no safety

Our minds are so complex.  I was thinking just this morning about why people do some of the stupid, and at times horrendous, things they do.  Why do people hurt each other physically and non-physically?  What kind of right-minded individual would initiate violence on another, especially over something petty or contrived?  I’ve written a bit about it in past posts, but the stuff I’m reading currently talks a lot about the “lizard brain“.  Everyone has one.  The part of your brain directly attached to the brain stem is called the amygdala.  Some people call this the lizard brain, or reptilian brain, among other things.  When we’re in a fight or flight situation, this is the first part of our brains that light up on a brain-scanner-thingy (yep, technical jargon).  It even lights up when we merely think about something we determine threatening or fearful.  This is huge.  So, basically, nothing even has to be actually happening in our physical world for this bad boy to hop into action.  When it does activate, our shoulders tend to tighten up, tunnel vision narrows our focus, our heart rate goes up a bit, and a lot of other animal-like natural instincts that may have served us well in the stone age (or if we’re actually in a life-threatening situation), but are totally counterproductive in the drive thru at In-N’-Out Burger.  So, this lizard brain can be a blessing, but it’s mostly a curse in this day and age.

Our brains have evolved a lot since the lizard brain came around.  They’ve grown in mass and we’ve developed the frontal cortex, which lights up when we listen to music we like, or are creating things.  The lizard brain is quiet during those times.  We’re stuck with this lizard brain.  Sure, it could save our lives, so thank goodness we have em’, but more often than not, when we obey it’s command, it gets us in a pickle, almost every time.  The difficult thing about it is it’s automatic.  When we’re stressed, angry, scared, or (trying to keep this as P.G. as possible) sexually aroused, that ole’ lizard brain is going to talk to us first.  It’s a lot like walking around with a loaded gun with no safety.  It would be nice, if when we get up in the morning, to be able to flip a switch to make sure it doesn’t go off unexpectedly and get us fired or kicked out of our mother-in-law’s house or something.  We have to always be aware of it.  Just know that if something comes up in our day (which it will) that when it starts giving us commands, to consciously recognize it, thank it for doing it’s job, and not listen to it.  In Aikido, we build this safety switch, so to say.  There are times during a technique that our partner’s floating rib is soooo exposed, and we could just blast em’, but we don’t, and we take them to the ground fairly safely.  I’ve heard it said that there should always be opportunity for a debilitating strike throughout the technique.  Do we act on the opportunity?  That’s up to us, but in Aikido we mostly practice the option of not taking it while also being well aware that the option is there.

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enthusiasm

I’ve slowly been realizing how essential enthusiasm is for prolonged enjoyment and growth in anything it’s applied to.  Drawing the parallel to Aikido, I liken it to the ki of the technique, or intention/energy behind it.  Adding enthusiasm to anything makes whatever it is we’re doing more worth while, and sometimes quite a bit so.  Those of us who are naturally more enthusiastic than others will see this as obvious.  I’ve always known enthusiasm to be a great attribute but it’s been kind of an epiphany for me just how big of a key enthusiasm is in development and how essential it is for getting the most out of whatever we may be doing.  When we leave our enthusiasm behind, we leave ourselves behind, and although we may still be able to do whatever task we’re doing, we’re really only partly there.  I’m sure in past posts I may have touched on this, but I’ve really been experimenting with it in daily life and am amazed at the outcomes I see.  When we consciously bring enthusiasm to the task, now we’re fully engaged, and we can work wonders, excelling faster and more fully than before.

Sure, there are certain things that bring out our enthusiasm more than others.  These are things we are naturally inclined towards, and this is why we accomplish more in these areas than others.  Training in Aikido, we are always looking to improve (the Japanese concept of kaizen) little by little.  It’s natural and relatively simple to enjoy working on techniques we’re good at, and when we do a technique that we don’t really like, we sometimes don’t really want to be doing that technique at all.  This not-wanting-to attitude stems from a lack of enthusiasm and leads to us not practicing it, which leads to it still being a technique we really don’t like.  When faced with this, try consciously adding enthusiasm to the technique(s) you’re not crazy about doing.  Psyche yourself into learning to really enjoy this.  As usual, it’s easier said than done, but well worth it. It’s fun to really hack away at the more difficult techniques, or even the ones you just don’t like doing if you go about it with this mindset.

The reason we don’t like certain techniques is because we have some sort of resistance with it.  Being Aikidoists, we can work with this resistance and create art out of it.  This isn’t going to happen without enthusiasm.  Going into it with the undertone of enthusiasm makes the most boring or difficult technique into art.  As usual, this works on the ukemi (attack) part of the technique as well.  Even the slowest tsuki (strike to the solar plexus) can feel really real if done with enthusiasm.  It adds another layer of connection.

A tricky part about it is we can’t wait for this enthusiasm to come to us.  Sure, it sometimes does, but we need to be able to control this great tool and put it to work as much as possible.  I’ve been applying enthusiasm to tasks at work lately, and the results are really satisfying.  I first catch myself becoming bored.  This is my signal to myself (there’s those multiple personalities again…) to remove the kink and let the enthusiasm flow into whatever it is I’m doing.  In cases where before I was getting mediocre results, after consciously applying enthusiasm, I learn way more, retain way more, and feel positive about what was just done as opposed to frustrated or indifferent.  In most cases, this is something we have to initiate.  We have to bring the enthusiasm to the task, and can’t wait for it to come to us.  Just having this undertone of enthusiasm changes so many things.  Our posture changes, our tone changes, our coordination changes, our eye to eye contact changes, and probably more.  Enthusiasm is contagious, and when others sense that we have it, they tend to become more enthusiastic as well, leading to a better interaction if we happen to be working or communicating with someone else or in a group.

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gardening

Ideas are like seeds.  Some ideas take longer than others to come to fruition and spring into more automatic mindsets or even full blown physical manifestations than other ideas do.  Each time we bring the idea up in the conscious mind, it’s like watering it.  Our conscious mind adds nutrition to the idea, where it then sinks back down into the fertile soil of the subconscious where it sits there and grows.   It just lies there for a while and we seem to forget about it.  What we may not realize is that even when we’re not thinking about the idea (or belief, judgment, fear, or any thought really), it’s growing.  Each time the idea comes back up into the conscious mind, it appears fuller and more real, and we’re able to use it more, eventually enjoying the fruit of it by applying it in our lives more and more until it becomes like a tree which we can go to and pick fruit from at will.

Where we have problems, obviously, is with the negative beliefs.  These are like seeds as well.  I kind of liken them to weeds because most of the time, they’re not intentionally planted by us (I mean, c’mon, who’d plant a nutrition-sucking poisonous weed in their garden, right?), but are scattered in there through the winds of our interactions with society (tv, friends, neighbors, telemarketers, arch enemies).  Some of these bad seeds have been planted by us, I guess, but most of them, I’d say, do not originate from us but are accepted by us via outside forces.

We constantly have to pull these weeds.  They choke the healthy vegetation out.  They’re re really not too bad as long as we keep up on it, but if we’re not watching, we’ll soon have serious weed problems.  Sure, it’s easy to look out your window and see that yard full of weeds and not want to even begin on that overwhelming project.  After years and years of weed problems, if we’re gonna clean it up, we have to get the heavy equipment in there to do the dirty work (thanks, Aikido!), and then it’s maintenance after that.  Plant those good-thought seeds.  Be very selective of those which you plant.  Some will grow better than others.  Over-watering can be bad too.  Plant enough of em’ and you’ll have a nice garden you can use anytime.  Just don’t forget to pull those weeds.

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why go with the flow, when you can be the flow?

Looking back over my posts, I notice that I’m guilty of putting Aikido in somewhat of an overly-righteous place and framing Aikido in a bit too much of a new-agey light.  Not that I’m discounting what I’ve written so far, but in this post, I’d like to change the contrast a little.  My teacher once said, and it’s stuck with me since, “These principles we’re learning from O’Sensei are not some fluffy, new-agey hype.  They’re very real, practical, martial principles branching back to the Samurai.”(Not exact quotes, but something like that).  We really begin to understand this when we train with someone who is martially sound (which our teacher happens to be) and when he gets moving, it’s friggin’ scary being the attacker.  The movements of Aikido, when done correctly, are super efficient, sharp, and very difficult to counter.  Practicing finding openings in our technique is a common theme in our dojo, and with a lot of people who train in the art in general, and it shows in application.  We’re taught to be able to strike vital parts of the body at any point of the technique if needed, but also keep the option open of taking the attacker down safely to the ground.  Because Aikido is called the art of peace by the founder, and it is non-competitive, it’s often displayed as more of a dance than a practical martial art.  Don’t get me wrong, a nice thing about Aikido, and one of the aspects about the art that I love, is that it can be practiced as a dance-like right-brained creative practice.  I love moving in this way, and it does break up the practice a lot and allows us to expand our movements and find different ways of doing the basic techniques.  Just like anything though, it’s easy to over-indulge in this practice and get away from the fact that it is a martial art with very powerful gifts available to us if we choose to accept them and work at it in that way.

“Go with the flow” is a common term used in America and probably all over the world.  It’s advised to us by friends and elders when dealing with problems and we’re told to just “Go with the flow”.  There’s a certain virtue in this, I guess, and there’s a place where it does apply and can assist us.  My view is that going with the flow might be good at a certain stage of a conflict, but shouldn’t be the end goal.  If it does become the end goal, it’s easy to be manipulated.  I’ve always been apt to going with the flow, thinking it was a good idea, and it may have been, but I’ve noticed, when looking back, that it’s made me complacent in a lot of aspects of my life.  There were times I could have put myself forth and caused an outcome that might have been more favorable on my part and others if I wouldn’t have been so docile and compromising.

I read a quote a while back by an unknown Japanese author that said, “Don’t go with the flow, be the flow.”  This struck me as being a very profound statement and I think about it all the time now.   Hmmm.  What a great way to put it.  We see this in nature all the time.  Does a tidal wave go with the flow?  Kind of, maybe.  But I see it more as being the flow, and I think I’d be proven correct if I was in its way.  Looking at electricity we see the same thing.  With this ideal, we’re not exactly bucking the flow of things and being pugilistic.  I see it as being the flow of all things in our consciousness (which is…everything).  Being one with the universe, which O’Sensei said on many occasions, is pretty much saying this.  Being “one with” means being “it”.  If you look at Aikido technique, this is exactly what we’re practicing.  Initially, we may go with the flow, but then we become the flow and take the attack in a new direction.  This is so profound to me.  When you get right down to it, our consciousness is all we have, and all we really can control, if we consciously recognize it and accept it.  How often do we give that gift up to others?  It’s amazing how easy we surrender control to others and end up sabotaging ourselves.  Mostly it’s done out of ignorance or fear.  I’ve done it several times in just the last week, mostly in small ways that I wasn’t even cognizant of when it happened, and I’m sure by the time the sun goes down, it’ll happen again.  Anytime we compromise our situation, even in the slightest way, and lose something for others out of fear or inferiority, we’re doing this.  This is not to say we need to be greedy and selfish in a thievish kind of way, stealing from others and being offensive.  Sure, there’s only so much we can do, and others may be offended by certain things we do or say, but sometimes it’s for the better if we’re coming from the right place.  If your boss at work asks you to work an extra 10 hours this week for no pay, offending him may be the way to go.  If you have the aiki-ability to do this in a way that benefits you both.  Maybe you do it in a way that gets the point across to him that he can’t get away with treating people like that, especially you.   Just “going with the flow” would be doing both of you an injustice in this situation because not only are you proving yourself to be an easily manipulated slave, but you’re letting him know that he can get away with this.  Peace will be established by being the flow and taking the conflict in a new direction.  You’re not initiating force over anyone or trying to control anyone else, just yourself.  Initiated aggression is a sign of losing control.

Going to Aikido techniques, at one level, the attack is initiated, and secondly, the Aikido practitioner reacts to this and applies the technique.  Taking this to a higher level, there are those who, even before the attack takes place, have complete control of the attacker.  I believe that they achieve this by having complete dominion of their consciousness which happens to include the attacker who has surrendered control to them by even intending to attack.  This can be practiced in the dojo or outside of it in our day to day lives.  Having dominion over our thoughts and our being is something I think we all should strive for, and it seems obvious, but we give it away way too often.  I know I do.

Being the 4th of July holiday, let this be the theme for Aiki-Living and declare your independence by fully controlling yourself and your life.  Only you can do this, and it really does make a huge difference when realizing this and applying it.  As usual with most things concerning growth, it may not be the most comfortable thing, but once applied, I think you’ll see and feel a big difference in the way you relate to others and yourself.  We make the decision to chart our own course in life, or we make the decision to hand it over to others.  Both ways, the decision is ours.  Which one do we pick?  Be the flow.

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where you at?

First of all, this is the first post on AikiLiving’s own site.  No longer under the guise of wordpress, I hope to have a little more freedom to improve the site in time.  Feel free to subscribe via RSS and get updates as soon as they go out.  I want to thank everybody for their support and kind words about AikiLiving.  It’s a joy for me to write about the great experiences I’ve had in the beautiful art of Aikido and how they’ve assisted me off the mat as well.  As always, if you have anything you’d like to share on AikiLiving, email it to me at aikiliving@gmail.com and I’d love to take a look at it.  Always looking to improve, if you have any ideas or constructive criticism, please email me those ideas as well.

I’ve written about this a bit before, but it’s amazing how much time we spend “outside” of ourselves. By “outside” I mean being caught up in trying to be somewhere, somebody, or something else.  Feeling like we’re just not in our power, and maybe we can finagle whatever situation we’re in if we were more like so-and-so, or working at “x” company, or if we just had “x” amount of money.

These are just a few specifics, but what I’m talking about is that lingering feeling of uneasyness and not-quite-enoughness that so often comes up.

This feeling of resistance bubbles up in full force during moments of conflict and struggle.  It comes up in more minute portions when we’re daydreaming or in that floundering state during times of boredom and uncreative idleness.  Not sure about you, but it easily creeps up on me the moment my head hits the pillow at night and I start feeling uber-nervous about the most minute b.s. going on in my world.

How often do we see someone who impresses us, whether it be another family member, friend, public figure, or even a complete stranger, and try to kind of model ourselves after them, if even in a small way?

Role models can be a good thing at a certain level, but they can also be kind of dangerous past a certain point, and I think it’s important to keep this in perspective.

The whole role model thing may work in times of ease and comfort, and while practicing our craft, but when confronted with an uneasy situation, or at worst a traumatic situation, this false veneer of character fades away as fast as it came.

It is during these times where we can find the absolute strength we have available to us by digging down deep within ourselves to find the energy necessary to deal with said situation in our own authentic way.  Digging down deep may be a wrong way to put it, as I’ve found that it’s more like a relaxing and sinking down deep within our own character.

Each of us is an authentic individual that, if allowed, has our own authentic, crazy potential.

Going to this place is scary because we are reaching for something unpredictable, something we haven’t seen or experienced before.  This is where true authenticity comes from.

It’s an act of creativity, not re-creativity or duplicity.

I, personally, have had several crazy, stressful moments at work lately.  One of these times was probably the most stressful day I’ve ever had in my industry.  It was a day where several people walked up to our staff and went off.  Not to get into details, but the situation at hand was one we saw coming and there wasn’t much we could do except for prepare as well as we could and hope for the best.

Most of the customers were fine, but there are always a few of the more outspoken ones that like to keep their title of head jackass of the bunch.  During their venting, I recognized what was happening, and followed a basic principle of Aikido or two, which were, keeping conscious focus on my center (located an inch below the navel), and keeping weight underside.

This physical centering trigger assisted my mindset to become centered as well, and after absorbing the energy from the monster in bermuda shorts and a goofy hat (I work at a golf course), I was able to reply in a relaxed but assertive, authentic, and very real way.

It was kind of scary because I hadn’t replied like I had replied in similar situations in the past.  Not that anything was necessarily wrong with the way I’d been reacting before, but those were different times.  This was a new situation.

People have crazy B.S. detectors and when we come from a place of authenticity and strength, people can feel that instantly.  Keep in mind that this is a golf course, not an emergency room, and I knew my new friend would be okay.

After calming down and getting on the golf course, albeit quite a bit later than they had intended, I saw them halfway through their round and they all were having a fantastic time.  After looking back, I can think of a couple things I could have done differently, but felt how powerful this Aikido principle is at first(ish) try.

Think of all the times we see someone perform an Aikido technique that looks perfect.  We see this, and we go over and try to move just like that.  All we’re thinking about when doing the technique is looking like that.  This may work fine with a nice training partner, but when we go to, say, a randori where multiple attackers are coming in at us fast, this beautiful persona is usually thrown to the wayside and we don’t have the luxury of making it nearly as beautiful.  We just don’t have time.  What we do (usually) have time to do is get into our center and create whatever we can according to what may be happening.  If we’ve worked on our Aikido enough, things will come naturally and faster.  We can’t worry about if our technique looks like **insert whatever Aikido role-model’s name may be at the time here**.  When we try to mimic the way someone else deals with conflict, walks, talks, does Aikido, dunks a basketball, or does anything really, it’s very comfortable because it’s familiar and all we have to do is, well, plagiarize it..

What I’ve observed is that these people we sometimes try to mimic are usually the ones who are authentic and original.  This is what makes whatever they do appealing.  The catch is, if we see it and do it like they do, it’s not authentic anymore and you’re, not to sugarcoat it, basically copying them.  Of course, when just starting anything, all we can do is mimic.  Getting out of the mimic phase as soon as possible and into the creation phase, getting into our unique body and mind, and becoming who we are in our own way is an exciting but scary thing.  Sink down deep and finding our true potential is something we can always work on and grow with which will pay off greatly for us, as always, both on and off the mat.  It’s powerful to realize there’s nothing we need to change, force, or manipulate.  It’s all there waiting to be tapped into if we consciously relax into it and allow it to express itself through us in our own unique way.

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