Monday, September 10, 2007

Ignorance is Bliss

Found the book Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes yesterday at ABC Books in Roppongi for Y500...What a bargain.
I remember this book well from school days and it was always one of my favorites. It is the story of a mentally retarded man, Charlie Gordon, who with an IQ of 68 is aware that he is not smart (like a Forrest Gump) but nonetheless is basically happy working as a janitor at a bakery.
He is selected for an "operashun" which is designed to increase his intelligence, and succeeds by "making him smart like other peepul". His newfound intelligence brings with it new awareness - for example how his "friends" at the bakery were actually making fun of him the whole time, and allows him to experience the joy and sorrow of discovery and knowledge.
The book takes a turning point when the original test subject of the operation, a mouse named Algernon, dies, and Charlie's intelligence begins to fade away, and he realizes he will also die as a result of having had the surgery. He can feel his understanding slipping away as he starts to forget things again...
It is errily told in the first person through Charlie's journal entries. This book is quite frankly one of the most tragically beautiful stories I have ever read. It is the classic parable of the garden of Eden. Once becoming aware of the existence of the tree of knowledge, how can Adam not eat the fruit?? It touches me on so many levels and leaves me with questions I have been unable to answer for the past 30 years.
* is it wrong to strive for understanding?
* at what cost should we try to be "like other folks"?
* is the chance to be smarter worth dying for?
* is better not to know?
* what do you do when you are faced with your own impending death?
* how do you live each day and make it precious?
Forrest Gump tackled some of these questions in a gentle and humorous way showing us that perhaps ignorance really is bliss. Maybe Charlie Gordon would have been better off never having had that surgery...what do you think?
Relevant to aikido?? of course!! (what isn't?)
There is always a tendency to over-intellectualize what happens in the dojo. It is not wrong to think about the techniques or the training. Aikido can be learned with the mind, but it must be understood with the body and felt with the spirit. It is actually about thinking less rather than thinking more.
Do not suspect that making your aikido "smarter" will improve it. There is no King's Road, and the secret of aikido training lies in the TRAINING. There is just no substitute. Do not shy away from the sweat and hard work that make your aikido strong.
Read the book if you get a chance.
See you on the mat.