Saturday, December 11, 2010

You Can Only Change Yourself

Day one of our 2nd (annual? with fingers crossed) seminar with Shihan Hiroshi Ikeda and this is one of the things I'm walking away with: "you can't change others, only yourself."

Ikeda Sensei's specialty is internal work and he's known for this even outside of Aikido circles.  Internal techniques involve externally unobservable changes made in the dynamic between two people and Aikido would not work without it.  In my experience, it has mostly to do with the power of the mind expressed through an intention, usually referred to esoterically as ki or ch'i.  From the outside it looks fake, but only after you've been on the receiving end yourself does the magic become real.  Many of us were lucky enough to be exposed to this last year but it was so new we had no idea what was really going on.  With a year's time to work with it, the things he says and demonstrates make more sense quicker.

Like everything else in Aikido, this message functions on many levels even if it was only presented as a guideline fundamental for physical technique.  In context, he was telling us when faced by a physically stronger opponent, we can't move them.  The only way to exert our will is for us to move ourselves, and if we're successful in making a connection, they will follow.

Out of the context of physical confrontation, taken into everyday life, this is a powerful lesson.  In Zen we see it pop up quite often.  We can only hope to control ourselves, if we're able to control anything.

My Aikido teacher reminds us often that the first step in self defense is defending us from ourselves, echoing the same idea.

In Zen, we accept that the world around us exists, but that it is devoid of meaning until we fill it up with our ideas.  Most of this is unconsciously done with pieces of our lifetime's worth of experiences fit together like a puzzle.  The purpose of Zen practice is to tame the unconscious so that we can choose how we define the world around us.  By changing our outlook, we change ourselves and thus the world not only for ourselves, but in a smaller way for everyone else who feels the consequences of our actions.

The Mahayana perspective is that of saving all sentient beings along with ourselves, but we have to straighten out our own mess first.  By doing this we make the world a better place, doing just what we can is all we can do.  In its outward form, Aikido is about fixing the mess of someone wanting to hurt us.  On a subtler level it's about resolving the conflict with another by acknowledging we are not the omniscient and omnipotent center of the universe; we must humble ourselves to get what we want.  In reality this manifests in both Zen and Aikido (as philosophy) in the fact that if we let the ego run untamed, we will always be in conflict with the universe.  To change the external, we must start with what have and change the internal.

And just as in both Aikido and Zen, the work is never done.  Every new situation will suggest excuses to us, "he told me this," "I got stuck in traffic," "I didn't know," "but she started it.." Changing the self requires constant effort because the self is not static, each moment is completely new.  Sure, we have habits and patterns, but that is all they are; there will always be anomalies.  And just like genetic mutations, if left unchecked, they will spiral out of control until we don't recognize our own behavior any more.

So instead of letting blame slide, don't let yourself be the victim.  Change what you can: yourself.

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