I appreciate everyone participating in this new format and welcome to everyone coming for the first time. We are working to keep our regular class schedule going so it will be easier to return to our training together.
Please share any comments, suggestions or questions.
This difficult time; while we wish it was not going on, is an opportunity to deepen our practice by appreciating what is really important to us and what we can let go of-A Life in Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba (pgs. 177-179).
In our last on-line class we continued our series on dealing with challenging situations from a place of wholeness. We also continued to practice using the energies that correspond to that situation to mix up a functional unit that can work effectively with challenging situations. We advanced our practice to experience at a deeper level than in our previous classes the energies of the unit being free of even subtle entanglement with the I.
We also focused on avoiding a shift to the I, which can create movement toward fragmentation, when we encounter obstacles to working with challenging situations. An important part of our practice is to gain the ability to clear entanglements resulting from trying to reproduce a hoped for or previously remembered experience. Effective clearing allows us to approach each situation from a fresh and creative perspective. O Sensei called this Takemusu. The result is a unit capable of precisely functioning in the situation with which we are currently interacting.
Our goal with this series is to strengthen our ability to respond to our daily life situations from a place of wholeness rather than fragmentation. When we engage with challenging activities, either because they are difficult or ones for which we feel enthusiasm, the I can react in ways that can cause internal conflict and other forms of difficulty.
One example is the mind of I separating itself from the body of I and getting entangled with the unit. A second example is the body of I pulling in and separating itself from the mind of I with the resulting absence of grounding and support for the mind of I. In a previous series of classes a few years ago we called this movement towards fragmentation the flash response.
The second element in this series is to recognize the presence of an energy “pool” which may be the source of the situation when it is internally or voluntarily initiated by us. The energy pool may also come about as a natural response to provide the energy we need to effectively work with a situation that is generated externally. O Sensei and many other spiritual traditions teach it is a universal law that we are provided with the energy needed to deal with difficulties when a challenging situation presents itself.
Our goal when we sense the push from the energy pool is to recognize it as an opportunity to allow the energy to create a unit. We are creating a unit capable of responding from a place of wholeness and inner harmony rather than fragmentation and internal conflict.
Our shorthand name, borrowing from Nadeau Sensei, for this moment of recognition is a doorbell. Our goal is to recognize the doorbell as a signal not to entangle or withdraw but as an opportunity to reinforce the inner relationship between the two parts of the I and to allow the energies generated by the situation to mix a unit that can respond effectively.
Today we will continue our focus on these two specific areas of practice.
Enhancing the unit
First, to sense at a more subtle level than we have so far when we mix a unit, that the energies go to the unit and don’t “move over” in a way that disrupts the inner harmony of the I. This kind of drift can happen when there is remaining entanglement at a subtle level between the I and the unit.
If we can experience this when the unit is being mixed we can redirect the energies back to unit. This both strengthens the unit and further reduces the potential for fragmentation within the I.
Working with a challenge
Second, when a difficulty presents itself that interferes with our performance, we want to avoid shifting our attention from the unit to the I. This can cause the I to tighten up and move again toward fragmentation as the I attempts to remedy the situation. What is understandable frustration when we meet obstacles, can result in the I tightening, fragmenting and entangling with the unit.
Like our overall approach to the flash response, the sooner we can detect this movement away from wholeness and functionality the easier it is to avoid or reverse it. Clearing, when we sense this tightening, is a way to avoid the entanglement that can result when we meet obstructions.
Our Aikido technique for today will be katate-dori kokyu nage.
Let’s bow in and start with misogi breathing and a good full warm-up.
Five Principles for Ki Breathing
Breathing focus of the day
Our tip today on the misogi breathing is to feel the two sides of the body coming together centered on the spine as you are inhaling and then exhale from that centered spinal focus.
- Breathe out with the sound of HA, don’t let your breath just leak out
- Breathe out as calmly and quietly as possible
- Breathe out the Ki of your head to the Ki of your toes
- Breathe in from the tip of your nose until your body is full of air
- Calm your mind infinitely smaller at the one point after inhaling
- Let’s begin with a round of practice with the technique.
- Begin with a round of practice of katate-dori kokyu nage.
- Get feedback on the technique to establish a baseline to use for comparison as the practice progresses.
Fullness of the Unit and the I At Moments of Change and Opportunity
- As we focus our attention on the technique as our situation of the moment, let’s reinforce the relationship of inner harmony between the two parts of the I. We want to perform the technique as well as we can and with a high degree of personal satisfaction. If the I becomes fragmented in that effort, we will not be able to achieve either good performance or personal satisfaction. Before going back to the technique let’s practice mirroring between the parts of the I to experience inner harmony as being more attractive than the tendency toward the flash response. This may seem like an easy choice in the abstract but we live and make choices in the moment not in the abstract.
Related to this is trying to experience the movement within the I toward fragmentation as close to its starting point as possible.
This makes the movement toward wholeness easier because the movement toward fragmentation hasn’t gathered very much momentum. The less momentum toward fragmentation the easier it is to reverse it and move toward wholeness.
Our more basic goal is to train the I so that increasingly the movement toward wholeness is our initial response. Then we don’t have to reverse the movement toward fragmentation. Perfection in this is probably not attainable but a percentage improvement may be.
- Let’s return to the technique to see if the mirroring practice we just did is helpful. If not we can repeat the practice or work even more deeply with the I if necessary.
- Now let’s put our attention on the pool of energy that corresponds to the technique/situation on which we are currently focused. The energy is freely available to mix up a unit with the functional capacity to perform the technique effectively. This mixing process is the same one we use in our forging practice.
Let’s use the four count process we practiced in our classes on the Unit. Count one is the idea or blueprint. Count two is the structure or implementation of the idea count. This count provides the framework and support needed to implement the idea. In the absence of count two, the idea count is asked to do both jobs and often doesn’t have the energy to accomplish both tasks. Count three is the intuitive element or spirit of the technique. It provides the poetry or artistry that allows the technique to rise above basic functionality. Count four is the organizing principle which brings the other three counts and count four itself into a unified functioning whole. Let’s take our time here and allow each count a full turn.
- Let’s then do a second round of 4 counts this time paying special attention to the energies staying with the unit and not moving over and disrupting the internal harmony of the unit. At the same time we want to pay attention to the tendency of the I to entangle with the energies whose purpose is to mix up a functioning unit that is a balanced partner with the I but is not entangled with the I.
- One additional practice is to work with an inner dialog between parts of the unit to see if there is any internal conflict which may interfere with the unit’s functional capacity. Once the mixing and jelling has come together into an embodied functioning unit of katate-dori kokyu nage we can go back to the technique and see if it has helped improve our performance and personal satisfaction.
- Now let’s return to the technique and see if the unit practice we just did is helpful. If not we can repeat the practice or work more deeply with the unit if necessary.
One of our basic goals in the practice of Aikido is to seek opportunities for continuing to grow and development. Working with the four count process we just practiced presents us with just such an opportunity. Looking back at the four counts we just experienced, let’s ask the question are there one or more counts that could benefit from some additional attention? For example, is one of the counts, say count three of the not so obvious, is a little behind the others in fullness of expression?
This is not an exercise in self-criticism but openness to an opportunity for growth and development through fine tuning of our mixing of the unit. Once you have identified a count that will benefit from additional help, let’s give it a moment of your full attention.
One way to work with the count is to treat it like a part of yourself that can engage in an inner dialog with the rest of you. This can take the form of a question: what will help you (the count that is behind) to feel more balanced and integrated with the other counts? Using O Sensei’s principle of the mountain echo (the yamabiko), maintain a sense of fullness and presence and wait for the returning echo to provide what is needed to achieve the greater degree of balance and integration you are looking for.
- Now let’s return to the technique and see if the fine tuning of the unit practice we just did is helpful. If not we can repeat the practice or work more deeply with the unit if necessary.
- Let’s now intentionally increase the intensity of the practice by asking the question: if I have gotten what I can from this level of practice what is the next deeper level?
Once you have asked the question wait for the echoing response in a state fullness and presence.
This practice is similar to but not the same as the intensity increasing due to outside forces like the more resistant uke we envisioned in our last class. The difference is that we asking for the next level to present itself rather than waiting for circumstances to create the need for the next level in order to maintain functionality and personal satisfaction. Using this approach can reduce the amount of stress related to growth and development. It reduces the stress by placing growth and development as a voluntary act rather than we feel compelled to do by outside forces.
- Now let’s return to the technique and see how this practice has impacted our ability to perform the technique.
We continued to work with what we are calling the doorbell. The doorbell is a message that there is a situation with an opportunity to reinforce the inner harmony of the I and allow the pool of energy corresponding to the situation to mix up an effectively functioning unit.
In today’s class we explored at a more subtle level the mixing process and ways we can experience and correct problems that may arise. Our practice today included asking for the next level to present itself rather than waiting for more challenging circumstances to pressure us into moving further.
Feedback and discussion.
The Secret Teachings of Aikido translated by John Stevens (pg. 39).
Practice before next class
Select a daily life task and work with the question: what is the next level of inner harmony and mixing of an embodied functioning unit?
Finish with misogi breathing and bowing out.