Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"No Mind", not Mindless

Trying to keep an open mind is never easy. It is especially not easy when you are in the dojo. For me, it can be a place of refuge when the rest of my life is out of control; my little laboratory where I can test out what I want to improve in my life. Of course, it is never easy.

We often talk about "no mind" in zen practice. In fact, it even gets hacked up in bubble gum budo movies like "The Last Samurai". The reality is that learning to free our minds is about learning to let go...and this takes practice and repetition to achieve.

My original Zazen teacher used to say that doing zazen was anything but peaceful. He would say that if you do zazen correctly, you sweat from the mental exertion of trying so hard to let go and be "empty". He would say that the kyosaku (the stick used by the teacher to hit people doing zazen) was not just to wake you up and help you focus, but to remind you that the concious effort of trying to let go of distracting thoughts is a fight.

Many times I go into the dojo and get onto the mat trying hard not to think about what we are doing. Trying to let my body just DO what it knows how to do. Some days you get a glimpse of the Truth of Aikido, which is Freedom in Motion. Sometimes, you just suck. Today was the latter. "No Mind" was just "mindless". A total lack of focus. No kime. No zanshin.

Today I was disappointed. I could feel sensei wanting to take the training up a notch. I could feel the intensity, and it is almost a tangible thing. Your partner wants you to push them harder; they want to push you harder. Both of you are trying to get closer to the Truth. But I couldn't hold on. The distractions came and I could not be "in the moment". I could not let go. I just haven't been training enough lately and I disappointed my partner. That disappoints me.

Part of understading the "harmony" of Aiki is the fact that you and your partner are in a constant struggle to discover the Truth about who you are, especially in relation to each other, and in relation to the rest of the people in your lives. Our crucible, the dojo, magnifies our fear, our doubt, our anger, our frustration. It also magnifies our courage, our mercy, and our grace.

I am always sad when I miss a chance to find the magic - the connection to the training partner that brings both people closer to the Truth.

I will be ready next time. I won't let you down. We will find it toegether.

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