? Learn how to become more aware and mindful of the language your body is speaking. When we change the grammar of the body by stabilizing, calming, and adjusting our heartbeat, breathing, posture, body movements, and visual focus, we begin to affect changes in our overall mood, health, perception, and identity. As our enteric nervous system and our reptilian and limbic brains orchestrate changes in our physiology, we change the structure and quality of our emotions, and thus our thinking, and we change the physical structure and activity of our neocortex as well. Our somatic intelligence initiates the changes that lead to our emotional and physical well-being, and our rational mind will do well to honor such wisdom. Deny or denigrate the language of love and emotion, and you will find yourself constantly at odds with developing the relationship with self that leads to health, happiness, and loving relationships.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS

Beyond attending to the relationship we have with our self, the quality of one’s life is determined by the quality of our relationships with others. When we feel no choice but to face the world alone, we suffer emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and no degree of outward success can replace or repair the lonely feeling in our heart. No matter how talented, wealthy, or trim and fit we appear, without supportive relationships it is a difficult challenge for anyone to maintain physical and emotional health. Children, pets, loved ones, mentors, colleagues, and teachers all can help fulfill our need for connection to other sentient, limbic beings. Our nervous system is an “open loop learning system” that draws on energetic connections with others to continually adapt and hopefully flourish. This concept of “open loop learning” is very much a part of the theory of Aikido. When being attacked in an Aikido class we are hoping to move toward “joining with” our adversary and creating the energetic connection that can lead to stabilization of both parties’ emotions, and a sense of physical and emotional completion. We come to understand each attack as a physical expression of loneliness and separation, and the desire for connection. A deep sense of separation from others leads to fear, and fear can easily lead to feeling one’s self being attacked, and thus lead to attacking others in turn. In Aikido we gain a direct understanding of how a physically and emotionally healthy person requires ongoing enrichment, stabilization, and support from other nervous systems.

PRE-COGNITIVE KNOWLEDGE

When we talk about the interaction of nervous systems among mammals, we mean that the nervous systems of two people in relationship very definitely communicate with, inform, and change each other. Our emotional connection with others clearly affects our moods, emotions, hormonal flow, digestion, body clock, and even the structure of our brains. Without conscious direction, and without the need to think, our nervous systems are always learning from and adapting to our interactions. For millions of years mammals have had the need to intuit which other mammals are safe and which predators. As mammals, we have a limbic- emotional connection with each other that does not require the capacity to think, analyze, or rationalize. Emotional understanding comes prior to thinking.

We can easily find examples of the importance of supportive limbic-emotional contact with others. It is fascinating to note that baby monkeys who have lost their mothers at an early age not only wind up with various developmental problems but they also prove incapable of living successfully with the rest of their community. The same is true for children forced to grow up in harsh, sterile conditions. Children who grow up in orphanages that give little human contact and emotional bonding have a dreadfully high mortality rate. High-quality health and emotional well-being require supportive limbic relationships. Our nervous system needs to locate and be nurtured by other nervous systems for us to have a sense of stability and completion. This is one of the most important offerings we can make to our clients. We can connect with them limbicly, and help them to develop a deeper sense of safety, calmness, and dignity. Our need to live our life in supportive limbic relationship with others is very much a wonderful fact of life, and not at all a weakness to be overcome. As mammals, we all require “a little help from our friends.”

A PATH OF HEALING A PATH OF LOVE

In the personal development discipline of Seishindo, we work along five mutually supportive pathways.

1. We support the client to make a generative limbic-emotional connection to self and others. As mammals acting in the supportive role of therapist or coach, we begin by calming ourselves, and developing the condition of wellbeing that leads to an outpouring of limbic energy. We connect emotionally with our clients and help them to stabilize and restore the vitality of their nervous system, while teaching them alternate ways of reacting to and processing energetic input. This process is largely nonverbal in nature.

2. We increase awareness of and responsiveness to the communication of the enteric nervous system and the reptilian, limbic, and heart brains.

3. We teach how to properly align physiology so as to increase the overall energy flow in the system, and facilitate natural and graceful use of the entire body.

4. We teach our clients how to orchestrate the tiny micromuscular movements that lead to changes in one’s emotional conversation and sense of well-being.

5. We teach our clients how to construct verbal conversations that meld the language of love and emotion with the language of the intellect.

Seishindo methods are eclectic and include Aikido, Sei Tai (A Japanese system of health and energy management), Structural Integration, various mindfulness practices, bodywork which is performed with the client lying down, sitting on large physiotherapy balls, walking, or performing other activities, NLP, and showing clients how the interplay of the carriage of the head and neck, the overall posture, breathing, eye movements, and tiny rocking movements of the torso, all lead to specific emotional conversations.

I hope this article enriches your model of physical and emotional well-being, and offers alternative perspectives to explore.

The Language of the Somatic Self- The language of your body

At every moment in time your subconscious mind speaks to you through your body, in a language that is as refined, systematic, and complete as your verbal language. This “somatic” language that your body communicates in forms the basis of the non-cognitive wisdom known as sixth sense, intuition, or “somatic intelligence.” Becoming fluent in somatic language can help you to think less, yet know more. It is like having your own personal consultant, who you can ask for additional insight. Understanding the subtle yet systematic communication of the body can help you achieve breakthroughs in your personal health and well-being, as well as adding significant value to the existing abilities and skills you already manifest in your life.

Once we understand that the body has the ability to act intelligently then it doesn’t take long to consider that the body requires a coherent form of communication in order to successfully perform all of its various life sustaining activities. We call this coherent communication “somatic language” or “the language of the somatic self.” We organize and make sense out of our rational experience by using a verbal language and a corresponding verbal grammar. We organize and make sense out of our somatic experience by using somatic language and a corresponding somatic grammar. Your verbal grammar is the set of rules your cognitive self follows in order to make sense out of the verbal experience it generates and receives. Your somatic grammar is the set of rules your somatic self follows in order to make sense out of the non-verbal experience that it generates and receives. Make an extremely loud noise and a person or animal tends to immediately stop moving, and the blood leaves the extremities and travels to the vital organs. Each time and every time, every living mammal has the same basic response. Place yourself in a cold climate and your pores will tend to close up. Go to the tropics and your pores will begin to open. Swallow a poison, and your somatic intelligence will try to get you to vomit it. Swallow a tonic and your body will quickly absorb it.

Your somatic intelligence does not act in a random fashion. All of the various reactions that occur in your body are systematic in nature and when taken as a whole such reactions make up the language of the somatic self. This language is wired into your system at birth and forms the foundation of your memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and your ability to live and sustain your self. This somatic language is at least as sophisticated, systematic, and complete as your native tongue, and it does not use or require verbal language in order for your somatic self to completely understand what is being communicated. This is a concept that is central to Seishindo.

You don’t need to tell yourself to sweat or get a temperature when you have an infection. You don’t need to tell yourself to take your hand off of a hot stove. You don’t need to tell yourself that it is time to digest what you have eaten. Your somatic self will react to the communication it receives chemically, and electrically, and it will do what it deems to be necessary, “all on its own.” This language of the somatic self that we begin to understand while still being in our mother’s womb, is what allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue, and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the course of our lives.

The language generated by the somatic self is made up of the interplay of what we call “The seven building blocks of consciousness.” These seven building blocks are:

  1. The pace, rhythm, volume, and location of one’s breathing and the overall flow of “ki” or vital energy
  2. Posture and balance
  3. Movement, and flexibility, of the entire physical structure
  4. The pace, rhythm, volume, and pressure of the blood supply
  5. The pulsing of the dural membrane, the expansion and contraction of the skull, and of all of the joints of the body
  6. Eye movement patterns
  7. Mood: The electro-chemical and muscular processes taking place throughout our system.

These seven building blocks are the “words” or “morphemes” of our somatic language. When understood as one total communication, the building blocks of consciousness help us create the primary meaning of our experience. For example, suppose you are walking to an important business meeting and your body temperature rises somewhat, you start to sweat, and your heart beats a little bit faster. You notice all of this and you slow down the pace of your walking. Why do you slow down the pace of your walking? Because you just had a “language of the somatic self” communication which informed you of the energy and heat exchange that was taking place within you. You don’t want to walk into your meeting dripping perspiration, and thus you slow down your pace. If there wasn’t a somatic language that could be used by your mind to understand what was taking place internally, and externally as well, then your increased heart rate, body temperature, and sweating, wouldn’t have any meaning.

The language of the somatic self does not use or require verbal language although it interacts with it continually, like a music group improvising with a singer, or a horse and rider traversing a path in the forest. The language of the somatic self is the pre-verbal communication that allows us to make meaning out of our experience prior to learning our native tongue. It is part of our mammalian consciousness, is intuitive and relational in nature, seems to direct us to join with other life, and it remains our primary meaning making language throughout the entire course of our lives. This language forms the foundation of our memories, verbal communication, learned responses, and our ability to live and sustain ourselves. Much in the same way that words are systematically joined together in infinitely varied combinations, to form the content of our verbal language as used by our cognitive self, the various components of the building blocks of consciousness are systematically joined together in infinitely varied combinations by your somatic self, to form the language of your somatic self. This is a language of immediate experience as compared to verbal language being a communication of abstractions.

Dr. Candace Pert, in her book “Molecules of Emotion” says that there are receptors (sensing molecules that exist throughout our system) and ligands (substances that bind to the receptors and help to create all of the chemical reactions necessary to run our system) that can be considered to be “information molecules.” She refers to these molecules as the basic units of a language used by cells throughout the organism to communicate. We consider this “language” that Ms. Pert is referring to, to be part and parcel of what we are calling the language of the somatic self. Dr. Gershon says that neurotransmitters are the words nerve cells use for communicating. Renowned scientists are telling us that we all “speak,” “listen to,” and understand more than one language. This “other” language is what we are calling the language of the somatic self, and it is highly organized, systematic, and graced with many fine nuances.

What has happened for most of us is that we have truly forgotten that there is a somatic-emotional experience which we base our verbal language on. In actuality our verbal representation of reality is always one step removed from our actual experience. Verbal representations are an edited, convenient, synopsis of our somatic-emotional experience, and lead us to pigeon hole our experience as a discrete event in time. Having forgotten this we think that our verbal language is our experience. But in actuality our verbal language is one step removed form our actual experience. It is an abstract description or labeling of our experience.

Mushin – Peak Performance State

In Aikido and Seishindo we practice embodying various “states” or ways of perceiving and being. We practice entering into various ways of experiencing Life.

The one state we practice entering into most, is known in Japanese as “mushin.” In Seishindo we often refer to mushin as a state of “embodied presence.”

We can consider the term Mushin to be similar to the terms “flow state” or “peak performance state” as used by people in the West. Yet if we look at the two kanji (written characters) that make up mushin, we discover a fascinating concept, that extends well past the usual sense of “peak performance”.

Mushin– Mu (無) Shin (心)
Possible meanings for Mu (無) include,
“Nothing”, “Zero”, or “Emptiness”.
The term signifies a lack of something, but without anything lacking.
Indeed, I would say that what is “lacking” is whatever is not essential.

In Japanese thinking the more “emptiness” there is, the larger the range of possibilities that exist.
If a space is truly empty, then “everything” has the possibility of being manifested. “Emptiness” is very rich in resources.
“Mu” can thus be considered similar to the concept of “less will get you more”.

The thirty spokes of a wheel unite in the center.
It’s this empty center space for the axle, upon which the use of the wheel depends.

Clay is fashioned into vessels.
It’s the emptiness of the vessel that makes it useful.

A door and windows are cut out from the walls, to form a room.
It’s the emptiness that the walls, floor, and ceiling encompass, that allows for the space to live in.

Thus what we gain is Something, yet it’s from the virtue of Nothing that this Something derives.
Dao de Jing; Chapter 11

If you’ve ever seen pictures of traditional Japanese rooms, and particularly temples where zen is studied, you’ll see the rooms are filled with the same emptiness as described in the above quote. A room is left empty, with very little in the way of furniture or anything else to detract from the infinite potential the room encompasses. This is an important part of the Japanese design aesthetic, and in zen temples, it’s also a non-verbal invitation to empty one’s thinking mind as well.

It’s also interesting to look at how “Mu” is combined with other kanji, to form other words.
mu-ryo (無料) no charge/”free”
mu-gon (無言) no words/silent
mu-ku (無垢) no dirt/pure
mu-jitsu (無実) no guilt/innocence
mu-ga (無我) no self(selflessness)/no ego/no “watashi (me)”

The second kanji in Mushin, is Shin  (心) or Kokoro
Although this kanji is one and the same as the kanji for one’s “physical heart”, in this context it means “heart” in the sense of one’s “spirit”.
In English we say, “She has a lot of heart.” Which means, “She has a lot of spirit/kokoro.”

So as a Westerner, at first pass Mushin might look like “empty spirit” or “zero spirit” and the connotation would seem to be that of someone who has given up on life. But after studying the above, we can understand just the opposite is the case. A truly “empty” spirit is enlivened, free, and fills a person with great potential.

It is your breath that fills the house of your body, with the greatest space, the greatest potential. It’s your breath that opens the doors and windows of your house, and helps to create, clean, and empty your space. It’s your breath passing through the doors and windows of your house, that unites “you” and your house with the outside world.

This exploration thus yields the following possible meanings for mushin:
“No thinking mind”
“Innocence”
“A pure state of mind, like when a young baby plays with a new toy”
“Full-empty spirit”.

In Seishindo we describe mushin as: “The state in which your thoughts, feelings, and actions occur simultaneously and spontaneously. Nothing comes between you and another person. Nothing comes between your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Nothing is lacking and nothing is left over. When part of you moves, all of you moves. When ‘you’ are calm, your whole self is calm. Thinking, doing, and being all become one and the same.”

When you embody a mushin state you greatly improve your ability to learn and live with grace and ease. At such times, the structure of your body is open and balanced, and your thinking mind is filled with emptiness. All traces of extraneous thoughts or actions dissolve, and you have a pleasing sense of fullness and great potential.

Maintaining mushin
Mushin is not a state you’ll be able to maintain throughout the course of your everyday life. Mushin is an ephemeral state that’s to be experienced and released. An experience that is lost and found again, many times over the course of even a single day.

When you enter into mushin for even brief periods of time you’re left with “a residue experience.” By this I mean- Even when you enter back into your “everyday mind”, the body memory and emotional traces of your mushin experience linger. You come back into the everyday world with a different sense of reality, a different perspective, a different outlook on life. Having experienced the wonderful fullness this emptiness affords you, you realize there’s more to life than worry, action, and accumulation.

If you’re at all like most of the people I meet every day, and the one I meet in the mirror every morning- During much of your life your thoughts, actions, and feelings occur somewhat independently of each other, and you lack a certain sense of spontaneity and wholeness. To some extent this is part of the human condition, and yet you can definitely also achieve from time to time, a much fuller way of learning and living. How to get “there” from “here” is an experience that cannot be cogently described with words alone. When you’re “fully present in the moment” you feel relaxed, vital, and fully alive. Your internal dialogue dissolves and your attention and awareness are freed up to notice what usually passes by unnoticed. At such times, “there” and “here” dissolve into “Now”!

Mushin = Embodied presence
Embodied presence = Fully present in the moment
Fully present in the moment = Michael Jordan during an NBA final; Tiger Woods at the Masters; My daughter watching her Saturday morning TV programs.

To learn, one accumulates day by day,
To study Tao, one reduces day by day.
Through reduction and further reduction
One reaches non-action,
And everything is acted upon.
(Dao De-Jing, #48)

The tyranny of “What if…?”

What you worry about determines the course of your life. Free yourself from the tyranny of your negative “What if…” scenarios, and you will discover that you have both everything to lose, and everything to gain!

A number of years ago I had a client who came to me in a really bad stressed out condition. He came for one session, and then the next thing I knew I was told he had had a nervous breakdown. When I visited him in the hospital, I was quite surprised to see that his face had a certain radiance to it. I asked how he was doing, half expecting to hear a litany of bad news. Instead, the man smiled and said the following. “I feel very lucky right now. Very blessed. I have let go of nearly everything I was trying to hold onto and I finally became aware of the mantra that I had been repeating to myself over and over again.”

“What happened to me was so surreal.” he said. “I was sitting in an unemployment office and I was feeling more and more agitated. Then all of a sudden I passed out. Or at least they told me I passed out because I don’t remember that part. What I do remember is waking up in this bed, and for the first time in my life, there was this deafening quiet inside my head, and a great calmness in my body that touched my soul. For the first time in my life, for at least a few minutes time I had no internal dialogue. This was a very amazing experience.”

“You see,” he said, “When I first came to see you I was afraid of losing my job, my wife, and my house. I was relentlessly repeating various ‘What if” mantras. What if I lose my job?’ ‘What if I lose my wife?’.As it turned out I did lose my job. And upon getting fired, because my finances were already totally frazzled, I soon had to hand over ownership of my house to the bank. And upon learning about the foreclosure on our house my wife immediately left me. And now I feel like a bright and energetic fourteen year old starting all over again! I have new dreams, new ways of thinking, a whole new life ahead of me now, and perhaps most importantly I have a new mantra.”

“My only sadness is that I wish I would have had my nervous breakdown much earlier in life, so I could have much sooner gotten into living from a place of enthusiasm rather than a place of fear. I just didn’t realize how fantastic a nervous breakdown could be! I have lost everything, but in the process I have gained a completely new way of being in the world. It is such a joy to know that I no longer need to live in fear.”

In the process of finally being released from the tyranny of “What if” this man attained great wisdom and peace of mind. After chatting a bit longer I finally got ready to leave. My ex-client said “One more thing if you don’t mind me suggesting it. When a client comes to you stressed out and fearful, tell him to take a moment, and take a deep breath. Then suggest that the best thing he can do is to have his nervous breakdown right then and there. Invite him to have his breakdown on the spot, so that he can get back into living a full life again, free from stress and fear! Believe me, the sooner you can completely let go, the better. In math, ten minus ten equals zero. In life, if you take everything that you have and minus all of it, you wind up with much more than you ever dreamed of!”

Have you been lucky in life?

Each moment in life, “lucky” or “unlucky”, is to be savored, learned from, and appreciated. Easier said than done? Read this story and it will likely give you a new perspective on your own luck.

I met an exceptional American man in Athens in my younger years. He had a beautiful and gentle French girlfriend, and everyone was always complimenting him and telling him how “lucky” he was. His usual reply was something to the effect of “Lucky or unlucky is hard for me to say, as this is only one small moment in my whole life. But I will tell you this, at this moment, I am very definitely enjoying myself and feeling thankful.”

Shortly after meeting him he was thrown in jail in Greece, which in those days was run by a brutal military dictator. All his friends sat around in Athens talking about how “unlucky” he was, since the police threw him in jail with no real evidence. When I visited him and told him his friends felt terrible about his bad luck he smiled warmly and said, “Lucky or unlucky is hard for me to say. But I am sure I will have a great story to tell some day! And for this I am thankful.”

After several years in jail he was released, and he returned to the States. He was traveling along the coast roads of California, when he met a lovely woman in a roadside cafe, and began to flirt with her. Unbeknownst to my friend, the woman had a boyfriend who belonged to a gang, and the boyfriend soon appeared with his buddies and became furious. In order to “teach my friend a lesson” they proceeded to throw him off the side of the road, and down the rocky expanse leading to the ocean some one hundred feet below. They left him for dead.

Some hours later a rescue crew arrived and made their way down the cliff and they were amazed to find that my friend was still alive. As they slowly hoisted him back up to the roadside, numerous bystanders remarked at how amazingly lucky he was to not have been killed. If my friend had not been unconscious at that time it is likely that he would have said something to the effect of “Lucky or unlucky is hard for me to say, but I can tell you that I hurt like hell!”

In a few days time when he had regained consciousness he discovered that he was paralyzed from the waist down. I called him to see how he was doing. He said to me “What would you say Charlie? Lucky to be alive or unlucky to be paralyzed from the waist down.” I had no ready answer.

Many months later we met in person again. By this time he had already customized his wheelchair to make it more “radical” and he was sporting a buffed out physique from his many hours of weight lifting. He said to me “Previously when people remarked about my life, it was very easy for me to say that I felt neither lucky or unlucky. Now I know very deeply that each moment, lucky or unlucky, is to be savored. If I label my circumstances as ‘lucky’ what will this mean? Will it mean that I am happy about what has happened? If I label my circumstances as ‘unlucky’ what will this mean? Will it mean that I am unhappy about what has happened? And what about tomorrow, and the day after that, and the year after that? Will I let ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ determine how I feel about myself and how I live my life? I certainly hope not!” He smiled warmly as always, and I was thankful to be in his presence.

Learning From Life

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Life has taught me some tough lessons, and the scars do not heal easily.”? What I would like to suggest in this article is that you can learn valuable lessons from the past, rather than allowing the past to limit your future.

The quality of the life we live, is based upon the learning we derive from our experiences. I know that for myself, it is sometimes easy to feel that “Life has taught me some tough lessons, and the scars do not heal easily.” When I find myself thinking like this it means that I have fallen into the trap of believing that “It is ‘only natural’ that an ‘X’ type event or relationship, will lead to a ‘Y’ type response.” At other times it becomes apparent that if I had somehow learned something different from a particular challenging situation, the quality of my life would be much more rewarding.

In working with a client struggling with alcoholism, we spent our first session with the client telling me in detail how he had come to live such an unhealthy debilitating life. In short he said: “Both my parents were alcoholics, and both of them were physically abusive to me. I grew up never knowing what bad thing would happen next. I learned from my parents that the best way to not have to feel the pain and uncertainty of life was to escape into an altered state of alcohol induced euphoria.” When listening to a client tell such a sad story, it is easy to believe that their situation was all but preordained.

As fate would have it, a week after beginning to work with this client, I went to a business luncheon to hear an inspirational speaker discuss how we can live our life fully, and succeed in times of hardship. Indeed, the speaker was truly inspirational. When the talk was over I waited around to thank him.

After introducing myself and thanking him, I asked him how he had come to lead such an exemplary life. He looked around to make sure no one else was listening and in a low voice he said the following: “Both my parents were alcoholics, and both of them were physically abusive to me.I grew up never knowing what bad thing would happen next. I learned from my parents that the worst possible way to deal with the pain and uncertainty of life was to escape into an altered state of alcohol induced euphoria. My parents taught me a difficult but very important lesson. I learned from them that staying present in the moment is the only real chance we have for living a fulfilling life.”

What a truly great example of embodied spirit the motivational speaker offers us. The quality of our life is not dependent on the circumstances we encounter. The quality of our life is dependent on what we learn from the circumstances we encounter. Perhaps the greatest example of this wisdom is present in the life of Nelson Mandela. He is a man that suffered great pain and hardship, and somehow his suffering seasoned his soul in a way that has led him to be compassionate and caring.

In the course of exploring how to live our life more fully we can consider pondering one question over and over again, “What can I learn from the difficulties I am experiencing, that will actually ADD to the quality of my life?” At the very least we can begin to entertain the fact that: We can derive a wide range of learning from any single circumstance, event, or relationship. When we get the most stuck in life is when we believe that the one thing we did learn is the only thing that can be learned.

Appreciating your exceptional learning abilities

Over the years, have you perhaps lost sight of the fact that you are a brilliant learner?
“Huh?” you might ask. “Are you talking to me?”
Here is a story to illustrate my point.

I was sitting in a restaurant talking to a Japanese boy in the first grade. I asked him how he was liking school and he quickly exclaimed that he hated school. I asked him why he hated school and he said, “Two reasons. One you have to sit still all the time, and two, there are too many things you have to remember.”

I told him I agreed that being required to sit still was really “dumb”. On the other hand I said “I think you remember much more than your teacher realizes.” This remark caught him by surprise and I felt like he didn’t know whether to agree with me or ask me if I was crazy.

Speaking in Japanese, I asked the boy if he was learning some English. He said he was, and that English was really difficult. I told him that English was actually quite easy to learn, and that most every American child can speak English prior to entering grammar school.

The boy sat quietly for a moment and then replied, “But Japanese children can speak Japanese prior to entering school!”

“Yes.” I said, “Since you have already proven how smart you are in learning Japanese, I am sure you will also do great with English.”

Once again the child was at a loss for words.

The restaurant we were at had heavy paper covering the tables and there were crayons for children to draw with while waiting for the meal to arrive. Noticing the boy had a toy replica of a “MIG” fighter aircraft with him, I picked up a crayon and drew a simple picture of the plane and said, “This is a MIG” as I drew the letters MIG. Next I drew a pig and said “This is a PIG.” as I wrote the word “pig.” Then I drew a branch and said “This is a “TWIG” as I wrote the word “twig”.

Next, I drew a very simple picture of a PIG sitting with a TWIG in its mouth, while flying a MIG, and I said, “See, the PIG is in the MIG, with a TWIG.” feeling like I was replicating Dr. Seuss.

The boy laughed, picked up a crayon, and began quickly drawing all sorts of things. Each picture that he drew, I labeled in English, and he was quite willing to repeat the English words after me. “Wow he said, if school was this much fun I wouldn’t mind going!”

How about you?
Were you forced to learn in a specific manner in school? Are you perhaps today forced to learn in a specific manner at work?
Does anyone acknowledge that you are a talented learner?

Every teacher, parent, and leader, needs to realize that each human being has their own unique way of learning and excelling. When we lose sight of this, children come to dislike school, and adults come to dislike their jobs, partly because they come to believe that something is wrong with them. What a great disservice to humankind!

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to foster school and work environments that adapted to people, rather than forcing the people to set aside their natural learning abilities!

Please take a moment and consider…
You have your own unique and high quality way of learning.
How can you better support yourself to be all that you truly are?

One person’s garbage can be another person’s good fortune

Do you ever feel somewhat depressed because your life isn’t working as you would like? Here is a wonderful story that can help you to understand that life is always presenting you with opportunities to succeed.

Horinouchi Kyuichiro is a Japanese man who went from being a complete business failure, to becoming the president of a $100 million business empire.

While still in his early thirties, Horinouchi ran his family’s business totally into the ground. Bankrupt, shattered, and ashamed, he got in his car, drove away, and deserted his family and his creditors. For months he lived on the streets amongst other homeless people, and spent many hours pondering his seemingly sad fate.

With lots of time to think, he came to realize three things:

1. He previously had no concept of what would bring him joy in life.
2. “Quality of life” was a term he hadn’t understood.
He had been obsessed with “success” and he thought that with enough money to spend, the quality of his life could be purchased.
3. The more he strove for material wealth, the more he found himself to be spiritually bankrupt.

With winter fast approaching, Horinouchi was wandering about aimlessly one day and came upon a broken kerosene heater left in the garbage. Horinouchi had always enjoyed fixing things and he impulsively decided to take the broken heater back to his car and repair it. By the time evening rolled around a ration of kerosene had been bought and he and a small flock of his homeless friends basked in the warmth of the rejuvenated heater.

As Horinouchi sat there, he realized not only had he enjoyed doing the repair work, but he also very much had enjoyed giving the heater a chance at a second life. In that moment he vowed to give himself a shot at a second life as well. Little did he realize that his personal desire to start all over again, would spawn a wonderful rebirth for many others as well.

If you stay in Japan for some period of time you will be amazed at the quantity and quality of household goods that get discarded. You can easily find working TV’s, heaters, toasters, CD players, and computers. People used to believe that the Japanese would never buy such discarded goods because they would feel that they smelled strange and seemed dirty. Horinouchi proved everyone wrong!

He rekindled his entrepreneurial spirit by focusing on doing what he truly enjoyed – fixing things, and recycling goods rather than adding to Japan’s already huge mound of garbage. This time around he realized that by focusing on quality of life and job satisfaction, he would likely achieve financial stability as well. Slowly, he built up a business of collecting, repairing, and reselling merchandise that had been thrown in the garbage.

As fate would have it, Horinouchi established his recycling business at the perfect moment – just as the Japanese economy began its meltdown. As numerous businesses failed, “all of a sudden” people became quite open to saving money by buying second hand goods. With Horinouchi having made the vow to reclaim his life, it seemed like the Universe was pitching in to fully support him.

Eventually he was able to save enough to open his own store, and the rest as they say, is history. Today he has more than 200 franchised stores, with gross sales of more than $100 million a year, and a whole raft of new businesses in the early planning stages.

How about you?

Would you like to reprioritize and recycle your life, by focusing on what brings you the greatest joy?

If you stay sensitive to ALL of life’s offerings, you just might find the key to your success lays hidden in a pile of high quality “garbage”!

Can a truly happy person ever really be “unsuccessful”?

The power and beauty of an ugly duckling- What is your element?

How do you perceive of yourself as a person? Consider the three different and separate domains a duck inhabits, and you will come to understand what it means to be in your element.

Certainly the phrase “ugly duckling” must have been coined by someone watching a duck waddle around on land. If indeed “waddling” is the only thing a duck could do, I imagine they might feel more than a tiny bit embarrassed and awkward. One thing would be certain. They could never win the 100 yard dash, if the competition was opened up to include all the rest of the animal kingdom.

Have you not also had the chance to see a duck slip into the water and effortlessly glide past, as if they might be sightseeing? The moment they make contact with the water they appear to be more elegant and serene. All of a sudden they seem to belong; to be in their element. If you had not previously seen them waddling, it would be hard to imagine they had even an ounce of awkwardness.

Even if ducks inhabited only these two domains the change we perceive in their presence and power would be exceptional. But the real moment of truth in understanding “duckness” comes when they heed the call of the wild, and lift off into the sky. Instantly you understand they embody a set of design criteria that was not previously evident, and their power and beauty is a sight to behold. Now the term “ugly duckling” is hard to comprehend.

Who a duck is, and how they are in the world, changes radically depending on the domain they are inhabiting. Are you not very much the same? In some domains you excel, and in other domains… well let’s face it, you waddle.

But please understand something very important, and hold this knowledge close to your heart. Not only does your waddling not detract from your ability to fly, in some mysterious way, it helps you to fly even better.

Who you are is always changing. And at the same time, who you are is always staying the same. Keep in touch with your ability to fly, regardless of where you are or who you are with. You have been designed to prevail and excel. Your grace, power, and beauty are inherent.

You can’t mass produce uniqueness

Do you spend part of your time working on and worrying about “self improvement”? If so, it is important to not inadvertently stamp out your uniqueness, in favor of a mass produced version of “perfection.”

Here’s a story to illustrate my point.

On a recent afternoon I went to a pottery shop outside of Tokyo, and happened to meet the potter who had stopped in to check on her staff.

After looking around the shop I invited the owner over and we chatted. The first thing she talked about was how a potter never knew what was going to wind up coming out of the kiln. Each kiln opening she said, was somewhat like Christmas morning. Sometimes you got many wonderful gifts, and sometimes you wound up with coal in your stocking. Like when most of the pieces explode in the kiln due to severe changes in atmospheric weather conditions. It is the serendipity she said, that makes the work so magical. “It helps you to stay humble, and you learn to surrender to and accept the unknown,” she said.

Next, she talked to me about design and functionality. Topics important to most all potters. “No sense in having a good looking piece that is awkward to use, and no sense having a boring looking piece that is highly functional.” she said.

Since I was definitely going to buy something, I picked out six pieces to choose from, set them on the counter, and asked the lady to tell me a bit about each piece.

“Let me share with you how I recognize the hoped for imperfections in my work,” she said, “By talking about three of the pieces you have interest in.”

“Notice with this first piece how the glaze is not of consistent thickness over the inside surface. I tried the best I could to smooth out the glaze,” she said, “But this is a very tough glaze to work with.”
“Nonetheless, for me, it is the inconsistency of the glaze that makes this piece so interesting.” she said. “It is the inconsistency that makes for the range of color that the glaze exhibits in this piece.”

“With this next piece you notice that the bowl is not fully round in shape. I am a small woman, and this is a large piece for me to throw on the wheel. In fact it is the biggest piece I am currently able to throw. I love making some this size, because these bowls really test my limits. There is a certain tension present when the shape goes out of being fully round, and this is what draws me to this piece.”

“Finally” she said, “With this third piece you will notice that the price is considerably less than the other pieces.”

“It is a good piece of work,” she said, “but I feel it is a bit ‘too good’ and thus looks like it could have been machine made. That is why the price is considerably cheaper.”

“The shape is perfectly round, and the glaze flows evenly over the entire pot, and thus the piece does not have a sense of uniqueness. I have stopped making this shape and size because I know how to make them all too well. When they come out this perfect I feel like the soul of the pots get left in the kiln.

She bowed ever so much, and said “Would you like some tea? I have some locally grown strawberries, and it is always best to eat them at this time of year, with a warm cup of tea.”

The Philosophy of Fear and Confrontation

Is there now, or has there been, a person or two in your life that you have difficulty in maintaining a civil relationship with at times? It may be your spouse or lover; it may be a friend or a superior at work. We usually say “I have a love-hate relationship with this person.” This article will help you better understand your counterparts, and build better relationships.

Fight OR Flight; Attack OR Evade; Right OR Wrong; All OR Nothing; Win OR Lose – all are a form of what we can call “The Philosophy of Fear and Confrontation.” When we believe that a potential outcome has only two possible alternatives we come from a place of scarcity thinking and invariably add a good deal of stress to the system being addressed and limit what is possible.

In every interpersonal conflict both sides wind up wounded, albeit one side perhaps more than the other. Whenever a person feels that you must be wrong in order for me to be right, we invariably denigrate not only the other person’s point of view, but their overall character as well. We move away from attacking the issues at hand, and get involved in attacking each other. Arguing between right and wrong is often simply an excuse to prove myself somehow superior to you. “With my superior insight, with my superior intellect and knowledge, with my superior position in the world, I look to show you how your perception of reality is incorrect.” When I think of you and your opinions as being somehow inferior to me and my opinions, it is no wonder that you are not willing to agree with the opinions I put forth. In order to agree with my opinions, you would have to be willing to believe that you are somehow inferior to me.

When engaging in conflict resolution with others, staying locked into grappling between one of two possible outcomes requires that we both shut down our ability to notice additional alternative realities. When two individuals are locked into a confrontational mode of exchange, both parties to the conflict lose the possibility of acquiring information that might offer generative solutions that either side has yet to think of. We lose the possibility of understanding that in some important way, our limited range of thinking tends to make both of us somehow “wrong.” Or, to say it another way, we fail to realize that “We are both, both wrong and right, at the same time.” We lose touch with the fact that given new sources of information, both of us might come to a different opinion.

Often, the first step in successful conflict resolution requires that you acknowledge that your philosophy of fear and confrontation limits your ability to notice how a different way of thinking and a different way of using your body, would lead to a much wider field of possibilities.

For the average person, the more you feel attacked, the more you will look to defend. The more you look to defend, the more you narrow your field of vision, tighten up various muscle groups, and limit the flow of blood and oxygen in your system. And guess what happens at such times. When my adversary notices that I am preparing to defend, he perceives instead that I am preparing to attack him. What does he do in this instance? Why the very same thing that I am doing! He tenses up and prepares for the worst. In this moment of entering into mortal combat we get swept away by the vortex of fear and confrontation that is being generated by the both of us. When we react from this place of “high alert” on a regular basis, we quickly wind up weakening our immune system, and severely limit our ability to defend ourselves from the onslaught of physical and emotional disease. In Aikido this leads us to say that “The best defense is no defense,” which is another way of saying “The less defensive you are, the better able you are to defend yourself.”

We-dentity – As compared to “I” dentity

Have there not been times in your life when you felt separate from much of the rest of the world? Many people report having felt very much like an outsider during various portions of their high school career. Developing one’s identity during puberty can be a truly excruciating experience at times. Perhaps it was the sudden onset of acne, or the fact that your folks would not allow you to get your ears pierced like ALL of your friends.

Being “different” is just not cool unless all of your friends are being different in the same way as you. In Japanese culture, many of the activities people take part in during the course of a day are designed to train people to intuitively think, feel, and act, with a “group consciousness”. Feeling like you belong to the group gives one a warm sense of what I playfully call “we-dentity”. Having you own separate way of doing things may give you a sense of independence, but it leads to a somewhat more lonely sense of being, that in the West is called “I-dentity”. Let me give you a sense of how this process of “we-dentity” is fostered in an Aikido dojo.

Everyone is meant to show up on time for class. The slippers each person wears are neatly lined up at the entrance to the dojo, just like the fresh fish that are lined up one next to the other in the local fish store. If necessary, when you enter the dojo you tidy up any of the slippers that are askew. When the slippers are all in place it means the class is ready for instruction. One of the senior students will be sure to check that everything is just right, prior to the sensei arriving.

When the sensei enters, everyone stops what they are doing and bows to the sensei while offering a greeting. All of the students are meant to bow in unison. Group action leads to group mind and a sense of fellowship.

When the sensei is ready to start the class he bows, and each student is meant to start and stop their reply bow at the same time. If the rhythm of the group is off, the sensei is likely to bow again, thus requiring the students to better attune to each other, and better attune to the sensei.

When warm-up activities begin each student moves in unison, and voice is added to further meld the group together. “One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.” Little by little the group mind starts to coalesce. When the voice is added, the group starts to breathe in accordance with the rhythm of the counting. People that breathe together tend to think and act alike. Group breathing leads to group mind and a sense of safety.

At some point, with everyone standing more complex movements are initiated. Specific placement of the feet and soft circular movements of the arms are joined together with the counting and the breathing necessary to fuel all that is taking place. One, two, three, four, the voice counts as the feet and arms move. Everyone moving together, counting together, and breathing together. Everyone modulating their individual activity to match and meld with everyone else. As the energy of the group coalesces the mind of the group becomes one. “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.” Movement, stillness, inhale, exhale, movement, stillness, inhale, exhale.

Each student begins to sense that:

“My energy feeds the others, the energy of the others feeds me.”

“When I am whole, powerful, and in harmony with the group, the group is whole, powerful, and in harmony with me.”

The boundary line between “self” and “other” softens and “I” become an integral part of “we.”

“Your training adds to my training.”

“I cannot improve without you.”

“The spirit of your life adds to the spirit of my life.”

At such times, there is no one left in the room to attack, because attacking another would be the same as attacking myself.

Having achieved this frame of mind, we begin to practice the art of self defense. Looking to protect “I” and “We” at the same time.

My advice will be simple. I suggest that you notice the movement and flow of people around you. Be it commuting to work, in your work environment, or when meeting up with friends. Notice the times when people move and breathe together in harmony, and when the flow of the group seems to be more helter-skelter. Experiment with moving and breathing with other people, while noticing when you feel a bond to the group, and when you feel separate. Maintain a soft focus on yourself, while also noticing what you need to do to flow with those around you. Talk less and notice more. Feel how the emotion of the group you are in at any one time ebbs and flows. Write to me and tell me about your experience.

Perfect Imperfections

Have you ever caught yourself sitting around thinking that if you were “just” a bit different when it comes to this or that, you would be so much more desirable, wealthy, or good looking? Such conversations can seem so believable while actually being so destructive. What would your life be like if you appreciated your imperfections as the signature of your soul?

On a recent afternoon I went to a pottery shop outside of Tokyo, and happened to meet the potter who had stopped in to check on her staff.

After looking around the shop I invited the owner over and we chatted. The first thing she talked about was how a potter never knew what was going to wind up coming out of the kiln. Each kiln opening she said, was somewhat like Christmas morning. Sometimes you got many wonderful gifts, and sometimes you wound up with coal in your stocking. Like when most of the pieces explode in the kiln due to severe changes in atmospheric weather conditions. It is the serendipity she said, that makes the work so magical. “It helps you to stay humble, and you learn to surrender to and accept the unknown,” she said.

Next, she talked to me about design and functionality. Topics important to most all potters. “No sense in having a good looking piece that is awkward to use, and no sense having a boring looking piece that is highly functional.” she said.

Since I was definitely going to buy something, I picked out six pieces to choose from, set them on the counter, and asked the lady to tell me a bit about each piece.

“Let me share with you how I recognize the hoped for imperfections in my work,” she said, “By talking about three of the pieces you have interest in.”

“Notice with this first piece how the glaze is not of consistent thickness over the inside surface. I tried the best I could to smooth out the glaze,” she said, “But this is a very tough glaze to work with.”

“Nonetheless, for me, it is the inconsistency of the glaze that makes this piece so interesting.” she said. “It is the inconsistency that makes for the range of color that the glaze exhibits in this piece.”

“With this next piece you notice that the bowl is not fully round in shape. I am a small woman, and this is a large piece for me to throw on the wheel. In fact it is the biggest piece I am currently able to throw. I love making some this size, because these bowls really test my limits. There is a certain tension present when the shape goes out of being fully round, and this is what draws me to this piece.”

“Finally” she said, “With this third piece you will notice that the price is considerably less than the other pieces.”

“It is a good piece of work,” she said, “but I feel it is a bit ‘too good’ and thus looks like it could have been machine made. That is why the price is considerably cheaper.”

“The shape is perfectly round, and the glaze flows evenly over the entire pot, and thus the piece does not have a sense of uniqueness. I have stopped making this shape and size because I know how to make them all too well. When they come out this perfect I feel like the soul of the pots get left in the kiln.

She bowed ever so much, and said “Would you like some tea? I have some locally grown strawberries, and it is always best to eat them at this time of year, with a warm cup of tea.”

Whether you consider yourself to be “perfect” or not, is an important topic for most anyone that would like to live a happy life. It seems to me that many if not most people, feel they are somehow lacking or imperfect. Because of their belief, they spend a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of anxiety, trying to achieve a goal that moves further away with every accomplishment.

For instance, you lose quite a lot of weight and now you feel that the skin on your face seems to be hanging in a strange way. Or you finally get enough money to buy a new wardrobe, only to find that the fashion for the upcoming season is radically different than what you just bought at a discount. I have a young friend who got his hair cut short for a job interview as an in-store male model, only to find his potential boss sitting there with his hair in a pony tail.

Is it really that life is unfair, or is the problem simply that we are often chasing an image of ourselves that is somehow not all that real or realistic?! Do you try to make it appear like you have no flaws? Or do you relish how such flaws add to your uniqueness? I find in my own life, it is so important to go beyond the oppositional thinking of right or wrong, good or bad, and in the process, accept, and fall in love with, who I really am.

For example:
I truly believe that I have a fair share of people friendly qualities, and yet I know that I still also can be harsh at times. I know that I can be entertaining and intriguing, and that does not stop me from also being boring at times. I am a little bit of everything, and not all of any one thing. I try to understand myself as both/and, rather than either/or. I try to understand myself from an aesthetic that comes from my own heart, and not from the advertisements I see on TV.

The more I stop trying to be perfect, the more I discover just how perfect I already am. Does this sound a bit egotistical? I am talking about the perfect imperfections that the potter sees in her pots. She strives to maintain the soul of what she is making, by insuring that her pots don’t become so perfect that they appear machine made.

I remember watching not too long ago, an interview with Robert Redford. The interviewer wondered out loud, since Redford was getting older, wouldn’t he want to have some cosmetic surgery. Redford looked a bit surprised by the question. He looked intently at the interviewer, and then said, “Cosmetic surgery? Oh my god no! I wouldn’t want to erase my soul from my face. I would rather like to think there is something about me that is somehow unique. I don’t want to look like who I used to be. I want to look like who I am. ”

How about you? Any chance that you are sometimes trying to cover up your perfection, in an attempt to appear perfect?

There is nothing more special than simply being yourself.

And realizing that any subtraction OR addition,

Would simply take away from who you really are.

Your soul has a signature.

Don’t erase it and replace it with someone else’s calligraphy.

Are you able to say both “Yes!” and “No!”?

I hear from many people that they see ever increasing expressions of anger in their everyday work life and personal life. Understanding the process of anger is an important topic for all of us to take a closer look at.

If you take the time to delve deeper into your own anger or resentment, you will often find that you are seriously limiting your ability to feel and express what you truly feel. In the process of limiting yourself, you become the victim of your emotions. You might, for instance, be angry because you feel that someone else should be punished or held accountable, but in the long run your anger will only wind up punishing yourself. You might wind up resenting the way you are treated at work, but if you take a look you will usually find that your resentment limits your ability to get the kind of treatment you truly desire.

If you feel stuck in a situation where you can only say “Yes” then your response will not come from your heart, and your response will not be supported by your emotions. When you feel unable to say “No” then you will likely find that no matter what you say verbally, “No” becomes the default response you want to give to others. You will likely find yourself even more frustrated as you understand on an emotional level that you are never sharing your true feelings and opinions. When you are able to speak the truth of both your “Yes” and your “No” in a calm manner, you will find that you experience a sense of emotional freedom and well-being. Wouldn’t it be great if you felt it was safe to express your true opinion at work, and with all your significant others?

When it is all said and done, when we delve deeply into our emotions, we almost always find that our strongest and most habitual response is covering up other feelings that we are not fully aware of. When we feel hurt, disrespected, abandoned, or sad, we cover over these feelings and lose touch with them, by expressing anger or resentment instead.

When we find ways to tap into our deeper emotions we invariably find that we have been neglecting some form of pain or discomfort. When we neglect or simply don’t notice our deeper emotional reactions, we lose the ability to express our full range of emotions. In the process we find that by consistently expressing only one segment of our entire emotional range, we limit our ability to be happy and feel at ease within ourselves and with those that we interact with.

It is important to remember that our emotions emanate from the body. When you are feeling angry, your body generates a specific set of reactions that inform your rational mind of your emotional experience. When you are feeling respected or loved your body generates a very different set of reactions. With Seishindo you can explore the process of how your body generates your emotional state and you can come to understand how at times you say one thing with your body and something rather different with your words. You can come to understand how you wind up confusing yourself when you say one thing with your heart and another with your logical mind. If you do wind up confusing yourself on a regular basis, you will find that your overall health and vitality suffer in the process.

Only when you feel like you have the right to say “No” can you truly engage your heart in saying “Yes.” This is very important for leaders, parents, and spouses to keep in mind. Only when your body and your rational mind communicate the same message in a congruent manner, will you find yourself feeling empowered and at ease. Take the time to gently explore your feelings and you will find that your emotional well-being resides deep inside yourself, waiting to be touched and acknowledged.

Be sure to see our video about Anger Management to get the full insight!

Tsunami: Bringing Forth a New Wave of Hope

Has the huge tsunami in Japan had a similar affect on you personally, as it did on much of Asia? Has any of what you believed in been washed away, shattered, or destroyed?

Has the recent tsunami scared you more or less than 9/11?

Or, perhaps the recent tsunami has even led to a deepening of your faith?

I don’t want to seem uncaring, or just downright impervious to feeling, but as horrific as the recent tsunami onslaught was, I think and feel that the waves also brought along with them, a huge surge of rejuvenation, “life”, and a heightened awareness and compassion by humankind. I think we have been awoken to just how much death and suffering there is in the world, regardless of what we see and don’t see on major news programs.

My experience is that every horrible occurrence holds the seeds for new hope and life. Tremendously heart wrenching things take place in the world. Tremendously heart wrenching things have taken place in my own life. Coming to terms with what happens, offers us a tremendous opportunity to start out fresh. Beginning all over again, but from a new space and time. I can say for sure, that every “tragedy” that has occurred in my life, in the long run has added to the quality of my life, and my connection to Spirit. I can say this with heartfelt conviction, and not simply with a passive smiling face. The most challenging moments in our lives, can invariably also be the most rewarding.

The attacks on the World Trade Center were horrendous. More than three thousand people were killed, the hearts of Americans in particular, were shaken, and most of the world was mortified. Americans in particular were alerted to the fact that “we” were facing a wave of terrorism that would not likely be easily contained.

Three years after 9/11, and after billions of dollars spent on protection, we knew that we were still not safe, but at least we were comforted by the fact that airport safety personnel were now confiscating our nose hair clippers prior to boarding, and that such weapons of minor destruction (WmD) could no longer be used to attack the principles of freedom, democracy, and capitalism.

Three years after 9/11 and after billions of dollars spent on protection…
In a way that neither the extreme right nor extreme left of the political spectrum had envisioned…
All of humankind, and even Nature itself was attacked by a new wave, of terrorism.
By a primordial force stronger than the passion and emotion that any of us can hold in our hearts.

This seeming terror attack killed roughly SIXTY FIVE TIMES more people than were killed in the Trade Towers. The numbers are staggering. The loss of life, the disease, the pain of those who literally had loved ones wrenched from their grip, is also staggering. Beyond what any of us can logically comprehend. And way beyond the fear that some of us might harbor in regard to mortal terrorists attacking “our” country.

One huge question seems to be in need of an answer here.

Who will be responsible for making the world a better place, after the tsunami?

In some fundamental way, I hope that the faith and understanding of each person left unscathed “personally” from this disaster, has been shaken. That due to Nature’s massive housecleaning, we will all find new ways to rebuild and embrace the sanctity of life, as well as embracing the hearts and aspirations of those we deem to be our enemies. That due to this primordial shift in what we know to be Planet Earth, we will all have an equally primordial shift in our concern for and connection to, the heart of God, and the living Spirit of all Life.

We have been awakened…
To the destructive,
And to the creative forces of Life.
Now, is the time to commit.
To take some responsibility,
For sharing the workload,
Of making the world,
A more humane,
Caring,
Place to live in.

Please do not miss this important opportunity.

God is talking.

Are you listening?

People are in need. Please contribute on a weekly basis.

I’m always busy, but nothing much gets done!

I decided to finally clean out the shed in our back yard recently. My wife left the house early on a Saturday morning to run some errands and I knew that my cleaning the shed would please her greatly.

On the way out the door to fulfill my noble task, I take a quick look at the morning mail and notice a past due bill so I run upstairs to write a check.

Upon reaching for the checkbook, I see there is only one check left, so I call my mom in Georgia and ask her to send me more.

My mom tells me my uncle Fred is not doing well, and she makes me promise to give him a call, so I ring him as soon as I get off the phone with her.

He’s happy to hear my voice, and reminds me that I still haven’t sent any recent family pictures. When I get off the phone, I run downstairs, get the pictures, run back upstairs, and put them in an envelope.

I wake my computer up to get my uncle’s address, and the phone rings. My neighbor’s on the line asking me if I can move our bicycles so he can get a delivery. As I move our bikes I see another neighbor taking out their garbage, and realize I need to quickly do the same.

I run in for the garbage and the phone rings again. This time it’s my daughter’s piano teacher explaining the upcoming monthly teaching schedule.

Needless to say, by the time I get off the phone, I wind up just missing the garbage truck, and I slink back to the house knowing my wife won’t be pleased having to keep the garbage for another two days.

At this point in time I realize that I need to establish my priorities and stick to them, or the day is really going to spin out of control.

I sit down to sort myself out, and after a bit of time spent thinking, my wife comes back home and cheerfully asks me what I have accomplished so far today.

Upon hearing her question I suddenly feel the beginning of a panic attack coming on. I missed getting the garbage out in time, I still haven’t written the check for the overdue bill, I haven’t yet addressed the envelope with the pictures for my uncle, and of course I have yet to begin cleaning the shed.

Soon the day will be half over, and not only am I not making headway, but I am losing ground!

Recognizing the emotional pain, I am in my daughter pulls me over to sit on the couch and climbs up on my lap.
“Daddy,” she says, “Why don’t you do what you told me to do the other day when I was upset? ”
“Take three deep breaths…”
“Look around you and notice that indeed the world is NOT falling apart…”
“And give thanks for all that you have, and all of the people who love you!”

Better advice has never been given.

When you find your life spinning out of control, take the time to breathe and feel into the emotional experience you are creating. Regardless of the task at hand, if you maintain a clear concept of who you are and what you are wanting to accomplish, you can stay on track and feel OK with all that transpires.

Teaching others to be kind, and positively oriented

In many different circumstances that life brings our way, we need to learn how to join with and utilize a person’s current “bad” behavior in order to induce them to act in a more positively oriented manner. Sometimes we might call this “leadership”, sometimes “parenting” and sometimes it means being a supportive spouse or partner. Rather than telling a person they are doing something “wrong” and demanding they act differently, if we validate the other person’s beliefs and opinions, change will often occur “on its own.” Nothing taught me this better than my time spent with my parrot!

Many years ago my parents gave me a parrot. The first thing I learned is that parrots can be dangerous to be around. They can do major damage to your fingers and other body parts. At the time, I was living and working with my friend Reeves Teague. He understood animals from a “country boy” perspective having grown up in the mountains of North Carolina. Here is the process for modifying negative behavior that I learned from Reeves, and modified over the years.

1. Invite an attack with an open and loving countenance.

The parrot is going to try and bite you no matter what, as a natural act of self preservation. Instead of trying to stop him from biting you, utilize his current behavior and encourage it. Wear something to protect your fingers, and invite the parrot to bite you.

Welcoming and utilizing the parrot’s current behavior even if it is violent, is very much in the spirit of Aikido and Ericksonian Hypnosis.

In Ericksonian Hypnosis you utilize the client’s “bad” behavior and join with and validate their current model of the world, rather than trying to change the client and give him the message he is doing something wrong.

In Aikido when you encourage your counterpart to express themselves physically, and they attack you, they are actually following your directions, and doing what you have asked. At such times the attack becomes definitely less violent, as the attacker unconsciously realizes that on a deep level they are cooperating with you.

Whether the activity be Aikido training, parrot training, rearing children, or dealing with an angry person at work, when you welcome the attack, the attack winds up being a lot less vicious, and it lasts for a much shorter amount of time.

2. Encourage violence and tenderness at the same time.

Leave your finger in the cage and encourage the parrot to gnaw on it. With your free hand gently rub the parrot’s head much like you might do with a dog or cat. When you and the parrot are tender and violent at the same time, you are beginning to engage in the act of play. This is a tricky path to navigate at times, but the results you can get will often be nothing less than amazing.

3. Reward the negative behavior and thus reframe the meaning of the behavior.

When you reward the “bad” behavior, the behavior is no longer bad. The parrot bites your right hand and you reward him by giving a snack/reward with your left hand. The relationship is circular in nature. It doesn’t take long before the parrot loses his enthusiasm for biting you. He still very much wants the snacks you feed him after each attack, but he would rather not have to do all of the biting to get the goodies.

4. Blur the starting and stopping points, blur the difference between good and bad.

The parrot has been biting one hand and you have been nuzzling the parrot and feeding him with your other hand. Now take the hand that has been doing the nuzzling and feeding and present it to the parrot for biting. When the parrot takes a playful nip, you nuzzle him with the hand he was previously gnawing on.

When you encourage the parrot to bite the hand that feeds him, his confusion will be obvious!

5. Change the reason for the reward.

After the “break in” period you only give a snack (reward) when the parrot is gentle and playful. Little by little you thus change the reference behavior for getting the snack. Usually at this stage, anyone that moves slowly can play with the parrot with little concern about getting bitten.

I have found the above method, to be by far the fastest, easiest, and most humane way to tame a parrot, and calm down children and adults that appear to have a violent streak. Take some time to think about what I have written here, and how you could implement the same basic process with someone you have been struggling with. With a bit of creative thinking on your part, you will wind up having much better relationships with people who have tended to be harsh and negative in the past.

Wouldn’t it be great, to be as hardy as a weed?!

Life is always ready to teach us a special lesson of some sort or another, if only we would take the time to notice and learn.

The street I live on in Tokyo is so narrow, that cars can barely traverse from top to bottom. Because of this, a system for lining up everyone’s bicycles on one side of the street is necessary and important. My wife, my daughter, and myself, park our bicycles across the street in front of my neighbor’s house. To me it seems unfair for my neighbor to have all this clutter in front of his house, but so be it. My neighbor’s house sits one foot nine inches from the curb. Pretty cozy, isn’t it?

Eight years ago, an innocuous looking weed-tree began growing right next to where I park my bike. You might think that a single weed-tree growing where my bike sits is not a big deal but let me explain.

This little weed-tree started life in a humble manner, sprouting up in a crack between the sidewalk and the wall. Initially it seemed too trivial to pay attention to or pull out, and initially I even cheered it on while marveling at what a hardy pioneer it was.

The little monster grew quite rapidly from day one, and after about six months it was wrapping itself around the front wheel of my bike and birds were coming to rest on it. All of this activity led to bird droppings on my bike seat, which led me to take out my pruning scissors and cut the darn thing about six inches above ground level.

Ignoring the weed in the first place was my first mistake. Cutting it down six inched above ground level was my second. It grew back with a vengeance! In no time at all it had more branches than before, and the base coming out of the crack became more tree like. Foolishly, I was lax again in my approach, and within a couple of months, bird droppings started winding up on my bike seat again.

This time around, needing hedge clippers to get the job done, I cut the weed-tree down as close to the sidewalk as possible, and I must say that I had a sense of “Good riddance!” when I did so.

Well, I think it was the very next morning, or two days at the most, when I went outside to find the bloody thing sprouting new growth. This time I quickly dug away at it with a small shovel, but I couldn’t unearth it, and sure enough, new growth quickly answered the call to arms.

At this point I was beginning to concede a shift in the balance of power. Regardless of my superior education and specialized negotiation skills, the weed-tree was prevailing.

What to do?

I knew by now that there was only one viable course of action. First, I found a new place to park my bike. Next, I went out and purchased some plant food and liberally watered and fed the weed-tree every day. My little beauty grew gloriously and I soon began to lovingly trim it into a “bonsai” shape!

Some years later it is looking truly gorgeous!

Two questions come to my mind, and I wonder if they come to yours as well.

1. What is it that makes weeds so incredibly strong and resilient, while other cultivated plants often so easily wither away and die?

2. Can a weed that is nurtured, praised, and pruned, still be considered to be a weed?

2. Isn’t life much grander once we realize that so much of what goes on is not under our control?

I only hope my spirit, can be half as strong as the tree that has offered itself to me.

The rewards and risks of personal freedom

We all need to decide whether to “play it safe” because we are worried about what could go wrong,  or instead take a chance, and be who we really are and live the life our heart truly desires. Which choice have you been making?

One of the first things I noticed about my newly purchased parrot, was that he couldn’t fly. Chico’s wings had been clipped and he was stuck here on earth just like us humans.

Once the weather turned nice I took Chico and sat him on a branch of a tree in my backyard, hoping to make him happier. At first he seemed confused. He walked back and forth on the branch looking like an agitated father pacing back and forth in the maternity waiting room. I was surprised to see that he didn’t flap his wings in an attempt to fly. Somehow he knew he was incapable. I always wondered how he knew such a thing.

One day, while sitting on his branch, Chico got way more agitated then he had been when I first took him outside months ago. He was pacing back and forth and talking up a storm. Then all of a sudden, he stopped pacing, let out a spine tingling scream, and started madly flapping his wings for the first time ever. About three seconds later, he lifted off from the branch like the space shuttle at Cape Canaveral! I was amazed and shocked. Little did I know his feathers had been growing back in, and just like a sly convict, Chico had been biding his time until the moment was ripe for escape!

Chico made his break for freedom on a late Monday afternoon, and by late Monday night I knew he was not coming home. Finally, on Tuesday evening Chico returned, but stayed way out of reach. I talked to him and showed him some food, but to no avail. Then I took his cage inside so he would not relate coming back to getting locked up again. Finally, I made him a firm promise that if he did come back I would let him out every day the weather was nice. Shortly after making my solemn oath, he flew onto my shoulder and I took him upstairs.

From that day on, whenever the weather was good I would let him out early and he would fly around and be back before dark. This routine lasted for about two months and then suddenly Chico became ill. The vet said that he had contracted a disease from the pigeons in the neighborhood. Within a few days he died, and I mourned his loss.

Just once the thought crossed my mind that if I had not set him free to fly every day, he would still be alive. It was then that I realized that the quality of one’s life is much more important than the number of years one lives. What sense is there in being a bird if you can’t fly?

Chico made his initial break for freedom on a late Monday afternoon in April. When will you make yours? You too can take a chance when the conditions are right, knowing you too in your own way, were built to fly. If you don’t set yourself free, what will be the purpose of your life?

I would suggest that the quality of one’s life is dependant on feeling one’s essence, and living the design that is you. If you are a fish, your life needs to be all about swimming. If you are a bird, your life needs to be all about flying and spreading your message to all that you meet along the way. What sense is there in being you, if you don’t really let yourself free and express your heart?

The Web of Life

The web of life is always there, ready to teach us a “special” lesson of some sort or another, if only we would notice.

One of my very first days visiting Katmandu Nepal, a shopkeeper and myself sat drinking tea on the steps of his shop, and a beggar soon appeared. He looked to be anywhere from thirty to one hundred years old, he had long scraggly grey-brown hair, and he was barefoot and wearing a filthy garment that looked like a bed sheet that had not been washed for an awfully long time. On top of this garment he was wearing a suit jacket! He had beautiful piercing dark brown eyes, and he smiled in an inviting manner as he asked us for alms. The shopkeeper gave him the equivalent of about one cent. The man smiled and bowed, made one last gesture towards me, just to make sure that I did not want to add to his riches, and then he was on his way.

“Do you know about “karma” the shopkeeper asked?

“In the West, perhaps you call it destiny. We are all connected to each other in some way and the life we are living now is the result of how we have lived in other past lives.” I nodded and said I was familiar with the concept.

“If you give alms of any significant amount to beggars, you intertwine your karma with theirs, and their fate will be dependent on your fate. If you do give, only give a cent or two so that your karma and their karma remain separate. If you give more than that, please know that you are not performing a random act.” I nodded and thanked him for his sage advice.

A week later, walking with a Nepali friend, we came across a woman squatting alongside a very busy road, as she prayed and begged. Her face showed obvious scarring to her eyes and ears. Such scarring usually takes place for various religious reasons, and is not totally uncommon. I was attracted to the energy of this woman and we stopped to converse with her. It turned out that she was totally blind and partially deaf, and my friend had to scream in order for her to hear him. Without her asking I gave her about one dollar and we were quickly on our way.

After that I saw this woman almost every morning and I started giving her two or three dollars each time we met. When I left Nepal for the first time I sought her out with my friend, and had him scream to her and tell her I was leaving, but that I would be back some time in the future. I gave her about twenty dollars that day to help tide her over.

On the last day of my second stay in Katmandu I brought my friend with me again, to tell my beggar friend I would be leaving the next day. There she was crouched down on the noisy, crowded street as she prayed. We approached her, walking amongst boisterous children, busy adults, and livestock with clanking bells around their necks. When we were still about ten feet away she turned towards us, smiled with her scarred eyes and as we reached her she said “Namaste.” Before we could crouch down and scream a reply, the woman asked my friend to thank me for my kindness. “How did you know it was us?” he asked.

“I can always feel the warmth of a kind hearted person.” she said.

I think of her now, and hope in some small way, I might have eased her suffering, if only for a moment, as much as she has eased mine.

Are You Feeling in Control?

When it is all said and done, do you feel like you mostly stay on an even keel emotionally in your business and personal life? Here is a story about how easy it is to lose one’s emotional balance.

Recently, I was coming home from an evening business meeting in Tokyo. I walked a block, and like all good citizens do in Japan, when I got to the corner and the light was red, I stopped and waited for it to turn green before crossing.

Just as the traffic signal turns amber, to warn drivers to slow down and stop, a motorcycle and its rider slowly grind to a halt. The guy has on a backpack, there is a huge bundle tied to the back seat of the bike, and he has other stuff hanging from the bike handles. He looks like a homeless person who still has enough money to own a bike.

With the bike stops the man uses his feet to balance himself, just as riders always do. The only thing different in this case, is that the man and his bike are leaning quite heavily to the left, as if he has no sense of straight up and down, and can’t feel the pull of gravity.
He wobbles once… he wobbles twice… and then swoosh… .
The man, his motorcycle, and all of the stuff he is carrying with him, slide down to the ground.

My first thought is “Wow, this guy must really be drunk, I better get him off his bike and make sure he can’t drive for a while.” As I weigh all the variables that might be involved, I notice that everyone else is simply crossing the street as if nothing has happened.

As the guy struggles to get back up, the light turns green and now cars start to whiz by, and I get worried that he will get hit. So as fools often do, I rush in where wise men fear to tread.

I say hello in a loud voice to let him know I am nearby. As he turns to look, I reach out and take the handlebars and right the bike, and walk it over to the side of the road. As I had hoped, he follows along after me, dragging his belongings.

I put the kickstand of the bike down, and the guy starts apologizing profusely, while also thanking me and pointing out how clumsy and foolish he is in general. This act of contrition is a lovely art form in Japanese culture. And I must admit, for the average Westerner, it takes quite a good deal of trial and error practice to reproduce.

I smile at the guy, and playfully ask him if he has had a tough night, and a bit too much to drink.

“No, no, nothing at all to drink.” he says. “My girlfriend just broke up with me, and I am broken hearted. We divided everything up as equally as we could. I kept the bike and all the rest of what I am carrying. She kept her belongings and the sidecar for the bike, which she always rode around in with me. I guess it’s going to take a while to get used to no longer needing to balance her weight.”

I nod my head and smile, to signify that I understand what he is talking about, and indeed, what he says, somehow really touches me.

We look at each other for a moment or two with a sense of brotherhood, and then his face suddenly livens up and he says, “Now that I think about it, maybe I’m the lucky one. I can still get around, but she’s left sitting all alone by the side of the road!”

As human beings we have an emotional system, a physical system, an intellectual system, and a spiritual system all working together (hopefully!) at the same time.

Homeostasis comes about when the dynamic range that a person’s multiple systems operate in, create a harmonious balance, and flow together at their optimum. Take in enough food to fuel the system, but not enough food to overburden the system or give yourself a negative emotional image. Take in enough oxygen to fuel your creativity and all of your physical activities, but not enough to hyperventilate. Depend on a friend, loved one, or colleague to support you, but not to the point that you lose your own sense of balance, and self. Life is a balancing act, and as long as we are alive, the need to maintain, lose, and once again regain our balance, goes on constantly. We don’t so much maintain our balance as a constant. Much more so we need to lose and regain our balance over and over again.

What will you want to do, to regain and maintain your emotional balance? Take a moment and notice if you feel “off” or not. If you are feeling unbalanced, then please consider how you might need to alter your relationships and your activities, so that you can once again feel like you are on an even keel.

Is it finally time to forgive?

In order to free ourselves from the pain of anger and resentment we need to be able to forgive our self and others. The longer we dwell on hurtful situations from the past, the longer we keep our self from living fully in the present. Forgiveness is an act of kindness. An act of kindness to your self, as it leads to a sense of personal freedom.

Recently I had a client who had a lot of resentment towards her mother for many things that she had done to her in the past.
“I don’t want to forgive my mother for what she did in the past.” my client said. “What she did is wrong, and she has never apologized.”
I hear this very same statement from many clients who are living with resentment, whether it be towards their parents, their spouse, or their boss.

I asked my client if she felt that anyone other than herself, was responsible for, and capable of, making her happy. After a rather long and convoluted discussion, she said that when it was all said and done, she realized that she was indeed the only one that could make herself happy.

We sat there together for a while, and then I took a deep breath and suggested that my client do so as well. Here is an idea, I said. “What if as a totally selfish act, done simply for your own personal happiness, you decided to go ahead and let go of the resentment you had towards your mom, so that you would no longer need to have resentment clouding your life. What would that be like?” “You would not be saying that what was done to you was OK. You would simply be letting go of the resentment so that your own life would be happier. Would you want to let go of your resentment if it meant you would feel greater happiness?”

We sat there together for a while and my client’s face softened. She said that if she was able to let go of her resentment, it would be like lifting a weight from her shoulders, and removing a dark cloud from her heart.

“With all you have been through,” I said. “With all of the pain you have suffered, wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift to yourself if you could lift this weight from your shoulders and remove the dark cloud from your heart? Would it not be wonderful to be freed from your hurt and resentment?”
She sat there for a while, as tears formed, and she said very softly “Yes, I want to feel good. I want to feel love. I want to feel free.”

“So” I said, “In order to free yourself from pain and open your heart to love, you would be willing to go so far as to forgive your mother if this is what you felt was necessary for your own personal happiness?”
She was somewhat hesitant, but said “Yes.”
“Remember” I said, “I am suggesting that you do this purely for selfish reasons. Not because you want to actually forgive your mom at this point in time, but because you want to free yourself to live a happier life.”
My client said “Yes, when it is said like this, I have the resolve to forgive my mother, in order to free myself to live a happier life.”
“Good I said. “Hold these thoughts and feelings in your heart for a while and then we can talk about how to actually accomplish your forgiving.”

How about you? Are you holding onto any resentment? Are you ready to recapture your happiness? Would you be willing to undertake the radical act of forgiveness in order to free yourself? I certainly hope so.
And if not today, maybe tomorrow.

The Paradox of One And Many in Aikido Philosophy

This article is a synopsis of the teaching of Aikido master Koichi Tohei, regarding how to appreciate, empathize with, and respect the diverse people, energies, and opinions that you come in contact with on a daily basis.

Tohei sensei used to say that in a healthy person the flow of their “ki” (the energy inherent throughout the Universe) is like the outpouring of an underground spring sitting at the bottom of a deep lake. The spring feeds water to the lake, much like we can feed the universe healing energy. The spring feeds the lake a constant flow of water without ever being diminished, and this outpouring of water is not impeded by the weight and pressure of the lake bearing down upon it. When ki flows it follows the path of least resistance. This is a path of great power. As human beings we are designed to feed energy to the universe, by following a path of least resistance. This feeding of “our” energy is what helps us to also maintain our own personal health and well being. We receive by giving, because our ki belongs to the Universe, and not to any one individual.

In this article I want to talk about how we can better appreciate, empathize with, and respect the diverse people, energies, and opinions that we come in contact with on a daily basis. I hope to give some small insight into how we can begin to understand the paradox of One common energy source feeding all of the diversity and difference that we see around us. In Aikido we practice what I guess could be called a “physical” discipline to accomplish this. We PRACTICE appreciation, empathy, and respect, in regard to our partner, with the hope that some day in the future our practice will transform into an embodied reality. We practice breathing exercises and meditation, and in the course of these experiences we have a sense of being one with the universe.

In Aikido, as new students we first learn how to balance our physical structure and relax the body’s musculature. It is this balance and release of excess muscular tension that allows the weight of the body’s trunk to come to a natural resting place in our lower abdomen, in the general area of our reproductive organs. This area in our lower abdomen is what Tohei sensei calls “the one point” and he exhorts his students to maintain the feeling of the body’s weight resting naturally in this area. By maintaining physical balance and relaxation we release excess physical tension, calm the thinking mind, and sense a common bond with all of life. At such times we naturally generate a copious flow of ki, and exude a healing presence to those around us. Previously I said that ki is the life force that animates all living beings and that all living beings share and utilize the SAME energy source, the same ki, the same spirit. In Aikido we call this shared universal spirit “reiseishin.” When we balance and relax the body, unify our thoughts and actions, and calm our thinking mind, we manifest an outpouring of “Reseishin” in the same manner that a mother holding her newborn baby exudes and expresses love, protection, and compassion. When we experience the flow of “reiseishin” we naturally appreciate, empathize with, and respect all of life.

For me personally, what is important to say in regard to sensing the flow of “reiseishin” is that the experience is not generated by the activity of the thinking mind. Our sense of unity with all of life comes about when we “do only what is necessary, and nothing more or less.” It is this “doing less” that leads to greater power and a greater sense of connection to life. We gain the paradoxical experience of calmness and action being two sides of the same coin. One being the mirror image of the other. Great calmness leads to great action, like a hurricane radiating out from its calm “eye.” Great action leads to great calmness, as when a strongly thrown top rights itself and calmly spins round its center.

When you balance and relax your body, unify your thoughts and actions, and calm your thinking mind, you move from an experience of duality to an experience of commonality. At such times you understand experientially what is paradoxical to the thinking mind – That so much difference comes from One source.

You breathe deeply and sense the simultaneous inflow and outflow of ki.
You breathe deeply and feel a “heavy-lightness” in the body.
You breathe deeply and sense the “immovable-movement” of your spirit.

When you sense and move with the energy that is manifesting throughout the universe you find that you have a greater ability to live a life that is healthy and fulfilling, a greater sense of valuing and protecting all of life. When you learn to instinctively move with others rather than attempting to oppose them, you quickly come to a sense of intuitively understanding your counterpart’s thoughts and actions, and you increase the likelihood of your being able to gently lead your counterpart in new directions in the future. This is certainly a timely topic given the current conditions in the world today. Aikido is a martial art that wages peace. We have no attack form in Aikido, even though Aikido is very much an effective form of self-defense. As I said previously, in Aikido we cultivate an experience that leads us to believe that all living beings utilize and share a common energy source (ki) that helps to run and maintain our environment as well as our individual human systems. We believe that since we all share a common energy source, that in some important way we are all truly members of the same family, and that we share our lives with all of nature. We do not have an attack form in Aikido, because attacking another human being would be like attacking a family member that you love. One of the main ideas of Aikido is to find a way to honor and protect your own being, your own opinions, your own right to life, while CONCURRENTLY honoring and protecting the same in your opponent. Not at all a simple task, but one well worth trying to embody.

As you learn to locate and maintain your own personal “center”, you discover that your center is both local and global, or as Akio Morita the past CEO of Sony said, “We must think globally while acting locally. We must develop the capacity to be ‘glocal’.” When you experience this sense of being “glocal” you manifest a greater capacity to join and blend with the “ki” of others. You realize that in some very important way we all share the same ki, the same ancestry, the same God, the same life. There is a “oneness” to all of life, and this “One” can never be reduced to zero. From this “One” energy two counterbalancing forces appeared and stimulated and supported each other, and the conditional world was born. The conditional world requires the ongoing working relationship of “opposites.” Night and Day, Male-Female, Yin and Yang. These opposites REQUIRE and support each other. If night were to oppose day, if male denigrates and or suppresses female, if one group of people subjugates another, all of life is diminished in some important sense. The relative world REQUIRES difference in order to maintain the commonality of life. Differences in opinion, difference in beliefs, differences in religion, all lead to a feeding of the “reiseishin” of our common spirit. It is so important for us to realize that “difference” creates the diversity that supports the viability of future life, that opposites are necessary for counterbalance in a conditional world. We must sense our oneness with all of life, while not in any way requiring that there only be one right way, one set of beliefs, one religion.

Three important components in supporting the diversity that feeds life, are Appreciation, Empathy, and Respect.

1. Appreciation of diversity fosters an openness to exploring difference. An openness to exploring difference means that we will have a much richer wealth of ideas and alternatives to draw upon. This is one of the necessary components for successful adaptation. We move away from a concept of “right or wrong” and instead consider what will work best in this particular instance. We welcome and acknowledge the process of trial and error, knowing that all learning requires that we make some mistakes along the way. If we belittle or stifle the answers or opinions that don’t wind up fitting our needs this time around, we denigrate the creative process, and diminish the flow of new ideas in the future.
2. Empathy helps us to be responsive to the needs, dreams, and desires of others. When we are sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others, we soon realize that “MY” way is not the only way. “My” way is not THE right way. “My” way is only one of many ways.
3. Respect is an important component in fostering all of life, because it leads to the manifestation of “reiseishin.” Our task in life is not easy. But luckily, we each have great capacity, as we are each fed by the “One” ki of the universe.

May the importance of differences in opinion and beliefs be appreciated. May we empathize with the plight of others. May we bow to and respect the sanctity of all life.

I hope you are not too proud to learn from a dog

My German friend Kirsten has been volunteering at live-in facilities for older people. She goes to visit these people with her dog “Charlie.”

Recently, Kirsten visited a woman of 87, who was lying motionless in her bed, suffering from both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The woman had a totally blank look on her face, and did not seem to respond at all when Kirsten and Charlie entered the room.

Slowly and gently, the dog was placed on the bed next to the woman, and after being told the German equivalent of “Good girl” a few times, the dog settled in next to the woman, seemingly quite content.

Then little by little, almost as if watching a movie frame by frame, the most extraordinary change came over the woman. Very subtly her breathing softened and became more rhythmical, and the corners of her mouth started twitching, as if she was at the very beginning stages of learning how to smile again. In fits and starts, her cramped hand with her fingers drawn and stiff, began to move towards Charlie. There was a fascinating series of actions that took place in a divinely orchestrated manner. The woman’s face and mouth twitched, her hand inched forward in a lurching manner, and her fingers also twitched as they softened and opened back up. Finally after more than five minutes of effort the woman touched the dog and her hand came to rest alongside his back. At this stage the dog made a sound and a movement, like he was entering into a sleep state, at which time the woman let out a sigh of exhaustion, and upon exhaling her face became radiant with a beautiful smile. Indeed it was hard to recognize that the woman was the same person who was lying in the bed when Kirsten and Charlie had entered the room fifteen minutes earlier. The woman was not able to express herself verbally, but she had certainly expressed her feeling of contentment nonetheless! The staff at the home told Kirsten that the woman slept in great comfort once they left.

Next week, Kirsten went back to visit the woman again, but this time Charlie had little interest in laying next to the woman. So, feeling a bit disappointed, Kirsten took the woman’s hand and stroked her arm as if she was lovingly stroking her dog. As Kirsten sat there with the woman, she breathed in a deep, relaxed manner, and she rocked herself back and forth ever so much. Slowly but surely, without really thinking about it, Kirsten began to tell the woman about walking with her dog on a beautiful spring day. She talked about the sparkling sun, the smell of flowers, the radiant colors, and the wonderful feeling of inhaling cool, fresh air. Little by little, once again, a fascinating series of actions took place. The woman’s hand and face twitched, and Kirsten followed an impulse to duplicate the movements the woman’s hand and arm had made during the first visit. Finally when Kirsten rested the woman’s hand on her (Kirsten’s) stomach, once again the woman took a deep breath, her entire body relaxed, and once again a beautiful smile appeared on her face. “Oh” Kirsten thought, “Isn’t it nice to know that I can help the woman, just as well as my dog can!” She thought to herself, “It really is just a case of slowing down, opening one’s heart, and feeling into the connection we all have as living beings.” A simple yet profound truth. Such is the nature of healing – working to help people have an experience that comes before words, before thinking, before judgment. Without words, we cannot separate ourselves from others. Without thinking there is no pain. Without judgment there is no right and wrong, good and bad. When you are only here, only now, you will “only” experience your core self, and feel at peace.

What can you learn from a steam engine?

A simple metaphor sometimes leads to a change in the way one perceives and lives one’s life. I hope this description of a steam engine will lead to new and meaningful insights about yourself.

As you get a sense of how your system naturally slows down and speeds up, you will have a much better ability to support the overall “steady state” that leads to health and well-being.

Let’s look at a steam locomotive in order to understand more about ourselves, and the importance of self-regulating mechanisms. Coal is fed into the furnace of the steam engine. The burning coal heats the water supply and turns it into steam. The steam drives the engine’s pistons which power the wheels. Too little steam and the train slows down and even stops. Too much steam and the train goes too fast and the engine is likely to blow apart. The design issue thus becomes, how to regulate between “too much” and “too little.” Not at all that different than human beings.

In order to keep the speed and power of the train within an efficient range between “too much and too little” a speed governor was designed as an integral part of the engine.

1. As the steam pressure in the engine builds, the train’s speed increases. A speed governor sits on top of the engine somewhat like the bleeder valve of an old fashioned pressure cooker. An increase in engine pressure and thus train speed lifts the “arms” of the speed governor up.

2. Each degree the arms of the speed governor raise up in response to increased pressure and speed, winds up decreasing the size of the aperture that allows steam into the engine. The smaller aperture opening leads over time to less steam pressure and the train slows down. Greater speed makes the governor’s arms go up, which in turn reduces the steam available to the engine and thus over time, the train begins to slow down.

3. As the steam pressure and speed of the train lessens, the arms of the governor go back down. As the arms go down the size of the engine aperture opening increases, and thus the amount of steam allowed into the engine increases, and the speed of the train once again begins to increase.

An ingenuous design is it not? Higher pressure, and higher speed, leads to lower pressure and lower speed, which in turn winds up leading to higher pressure and higher speed. Such is the beauty of a self regulating system. Up leads to down. Down leads to up. Faster leads to slower. Slower leads to faster. If such a self-regulating mechanism was more readily available in human beings, perhaps we would not get drunk, smoke cigarettes, or have various other naughty habits. Perhaps.

“Nature” also seems to have numerous self regulating mechanisms at work. In a climax forest for example, when “too many” trees grow in an area, there is a lessening of sunlight to the lower portions of the trees, and dampness sets in. Over time, this leads to trees dying off, which leads over time to more sunlight once again reaching the ground, which leads to a spurt in new growth of shrubs and trees.

The efficient running of a steam engine, the ecology of a forest, and healthy human beings, all require a self-regulating mechanism be in place. In this way we can say steam engines, forests, and human beings, all have “mind.” The steam engine “knows” how to fulfill its purpose, and so does the forest. Yet as human beings we often don’t do so well.

At this point in time, it seems that man has perhaps found a way to remove the governor from the engine of life, and take control over the environment and various life forms. We now have the power to control life in a manner that Nature likely never intended. Perhaps as a species, our need to “go faster” has begun to create a runaway train.

Feeling Beneath Our Fears

Listening deeply to your own mammalian nature has the power to profoundly enrich your life.

Several years ago I made the acquaintance of a new friend named Tara. She is as beautiful a Shetland sheep dog as I have ever seen. Like many of us human beings, Tara had a sad tale to tell. When just a pup, the first time she was taken for a walk she came upon a horde of kids who suddenly started shooting off firecrackers. Tara was frightened beyond belief and she escaped from her leash and bolted into the far distance. Perhaps never to be seen again her owner feared! Several hours later though, Tara made it back to her house on her own and in one piece.

When I first entered Tara’s house for a visit, she was up on the third floor where she normally hid when guests arrived. Tara’s owner told me that ever since the firecracker incident she had difficulty getting Tara to go out for a walk. Tara confined herself to the tiny backyard for her exercise and toilet activities.

Tara’s owner needed to run out on an errand. I asked for a piece or Tara’s favorite biscuit, broke it into several pieces, and set the pieces out well in front of me. I waited quietly for about ten minutes, before finally hearing the patter of little feet upstairs. Upon hearing Tara gathering up her courage and her curiosity, I began to intermittently make some playful sounds as if I was a tiny firework, showering its brilliant colors in the distance. Psss, Pahh! I concentrated on being a beautiful firework, and not a loud one. Then with my colors expended I sat quietly again and waited. It took an additional fifteen minutes for Tara to finally show her head at the top of the stairs, and then she immediately ran all the way back up to the third floor. From there it took another ten minutes before she made her way down to the ground floor, ate one piece of biscuit and then bolted upstairs again, with no intention of returning in the near future. I marveled at her braveness and was exceedingly pleased with the development of our relationship.

Starting the next day our friendship developed rapidly. This time I sat on the floor and waited with the biscuits closer to me. After a couple of fitful starts and stops, Tara was sitting on my lap. Next I introduced the leash, but didn’t try and put it on her. By the third day she was making her way down to my bedroom in the basement, wondering why I hadn’t gotten up yet. Finally, we were walking around together out in the neighborhood, and passing by the very place of her initial horror.

Tara’s friendship has been a sacred gift to me. She has helped me to better understand my own fears, and the fears of my clients. She has also helped me to understand that beneath our fear there is a longing to be reconnected to life, and to loved ones. A longing to be out and about with a friend on a mild spring day. Whenever I have a client who seems frightened, I always start out by telling them about Tara. It is amazing that a couple of cookies and a cup of tea can calm a new human client as much as Tara’s biscuits helped to calm her.

Both fear and love have specific and different organizational patterns within each of us. The electrochemical network of fear and the electrochemical network of love, as well as the network of muscle usage for the two, are quite different. Once we learn how the body communicates to us we can begin to interact and affect change on the limbic level of primary experience. Deep breathing, stroking by an appropriate other, hugging and physical closeness, all help us to know that we are not alone, and that we are protected. With our limbic-emotional system taking in such sustenance, we can relax, expand our spirit, and be in the world with a sense of belonging, comfort, safety, and excitement. What more could we really ask for from life?

What is your primary identity?

About a year ago I was giving a demonstration of how I facilitate postural adjustments with clients. At the end of the demo a woman in the audience said: “I really loved watching what you do, and it was so obvious that you have worked with animals in the past. Can you please tell us more about your training?” I saw a look of confusion on some of the faces in the audience, but I was very pleased by what the lady had to say. I have learned a good deal about working with people, by the years I spent learning how to train dogs.

As a young boy I had the opportunity to train with a man who was a master at “obedience” and guard dog training. On my first day of study he took me to an industrial site. Behind the fence of one warehouse yard was a madly barking dog who seemed intent at ripping us to pieces. My teacher handed me the keys to the fence lock and said “This is the first time I have seen this dog, and I have been asked to tame him down some. Open the gate and let the dog loose.” I immediately started to think that raising tropical fish would be a better hobby than training dogs.

“I am new to all of this.” I said, “Why don’t you open the gate and show me how to do it?”
“I tell you what” he said, “Either I kneel down about ten feet from the gate and you swing the gate open so the dog cannot get to you, or we will do it the other way around, with you kneeling down out in the open.” It didn’t take me long to start putting the key in the lock, as my teacher moved to an open space and knelt down.

Low and behold, the dog raced out, seeming to ignore my teacher on the one hand, but running around in large loping circles that my teacher was the center of. My teacher was calm and slow to move, and eventually he reached in his pocket and pulled out some doggie treats. Within a minute or two he literally had the dog eating out of his hand.

“The lesson is,” he said, “Every dog that’s been trained in a violent manner barks and growls and appears to be genuinely mean when they are behind the fence. All the dog is really doing is showing you how frightened he is. The dog is expecting to be mistreated by you just as he has been mistreated by his trainer, and thus he is simply trying to protect himself and not the premises. When you open the gate on such dogs they invariably run out of the yard. Mistreated animals have no real ‘home’ to protect because there is nowhere in the world where they feel safe, loved, and protected. If your dog does not feel protected BY you, he will not protect FOR you.”

Intuitively this made a lot of sense. I thought back on the kids that were the most violent in my high school. The ones from my neighborhood, I knew came from violent families. Their outward violence in school was actually a preemptive strike. Just like the mistreated guard dog, these kids were expecting to get mistreated by others, and thus they went into attack mode as a confused form of self defense, NOT as a form of offense. “The louder the dog barks,” my teacher said, “The more frightened he is. The primary identity of a beaten dog is one of fear.”

When you are feeling misunderstood or at risk in a relationship with another person, or when you are having difficulty understanding your own behavior, it is suggested that you pause, take a deep breath, release any excess tension, and ponder this question: “What is the primary identity being expressed here?” Asking this question will help you to have better appreciation and understanding, for how to respond. When we ponder the catalyst for behavior it is common to discover that a problematic behavior is usually generated by a primary identity of fear, isolation, or lack of abundance. The barking guard dog lunging at passers-by is considered mean and violent, when indeed the dog is trying to protect itself from further mistreatment. The primary identity of the dog is one of fear. The same can be seen and understood in human beings. Aggressive and or violent people are expecting attacks from others, and they therefore often mount attacks on others in a confused attempt to protect themselves. Each time the forceful behavior of a frightened person draws a violent response, the person feels as if their “defensive” behavior has been vindicated. Violent responses from others feed a person’s primary identity of fear.

The concept of “primary identity” or what we sometimes call “core identity” is an important part of the philosophy of Aikido. In Aikido we believe that when a person is spiritually, emotionally, and physically balanced they will experience their “true” primary identity. This is an identity in which they feel connected to their emotions and their body, supported by others, and protected by the benevolent presence of Spirit/God/”The Force.” I know to many this might seem like a notion that is meant only for dreamers, and not for those that actually have to be active participants in the world, but indeed it forms the basis for a highly effective and pragmatic martial art.

Aikido is not suggesting that we should trust the ethics and honesty of everyone in every occasion. What Aikido IS saying is that a person who attacks another human being is a person who is disconnected from their “true” primary identity, and is thus reacting from a perspective of fear, isolation, and or a believed dearth of resources. The best way to “counter” such an attack is to remain aware, relaxed, and emotionally balanced, while also being concerned for and connected to the well being of your seeming adversary. We are meant to inhale the “true” primary identity of our counterpart, and exhale our connection to them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The Aikido experience shows us that our feeling of connection and caring for our counterpart is definitely felt by them on a somatic/unconscious level. When “the attacker’s” feeling mind is touched by a benevolent presence they subconsciously realize that danger is not immanent, and thus their fear and their need for attack, is lessened.

I can say from my twenty plus years of Aikido practice, that responding to aggressive fear with connection and calmness, is a very transformative experience for both parties involved. There is something so special about being in a highly challenging situation, and “poof” prior to thinking you find yourself taking a deep breath, and feeling your muscles respond by relaxing. You notice that your eyes soften ever so much, and that the sounds in the space somehow become more mellow. At the very least, you notice your counterpart becomes somewhat confused, because you are “replying” to their aggression by embracing and absorbing what they are putting forth, rather than by mounting a counterattack. Such interactions sear the memory of my soul, and give me greater faith in life.

The next time you meet someone with a guard dog mentality what will you do?

Keep them barking and lunging behind their self imposed fence? Or let that out to play, so that you can eventually become friends?

Where do “I” begin and end?

Today, I am inviting you to explore the boundaries of “self.” I ask you to ponder where “I” begins and ends. What is part of “me” and what is outside of “me”? Who and what is “you”? What is “us” and what is “them”? If I was to show you a picture of “me” standing in a crowded room of friends and family, and ask you to draw a line around “me” how would you do so? Would you simply draw an oval encompassing my frame from head to foot? What if I showed you a picture of me out in nature. Would you draw a line around “me” taking in as little sky as possible?

When you think of “your self” does your definition of self include sunlight, potable water, food, a certain range of temperature and humidity, and air to breathe? Most likely you don’t think of your “self” in quite this manner, but why not? If any of these all important elements are not present, “you” will soon cease to exist. You can’t live without sunlight and water, but sunlight and water can live without you! Man needs nature. Man’s very life depends on nature. But nature does not need or depend on man for life. Unless we say in this modern day and age, that nature depends on man to not destroy it, and man so often seems like he could care less.

When we say that an action/corporation/product is ecological we refer to how it supports the interdependence of all living organisms within an environment, which is itself a living organism. When we destroy any part of our natural environment we destroy a part of ourselves, because our personal ecology is fully dependent on the ecology of the natural elements that surrounds us.

I ask you again, “Can you live without potable water, oxygen, food, and sunlight? Can you live if the temperature and humidity of the earth’s atmosphere was to change by more than about 15% on average? Can you live without depending on the natural elements for your life? Why is it that people in the industrialized world tend to label as “primitive” those cultures that teach that man and nature are inseparable, when indeed this is the case?

All of life requires an ecology, a balance, a conservative and corrective interplay between elements and energies. Every living system needs to be able to self correct, and every living system depends on elements outside of “itself” in order to maintain “itself.” None of us live as separate entities depending only on our own will and intelligence.

Lately most human beings tend to treat the natural environment as a disposable item like a paper napkin or a pair of shoes. We use nature as a convenience item, or we use nature as a way to make money, and then we move on when we deplete the natural resources in a given area. Some people even treat their relationships with other people in a similar manner, and it is not all that surprising, if you really think that “me” is fully contained inside the boundaries of your own body.

When we disrespect nature we disrespect and misunderstand “me.” When we are confused about who and what “me” is, it is that much easier to disrespect and misunderstand others. Just like human beings, no country is separate and complete unto itself. I hope that we will come to understand that caring for nature means caring for “me.” That caring about “me” means caring about you. That caring about my country means caring about your country. That caring about “us”, adds to the quality of all of life.

No Thinking, No Suffering

It’s our thinking that creates good and bad, right and wrong, sorrow and joy. When we actively engage in “no thinking” there is both no suffering, and no consolation. Read a striking story of the Zen master Seung Sahn adapted by Charlie Badenhop.

There is a story told by the Zen master Seung Sahn. Many years ago there was a young man living in Korea, and the young man felt that his life was quite empty. So he shaved his head and went up into the mountains to live the life of a monk. He studied diligently for a number of years, but still felt that he did not really understand how to be free.

The young man had heard of certain Zen masters living in China so he gathered his meager belongings and started a long and arduous journey across arid plains.

Every day he would walk for many hours, and would stop only after finding a patch of land that had a source of water. Finding water was not at all a simple task in such dry lands, but a task necessary for preserving his life. There were many times he had to walk until quite late in the evening before finding a suitable location in which to rest and be refreshed.

One day was particularly hot, and the monk walked on endlessly, unable to find an oasis. As day turned into a moonless night, the pace of his walking slowed considerably so that we would not fall and hurt or kill himself. When he did finally find a shaded area he collapsed on the ground and slept for several hours. He woke up some time after midnight and he was tremendously thirsty. He crawled around on his hands and knees in the darkness, and ran across a roughly made cup that must have been left by a previous traveler. The custom of leaving a cup with some water in it, for the next traveler to drink from was quite common. He drank the meager amount of water in the cup and he felt very blessed and very at peace with the world. He laid down again and slept quite comfortably until awaking to the light of the early morning sun.

Upon sitting up he saw what the night before, he had taken to be the roughly made cup. It was a shattered skull of a baby wolf. Ths skull was caked with dried blood, and numerous insects were floating on the surface of the small quantity of filthy rain water still left in the bottom portion of the skull.

The monk saw all of this and immediately started to vomit. He had a great wave of nausea, and as the fluid poured forth from his mouth, it was as if his mind was being cleansed. He immediately felt a deep sense of understanding. Last night, since he couldn’t see he assumed that he had found a cup which had been left by a fellow traveler. The water tasted delicious. This morning, upon seeing the skull, the thought of what he had done the night before made him sick to his stomach. He understood that it was his thinking, and not the water, that made him feel ill. It was his thinking that created good and bad, right and wrong, delicious and foul tasting. With no thinking there was no suffering.

Having realized this, his journey was complete, as he no longer needed to find a Zen master.

From The Perspective of a Child

For a child, a summer day can seem to last forever. This is part of the beauty of a child’s perspective. At the same time, all of us, adult and child alike, sometimes freeze up and lose sense of the fact that we have a future that has not yet arrived. Here is a story of a child’s summer day in Brooklyn, New York.

When I was eight years old a truck housing a children’s ride, used to come around my neighborhood in Brooklyn. You paid your fee, had your ride, and upon exiting, you got some small thank you gift. When exiting the truck one time I got a large sheet of tattoos. I was ecstatic because there was one HUGE tattoo showing Davie Crockett killing a HUGE bear. I ran home to have the tattoo immediately applied to my bare chest, and I remember thinking how it was perfect that I did not yet have any hair on my chest because the hair would only get in the way of the tattoo. And then, as hard as this might be to believe, my father totally screwed up in applying the tattoo, and I was left with black water running down my chest, and then great big tears running down my face, as I was in a state of shock and disbelief. Feeling totally crushed I ran outside and dashed feverishly around the neighborhood hopinging to catch the truck, but it had mysteriously disappeared, perhaps already on its way to Flatbush or Coney Island. By the time the truck did come back again two weeks later, it was giving away some terribly boring small plastic whistles, and the truck never again showed up with tattoos, and in those days tattoos were not to be found in toy stores.

It can be so easy to freeze up and lose sense of the entirety of one’s life. It can be so easy to lose touch with the fact that we still have a future. As a child, especially during the summer time, each day was a grand adventure, and each day would often seem endless, and totally absorbing. This sense of fully being in the moment is one of the true gifts of childhood, and at times it can also be a liability. Because children usually have little sense of the length and breadth of their life, and any one moment can seem to extinguish the possibility of happiness in the future.

I can look back on numerous times in my life, that seemed to play a major role in determining the course of my life. In hindsight I can see that it was not the actual events that determined my future, but whether or not I perceived myself to be “lucky or unlucky”, “cursed or blessed”, “stupid or clever.”

Now I realize that each moment leads to another moment, each event leads to another event. I can choose which moments and events I want to give the most importance to, and which moments and events I will define my life by. By accepting the fact that much of what goes on in life is outside of my control, I can free myself to pay attention to the aspects of my life that I do have some ability to influence. And in times of difficult challenge I can give thanks for the future, knowing that even as day turns into night, and spring turns into summer, that my bad luck will turn into good luck, my sadness will turn to joy. Nothing stays the same.

If you look back at times that you initially thought were quite horrible or devastating, isn’t it true that most of these events, over the course of time, did not turn out to be nearly as devastating as you initially felt they were? Certainly this has been my experience.

By the way, I am still in the market for some Davey Crockett tattoos!

Recipes For Stress

It is within your power to reduce the stressful reactions that you have, and a key to changing your reactions is being able to track the way in which you generate stress.

Recently, a coaching colleague told me a story about his client “Jim” who gets into many arguments and confrontations with others. After each altercation Jim spends a good deal of time attempting to convince my coaching colleague as to how the other person’s behavior was the catalyst for what took place. One of his favorite expressions is “I hate it when people jump to conclusions without first getting all of the facts.” In return my colleague has spent a good deal of time trying to show Jim how his behavior and thinking play a key role in creating his many problems.

Recently, Jim asked my colleague to accompany him on a business trip. On the second day of their trip they are walking down the street together late at night, having just finished a marathon business negotiation. They are both feeling a little bit ill at ease because they are not familiar with their surroundings, and they are concerned they might be targeted for violence since they obviously are not part of the local population.

All of a sudden they hear another set of footsteps walking behind them. Jim wheels around to see who is following them, and as he does so the man behind them quickly places his hand inside his coat in the area of his breast pocket. Fearing the worst, Jim wheels back around and dashes out onto the street in an attempt to get away from the gun he believes the man is pulling out. Boom! Jim gets hit not by a speeding bullet, but by a speeding car.

The man who Jim had been frightened by runs towards him as he lays bleeding on the street, and uses the handkerchief he already has in his hand, to stem the flow of Jim’s blood. It turns out that luckily for Jim the man is a doctor. Fairly soon the bleeding is stopped and it appears that Jim will need some stiches and a cast for his broken left leg, and after about thirty minutes an ambulance arrives to take Jim to the hospital.

Once Jim is on the stretcher and before being hoisted up into the ambulance he thanks the man for his help, and then asks, “Excuse me, but do you mind if I ask you what you were pulling out from under your coat when I first turned around to confront you?” “Why the very same hankerchief I used to stem the flow of your blood.” the doctor says. “I have been having my usual spring allergy response, and I was just ready to have a violent sneeze when you all of a sudden dashed out in the street and totally distracted me. My goodness, just now I am realizing that this is the first time today I have gone more than ten minutes without sneezing!”

“Now please let me ask you a question.” the doctor says. “Why in the world did you jump out in the street immediately upon seeing me?” Jim quickly replies “Well, we were in a dangerous neighborhood, and all of a sudden out of nowhere you were following us, and it seemed clear that you were reaching for a gun or other weapon. How would you expect me to react?”

The doctor smiles and says “Well, my friend, it seems to me that you jumped to numerous inaccurate conclusions. First you thought that the neighborhood was dangerous when in fact it is one of the safest neighborhoods in our city, although most likely a much poorer neighborhood than where you come from. Since you thought you were in a dangerous place you were predisposed to something dangerous taking place. I am guessing the fact that it was late at night, only added to your sense of fear.” “Yes” Jim said, “All of what you say is true.”

“And the fact that initially there was no one else walking on the street except for the two of you, most likely made my footsteps sound much louder and more ominous. Is this not so?” Jim slowly nods “Yes.”

“So” the doctor continued, “With those kinds of thoughts and fears running around in your head, when I stepped out of my house to go visit a patient you immediately thought that I was following you although frankly I hadn’t even really noticed you, as I was beginning a build up to a big sneeze.” “The only thing that made sense to you in the frame of mind you were in, was to believe that I was a criminal pulling out a weapon.” “I’m sorry.” Jim said.
“No need to be sorry.” the doctor says. “You have not caused me any harm.” “Indeed you have helped me to have a much clearer understanding of how my clients create stress for themselves.”

The doctor pauses for a moment and then says, “Let’s imagine that you and your friend were walking down this very same street, but at two o’clock in the afternoon instead of late at night, and there was one or two people already walking in front of you, and one person already walking behind you at a comfortable distance. How do you think you would respond to my coming out of my house in such an instance?” “Hmm.” says Jim. “I might not have even noticed you!”

“And here is another idea the doctor says. “What if everything initially happened just like it did this evening, but you had taken some self defense training and felt confident in your ability to defend yourself, and also perhaps partly because of your training, you had the tendency to be both relaxed and aware. How do you think you would have responded then?” “I can’t say for sure since I never had such training.” Jim says, “But pretty much guaranteed at the very least I would not have jumped out in front of the car.”

“And since you have been so kind so far.” the doctor says, “One more thing if you don’t mind.” “Your fear of being in dangerous surroundings led you to block out the only real danger that was present – A car speeding down the street. Perceiving danger all around you, you jumped in front of the only danger there was, and thus you created a self fulfilling prophecy.”
“Yes” Jim says, “I feel quite humbled. This is a difficult way to learn a very important lesson. But better that I learned this lesson today rather than continuing to struggle for many years to come. Now I can truly understand what happens when one consistently jumps to conclusions without having all of the facts, and assumes that something terrible will take place. Thank you for all of your assistance.”

Does this story have any special relevance to you and how you sometimes react to what is going on around you? In any one circumstance there can be many possible responses. and many possible outcomes. Have a different set of beliefs and you will respond differently. Have a different set of capabilities and training and you will respond differently. Change the way you use your body and you will respond differently. Change the environment that you are in and you will respond differently.

To learn to track the way in which you generate stress, try one of the classic Seishindo Practices – “Body + Language = Emotional Experience”.

Stress is a particular emotional state. Emotion consists of language AND body. Emotion is a system that is coherent at a deeper level than language or body taken separately. When your emotional state changes there is a concurrent change in your body, and in your use of language (including your internal thought processes). When your emotions truly change, you will notice a change in the way you use your body AND a change in the way you think about and describe your experience. When your emotions truly change you will feel better about who you are and what you are capable of. Greater self awareness leads to a more relaxed and creative use of your entire system. When you feel better, you think better, and new solutions begin to become apparent. All of which leads to a greater likelihood that you will meet the challenges you face with great success.

With a little help from our friends

The quality of one’s life to a large extent is determined by the quality of our relationships with others. When we feel we have no choice but to face the world alone, we suffer emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and no degree of outward success can replace or repair the lonely feeling in our heart. No matter how talented, wealthy, or trim and fit we might appear to be, without supportive relationships it is a difficult challenge for any one of us to maintain physical and emotional health. Children, pets, loved ones, mentors, colleagues, and teachers, can all help us fulfill our need for connection to other sentient, limbic beings.

Our nervous system is an “open loop learning system” that draws on energetic connections with others in order to continually adapt and hopefully flourish. This concept of “open loop learning” is very much a part of the theory of Aikido. When being attacked in an Aikido class we are hoping to move towards “joining with” our adversary and creating the energetic connection that can lead towards stabilization of both parties emotions, and a sense of physical and emotional completion. We come to understand each attack as a physical expression of loneliness and alienation, and the desire for connection. A sense of separation from others leads to fear, and fear can easily lead to feeling like you are about to be attacked, and thus attacking others preemptively. In Aikido we gain a direct understanding of how a physically and emotionally healthy person requires ongoing enrichment, stabilization, and support from the nervous systems of others.

When we talk about the interaction of nervous systems amongst mammals, we are pointing to the fact that the nervous systems of two people in relationship very definitely communicate with, inform, and change each other. Our emotional connection with others clearly affects our moods, emotions, hormonal flow, digestion, body clock, and even the structure of our brains. Without conscious direction and without the need to think, our nervous systems are always learning from and adapting to our interactions with the nervous systems of others. Not all that surprising once you think about it. At the very least, for millions of years mammals have had the need to intuit which other mammals are safe, and which are predators. As mammals we have a limbic-emotional connection with each other that leads to procreation and family structures, and these relationships do not necessarily require the capacity to think, analyze, or rationalize. Emotional understanding of our self, others, and our relationships, comes prior to thinking.

We can easily find numerous examples of the importance of supportive limbic-emotional contact with others. It is fascinating to note that baby monkeys who have lost their mothers at an early age, not only wind up with various developmental problems, but they also find it hard to live successfully with the rest of their community. The same tends to be true for children forced to grow up in harsh, sterile conditions. Indeed with children growing up in orphanages that show little in the way of human contact and emotional bonding, the mortality rate of the children is dreadfully high. High quality health and emotional well-being requires supportive limbic relationships. Our nervous system needs to locate and be nurtured by other nervous systems in order for us to have a sense of stability and completion. A limbic connection with others helps us to develop a deeper sense of safety, calmness, and dignity. Our need to live our life in supportive limbic relationships is very much a wonderful fact of life, and not at all a weakness to be overcome. As mammals we all require “a little help from our friends.”

Trust in the moment, and trust in yourself

Do you often get yourself upset and feeling less than fully confident, as part of your preparation for facing a daunting challenge? You can improve your performance if you let your somatic intelligence lead the way.

“You move too much to be effective.” Tamura sensei softly shouted at me. “You need to give your opponent a clearer target to strike at.”

We were in the middle of studying how to defend ourselves from multiple attackers in an Aikido class for senior students in Japan.

Five young college students rushed at me once again, and once again I struggled to cope with them.

“OK, take a break.” Tamura sensei said. “In order for the five attackers to actually hit you they have to first reach you. Your job is NOT to run away from them. You need to create a spacing that leads them to all try and grab or hit you at the same time. Think of the attackers as needing to pass through a gate. If they all try and rush through the gate at the same time they will block each others efforts. Move less, do less, and be calm. Give them a clear target that they all reach at the same time.”

I had heard similar remarks in the past, but accomplishing this in the heat of the moment requires a moving calmness that takes a while to get the hang of. You know in your head what you are supposed to do, but once your heart starts beating faster and your opponents are bearing down on you, you find it really hard to believe in what you are being told.

“Think of it this way.” sensei said. He pulled out a cloth that he used to wipe away his sweat and said, “Here, take this away from me.”

As I grabbed for the cloth, he more or less handed it to me. Just as I was beginning to get a good hold on it he let go of the cloth and grabbed onto my wrist and placed me in a painful hold. I immediately let go of the cloth, and he picked it back up with one hand as he continued to keep me subdued with his other hand.

“You see.” he said, “I am not defending the cloth, I am defending myself. Better to give you the cloth, and then I have both hands free to do as I need.”

“When you move less you offer your opponents a clear target. When you offer them a clear target you will be able to understand how they are wanting to attack. They will attack you in the same manner you reached for my cloth. Confident they will accomplish their mission, because you have made it easy for them. At the last moment, just as they begin to strike or grab, take the target away from them. They will be surprised, and you will have the opportunity to do whatever is necessary.”

He got up and invited the five students to attack him. He moved very little, and it was as if he was making each one of them thread themselves through the eye of a needle. Just ever so much of a movement made by him, made them just miss their target.

“This is what happens often in our every day life.” he said. “You feel like you are faced with a daunting task, and you make your task harder by moving about needlessly and losing your composure. Breathe deeply, be calm, and know the right moment will present itself to you if you have the faith to wait. Don’t force the issue, and don’t force the timing. Trust in the moment, and trust in yourself. Take the initiative by doing nothing.”

You ARE capable. Give yourself the opportunity to excel by trusting in the moment and trusting in yourself. Wait calmly, and you will find that the necessary answers appear before you. Little by little… with lots of practice… and endless patience. Only move when the moment is right. Breathe deeply and begin at the beginning.

Our Very First Tasks of Learning and Adaptation

The very first learning task of every individual is the self-organization and development as an embryo in the womb of the mother. There is a tremendous amount of learning, communication, and self organization going on inside the mother’s belly as the fertilized egg winds up dividing into about 1 quadrillion cells that form the newborn infant. A lot of this learning that the embryo does has to do with how to live in relationship with another human being.

A second and equally important learning task involves learning how to move, and the movement of the mother is a key stimulus here. As we develop inside the belly of our mother we learn from and intuitively understand the movement of the mother, and thus movement offers us one of our first modes of communication and learning and it continues to be of great importance throughout our lives. The genetically determined movements that we respond to and make, offer us a frame of reference within which to organize our first contact with the world.

Movement in regard to health and learning is just as important for adults as it is for children. Our movements represent both an organization of the self, and an organization of information from the outside world in relation to the self. When we constrict our ability to move we constrict our ability to organize information, learn, and adapt. Improve your ability to move freely and you will think and feel with a greater sense of health and well-being.

A small piece of carpet can add to your self-confidence

Although many human beings might feel miffed by the thought, there is a profound set of similarities amongst all mammals, and especially between dogs and humans.

Have you ever noticed how the way you feel about yourself sometimes depends on whether or not you get an external confirmation of your value? The same is true for dogs. Dogs and humans both have a “primary identity” that determines perception of the world, behavior, and one’s sense of self worth. Let me explain how my teacher nurtured a positive primary identity in the dogs he trained.

My teacher’s first rule was to “Treat your students with firm yet gentle kindness and endless patience.” No matter what the dog did (especially with puppies) he would calmly and gently, without any trace of annoyance, let them know when their behavior was not what he wanted.

His second rule was “Consistently foster and support a primary identity of love, acceptance, and protection.” My teacher used to say, “Never tell the dog that s/he is “bad” or “stupid”. If you tell your dog he is bad, he will start to feel bad. Once your dog is feeling bad, he will start to act bad. And all the dog will really be doing, is confirming what you have been telling him!” “Don’t confuse the primary identity of the dog, with the dog’s behavior. No matter what happens, your dog is a “good dog.” And sometimes your “good dog” will have lousy behavior. “Good boy, good dog, don’t gnaw on the table leg.” “Good boy, good dog, don’t you dare lift your leg on those curtains!” “No matter what happens, it is very important for your dog to know that his primary identity never changes, regardless of his behavior.” “If you think in terms of “good dog” now “bad dog” later, your affection for your dog will change like the weather and he will become confused, and not know who he really is.”

The third important rule in dog training is to “Teach by example.”
If you want your dog to be strong and calm, then you must be strong and calm in your dealings with him. If you want the dog to love you and live for the opportunity to protect you, then you need to teach love by example. You don’t ask the dog to love you, you don’t expect the dog to love you just because you feed him and give him shelter. The dog winds up loving you as a natural reaction to your love for him. The dog comes to understand his own heart, through the experience of your heart.

The fourth rule he called “The length of the leash.”
In the beginning, it is very important to not let the leash be either too short and restrictive, or too long and overly allowing. You need to be able to gauge and sense the dogs understanding of what you would like him to do, in relation to what he would like to be doing, at any given moment. Too restrictive and the dog feels coerced. Too loose and the dog has no idea what you want. And it is important to occasionally let the dog do what HE wants to do, even when this is somewhat counter to what you would like him to do. This is crucial to building relationship. In the end, you want to take off the leash completely, and let the dog be, with his own sense of right and wrong.

The meaning of any act or verbal communication, can only be fully understood by taking into account the specific context that such behaviors are performed in. Does this make clear sense? If we take the phrase “I love you.” the meaning of these words will vary greatly depending on whether I speak them to my wife, my daughter, my parents, or the woman that lives next door. If I stand up and start undressing in my bedroom, this will be considered completely normal behavior. If on the other hand I stand up and undress in front of the crowd during the Rugby World Cup, I am likely to be arrested and escorted away. The act of “undressing” has no clear meaning, unless we identify the location/environment/context, where the undressing is done.

Our “primary identity” on the other hand, is considered to be the identity we have regardless of the context we are in. It is the identity that we carry with us everywhere. Our primary identity doesn’t change with the weather, and it doesn’t change depending on praise, criticism, or being ignored. When you can bring a self affirming primary identity with you as you enter into various new and challenging situations in life, you will discover that you live with a greater sense of enjoyment and fulfillment.

My dog training teacher had a very fascinating way of helping the guard dogs he trained, to feel respected, protected and loved, regardless of the situation/context they were in. Here is how he accomplished this. First of course, he started out by treating his dogs with love and respect, and by showing them an infinite amount of patience as they were learning. This of course is crucial. Then, the next thing he did was a true stroke of genius. He would cut a small piece of carpet for each dog he trained. He would place the carpet in the dog’s sleeping area, for him to lie on each night. He would also take this carpet during the day and set it down in various locations, and sit the dog on the carpet, as he praised the dog for being good. Whenever he moved to a new location, he would have the dog stand up, and he would pick up the carpet and carry it to the new location, set it down, sit the dog down, and again, praise the dog for being a “good boy.” Soon the piece of carpet took on the distinct odor of the dog, and my teacher said that this led the dog to feel “at home” when sitting on the carpet. Next, my teacher would teach the dog to pick up the piece of carpet himself, and carry it to wherever they were going. The dog would then set the piece of carpet down when they stopped, and sit on top of it, with my teacher all of the time praising him for being a good dog. Now my teacher said, “The dog begins to feel that he truly belongs in every place that he travels to, and no matter where he goes, he receives my love and appreciation. Soon the dog takes on this love and appreciation as the core of his primary identity.”

And I ask you now, if this strategy works so brilliantly with dogs, would the same basic strategy not work just as well with human beings? Ask youself, “What is the small piece of carpet you carry around with you wherever you go?” “Would your life not be very different if you changed your piece of carpet to one of love and appreciation?”