Thursday, February 18th, 2016
Completely lacking talent or ambition, I commit myself to one thing, and one thing only…
Summer grass –
All that remains of
It is early in the morning and dew is heavy on the ground. The August sun touches the tips of the red pines with golden light. Every morning at the same time, I hear an oddly resonant sound, like the cracking of hollow sticks in the forest beyond the pond. I walk into the woods and discover the source of the noise: pine cones strike branches as they fall from the trees, perhaps finding release through the warmth of the sun. I listen to the random patter of the dropping cones, each making a different sound and pitch depending on the size of the cone and branch.
This dark forest of falling seeds somehow magnifies my sense of loss. I feel the absence of my Aikido teacher, Chiba sensei, and the dropping cones remind me of Sensei’s statement: “Commit…. and let go!”
Aikido has much to teach us with regards to embodying the principles of commitment and release. Curiously, letting go teaches us how to commit. Extraneous tension does not allow us to move definitely on the mat, or make decisive choices off the mat. By learning how to relax and become present within the body, the Aikido student also discovers greater clarity. Because these skills must continually be cultivated, I compiled a list of a few of my methods. I hope that you find it helpful, and please let me know if you have any additions.
6 ways to Commit and Let go
A more advanced method is to practice breath suspension. Follow the directions for the basic breath for 5 minutes, and gradually lengthen the time between breaths. The pause should never feel forced. Instead, it should feel like you create a sense of suspension and space. This form of suspended breathing provides you with a feeling of freedom. If your mind becomes disturbed, you are not prepared for suspended breath work. Return to the basic breath, and then try again. Gradually lengthen the time between each breath. This should feel like a flowing practice rather than something restrictive. Nothing is forced. Find freedom in the emptiness between thoughts and breath. Remind yourself to breathe!
In a famous scene from the movie The Hustler, pool champion Minnesota Fats (played by Jackie Gleason) is losing to the brash and drunken Fast Eddie (Paul Newman). Rather than admitting defeat, Minnesota Fats takes a break, carefully adjusts his boutonnière, and then proceeds to beat his youthful rival. In the face of defeat, he has one strategic advantage: his ability to change one thing. By altering one thing in his control, in this case his appearance and composure, he transforms the entire game.
When I feel consumed by my problems, I gaze at the night sky, or look upon something larger than me. Awe, the experience of perceptual vastness, is the great corrective to corrosive feelings like envy or depression. Another method of experiencing awe is to discover wonder in the everyday object or sight: the seed patterns in a watermelon or perhaps the quiver of the squirrel’s tail. By cultivating a sense of the vastness and beauty of the world, we let go of a dull reality in exchange for something dynamic and magical.
In loving memory of Chiba Kazuo, Shihan, February 5, 1940 – June 5, 2015
“Completely lacking talent….” Translation of an essay by Basho, by Unno Taitetsu (from the author’s memory of an eulogy for Sylvain sensei by Unno sensei)
Summer Grass Haiku – translation by David Landis Barnhill from Basho’s Haiku: Selected poems of Matsuo Basho, State University of New York Press.
The moment a warrior confronts a foe…. from The Art of Peace translated by John Stevens, Shambala Books.
* “Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being” https://facultygsb.stanford.edu/aaker/pages/documents/TimeandAwe2012_workingpaper.pdf
Benjamin Pincus is the Chief Instructor and Executive Director of Aikido of Champlain Valley. Located in Burlington, Vermont, Aikido of Champlain Valley is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to creating a sustainable community and peaceable world through the study of the traditional Japanese martial art of Aikido.
Visit us on the web at www.burlingtonaikido.org
Visitors are always welcome!