why fear the slowness

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.

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how to mindfully end class

This post is a follow-up to last Friday’s post, “How to Mindfully Begin Class.” Enjoy…

– So, it’s near the end of class. You can probably tell because of your heartbeat and the sweat soaked up in your gi. There’s 10 minutes to go and your attention is starting to wane. Notice that and use that awareness to push through. Make the last 10 minutes more alive than the first 10 minutes. That doesn’t mean to train like an easter bunny on crack. That means to just fully be fully alive in each attack and each technique. Put full focus on what you’re doing even more so than when you weren’t tired. Step the focus up.

– You’ve done that and Sensei gives the sign (usually a clap or two) to line up. As you walk to the line, straighten your gi. Don’t be a slob in front of O’Sensei (who’s picture is usually located at the Shomen which you’re about to bow to). Control your breath, nobody wants to hear you panting as you bow.

– When getting into seiza (seated on your knees), again, sink into the mat (yep, this is a pretty consistant theme here). Build a strong base before you bow. Feel your physical center (approx. 2 inches below your navel). Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth sinking and relaxing more with each breath. Let your awareness expand into the peripheral. Feel the presence of your training partners, Sensei, and the whole Dojo. Be appreciative (even if you just received nikkyo for a half hour straight).

– When Sensei bows, bow in sink with that. Every Dojo is different. You know how yours do it, and you know the right way to do it. Do it. With awareness. Not sloppily while just wanting to get outta there. The final bow or clap (whatever your dojo does) is like hitting the ‘save’ button on the computer. All of what you just experienced in class is now stored to your hard drive. Yep, I’m kind of a geek, but you know what I mean. If a different analogy works better for you, use it.

– If your dojo ritual is to sweep the mat, this is huge. See my post here about sweeping. You’re not sweeping the sidewalk. This is the last technique of class and, from what I’m told, the Japanese take this very seriously. It’s a purification ritual. I know, don’t worry about the word ‘ritual’. I’m not talking about a human sacrifice here. Just something that’s routinely done in the spirit of a certain intention. This one in particular being a cleansing and harmonious thing. Sweep lightly and in sink with your training partners. Don’t smash the dirt into the mat or kick up the dust. Provide just enough force for the stuff on the mat to be moved to its destination.

See this post for changing etiquette.

– On the way out, give the Shomen a quick final bow. Acknowledge any training partners who may be trying to say goodbye.

– As you walk to your car, bike, bus, taxi, camel, or home, feel the fresh air outside the dojo. Look up at the vast sky and acknowledge your unity with the universe. If you’re nice enough to have been holding an ushiro kiai (fart) all class, feel free to let it fly. Be okay with it.

– Before going to sleep that night reflect back on the experience of class and make note of what you learned. It’s great to keep an Aikido journal for this. Log your experience. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just make some quick notes if you want. You’ll thank yourself years down the road when you go back and read them.

– Go to sleep acknowledging the privelege you have of being an Aikidoist. You are an active participant in one of the most self-enriching and powerful arts there is. Don’t take that for granted and fall asleep with an appreciation that it is so. Rest up for the next class.

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aiki biz of the moment: comma coffee

Every once in a while, I’ll write a post about certain businesses, some local, some non-local, that strike me as being ‘aiki’ in nature.  These will be businesses that not only work (at the time), but add that extra bit of ‘aiki’ to make their customers and crew feel welcome while delivering a great product/experience.  Aiki is the quality, I believe, that makes or breaks a business.  After all, serving the consumer and keeping a good team of people happy is what keeps a fair company in business.  In order to serve the consumer, the business must be receptive to the demands of the time and always be improving and adapting to the market.  They must stand fast in the face of fierce competition and stay true to their mission.  Business is all about relationships, especially as open as communication is these days.  Thanks to the internet, I believe small town rules are back.  If a business shafts a customer, that customer will spread the word as far and wide as they can.  On the flip side, if a business plays with our heartstrings the right way, this can also spread to the masses.  If they don’t do this, they’ll go away.  Sure, they may strike a big profit for a while, but sooner or later, they’ll be replaced by a more aiki business.  These aiki biz’s will be creative and innovative.  They’ll also be non-destructive in nature.  So, in a nutshell, they’ll be aiki.  I’ll be writing these when a great one really stands out to me.  I wouldn’t write about them if I didn’t think you’d be interested in them.

So, to kick this segment of Aiki Living off will be an establishment I mentioned in a recent post.  This establishment is Comma Coffee located in Carson City, NV right across from the state capitol.  Okay, I will say, I lived in Carson for quite some time, and although you can keep most of it, that older part of downtown Carson has a special place with me.  I really love the architecture from that era along with the big cottonwoods, and it’s a refreshing contrast to the subdivisions that are so predominant in this area.  So, the location is great.  I know a few of my readers are coffee connoisseurs, so hold on guys, I know, the coffee here isn’t some crazy awesome blend or anything.  It’s good though, don’t get me wrong.  I think they brew Alpen Sierra, which is a local brewer, but whatever it is, I like it.  That’s not the point though.  The point is the vibe.  You walk in and you’re immediately looking around at the crazy unique furniture, catchy poetry, and quotes written in random places.  It’s a mix of old, saloon style, wild west Carson City (There’s a piano hanging on the wall as well as one ready to be played on the floor) mixed in with a bit of spooky (they have kind of spooky, weird, slightly disturbing artwork and poetry speckled throughout the joint). Not only do they sell coffee, sandwiches, and the like, but they also sell booze.  Yep, you can go in there and have a glass of wine with friends and be hanging out with the coffee drinking crowd at the same time which balances the place out.  Another thing I like about it is that the random, super-comfy furniture is arranged conversationally.  There’s different areas of three or four big ass cushiony chairs thrown in with a sofa arranged in a circle where you and your friends (or enemies) can chat it up without feeling like the creeper sitting next to you is butting in on your conversation.  It’s also set up for live music, and they have a lot of shows from local talent.

Now that we’re past the details, what really impressed me is the owner, June Joplin (you can check out her story here, along with the idea behind Comma Coffee), and the idea of Comma Coffee.  Comma Coffee is truly a labor of love for her, and it’s great to see someone create a place like this to share with others and make a living at it.  Seeing someone take a risk on their dream and also seeing it pay out is a beautiful thing.  Although I’ve never met her personally, I have seen her in there on several occasions, and can tell she’s in love with the place and the staff seems to enjoy her being there (at least they’re really good at acting like it).  What’s really cool is the reason June named it Comma Coffee.  Her definition of ‘comma’ is a slight pause in the sentence or a breath, a pause, the break between two thoughts.  This is exactly what coffee is to me, personally.  Having a cup of coffee signifies introspection and a slight pause in life.  She has created the environment for this concept to thrive.  I’ve gotten lost in my work there.  I’ll go in, take a seat, get engulfed in a book, writing, people watching, or whatever, and the next thing I know, it’s been three hours.  So next time you’re in Carson City, put a pause to the run-on sentence of life and step into the comma for a break.

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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.

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how to mindfully begin class…

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.

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