Why is it weird to meditate in public? It is. Think about it. You go to a park and see someone taking a nap under a tree or on a bench. No big deal. At that same park, you see a kid amped up on Mountain Dew and whatever else, with his mom screaming at him while his little sister lies on the grass crying because he just tested out his suplex on her. Not out of the ordinary. See someone meditating though, and you’re kinda like, wtf? It’s just kind of weird and out of place. Even for us who do meditate and are open to that kind of thing, it’s still kinda weird to see it in public in our western world. Why is that? I believe acceptance of it is growing, and although it’s not a big deal, I think it does say a lot about where we are. Complete unconsciousness is normal. Complete frantic chaos is normal. Relaxed introspection and practicing inner awareness is out of place in public. Just an observation.
We’re a fast people here in America. Always racing to get from here to there. Lining up at the Mac store for the new iPad. Talking to our family or friends while we’re usually emailing or texting someone else. How can we be engaged with life when we have this kind of scattered attention? How often are we actually in the moment?
It’s super refreshing to take some time to just settle a bit. I have a friend from Argentina who’s told me about their four-hour long dinners over there. Sure, here in America, we may have the occasional four-hour-plus dinner with family or friends, but it’s definitely a rare occasion. How often do we eat dinner while checking emails, facebook, or talking on the phone while on the run. Even if we’re not doing that, how often are we actually enjoying it? If we’re with family or friends, do we really slow down our mental chaos enough to purely enjoy the time with them?
In our meeting at the dojo last night, we discussed the Japanese term ‘ichi-go ichi-e’ which is commonly used in tea ceremonies. This concept is often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.” Our teacher was saying how in the days of O’Sensei, he and his peers lived in a whole different era. War was constantly looming and they lived with the reality that they may not see each other a week from now, a day from now, or an hour from now. In the event of a life-or-death struggle, there is no opportunity to “try again.”
In the dojo, we do techniques over and over again. What I took our teacher as saying was that each time we do a technique, we should see it as a singular event and realize that it’s possible that we may not have the opportunity to see this person again. These days here in current America, it’s tough for us to get in that mindset. A lot of us just don’t live with that being a real highly probable possibility. Some of us do, but for those of us who don’t, it can be difficult to foster this intention.
As always in Aikido, this can be taken off the mat and carried into the comfort of our own homes. Enjoy your friends and family. Don’t be afraid to slow down a bit. A lot of us fear our own mental chatter which seems to speak up when we slow down urging us to jump back into the rat race. This is something that needs to be dealt with. I recommend Aikido as a perfect tool to help deal with this, but meditation, yoga, tai chi, or whatever can be applied to quiet that is very useful. If you’re not enjoying the stillness of life, you’re missing out on one of the most enjoyable aspects of life you can partake in. Have more of those four-hour dinners.
We have a ritual in Aikido where we sweep the mat after each class. Right after bowing out, we head over, grab a broom, line up, and sweep up. Sounds simple. Looking at it from a utilitarian standpoint, it makes sense to do this. It cleans up the mat for the next group of us who’ll be rolling around on it, right? True, very true. We’ll see people on the first day of class run over, grab a broom, and start whaling away with it. They’re sometimes out of sync with the group and whatever dust, hair, etc. they’re not grinding into the mat, they’re stirring up in the air. This lasts about 30 seconds before a higher ranked student will walk over and explain that we don’t sweep that way.
What’s important to understand is that sweeping is one of the last techniques of the day. While we’re sweeping, we’re aware of where everyone else is and we work together. Also, we don’t take huge hacks at the mat like we’re raking leaves. We take a smaller brushstroke like approach, barely coming into contact with the mat and just ‘pushing’ the fuzzies towards the destination. While we do this, our posture is straight. This way, if we’re attacked, we can wield the broom mightily, effectively, and with the upmost economy of motion to get the job done before we jump back in line and finish sweeping along with the rest of the group.
I know, sounds silly. Why don’t we just vacuum? It’d be much easier. Well, you probably saw this coming, but as always in this art, there’s various lessons to be learned here. Rebutting the above utilitarian view, we sweep in small motions so as to keep the debris from flying around and also not to damage the mat by ‘scratching’ it several times a day with the broom. The thing is, not only do we sweep in small motions, but those motions are usually pretty fast. Only way to do this is to stay relaxed, centered, and while maintaining good posture. If we were tight and off-balance, there’s no way we could sweep like this. As in good technique, we must relax the shoulders, focus on center, extend our peripheral vision, and put forth positive juju. Staying with the rest of the group shows us that it’s not just working in numbers that matter, but working efficiently in numbers is what makes it more effective. If we were to just spread out and go gangbusters, most of us would be working against each other leading to wasted effort and poor results.
I’ll end on the lesson that sometimes simple, mundane rituals can be very soothing and effective. Sweeping the mat leads to a more clean environment and soul. When we’re done, we usually feel refreshed (if following the above sweeping technique). It adds a sense of finality to the class. We don’t just train, sweat our asses off, beat up the mat and leave. We finish with a cleansing purification type exercise. This is a much better energy to end on.
Try this at work or at home. After doing crazy hard work, don’t just end abruptly and go home or to bed. Take a minute or ten to stop. Mindfully clean up your area a bit. Maybe take some deep breaths or something. Try to end on a replenishing note rather than a grueling, negative note. This will carry through to the next time you take another crack at it, and your space will be much more welcoming than if you were to just leave abruptly.
So, I thought it would be important to write about how to mindfully begin each class. A lot of training happens before even bowing in. Here ya go…
– When walking, riding, driving, crawling, limping, or rolling up to the Dojo, begin letting go of whatever road rage (sidewalk rage if you’re walking) you may currently have. Be thankful for the vehicle you’re in (even if it’s your body).
– Harmoniously park (if you’re driving) without bumping any other cars. This can be especially frustrating if you live in a place like Reno, NV where nobody knows how to parallel park. Look at it as part of the training, Grasshopper, whooosaaah.
– When you get out of your car (Again, drivers only. However, if you are walking, you may attempt to step out of your body for a second and have an out of body experience while hovering above it. I’ll leave that up to you), release the tension out of your legs and hips as you walk towards the dojo. Sink into the pavement with each step. Relax the shoulders.
– Approaching the entrance, realize that you’re entering sacred ground. Not in a religious sense, but in a personal sense. C’mon, you know this place is awesome, or you wouldn’t come here. Appreciate and respect that, it’s a great way to start the training session.
– As soon as you enter, focus your attention towards the Shomen (front of the Dojo) and give it an abbreviated but mindful bow. While doing this, you’re leaving whatever might have been going on outside in your hectic life just where it should be… In the s**tcan. That’s right, all of that doesn’t matter now. Prepare for transformation, baby! Oh, and don’t forget to take off your shoes either, damn ‘Mericans.
– If you wore your training gi to the dojo, good on ya, especially if you walked. You’re pretty much a boss. If you have to change like us mere mortals, do so in a harmonious fashion. Think about throwing on some deodarant. If you’re having a conversation and the real heavy part of it happens during the part of changing where you’re just in your skivvies, don’t stop there and continue talking in just your drawers. Talking and changing is part of the training, don’t stop the flow.
– Come out of the dressing room and open up your peripheral. Feel the energy of the dojo. See the mat and take everything in. What’s going to happen on that mat tonight? What are you gonna make out of your time? Where are you right now? Be here! This is a privelege not many people can afford. It’s good stuff.
– Bow again to the Shomen before stepping on the mat. If you’re late and class is in session, be mindful of when you bow in. You’ll know when the time is right if you’re paying attention. When you step out on the mat, reeeaaallly relax your shoulders, hips, eyelashes, and everything. Let all of the tension go. Sink into the mat. If you have time, do some light stretching. Make eye contact and at least acknowledge the other people on the mat with you. You don’t have to be chatty, just mindful and welcoming. This isn’t the octagon.
– Be mindful of where Sensei is at the time. Line up in your proper place on time even if Sensei hasn’t started class yet. Use this time to sit in seiza and relax even more. Become even more fully present to the opportunity which the upcoming class opens you up to. Open your peripheral even more (Get this, even if you’re eyes are closed. You can do it Grasshopper).
– Every dojo is different in how they bow in. However it is, this is huge. You’re now entering into training. This is another chance to toss what’s going on outside the dojo and fully come into the moment. If you don’t, you’re wasting your time and money. Be there. If you happen to clap like we do, feel the timing in that, and please, no premature eclapulation.