Dealing With Current Politics Through An Aikido Lens
Our political climate has the potential to bring less then the best out of us. We might find that it’s easy to be confrontational, fearful, angry, paralyzed, withdrawn or reactionary. In this post I want to explore how Aikido practice and O’Sensei’s teachings can help us deal with these conditions. Aikido was founded at a time when world events were at a tipping point. Right-wing politics were thriving in Japan, and World War II was just around the corner. I’m sure that people then felt things were just as dire as we might feel they are today. Even so, O’Sensei was able to speak about world peace and creating a human condition of one family. He spoke of our need to understand ourselves and the world around us. In my experience there are many aspects of Aikido practice that help in all areas of life. I think it is helpful to take a look at these as we deal with our current political reality.
Even while writing this post, I’ve found it very easy to react daily to the signing statements, fake news, misinformation, and crazy making news cycle. I feel very fortunate that I get to go to the dojo daily where things become much more clear. Aikido has been an essential part of my life for over 40 years and I have found dojo communities to be safe and supportive places even when life presents us with challenges.
It All Starts With Breath- Kokyu
Saying that we need to breathe sounds simple enough, but under stressful conditions it isn’t always easy. In Aikido breathing correctly softens our body. Our techniques are more effective, our ukemi is more relaxed, and everything feels better. While our breath may feel stuck when we are under stress, being mindful of our breathing can help us get through difficult times. It allows our heart rate slow and our blood pressure drop. As simple as it sounds, breathing correctly can be a helpful way to deal with stress. If we take a moment to breathe deeply in and out and monitor our feelings before reacting, we have a better chance of responding in a clear and calm fashion.
Dealing With The Attack
In our practice we take turns “attacking” and “defending.” We experience the interaction from both view points. Before we are attacked, we ready ourselves, expanding our awareness and attention. In this exchange we gain valuable information
“Your voice is a very powerful weapon. When you are in tune with the cosmic breath of heaven and earth, your voice produces true sounds. Unify body, mind, and speech, and real techniques will emerge.” O’Sensei
about our body mechanics and reactions to challenge, all while learning to be more adaptive. Based on our current politics we might feel like our country and things we hold dear are under attack. Its easy to find ourselves waiting for news and lashing out or being aggressive and looking for a fight. Taking time to gain perspective, rather than getting swamped by constant Facebook and Twitter updates might be a better strategy. Perhaps instead we can ask ourselves what is important, and what our thoughtful reaction to this might look like. Then we can plan our responses with a relaxed mind and body. What is often presented as fact or as a forgone conclusions might look different after we look into it, time passes, or we find conditions are different and less dire then initially presented. I am not calling fake news, but the media’s job is to gain our attention and they do it by making everything more striking or dramatic than it is.
When We Are The Uke We Need To Be Safe
In our role as uke we absorb and receive the technique. We keep moving and find our way to the mat in the safest way possible, all while keeping our center and focusing on the full experience. Ukemi is a gift to ourselves and our partner; the better we get at it, the better a gift we are able to give. Taking ukemi is filled with great lessons. iI might be best to put our focus on this part of training for the next few years at least. With different partners and training points we must adjust the speed and pressure of our technique appropriately. If we keep open, don’t prejudge an outcome, and keep moving, lots of great things can come up in practice. Rather than avoiding conflicts It is important to work through difficulty on and off the mat. Even for those with the best of intentions, sometimes it might be necessary to move on to a different training partner if we don’t don’t feel safe or respected. The the same is true in our other interactions. Not all discussions can resolve in mutual understanding. It might be very frustrating trying to communicate with someone with a fixed mindset. Many conflict filled and rude discussions that happen online occur because people are emboldened by the anonymity of the internet. Many of these people are much more conflict adverse in in person. Our best course of action therefore, might be to log off and move on.
Importance Of Community
Finding a community where you are supported and respected is critical. Training in a dojo has the benefits of getting in shape and reducing stress, all while learning great practical skills. Most aikido dojos are filled with supportive and welcoming members. There is plenty of research that shows the value communities have in our health and happiness. Participating and contributing to the dojo when you don’t have much control in what happens to the country can and should be meaningful and healing. If you do not practice currently, most dojos have easy and supportive ways to get started.
“The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. There is evil and disorder in the world, because people have forgotten that all things emanate from one source. Return to that source and leave behind all self-centered thoughts, petty desires, and anger. Those who are possessed by nothing possess everything.” O sensei
Our Aikido practice is a way to nurture ourselves. One of the things I love most about Aikido, is that it provides us with a never ending opportunity to do research. When we pay attention to all that comes up for us in training and reflect on it, it facilitates personal growth. Through our practice we continue to learn about ourselves and those around us. We see our reactions to our partners and ourselves. We can research the physical and mental aspects of our practice, as we refine ourselves and our movement. Knowing ourselves better, and continuing to improve our responses to conflict and adversity can help us deal with current political challenges more effectively.
Taking A Longer View
This current administration will continue to do things that are upsetting. They will pursue laws we don’t like, try to tear down our institutions, and attempt to delegitimize the press. The President will tweet a fire storm of self-aggrandizing nonsense. With all this happening it is important to determine our own best course of action. Will we react to all of this and feel powerless? I find there is often a first reaction of despair or anger to the news. With time we might find that our laws and institutions are holding up a bit better than the initial noise suggested. I am trying to not get swept away by my reactions and dig a bit deeper. We do have our health to think about, and living with anger fear and tension is not helpful; it will do nothing to improve our internal or external life.
How Does A Dojo Deal With Differences
Everyone should feel welcome and supported by the dojo. I stated above that I feel our current government is unsettling. On the other hand there are people that are enthusiastic with what they perceive as a positive new approach to government in our country. Can these two different worlds interact in the dojo in a productive and positive way? The easy part is the training, as we are not and should not be having discussions on the mat. The trickier moments are social time, dinners and parties, even dressing rooms. Supporting each other is an important aspect of dojo culture. I feel Aikido and our dojo should welcome people of all political views. With that, It is critical that each dojo member respects the community as a whole. If Aikido is for a sick world as O’Sensei said, then practice should function to help us bridge the divides. I believe our training can help us interact and communicate with greater clarity and respect. It can allow us to be less reactionary and more intentional with people who might think and feel differently than we do. I am very happy to have anyone join us, and as long as we honor each other, then our life will be enriched. I also feel it is essential in our current circumstances not to demonize people with different views. My hope is that things will become more clear with time. Soon our politics will shift again, and if we learn from our mistakes and resist the temptation to harden our political divides, this next transition will be much smoother.
I would love to hear what you have found helpful and effective in dealing with the current situation and your thoughts on the role Aikido practice and the dojos can and should play in dealing with politics.
If you would like to get started practicing in an aikido dojo we are more than happy to help you find a dojo where ever you are located. Most dojos have an easy and welcoming way to begin.
Nhat Hanh writes that activists must learn to look after themselves if they are to be effective:
If we don’t maintain a balance between our work and the nourishment we need, we won’t be very successful. The practice of walking meditation, mindful breathing, allowing our body and mind to rest, and getting in touch with the refreshing and healing elements inside and around us is crucial for our survival.