the brain within the brain within the brain


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So, I’ve written about the lizard brain before, along with a host of others. I’m a bit obsessed with it, actually. I love studying people, and I think it’s so interesting to see how people react to things. Anyways, the lizard brain explains a lot about the human condition. BUT (dramatic pause) there’s yet another brain we have to deal with, people. Yep, I’m not sure what to call it yet, but maybe the ‘snail brain’ would be best. Allow me to explain.

So, something disconcerting happens, we’re stressed, threatened, angry, or whatever the case may be. We have two distinctions to make here:

– Scenario A: Am I facing ‘fake’ fear (speaking in front of people, having that difficult but necessary conversation, etc.)? Or….

– Scenario B: Am I facing immediate danger (a midget coming at me with a machete, a shark, a whitetail deer, an angry bird, the IRS, etc.)?

Once we designate this, if what we’re facing is ‘fake fear’, the answer is obvious. Do what the lizard brain tells you NOT to do. Get up there and speak, have that uncomfy conversation, work on those abs, don’t hit that snooze button AGAIN, put the calzone down, whatever. Hear it out, do the opposite, and you win.

The SNAIL BRAIN comes into play during scenario B. When we’re actually threatened with immediate danger, our lizard brain is activated. We know it immediately. We’re taken over by a kind of force that makes our heart beat faster, zooms our sight into tunnel vision, and clenches our fists. We’re in survival mode, baby! HOWEVER, and here’s the kicker, the question I ask is if the lizard brain is so ‘automatic’, why do we usually lock up, slow down, and freeze rather than ‘automatically’ move into appropriate action? It’s like the lizard brain sets us into survival mode, which is good in this case, and then this snail brain (which is like the brain WITHIN the lizard brain) activates and we are relegated to the state of a helpless… well… snail. We can’t think, we can’t act, all we can do is stop and slither around.

Maybe the lizard brain isn’t so bad in this case? Maybe it’s getting a bad rap? Maybe it takes clarity of mind to not only ignore it, as in Scenario A, but to actually LISTEN TO IT and do what it says here in Scenario B? To properly align and unify with whatever energy you happen to be dealing with, appropriately, is aiki. Achieve perfect aiki. Squash the snail. Control your lizard. Be well.

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independent movement and grace

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I left something out of my last post which I took from the Dan Messisco seminar that I attended a couple weeks back. During the warm ups for the class, Dan had us do rolls very slowly and had us concentrate on having complete control of our bodies throughout the whole movement. Usually during falls, we let momentum take over. Only problem with that is that we’re then at the mercy of the momentum. It’s really a great practice to feel like you’re consciously controlling every fraction of movement to the point where you can change or reverse direction at any time (it’s also a great workout for your lower body and core). During the training, Dan took it even farther to perform each technique with independent movement. He went on to explain that this was a good example of grace. Grace is apparent in a great athlete or dancer where they are living under the same laws of nature as all of us, but they move through the world, from what it seems, independent of those laws. They are obviously not independent of them (this would be impossible, of course), but are actually in absolute harmony with these laws and have tested and pushed the limits of just how much control they actually have within the boundaries of them, and are not at the mercy of them. By working on complete body awareness, Aikido can be a great practice for this.

Think of it this way. Super basic. Go find a table. Rest your hand on the table and fully relax your arm and hand. Now, if someone were to come along and kick that table out from underneath your hand, you’d lose control of your hand and arm and it would fall. Now rest your hand on the table and have the awareness of that action being independent of the table. Your hand is where it is because you want it to be and if the table was kicked out, your hand and arm would remain in the same position. You can practice this when walking. At any moment of any step, you should have complete control and be able to change direction or stop completely. Of course, there is only so much ‘control’ we can have over our bodies since they do have to conform with these laws of nature (momentum, gravity, inertia, etc), but we are way too dependent of them and controlled by them. Especially with ukemi, when we’re taking falls, we get chucked around and lose control completely. We forget we’re still doing Aikido. That changes when we consciously take control of our movement even when taking fast ukemi. I noticed it made my Aikido super balanced and strong when training with this intention. It’s, of course, slow at first. But as you train in this way, I can imagine, if you get really fast at this, your Aikido would be insane. I can’t wait to start playing with this. Our dojo is very basics focused, and I think it would be very powerful to apply this concept to the basics.

We can also take this into incredibly stressful situations in our day to day lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the inertia of the conversation and get swept away by the intensity of the moment, losing ourselves completely. I experienced this recently when dealing with a difficult customer service ‘situation’ at work where my emotions were totally commanding what I was saying. It’s the same feeling as taking ukemi for someone who is just chucking you at a point that’s just way out of your comfort zone. But I stopped and brought awareness back to my body. Here I am, right here. I can move, think, talk, and act completely independent of this abnoxious asshole on the phone right now. He was controlling my mind, dog-gone it! (Yep, I think ‘dog-gone it’ was the term I used too). Now I’m in complete control. I can now take this conversation wherever I want and am not at the whim of his next reptilian brain induced vocal spasm. Yippee! Be independent. Take control. Now.

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breaking down boundaries

There’s a certain ‘zone’ or ‘bubble’ when confronted physically which sets off bells and alarms in your awareness that says the other person is invading your space. Not just in all-out attacks, either. This can happen when someone walks to close to you, especially behind you. In aikido, it seems we’re not exactly fighting someone, keeping them out of our space. We’re engulfing everything in our awareness, including the ‘attacker’, and harmonizing with the situation. Keep in mind, ‘harmonizing’ doesn’t mean ‘submitting’. Easy, right?

Knocking down that wall between us and the ‘attacker’ may be essential in being able to do this. Realizing the oneness of yourself and your attacker should help you relax when closing distance with no fear and relaxfully (yep, made that word up) rendering the attack useless. If, when the distance is broken, you freak out, its a lot tougher. Picture in your mind holding two separate magnets, one in each hand. If we try to put them together with the north poles together, they resist, and the closer you put them, the more they fight to stay apart. When we flip one over and put the north and south poles together, they meld easily. What we’re doing is flipping that magnet over in our mind where we attract, not repel. Unite the opposites (attacker and defender). Setting up boundaries naturally repel. This leads to conflict. When we see the attacker as separate, we build a boundary in our minds which creates a mentally-constructed battle. You and the ‘attacker’ are one thing (the negative and positive poles of the magnet). You’re one experience playing out. Recognize the unity of the situation.

Think of the feeling you’d feel if a stranger breaks into your house. The adrenaline rushes as you reach for your gun, baseball bat, spatula, or fly swatter. Your heart’s racing. There’s a stranger in the house. All control is lost and your lizard brain is in full activation mode.

Or, if you’re aiki-psycho enough, you can hear the guy break in. You go to welcome him in with a smile not fearing him, and as he attacks, you maintain that welcoming calm but acute awareness. That wall of resistance the attacker feeds off of is not there and he realizes he’s dealing with a different animal here. Nothing to attack. No feedback for the lizard brain. As most things aikido, easier said than done, but yet another lofty goal of aiki-training. Break down the boundaries in your mind.

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a guest post by jeff black – part 3 “sound and breath essential in aikido”

Sound and Breath essential in Aikido

I have been reading interviews with Yoichiro Inoue the nephew of O’Sensei:

“Admiral Isamu Takeshita once told me the following: ‘Mr. Inoue your spirit of kokyu and motive power are different.’ I said that I never executed techniques through kokyu but rather through ‘iki’ (alternate term for ‘breath’ or ‘breathing’). His answer was: ‘Oh, I see. That’s why it’s different. Can you come to my place to show me what you call iki.’ We laughed then. It is only recently that I have begun to use the term iki. We breathe from the time we are born. This is what I said to my uncle while he was still alive: ‘Kokyu power is nothing. Things are created because of the existence of the iki of Aiki and your own iki. This is what musubi (‘tie’ or ‘connection’) is.’ Because these two iki are united things are created through musubi. It is this musubi that created the Great Universe and us with it. We should not forget that.”

It is a slow process during training to begin to see/feel this breath connection, perhaps that is as it should be. However I do wish there was more focus and training directed toward the breath aspect. Every master of aikido that I have read about has mastered the breath.

Rinjiro Shirata (1912-1993) was a 9th dan Aikikai shihan, and awarded 10th dan posthumously.

“Kotodama is not sounds. It is the echo of ki which preceeds the emergence of sounds. Sounds are the next stage. Kotodama comes first and preceding it there is ki. Ki changes into many forms. It becomes sound, light and kokyu (breath). When two sources of ki combine, this results in kokyu. While breathing it becomes sound, light, kotodama and many things. Then it becomes ‘hibiki’ (echos), in other words, the seventy-five sounds. Subtle changes of hibiki become the mystery of creation. First, there was the word and the word was God, this is kotodama and also Aiki.”

As you can see, there is a developing relationship between Yamabiko, Kotodama, breath and aiki.

Rinjiro continues:

“There are many stories of the spiritual world in Iwama. There are many poems concerning the Kotodama. The ‘Way of the Mountain Echo’ means kotodama and of course it also means Aikido. If you say, ‘Ya-ho’ (a mountain call used to produce an echo) and you hear ‘ya-ho’ echoing back, this is called ‘Yamabiko’. This is kotodama. There are a great many poems entitled ‘Yamabiko no Michi’ which means that your mind and your partner’s mind are in mutual communication. I am proposing to Doshu that he proceed one step further in conjunction with this one hundredth anniversary of the Founder’s birth as the turning point and write about the state of mind of the Founder. Otherwise, the essence of Aikido cannot be understood. When we demonstrate techniques in the dojo we should explain that this is kotodoma… We have to show ki in realistic terms. We have to show that this is not a budo for competition.”

I had not thought of Kotodama in that way before.

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: (2 Cor. 4.6) and there was light.

So before the word the Spirit of God moved. So the ki moves first.

O’Sensei speaks often that Aikido is not technique.

“My Aikido is love”
-Morihei Ueshiba

This Aikido is a wonder, the understanding is limitless.

Jeff Black currently holds the rank of Shodan and trains regularly at Aikido of Reno.  Having trained in the art, off and on, for the last forty years or so, Jeff is a wealth of insight about the art of Aikido.  This is the second of three weekly installments of his post.  

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it all comes down to perspective

There’s a certain virtue in standing up for what you think is right. Speaking your truth. Even though it may not be absolutely correct, or even contradictory, it’s the way you see it at the time. You may have very strong convictions in whatever it may be, and I say more power to ya. There’s something cathartic albeit uncomfortable about speaking up. It feels horrible to stifle it and not say anything.

Speaking up is great, but being too involved in the world of speaking up can become exhausting and counterproductive. If you speak up about EVERYTHING, you become negative. Like the dark lightning cloud people try to avoid. This is counter productive because your extreme outspokenness, which stems from the intention of being heard, in time, leads to people walking the other direction and results in you speaking to nobody but yourself.

It’s best to pick your battles. I can sit here right now and see a multitude of things to speak up about. Seeing the negative in things can be good only if you have, or are seeking, solutions. Complaining about things randomly get us nowhere.

In Aikido, awareness is key. Objectively seeing problems is something we can’t run from, but we work with the energy to make the situation better. If you don’t, at least, seek to find solutions to the things you find yourself speaking up about, you’re just whining. This is natural up to a certain point, but getting in the habit of doing so will surely leave you with yet more to whine about and nobody around to listen to you. Point out wrong doing but be ready with solutions if given a chance to change the situation. Living in a solution-based world is much better than living in a problem-based world. Without one, we wouldn’t have the other. What matters is which perspective we utilize.

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