Tag Archives: aikido

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.

Katsugen Undo on a ball (Video)

This video teaches you the exercise protocol known as “Katsugen Undo” as developed by Haruchika Noguchi sensei. Noguchi Sensei was the originator of Noguchi Seitai. By following the protocol shown you will little by little, release muscular holding patterns and feel more relaxed and “in the moment”.

In simple terms Noguchi Sensei said that we all have a tendency to hold on to excess energy that inhibits us from rebalancing ourselves and thus we inhibit our ability to remain physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.

Give it a try, it really does help!

Seishindo Anger Management – say both “Yes” and “No” (Video)

I have spent years studying and teaching Aikido, and along the way I have gleaned a lot of valuable information regarding managing anger. In this video, I share some of my learnings with you. I talk about how to slow down and be more present, the “real meaning” of what people are communicating when they are angry, how to stay calm in the face of anger and or an attack, and other concepts that will help you to maintain a positive life attitude when faced with the challenge of anger.

You can read more about managing anger in our article: Yes AND No – Saying BOTH at the same time.

Everyday mind and time

Everyday mind and your concept of time

“How unstable was your thinking mind?” Sensei asked, after we had just spent an hour doing a specific breathing exercise. “I’m guessing that in the last hour most of you were very busy thinking, even though you’re meant to sit quietly when doing this exercise.” When I heard him say this I wasn’t sure whether to smile or frown, because he was certainly describing me!

“Such is your everyday mind.” Sensei continued. “You don’t know how to stop yourself from thinking, and the more you try to stop, the more thinking you do. Instead of experiencing the here and now, you run around in your thinking mind worrying and wondering about the past and the future. One moment you feel great, and the next moment you feel terrible. You make it all up in your head, and your experience has little if anything to do with reality.

“In fact,” he added, “the more you study, the more you realize the term reality is a very slippery concept to grasp. You come to realize that what you usually think of as ‘real’ is really only the content of your thinking mind.

“Rather than trying to understand reality, I think we can better spend our time exploring relativity. By exploring how each thing, each thought, each feeling, is relative to all the rest of your experience, you can learn a great deal. Relativity teaches us there’s always more than one perspective, always more than one belief, always more than one understanding, in regard to any one moment in time.

“Einstein talked about placing his hand on a hot stove for one minute, and how that minute felt more like an hour. He then talked about sitting with a pretty girl for an hour, and how that hour seemed to pass so quickly.

“What he describes is very much like the experience of sitting and breathing. Minutes of chaotic thinking feel like hours, and calmness passes you by all too quickly. You manipulate and distort time, and you create a sense of connection with or separation from life itself.

“A human being is one infinitesimal part of an infinitely large universe. A tiny, tiny, something, existing for a few moments in time and space. When we feel separate from the rest of life our pain and suffering increases, as does our distortion of time. When we feel ourselves fully connected to life, everything is just as it should be.

“When I have you sit and breathe, I usually start by taking down the clock at the back of the dojo and placing it outside. You all see me do this. and yet many of you look back numerous times for the non-existent clock. With your sense of time so distorted, I wonder what information you’re hoping the clock will provide.” I felt embarrassed when I heard him say this, because more than once I was certain I could hear the ticking of the clock!

“Our belief in and dependence on time creates a kind of prison that restricts our ability to fully live and experience life. In the course of your study it’s my hope that you’ll begin to free yourself from this prison and experience how you share your pain, your pleasure, and indeed all of your life with the rest of the universe. The more you can realize you’re not alone, not separate, the more you’ll realize just how fleeting every moment is. Both the pleasure and the pain. It’s all to be experienced, appreciated, and then let go of, so that you can be ready for the next experience.”

The experience of “being centered”

1. Introduction

As I said in my last newsletter, I am shifting my writing for awhile to give you a better sense of the basic principles that make up Seishindo.

I’m hoping that by reading about the basic principles of Seishindo, you’ll deepen your sense of feeling embodied, healthy, and fully alive.

Please write to me, letting me know how this new series of articles reaches you!

Below is an exercise I’ve designed to help you have an experiential understanding of what it means to be centered as we think about it in Aikido. In Aikido practice, when you’re centered you’re said to be “keeping one point”.

Charlie

2. The experience of “being centered”

Can you make an image in your mind’s eye of a monohull sailboat? Perhaps a boat that sits on a large lake, and comfortably holds you and a couple of friends out for an afternoon’s outing.

There’s a mast rising straight up from the centerline of your boat, yes? The mast is meant to be strong, while also being lightweight and flexible.

Chances are as you read these words, you’ll be sitting somewhere.
As you sit, imagine yourself to be a scale model of this sailboat as you make your way through life.

Think of your spine as being similar to the boat’s mast. Strong, lightweight, and flexible.

As you sit facing forward, your boat is facing straight ahead.
Imagine it’s a calm day out, and your boat rocks ever so much.

Depending on your feeling, you can rock your boat from back to front, or from side to side.

Rock your boat in whatever direction feels best to you.

The rhythm of your rocking is meant to be similar to the rhythm of a mother rocking her young baby in her arms.

Feeling this rhythm now in your own body, take three deep breaths as you allow your rocking motion to get ever so much bigger.

Every sailboat of course has a hull. Without a hull there would be no boat..

As you sit there now, imagine that your pelvis forms the structure of you hull, and that the deck of your hull is in line with the top of your pelvic girdle and your navel. The major portion of your hull/your pelvic structure, sits in the water, and your spine is rising straight up from the center of your pelvis.

As you most likely know, every monohull sailboat has a keel at the bottom of the boat’s centerline, and it’s the keel that gives the boat stability. How does the keel accomplish this? Well in very simple terms, the keel is quite heavy compared to the weight of the rest of the boat, and the keel sits below the waterline. It’s the weight of the keel resting at the center of the hull, below the waterline, that creates the stability.

You experience yourself as having a keel when the muscles of your torso are relaxed and your spine is straight, and thus the weight of your torso falls into the lower portion of your pelvis. It’s the weight of your torso resting in your pelvis that creates your keel.
With the top portion of your imagined keel a couple of inches below your navel and the bottom of your keel resting on the seat you’re sitting on.

It’s your keel that keeps you stable, and in terms of Aikido your keel is what we call your “center” or “one point”.

As you’re sitting there now, imagine that the bottom portion of your spine melds with your keel.

Your pelvis rests in the water, and the weight of your keel, your “one point”, sits below the waterline and gives you stability, as your boat gently rocks in the water.

Nothing more to do now, but to engage in an image and the feeling this image gives you.

Your pelvis resting in the water,

The weight of your torso resting in your pelvis creating your sense of a keel,
your center, your “one point”.

And it’s your keel reaching all the way down to the bottom of your pelvis that gives you stability,

With your strong, lightweight, flexible spine connected to your keel.

As you rock gently in whatever direction feels best to you,

Take three deep breaths now,
Having the felt sense of your “center” being in your lower abdomen and pelvis.

As you feel how your rocking motion gives you the sense of being calm, centered, and able to move with the currents and winds of life.

Living Calmness

1. Introduction

For a number of years now, I’ve been writing stories about my life in Japan. I’m finally getting fairly close to having a complete book ready for publication!

Over the years, many of you have written asking me how I came to develop my story telling style. My stories are meant to convey simple life lessons that show up during my daily experience. Lessons that could easily pass me by if I wasn’t appreciating my life and being present in the moment. By sharing my stories with you I hope you’ll learn from what I write, and consider the life lessons you come into contact with as well. In particular, by sharing my experience of having a heartfelt interaction with Japanese people, I’m hoping you can find the common ground you share with my friends here in Japan.

In order to give you a better sense of where my writing starts from, I want to take the time to explain some of the theories Seishindo is based upon. So I’m going to shift gears some and offer you some theory to think about. Hopefully, just like with my stories, you’ll l find what I write to be life affirming and engaging. Please write back when you find the time, and let me know what you think and feel.

Charlie

2. Living Calmness

In Seishindo we believe…..
Each person is very much like a snowflake.
Unique,
Never to be duplicated,
And with a life that’s over all too quickly.

One of our key tasks in life is learning how to appreciate our uniqueness rather than comparing our self to others, or lamenting about what we are not.

We are all born perfect, just as we are. Which does not mean there’s no room for improvement! We are perfectly imperfect.

As we strive to realize our potential and live a fulfilling life, we run into significant challenges along the way. In the process of being challenged we often get confused and wind up losing touch with our “wholeness”. We mistakenly begin to believe that our body, intellect, and spirit, are separate units that often work in opposition to each other, rather than sensing and maintaining the unity that is our birthright.

In Seishindo we strive to help ourselves and our loved ones, regain a sense of wholeness, health, and dignity. Over the years I’ve developed a number of principles to guide this work and offer people a way forward. Today, I’m going to write about the principle of “living calmness”.

Living calmness
When you release your muscular holding patterns, you calm your nervous system and physiology, breathe more freely and easily, and facilitate the release of carbon dioxide.

When you calm your physiology you calm your “somatic mind”, which will lead to you feeling emotionally calm as well. Your “somatic mind” is the intelligence that orchestrates much of the body’s activities and functions, and in particular, it regulates the flow of serotonin in your system. The “brain” that orchestrates your somatic intelligence is based in your enteric nervous system.

When your physiology is at ease, and your somatic mind slows down, you’ll tend to have less internal dialogue and report feeling like you’re living more in your body than usual. This feeling of being fully in your body is what we call “being centered”. When you feel centered, the flow of hormones and neurotransmitters in your body changes. From “fight or flight” to “relax and rejuvenation”. At such times your brain activity slows down as well, and your rational mind begins to feel more at ease.

When your rational mind feels safe and at ease, you open yourself up to the experience of what it’s like to think with your body as well as with your brain.
By cultivating the capacity to think with both your body and your brain, you become better able to wisely work with the unique challenges you face in your life.

When your overall system is calm, you generate greater awareness, high quality health, and a deep sense of well-being. You approach life’s many challenges from a more confident, solution-oriented perspective. You come to realize your “problems” offer you the opportunity to further grow and evolve. You understand that everything is just as it should be, just as it is, and that you have the power to change.

When you enter into such a way of being and perceiving, you come in touch with the Spirit that animates all of life. You realize that this Spirit is indeed available to you at all times, and that you are not “alone”. As you learn how to more often connect your “self” with Spirit, you experience thankfulness and a deep sense of having a rightful place in the world.

How to reach/touch this place of living calmness?
No one that I know, or know of, stays calm and centered all the time. Getting upset is an area of life that we all need to travel through from time to time.

I don’t suggest you try and stop yourself from losing your feeling of being centered. I don’t think this is a strategy that works well. Instead, I think it’s more generative to learn how to regain your center once you’ve lost it. Because indeed you will lose your center numerous, numerous times over the course of your life! So, rather than chastise yourself for once again losing your way, please instead, congratulate yourself each time you find your way back, to feeling whole, healthy, and fully alive.

Over the years, as a result of my own study and practice I’ve developed various exercises that can help you regain your sense of health and wholeness. You can go to the link that follows to begin to explore various Seishindo Practices.
http://www.seishindo.org/practices-about-mindfulness/

The Ebb and Flow of Life

1. Introduction

In my coaching I’ve developed various tools to help people work through issues on their own, prior to, during, and after their coaching engagements with me. One of the most helpful tools has proven to be “Eight Essential Questions- Focus on the Life You Desire”.

If you would like a copy of the document, please contact me.

The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami are still very much with us in Japan as we’re getting numerous strong aftershocks every day. This leads me to once again present a water related story I wrote a number of years ago.

In Community,
Charlie

2. The Ebb and Flow of Life

During my first year in Japan I hitchhiked for two weeks, visiting rural fishing villages on the west coast of Japan. At the time I spoke little Japanese, and relied on the kindness of the people I met.

I visited tiny villages that had no hotels and rarely encountered tourists. Upon entering a village, I would find a kind-looking soul and pantomime that I needed a place to sleep. When my acting skills proved sufficient, I wound up in the house of a family willing to take in visitors for a small fee. After eating with my hosts, I would then be led to a simple room to sleep in.

In one village I had the privilege of staying with a remarkable man and his family. One night the man and I sat on a small wooden dock by the ocean. Using lots of gestures to help me understand, the man told me about his life. He was 63 years old. As a boy he’d been very involved in studying karate, but at the age of nineteen his life changed dramatically. Working on his father’s fishing boat in rough seas, he lost his balance, and fell just as he was throwing a heavy fishing cage overboard. His left leg got caught in the line attached to the cage and the damage caused to the muscles and nerves of his left calf was severe. This left him with a permanent limp.

Once he realized he’d no longer be able to study karate, he made a firm commitment to use his life as a fisherman to further his studies. He read various books written by martial arts masters and then applied the principles of what he learned to his work life.

“One of the most important things I learned,” he said, “is to create a rhythm with your posture, movements, and breathing, that matches the rhythm of nature. When I injured myself on the boat, I was so involved in handling the heavy cage that I lost touch with the flow of my surroundings. I was fighting against the ocean, rather than moving with it. Guess what? The ocean won!”

“Notice the gentle ebb and flow of the water as we sit here now,” he said, “and the sound of the tide lapping against the pilings of the pier.”

“As you sense the movement and sounds of the ocean, notice your breathing, and feel your body responding.”

I began to do as he suggested and felt myself being drawn into a parallel world that was outside my everyday awareness.

“Feel the life force of the ocean, and without doing anything, allow yourself to move with the ocean.

“Breathe, move, and feel your heartbeat.

“Invite your heartbeat to synchronize with the heartbeat of the ocean.

“As you become one with the water, you might sense the fluids in your body ebbing and flowing, like the ocean entering into a shallow inlet filled with coral.

“Like the ocean, you can begin to feel the power of flowing without resisting. Flowing without fighting against.

“Water surrounds and moves past all obstacles, and you can do the same.

“Simply flow.

“A single drop of water, has no power. A single drop of water moving with the flow of the ocean forms a wave. The power of the wave comes from joining with. The same is true of me and you.”

We sat there together for a while. The man, myself, and the ocean.

Not separate, but together.

In that moment I sensed all power is really One.

The Mind of Aikido and Water

1. Introduction

Thanks to all for the wonderful support that so many of you in the community have offered me over the last couple of weeks! Very much appreciated.

There is a LOT to still be determined here in Japan, but don’t believe all of the exaggerated stories about radiation etc. that you’ve been reading. The devastation in some areas has been huge, and many people need a LOT of help, but meanwhile, most of the rest of us here are coping well, while striving to live a calm day to day existence.

Below is an URL for a non-profit that is doing wonderful work in Japan. They’ve been feeding the homeless and needy for years, and they have really stepped up their activities to aid the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Even if you have already given, further donations are very much needed!

For every 1,000 yen donated (about US$12 these days), they deliver 10,000 yen worth of food to the needy!

http://2hj.org/english/

The tsunami in particular has led me to stop and pause. The power of the incoming water was beyond what I imagined possible!

To honor the victims of the tsunami I have rewritten, and am presenting today, a story I wrote several years ago. It’s based on an evening spent with Senta Yamada Sensei, a leading teacher of Tomiki Aikido. Since I wrote this story, sensei passed away on August, 8, 2010, so I would like to honor him today as well. He was a wise and wonderful teacher to all who made his acquaintance.

Keep the faith!

In Community,
Charlie

2. The Mind of Aikido and Water

While in Japan, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many exceptional people. Recently when visiting a friend I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Senta Yamada sensei for the first time.
Uncharacteristically for a Japanese person, he moved his hands a lot as he spoke. He did this to portray his perception of the movements essential to the “mind” of Aikido and water.

When he first started to talk he said to me,
“While you sit there, please breathe freely and move your body some, so 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,
And in Aikido we strive to embody this same intelligence.

We cultivate our energy flow to “become one with” others. Especially those appearing angry and frightened.
We strive 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, dying. Life, death, recycling.

Water expands and contracts depending on circumstances, and the same is true of the human spirit.
When you’re harsh to a child, their spirit contracts.
When you love a child, their spirit expands,
Out past the two of you and into the universe.

The presence of water throughout our ecosystem is similar to the presence of the body’s fluid system. Enveloping and uniting the cells and tissue of the body.
The mind of water, the body’s fluid system, and Aikido, all have the same intention.
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.
Moving always towards center, until the time of renewal and rising up again.

Regardless of the obstacles encountered 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, consolidates its power, and rises up.
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 its 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 mind of endless 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.

3. My Offer

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your current circumstances, you are certainly not alone in these turbulent times.

Write to me at charlie@seishindo.org and I’ll send you a set of questions designed to help you come to grips with what you need to be doing differently.

Charlie

A crisis of faith

1. Introduction

Blessings and thanks to all in the Seishindo community during a time of great upheaval in Japan. And yes, upheaval is exactly what it’s been!

Likely at least 15,000 people have perished, and more than 500,000 people are homeless. Apparently many of the homeless are living in weather that goes down to around freezing at night, and since they fled their homes on a moment’s notice, they have little in the way of blankets etc. Heating fuel and food in the public facilities is scarce, so people are facing some tough times.

So please, do what you can financially, and also very importantly, please send your prayers and positive energy in this direction.

Tokyo is basically still fine, and our main concern is the nuclear facilities. Lets work to transmute all that nuclear energy into an energy that serves humankind and the planet!
There have been many many acts of kindness and bravery, and I shed some tears last night when I turned on the TV and saw rescue crews arriving from around the world to help.

I am posting several times a day on the Seishindo Fan Page on Facebook, and many people have been replying with their support. Please come and join us!
I find Facebook to be a positive environment, so if you have to sign up to see the page, rest assured that it will not wind up being a hassle in the long run.

http://www.facebook.com/seishindo/

All the best to all of us!
Charlie

2. A crisis of faith

The moment sensei walked into the dojo I could tell he had something specific to say today.

Here’s the lesson he presented us with.

Many of you come to class not realizing you’re suffering from a crisis of faith. The less you recognize this, the more it winds up affecting everything you do.

With some of you I get the feeling you’re sitting there while dreading what might go wrong, Dreading that you might show up as being incompetent or uncertain. When I look around to gauge how everyone’s feeling on a certain day, many of you look everywhere else but at me. It’s as if you’re saying “Please don’t call on me sensei!”, and yet supposedly you’re here to learn. What this tells me is your body’s in the dojo, but your thinking mind is somewhere else.

Take an inventory of yourself now. Is your posture open and expansive? Are you breathing freely and easily? Is your muscle system relaxed and at ease? If not, you’re almost certainly not feeling confident.

What are your afraid of? The attack of your counterpart who is simply performing his half of a training task? The judgment of people watching who might say you’re clumsy and unskilled? Or perhaps without realizing it, what you’re fearing most is the attack of your own negative self judgments. Your lack of faith in yourself as a competent learner.

What would your life be like if you believed you were a fine person, an intelligent person, an overall good learner? In other words, what would your life be like if you didn’t think something was wrong with you? Many of you would be quick to reply, ‘Oh no, not me.’, if someone said you were a wonderful person, and ‘Oh yes that’s me.’, if someone said you had a lot of problems that needed fixing.

I talk to you over and over again about the importance of being fully present in class. I tell you that just as you take off your slippers and leave them outside the dojo, you also need to do the same with your limiting beliefs. I know that isn’t easy to do, but ‘easy’ isn’t what we’re concerned with here. What you need to be concerned with is trusting in yourself, and noticing if you go inside your head searching for negative memories, when you don’t have immediate success.

The principles of Aikido are actually rather simple, but simple does not equal easy. In fact I have found that doing things simply usually takes a good deal of hard work. A good deal of practice. I think part of the reason for this is that we think too much and make things more complicated than they really are. If you start out with a lack of confidence you will expect difficulty. When you expect difficulty it means your head is already filled with thoughts before you even begin. The more thoughts you have filling your head, the less you’ll be able to notice what is. The less you’ll be able to notice the simplicity.

Every accomplished artist, whether a ballerina or a boxer, performs with grace and ease. They can do this because they’ve pruned away everything that’s not essential to their performance. They snipped and trimmed until all of the complications and difficulty have been removed. With less to pay attention to they can give much more attention to what’s left. Being confident in their ability, there’s no separation between thinking and doing. There is only One.

Take an inventory of yourself now. Is your posture open and expansive? Are you breathing freely and easily? Is your muscle system relaxed and at ease? If so, you’ll have overcome your crisis of faith!

All the best to you going forward,

Charlie

A crisis of faith

1. Introduction

Blessings and thanks to all in the Seishindo community during a time of great upheaval in Japan. And yes, upheaval is exactly what it’s been!

Likely at least 15,000 people have perished, and more than 500,000 people are homeless. Apparently many of the homeless are living in weather that goes down to around freezing at night, and since they fled their homes on a moment’s notice, they have little in the way of blankets etc. Heating fuel and food in the public facilities is scarce, so people are facing some tough times.

So please, do what you can financially, and also very importantly, please send your prayers and positive energy in this direction.

Tokyo is basically still fine, and our main concern is the nuclear facilities. Let’s work to transmute all that nuclear energy into an energy that serves humankind and the planet! There have been many many acts of kindness and bravery, and I shed some tears last night when I turned on the TV and saw rescue crews arriving from around the world to help.

I am posting several times a day on the Seishindo Fan Page on Facebook, and many people have been replying with their support. Please come and join us!
I find Facebook to be a positive environment, so if you have to sign up to see the page, rest assured that it will not wind up being a hassle in the long run.

http://www.facebook.com/seishindo/

All the best to all of us!
Charlie

2. A crisis of faith

The moment sensei walked into the dojo I could tell he had something specific to say today. Here’s the lesson he presented us with.

Many of you come to class not realizing you’re suffering from a crisis of faith. The less you recognize this, the more it winds up affecting everything you do.

With some of you I get the feeling you’re sitting there while dreading what might go wrong, Dreading that you might show up as being incompetent or uncertain. When I look around to gauge how everyone’s feeling on a certain day, many of you look everywhere else but at me. It’s as if you’re saying “Please don’t call on me sensei!”, and yet supposedly you’re here to learn. What this tells me is your body’s in the dojo, but your thinking mind is somewhere else.

Take an inventory of yourself now. Is your posture open and expansive? Are you breathing freely and easily? Is your muscle system relaxed and at ease? If not, you’re almost certainly not feeling confident.

What are your afraid of? The attack of your counterpart who is simply performing his half of a training task? The judgment of people watching who might say you’re clumsy and unskilled? Or perhaps without realizing it, what you’re fearing most is the attack of your own negative self judgments. Your lack of faith in yourself as a competent learner.

What would your life be like if you believed you were a fine person, an intelligent person, an overall good learner? In other words, what would your life be like if you didn’t think something was wrong with you? Many of you would be quick to reply, ‘Oh no, not me.’, if someone said you were a wonderful person, and ‘Oh yes that’s me.’, if someone said you had a lot of problems that needed fixing.

I talk to you over and over again about the importance of being fully present in class. I tell you that just as you take off your slippers and leave them outside the dojo, you also need to do the same with your limiting beliefs. I know that isn’t easy to do, but ‘easy’ isn’t what we’re concerned with here. What you need to be concerned with is trusting in yourself, and noticing if you go inside your head searching for negative memories, when you don’t have immediate success.

The principles of Aikido are actually rather simple, but simple does not equal easy. In fact I have found that doing things simply usually takes a good deal of hard work. A good deal of practice. I think part of the reason for this is that we think too much and make things more complicated than they really are. If you start out with a lack of confidence you will expect difficulty. When you expect difficulty it means your head is already filled with thoughts before you even begin. The more thoughts you have filling your head, the less you’ll be able to notice what is. The less you’ll be able to notice the simplicity.

Every accomplished artist, whether a ballerina or a boxer, performs with grace and ease. They can do this because they’ve pruned away everything that’s not essential to their performance. They snipped and trimmed until all of the complications and difficulty have been removed. With less to pay attention to they can give much more attention to what’s left. Being confident in their ability, there’s no separation between thinking and doing. There is only One.

Take an inventory of yourself now. Is your posture open and expansive? Are you breathing freely and easily? Is your muscle system relaxed and at ease? If so, you’ll have overcome your crisis of faith!

Pain and Suffering

1. Introduction

Today I’d like to introduce you to Howard Shifke, a new friend of the Seishindo community. Howard has fully recovered from Parkinson’s Disease using a holistic approach he developed on his own. Anybody who has, or knows somebody who has Parkinson’s, can learn a lot and be inspired by reading Howard’s blog. In fact I think everyone and anyone can be inspired by what he has done. I certainly am!

Howard’s philosophy is fully in tune with Seishindo’s, and you can contact him directly by sending him an email at hshifke@gmail.com.

Please mention that you learned about Howard from Seishindo, so we can get a sense of the cross-pollination that occurs.

His blog is here, http://fightingparkinsonsdrugfree.blogspot.com/.

Today’s story is a major rewrite of one I wrote a long time ago. I offer it here as a way of celebrating Howard’s healing, and as an advance celebration for all the healing that can take place in all of our lives.

In Community,
Charlie

2. The benefits of Suffering

Sensei said, “I’m always quite intrigued when I read about monks and priests from the West, that express the same feelings we have in Japan.

I recently read that the Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, ‘I became a monk not so as to suffer more, but to suffer more effectively.’ Now I can’t say that’s what led me to study Aikido, but I can say the principle Merton sensei expressed, is one that has guided me over time.

The more new students go on about how excited they are to be studying Aikido, the more I’m led to guess they’re trying to escape from suffering. They fail to realize their suffering is created by their beliefs, and not by the outside world. Trying to run away from suffering is like trying to run away from yourself. Anywhere you go, anywhere you get to, you’ll only find your negative beliefs sitting and welcoming you as you arrive. And that’s why in Aikido we look to create a tiny bit of suffering with some of our practices. It’s a good way to see whether or not you are still trying to escape.

You see, the way you respond to what’s taking place, says much more about your beliefs than you realize. Some of you have started to realize your tendency is to try and escape from an attacker rather than joining with them. You’ll never be able to escape the attacker, because you’ll never be able to escape from yourself.

I believe people increase their suffering, each time they try and avoid it. In attempting to escape from your pain rather than settling into it, you set the stage for further misery. Some degree of suffering is inherent to the human condition.

If you’ve been coming to class for awhile now you’ve heard me ask this question before, ‘If it wasn’t for your suffering who would you be today?’ Your answer will say a lot about the way you feel about yourself, the manner in which you approach learning and change, and the reason why you come to class. You’ll improve the quality of your life by immersing yourself in your struggle, rather than looking to escape from it. By realizing that pain is something you create inside your head.

I suggest you ask yourself, ‘How does my perception of my current problem, my current struggle, mirror my overall beliefs in life?’ If your current situation stayed the same, but you changed your belief system would you still be suffering? 
In other words, how would your problems appear to be different if you were different?

Happiness and suffering are two sides of the same coin. Look for the happiness inherent in your current suffering, rather than looking to fix what you perceive to be wrong.

When you’re suffering, your emotional mind and your rational mind are locked in combat. 
Instead of fighting against yourself, use your whole self to stay cooperatively engaged in your struggle and you’ll find something within you shifts. Over time your struggle will be transformed into a life affirming lesson.

When you feel ill at ease in the world, it’s a signal that part of you is calling out for help. When you willingly heed this call, the value of your struggle becomes apparent. I think we find no greater example of this, then when a person is diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Disease is the body’s way of telling you, the way you’re leading your life isn’t working. Your symptoms are alerting you to the need for change. Be thankful for the feedback. Without it, you would soon no longer be alive.

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.

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.

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

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)

Walking With Grace and Power

This Practice serves you well in your daily life, as you come away feeling more centered and calm.

  1. Stand comfortably in a posture that feels “at ease” for you.
  2. Place your feet so they are just a couple of inches apart. Imagine that your two legs and feet are joined together as one unit, and that you are standing on one broad foot and leg, rather than on two ordinary legs and feet. Notice how your sense of balance shifts and how your body moves even as you “stand still.”
  3. Imagine that your pelvic area and lower abdomen (your belly button area and below) are filled with a thick lubricating liquid. The idea being that your lower body feels a liquid ease of movement.
  4. Now, shift your weight “just enough” so that all of your weight is in your right leg. Lift your left leg and take a small step forward. Your left leg should be straight as it touches the ground, first with your heel, and then rolling through the foot into the sole and toes. The width of your entire foot from outside to inside, should touch the ground with equal pressure.
  5. As you have been stepping forward with your left leg, your right leg will have been bending as you roll through your right foot and get ready to take a small step forward with your right foot and leg.
  6. When you are ready to continue moving forward, lightly place your right foot in front of you, touching the ground first with your right heel.Carry through with the same movements and sensations as you did with your left leg and foot.
  7. As you walk, pay attention to carrying the weight of your upper body in a somewhat more forward position than what is usual for you. You let the weight of your upper body fall into the area of your lower abdomen and you let this low center of gravity just ever so much impel your forward. The idea being to your movement from your lower abdomen and pelvis.
  8. Be mindful of your breathing and match it to the rhythm of your footsteps. Whatever works for you is fine. One good rhythm is: Inhale through your nose as you step first with the left foot and then with the right foot. Exhale through your nose as you step again with your left foot and then your right foot. Repeat this breathing rhythm over and over again as you walk.

Breath-Walking

  1. Take smaller steps than usual and walk slowly.
  2. Be certain that your lead foot touches heel first, and that your leg is in a relaxed straight position as the heel of your lead foot makes contact with the ground, and you POUR your weight into this lead foot.
  3. Get a walking rhythm going that matches your breath rhythm. Inhaling and exhaling together with the rhythm of your feet gliding on the ground.
  4. Once you have this going, hold an intention in the form of a mantra.For instance if you were wanting your friend John to regain his health you might speak the words- “John-Health-Love….John-Health-Love.”As another example you could use a four count mantra of “Peaceful, Calm, Happy, Love.”

Possible Additional Activities

  1. Prior to getting into your standing position, make a statement of intention, stating what you would like to accomplish. “I want a better relationship with my spouse.”
  2. Next, imagine that you have already accomplished your intention, and make an “I am” statement. For instance “I am sharing a wonderful life with my spouse.”
  3. Once you have the statement clearly in mind, go ahead and perform the basic walking Practice while calmly and slowly repeating your “I am” statement out loud.

It is likely that you will feel a shift in your emotional state in regard to your intention.

It is also excellent to do the general walking Practice while practicing giving a speech, or going over an important conversation that you are thinking of having.

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.

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.

Heartbeat Breath—Calming Breath

If you are in your own space it is nice to do this practice with some low and slow background music playing. If you choose music with lyrics, be certain that the lyrics do not distract you.

As you go through this practice you might notice that your body takes on a subtle rocking motion. Although this rocking motion is not important in and of itself, please allow such rocking to occur if indeed it does start to happen.

From a seated position, take a minute or to and quiet your thinking mind. Usually, a good way to begin the process of quieting down, is to first take a couple of deep breaths.

As you begin to quiet down, notice if you can, your heartbeat. You might simply be able to feel your heartbeat pulsing in you, or you might need to feel your pulse by either placing your hand on your heart; placing your fingers on your carotid artery; or placing your fingers along either wrist. (Use any fingers other than your thumbs.)

If you can’t feel your heartbeat on its own and need to use one of your hands to help you, see after a minute or two if you can feel your heartbeat without needing to use your hand. This would be best in the long run. If you find feeling your pulse difficult, then you will be well served by practicing over time, until you can sit quietly and feel your heartbeat pulsing through you. Sensing one’s heartbeat is a primary technique used in many different health management systems for inducing greater body awareness, relaxation, and health.

Feel your heartbeat while just sitting quietly, either using your hands or not. You might notice some body movement. This is fine. Begin to notice your breath as well. Breathing in and breathing out through your nose. Feel your breath AND your heartbeat, and match the rhythm of the two. For example: Four heartbeats for the duration of the inhale and four heartbeats for the duration of the exhale. Keep your inhale and your exhale equal in length. This is rather important. As a second example: You might count your inhale for four heartbeats and then add a fifth beat as a pause or segue, prior to exhaling. Then count four heartbeats for the exhale, with an extra fifth beat as a pause or segue prior to inhaling.

You might find the duration or count of your breath changes from time to time. This is fine, and quite natural. For instance you might go from a four heartbeat count, to a three heartbeat count. Or you might go from a three heartbeat count to a five heartbeat count. Just be certain to adjust your breathing so that the inhalations and exhalations are once again of the same duration.

A minimum practice time would normally be five minutes, and you can do this practice in many different settings. On a train, bus, or plane. While a passenger in a car. Waiting in a reception room. Just prior to a test. You can take this practice with you wherever you go. If you are in a situation waiting for something to occur, you might likely find that even just one minute of this practice helps you to calm down.

Remember, when you calm your breathing you calm your body. When you calm your body, you calm your thinking and your internal dialogue. When you calm your body and your thinking, you calm your mind.

When measuring the duration of your heartbeat breath, it is important that you actually count your heartbeats and not just arbitrarily count at a predetermined pace. You are looking to meld the activity of your heart with the activity of the breath. After a while as you develop more experience with this practice you can just feel your heartbeats and no longer need to count.

To recap: Feel your heartbeat, and then synchronize your breath with your heartbeat. An inhale of say three heartbeats, a one heartbeat segue, and then a three heartbeat exhale with a one heartbeat segue. Nothing more to do than stay with this process and notice what you feel happening within your system. If you stay with this process for a few minutes you are likely to feel quite relaxed and at ease.

As simple as this Practice is, you might find it somewhat challenging in the beginning. If so, this will be a sign that it is important for you to take the time to delve more deeply into your personal rhythms.

Whole Body Breathing

(This Practice has been influenced by the work of Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen, Linda Hartley, and the study of Aikido and Yoga.)

By bringing your conscious awareness to your entire body, you can increase your health and vitality.

The explanation of this Practice is rather lengthy, but once you get the hang of it you’ll soon understand the process is quite simple and easy to perform.

Keep in mind that once you get comfortable with this Practice, you do not have to follow all of the instructions in a linear fashion.

The best thing to do once you have the basic idea, is simply go with the flow of what you remember and feel, and then reread the instructions from time to time.

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1. Start by lying down

(Laying down for this Practice is not a “must”, but we find that initially it tends to help people get the best feel for what’s going on.)

If you do lay down as suggested, better to lay on the floor, rather than a bed or couch, IF you have a floor you can be comfortable on. The idea is to get comfortable, but not to the point of going to sleep. If you do wind up drifting off to sleep, no worries.

Just do the Practice again in the near future, with the intent of staying awake.

2. Take a minute to slow down and quiet your thinking mind.

For at least three full cycles breath, breathing in and out through your nose, in a slow, full manner….

Breathe so that you can hear the air passing through your nose on both the inhale and exhale….

As you inhale, feel the air coming in through your nose, and filling up your stomach area. As you exhale, feel the breath exiting through your nostrils.

Please like this now over the course of the next sixty seconds or so….

Thoughts will likely continue to come, but simply let them go by, as if your thoughts are floating by you down a river.

3. Remaining calm…. notice your heartbeat….

You might simply be able to feel your heartbeat pulsing in you, or you might need to feel your pulse by either placing your hand on your heart; placing your fingers on your carotid artery (if you know where it is); or placing your fingers along either wrist. (Use any fingers other than your thumbs.)

Take one full minute to feel your heartbeat while lying quietly and breathing.

4. Now, let go of all that you have been doing and begin to become aware of your abdomen….

Use your hand to feel the area of your belly button. Pat yourself a bit, rub yourself a bit, lightly scratch your belly some, and then put your hand back down by your side, while continuing to be aware of and feel your abdomen….

5. Now, you’re to imagine that all of your breath enters and exits your body through your navel, much like it did when you were inside your mother’s stomach….

As you breathe in and out through your nose, imagine you’re a baby in your mother’s womb and your breath is entering and exiting through your navel….

As you breath in through your navel your stomach area expands…. As you exhale out through your navel, your stomach area gets smaller….

Imagine and feel as you can, how the breath radiates from your navel, and travels throughout your entire body….

Let your belly be free so that it can enjoy increasing and decreasing in size, giving and receiving….

6. Now, breathe in through your navel, down through your left leg, and out your left foot.

Then exhale drawing your breath up from the sole of your left foot and moving it out through your navel….

Once again, breathe in through your navel, down through your left leg, and out your left foot.

Then exhale drawing your breath up from the sole of your left foot and moving it out through your navel….

7. Now breathe in through your navel and then down through your right leg, and out your right foot.

Then exhale drawing your breath up from the sole of your right foot and moving it out through your navel…..

Once again, breathe in through your navel and then down through your right leg, and out your right foot.

Then exhale drawing your breath up from the sole of your right foot and moving it out through your navel…..

8. Now, inhale through your navel, up through your stomach and chest, and into your left shoulder.

Then slowly exhale from your left shoulder back out through your navel.

9. This time inhale through your-stomach-chest-left shoulder, and all the way down your left arm and out the fingers of your left hand.

Then slowly exhale drawing your breath from the fingers of your left hand, up your left arm, and then down and out through your navel….

Once again, inhale through your-stomach-chest-left shoulder, and all the way down your left arm and out the fingers of your left hand.

Then slowly exhale drawing your breath from the fingers of your left hand, up your left arm, and then down and out through your navel….

Feel the cleansing process of your breathing….    Oxygen coming in through your navel on your inhale….    Carbon dioxide exiting out through your navel on your exhale….    Breathing and relaxing….

Oxygen in through the navel, carbon dioxide out through the navel….

10. Now, inhale through your stomach-chest-right shoulder, and all the way down your right arm and out the fingers of your right hand….

Then slowly exhale from the fingers of your right hand, up, the arm, and down and out through your navel….

Once again, inhale through your stomach-chest-right shoulder, and all the way down your right arm and out the fingers of your right hand….

Then slowly exhale from the fingers of your right hand, up, the arm, and down and out through your navel….

Oxygen in….. Carbon dioxide out…. Cleansing your body, soothing your entire self….

Breathe in a deep relaxing manner…. Breathing in the worries of the world, and breathing out serenity and compassion…. Breathing in the worries of the world, and breathing out serenity and compassion….

Breathing in and out through your navel….. Breathing and relaxing…..

11. Now, breathe up through your stomach, chest, and neck, and out  the top of your head….

Then exhale from the top of your head, down your torso, and out through your navel….

Again, up through your stomach, chest, and neck, and out the top of your head….

Then exhale from the top of your head, down your torso, and out through your navel….

12. This time breathe as you like, while feeling your facial muscles, your eyes, your forehead, and your scalp….

Then exhale from your scalp, face, and head, out through your navel….

Imagine that you’re rinsing out an open ended container, running the water from the bottom to the top, and from the top to the bottom.

Until such time that everything is nice and clean….

Cleaning and purifying your container….

13. As you inhale and exhale freely, feel how the temperature of your body varies some from place to place on and in your body….

Notice how your breath moves your body…. And how various parts of your body have tiny movements that seem to take place “on their own” without any conscious direction on your part….

Also notice your surroundings as you breathe…. The lighting…. different objects in the room…. the temperature in the room…. the movement of air…. the sounds in the local environment…..

Now, if you haven’t done so already, close your eyes…. and simply feel yourself all over, with your breath emanating from your navel….

In and out…. In and out….

Breathe like this for at least one minute.

14. Now, let go of everything you’ve been doing, and feel your heartbeat again.

Maintain a general sense of breathing in and out through your navel, as you also feel your heartbeat.

Breathe like this for at least two minutes.

Breathing Together, Becoming One

This is a very simple Practice, and yet it is one of the most powerful in the entire Seishindo repertoire.

As usual I suggest reading through all of the instructions before actually beginning.

This Practice requires at least one partner. You can do this Practice with a friend, a spouse, your child, a colleague, a fellow student. This Practice is fantastic to do with anyone you are in a committed relationship with, personal or professional. It is an excellent way to help people better understand and appreciate each other, from a heartfelt sense of being somatically connected to another human being.

You can also do this Practice with multiple people. For the sake of simplicity I will explain the Practice as if you are doing it with just one person. After that feel free to improvise. I will describe a possible variation or two at the end.

Allow for at least five minutes for this Practice. You might want to go ahead and set an alarm so you won’t need to think about the time. Five minutes is a fine time period. Later as you feel fully comfortable with the Practice you can experiment for doing it ten minutes at a time.

1. You and your partner sit facing each other, certain to be at a distance that is definitely comfortable for the both of you. About the same distance as a usual conversation can be fine. Both of you with both feet on the floor, and your hands resting easily on each leg.

2. Take some time and look at each other. The idea is to be comfortable looking at the other person, without feeling that you need to stare, or that you are being stared at. A soft focus gaze usually works best. Have a sense that you can let all of your facial muscles relax, and that through your eyes, and through a relaxed face, you can really offer your partner a clear understanding of who you are.

3. Without saying which one of you will start out as the leader, one of you begins by breathing deeply through the nose, and then slowly exhaling through the nose. I normally suggest starting with a breath interval of four to five seconds in each direction. A bit more can be OK, if it seems that your partner is OK with a deep breath. As much as you can do so comfortably you are meant to breathe in and out for the same interval of time. So for instance, four seconds of inhale, and four seconds of exhale. If you switch to a five second inhale then you exhale for five seconds as well. I usually count my heartbeat and use my heartbeat as my clock, but you can also of course simply tick off the seconds in your head. If you start out as the leader, it is important to not hold onto being the leader. After three or four rounds of breathing, ease off just a bit and give your partner the chance to be the leader, with you adjusting to them. You can signify the changing of roles with a simple nod of your head. If you start out as the person following, there is no need to have to “all of a sudden” get in synch with your partner. Take your time to get in synch with them. Once you have both been the leader, then there is no longer a leader. You both take it as your job, to comfortably adjust to the other person as necessary. Inhaling and exhaling, inhaling and exhaling, while staying connected to your partner with your breath and your gaze. It is important that you both keep your eyes open and that you do not drift off into your own world and lose touch.

4. As you are breathing and staying connected with your partner, allow yourself to also notice all of the sounds in your local environment, all that you can see without moving your head or your eyes. and the motion and internal sensations you feel.

5. Debrief by telling your partner about your experience. Please be careful to not tell your partner the “opinions” of them you might have had as you looked at them. You do NOT want to say things like “You seemed scared.” Or “You looked angry.”
Mainly you want to talk about what you felt, and if you are careful to not denigrate or upset your partner in any way, you can share what you FELT as you were looking at them, with them. Being gentle with your discussion is crucial, because you might be surprised to discover just how vulnerable and or connected your partner feels when doing this Practice. The words you speak will often have a “bigger” meaning than in a more everyday context.

That’s it! Simple, yet most people report having a lovely, powerful experience.

Variations on a theme:
A. With an emotionally troubled or sick child you start out by breathing at the same pace as the child. At a certain point in time (Two, three, five minutes?), simply by being in synch with the breathing of the child you will notice that their breath slows down some and that they become emotionally more comfortable.

I have done this numerous times when on airplanes and a child who I have never met is acting up. Most often I will do this as their parent struggles to control them. It is usually important to get the child’s attention by making a funny face or something similar. It is quite fine for the child to stay with their parent (in fact this is almost always best.) I usually do not make a statement to the parent ahead of time, because I feel that what I am doing is quite non-invasive and definitely friendly. Up to you, though. When done correctly this form of joining with the child’s breathing can really create minor miracles. Even if the child is sitting a few rows up, no problem at all, as long as you get their attention every once and a while so that they know you are there. For me it is pretty usual that the child will be nice and mellow and perhaps even asleep, with five to ten minutes maximum.

With your own child, if they are sick, and comfortable with the idea of this Practice, you can put your hand on their stomach as they lay in bed. Start out by matching their breathing, as your hand rises and falls along with their stomach. When you feel you have a good match you can then use the pressure of your hand to indicate that they slow their breathing down a bit, if it is your intuition that this would help. In the beginning you do not want to explain the whole process to the child because you do not want them to be thinking about whether they are “doing it right” or not. They will intuitively understand what the various pressures coming from your hand mean. At this point my daughter knows all about all of this stuff and she will often ask me to breathe with her.

Simply breathing with your child, without even touching, can be an excellent way to help them to go to sleep.

B. As I stated up top, this is an excellent Practice to do with a life partner, especially if the two of you have been having some trouble in your relationship. In this case we suggest you do it as described in the instructions, and sitting in chairs.
No matter what, it is important to not turn this Practice into a sexual encounter, unless you take a break first, and only then begin in with something else. Why? Because people need to feel fully safe at a time like this, and even with a partner that you are getting along with, it is important that they do not feel like they might need to “perform.”

C. You can of course also do this Practice with any and all other adults. Whenever you touch anyone else, you want to be certain that they are comfortable with your touch, and that you are emotionally clear about what you are and are not doing. It would be a very serious mistake to do this Practice with someone that you are not currently intimate with and turn it into something sexual.

D. This is an excellent Practice to do as a member of a team. Especially a sports team. If you do it with more than one other person, you can start out by alternately looking at the other people and then going to a soft focus gaze to where you are not looking at either person. In this case you will want to adjust your seating so no one is sitting directly in front of you.

E. If you have an even number of people, you can also do this in rounds, first sitting opposite person 1 for a few minutes and gazing at them, then getting up and switching seats, and sitting in front of person 2.

F. This Practice is also great to do with pets. Especially if (a) Your pet is not feeling well. Or, (b) You are feeling a bit down.

Whatever works for you. There can be many variations on this theme.

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.

Standing With Grace and Power

When adjusting and testing:

standing wth grace and powerPerson A stands in a natural posture facing in the direction of the arrow The feet should be placed at somewhat less than the width of the hips. The knees are not locked and not bent, but just ever so much feeling soft. The head and neck are an extension of the spine and come straight up from the spine, and have the same basic alignment as the spine. Person B stands in line with Person A’s shoulders and facing Person A.

Person B helps person A to adjust their posture. Pay attention to the head and neck, the sway in the lower back, and the angle of the trunk, which should appear to be ever so much forward from center.
Once Person B feels like they have Person A “standing with grace and power” then Person B is to take their right hand and place the fingertips and the base of the palm of the right hand, on the center of the upper chest of Person A. (Near the top of the rib cage.)

Let Person A have a moment to acclimate to the touch, while both people take a fairly deep breath.
Person B then pushes lightly but firmly against Person A to see if they are indeed balanced. Push according to the current ability of Person A, and NOT with the intent of pushing them over. You should push with an amount of power that facilitates Person A working at between 95% and 105% of their current ability (Their “Power Learning” range). This is very important. Push them too hard and they will learn very little. Push them too softly and they will learn very little.

When being pushed, Person A should have a sense that the force of the push travels mainly in two directions – Up and out of the top of the skull, and Down and through the legs and feet. The push should help Person A to feel as if their spine is being elongated ever so much, while at the same time feeling that the push “grounds” them.

Person A should be quite careful to NOT brace against the force of the push in order to maintain balance. Breathe easily and feel the energy run throughout your entire body.

Find one or two people to practice this with so that you can learn:
A) How to better adjust your own posture.
B) What good posture looks like in others, and how you can help others maintain a posture of grace and power.
C) How to attune yourself to a partner by learning how to work in their 95%-105% Power Learning range.

You can also do this exercise from a seated position. If so, Person A will need to sit somewhat close to the edge of their chair.

Possible Additional Activities

  1. Prior to getting into position, develop an “as if” statement. You make a statement about what you would like to accomplish “AS IF” it was already accomplished.
  2. Once you have the statement clearly in mind, then go ahead and do the practice, and from time to time, in a nice, slow, relaxed rhythm, repeat your “as if” statement to yourself. If you are by yourself, say your “as if” statement out loud.
  3. At the same time that you are doing all of this, notice from time to time how various aspects of your experience change.
  4. Do the practice while practicing giving a speech, or making a declaration to someone.

Breathing With Grace and Power

Open expansive breathing and your physical and emotional well being are very much intertwined. Exapansive breathing = Life…  Expansive breathing = An oxygen rich blood supply…  Expansive breathing = Movement…  Expansive breathing = Calmness… Expansive breathing = Freedom.

Most everyone has a tendency to restrict their breathing when they are frightened, anxious, or feeling overwhelmed. It is not “natural” to restrict one’s breathing at such times, but for most of us it is a default habit nonetheless.

The very essence of a habit is that we can perform an action without needing to pay careful attention to what we are doing. Soon we can perform certain habits without seeming to think at all. For many of us, restricting our breathing has become a habit that we do so “well” that we have come to not even notice when and how we do it.

This Practice is meant to reawaken you to the process of breathing, and help you to reverse debilitating breathing habits, so that you can once again, “Breath with Grace and Power.”

Metaphorical explanation of the process involved: Sit up straight, without leaning against the back of your chair. Imagine that your torso is a strong yet supple cylinder that is able to transmit fluid and oxygen through it walls. Your torso-cylinder is hanging from a fairly thick string that is attached to a strong branch of a big tree, and this string cradles your head and neck, so that your throat and sinuses are open and soft. As your head, neck, and torso hang from the branch, your entire upper body rocks back and forth ever so much, as you are moved by a strong yet calming breeze.

The bottom of your cylinder is your pelvic floor which is situated in your pelvic cavity. The top of your cylinder is your palate, sinuses, nose and mouth.

In this practice, air enters your cylinder through your nose and sinuses, and air exits your cylinder through your mouth.

As you inhale, think of each molecule of air as being like a bubble that floats down to your pelvic floor, with each bubble resting on the bubbles around it. You can think of an image of a cylindrical jar filled with water bubbles. When the jar is “just full” you pause for a relaxing moment or two, and then the molecular bubbles start to exit your cylinder through your mouth.

The bubbles near the top of the cylinder of course are the ones that exit first. The bubbles resting on your pelvic floor are the bubbles that exit last. When your cylinder is “just empty” you pause for a relaxing moment or two, and then your inhale begins once again. Inhaling through your nose and sinuses, exhaling through your throat and mouth.

  1. Your inhalation enters your body through your nose and sinuses, and goes all the way down to your pelvic floor. Remain relaxed while practicing this. Do what you can, and no more or less.
  2. When your cylinder is just full, you pause for a relaxing moment or two and then: Your exhalation leaves your body via your throat and mouth.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose making a “Suuu” sound which emanates from the area of your sinuses. What is important here is that you make a slow and constant inhalation, and that the inhalation has some sound to it.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth making a “Haaa” sound which emanates from your throat, as the air lightly bounces off of your palate. The sound you make is a throaty sound.
  5. While being certain to remain relaxed, build up to a cycle of inhaling for about twenty seconds and exhaling for about twenty seconds.

Perform Breathing With Grace and Power, for a minimum of five minutes. Better to do it for ten minutes if you have the time.

This Practice is very simple, AND profound. You will discover yourself in the process and you will reawaken yourself to the process of breathing, and reverse degenerative breathing habits. Over time, you will once again, “Breath with Grace and Power.”

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?

Stand in “Hanmi”

This is a basic activity taken from Aikido and further elaborated on for our purposes in Seishindo. Performing this Practice from time to time will give you an active experience of developing a calm presence. When you are feeling fully present you will notice that your thinking mind and your feeling mind are both calm, yet active.

In the beginning you might find that doing this Practice leads you to understand just how fluid and perhaps unstable in some regards, your overall sense of balance is. Although you might not love this experience right from the very first, if you stick with it you will find that this simple Practice can be highly rewarding.

This Practice is a primary part of the process that I teach to people wanting to excel at leadership and public speaking.

Stand in Hanmi

These directions are meant to be “approximate” in nature, and not exact. As you practice standing in “hanmi” you will find that your posture and footing changes some over time. If I was there to show you this in person, it would be quite simple to understand. Use my words as a general guide, and don’t be concerned with whether or not you get it all “just right.”

Stand facing in the direction of the two arrows that run parallel to each other (See the diagram just below). As you stand facing “forward” the arrow splayed to the left represents your left foot, with the “head” of the arrow meant to be the tip of your left foot, and the back of the arrow meant to be your left heel. The arrow splayed to the right represents your right foot. Both feet are splayed at approximately a 45 degree angle from “straight ahead.” If your spine was to extend all the way to the floor, it would touch the floor at the space of the darkened square.

Hanmi PracticeThe distance between the two parallel lines with arrows, is about four inches. This alerts you to the fact that your heels and thus the width of your stance as measured from your heels, is about four inches. Both legs are straight, but ever so much soft at the knees. Your weight is equally distributed in both feet.

The distance between the two horizontal vertical lines is also about four inches. This alerts you to how much the toe of the right foot is in front of the heel of the left foot.

Once you have all of the above in place then you rotate your trunk somewhat towards the left, approximately 30 degrees from straight ahead, in the direction of the green arrow.

Gaze out into the distance as if you are looking at a panoramic view.

You can also reverse this stance and have your right foot forward.

When practicing this posture on a regular basis, it is best to alternate from left foot forward to right foot forward, each time you practice. Right foot forward during one time, left foot forward during the next.

Activities for “Riding the Horse” and “Hanmi”

1) Prior to getting into position, develop an “I am” statement.
Think about something that you would like to accomplish. Then, make a statement about what you would like to accomplish, imagining that you have already accomplished your goal.

Examples:
“I am feeling fit and slim and enjoying my body.”
“I am enjoying my work and my interactions with my colleagues.”

Once you have the statement clearly in mind, stand in hanmi and from time to time, in a nice, slow, relaxed rhythm, repeat your “I am” statement to yourself. If you are by yourself, say you can say your “I am” statement out loud.

At the same time that you are doing all of this, notice from time to time how various aspects of your experience change. Your breathing, the movements of your body, your vision, the sounds around you, etc.

2) Stand in hanmi while practicing giving a speech, or making a declaration to someone.

3) Stand in hanmi and imagine yourself being calm and connected during a time of challenge.

4) Stand in hanmi and pray for the well being of yourself, or someone you care about. Stand in hanmi and imagine getting exactly what is most important to you. Stand in hanmi and give thanks for all that you have.

No matter which activity you do, be certain to take some deep breaths from time to time.

Riding the Horse

Think of the image of riding a horse, and the position you would be in while riding. This is the basic position that you are to assume now.

Feet at shoulder width, knees bent as much as makes sense for you and your current physical condition. Breathe fully in and out through your nose. Your abdomen should expand during your inhale.

Intermittently tense and release your shoulders, face, legs, stomach, and any other parts of your body, as you maintain your position. Tensing various parts of your body in a random manner is an important part of this practice.

Modified

Think of the image of riding a horse, and the position you would be in while riding. This is the basic position that you will be taking.

Feet at shoulder width, knees bent as much as makes sense for you and your current physical condition. Breathe fully.

As before- Intermittently tense and release your shoulders, face, legs, stomach, and any other parts of your body. Tensing various parts of your body in a random manner is an important part of this practice.

Now have a sense of what your movement would be like if the horse you are on is standing still and you alternately stand up in the stirrups and then sit back down again. When coming to a standing position, keep the orientation of your back and pelvis as it is when you are “sitting.”

Have a SLOW standing and sitting rhythm. About fifteen seconds in each direction. Inhale through your nose for the entire standing movement, and exhale through your nose for the entire sitting movement.

Possible Additional Activities for “Riding the Horse”.

1) Prior to getting into position, develop an “as if” statement. You make a statement about what you would like to accomplish “AS IF” it was already accomplished.

For example:
“I am feeling fit and graceful and happy with the feeling of my body.”
“I am enjoying my work and my many interactions with my colleagues.”

Once you have the statement clearly in mind, then go ahead and do either of the above two practices, and from time to time, in a nice, slow, relaxed rhythm, repeat your “as if” statement to yourself. If you are by yourself, say your “as if” statement out loud.

At the same time that you are doing all of this, notice from time to time how various aspects of your experience change.

2) Do either one of the above practices while practicing giving a speech, or making a declaration to someone.

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.