Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.
If you don’t realise the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realise where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kind-hearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16
By Lao Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell
Irimi nage at the seminar with Christian Tissier sensei at Awase Aikido Helsinki in March 2020. Photo by Nadezda Boltaca.
This is a continuation of my previous post regarding our study of action which is actionless. This time I will mainly focus on mental noise pollution in our mind, caused by our identification with thought forms. This pollution triggers us to act, not only actionlessly, but also unwisely.
Humans have the ability of abstract thinking. Most animals can’t do this. It is both a blessing and a curse haunting man kind. Maybe it is more of a curse than a blessing, as it is going to kill us all if we do not evolve as a species beyond the identification with our mind.
Of course, it is a great tool, to be able to think, and it can be used to solve problems, which makes our lives easier. After all, to get to the next evolutionary step, we first have to be at our current one. The mind is a tool. However, this tool is kind of scary, because when we don’t need it, it takes us over as a person, and it goes around masquerading as us making us do insane things. Ironically you could call it acting like a mindless robot, although it is a mind-full robot, and therein lies the problem. The person is asleep and the tool has taken over the controls.
Keiko at Dachoyama Aikido in Straussberg in April 2018 during a seminar with Jorma. Photo by Dachoyama Aikido.
Some nights we experience insomnia. At least I do. We are perfectly comfortable in a nice bed, and we have perfect conditions for sleeping, and we are tired after a hard day; and yet we are wide awake, unable to sleep. To our knowledge no thinking is happening (most of the time). Did you ever experience this? Did you ever wonder why you can’t sleep?
I recently noticed during these periods of insomnia that the “palms of my feet” are twitching ever so slightly. All kinds of involuntary movement, tapping of fingers, nail biting, quivering of the leg (and other stuff we usually do when we are impatient or bored), are usually representing some kind of thought process happening below our level of awareness. It is a bodily manifestation of us wishing to be somewhere else, but are stuck right where we are.
So I looked at the movements visually, and even put my fingertips on the area where the movements appeared, searching for the thoughts which were hiding from my attention. After a while, I realised that I was worried, at unease and had some kind of anguish. My mind was, even though I was not in on it, going through some past mistakes and partly also planning my future. All of this, without my consent.
I had no choice but to accept the activity of my mind, and my body, and eventually the twitching of the muscles stopped. Not because I could stop it, but by directing my awareness to focus on it helped it dissolve all by itself. The silence and sense of serenity which came as a result was an extremely nice experience, even though I could not immediately fall asleep after this discovery. The whole body changed state and relaxed in a different way from before, melting more into the bed instead of lying stiffly there as I had before.
The kitchen of Vanadis Aikido Club prior to the reconstruction in 2020. I have my breakfasts standing at this bar desk. Half my Craniosacral Biodynamics practice treatments were done on the table to the far left of the picture. This is the most important place in my life, second only to the tatami upstairs, of course.
I believe that the only cure to this kind of “static noise” in our mind is awareness and acceptance, because any hostile reaction to these emotions and thoughts will only disturb the peace more by adding more disarray and agitation inside. However, by treating the entity inside our mind with respect and care, by observing it, without adding any energy to it by participating, it will eventually run out of energy and dissipate naturally.
Our normal problem would be that we identify with these processes, and from the inside they are invisible, because we are moving along with their movement, and there is no points of reference. This is kind of how I define the Ego: The unawareness of our inner mental processes. Because we are identifying with them we are unable to detect their existence. It is kind of like when we are dreaming. We are not aware that we are dreaming. We are blindly following the drama created inside our mind, and we have no choice in the matter. We think, we feel, and we act merely as a puppet run by different mental programs.
The mental programs are different entities with an own will to survive implemented in “their programming”. These entities are often interacting with each other, arguing with each other, or speaking alone in a monologue, commenting on what happens around us, and inside of us. They need to be powered by our energy, or they will run out after their reserve is consumed. So they need us to participate by identification, and thereby they can feed on our energy, sustaining themselves.
The most famous of these entities is probably The Pain Body, quite extensively covered by Eckhart Tolle. An entity consisting of built up suffering from our past, feeding on negative energy, from us, or from people in our immediate vicinity. After the feeding is complete it goes back to it’s dormant stage, until the next time it gets hungry, or if it gets triggered.
The sauna at Vanadis Aikido Club prior to the reconstruction in 2020.
Our mind traps us with identification. We take the point of view centered in the thinker. From this state it appears as we are the origin of the thoughts that appear. Our emotions and our mental positions are us. We identify with nationality, gender, age, profession, social group, political view, religion, skin colour, etc, which are all a variety of mental forms. The Ego creates a separation of Our Team, to have an opposition to The Others (the Enemies). Sometimes we are the only one on our team, sometimes it is a group.
Very often we are unaware and not present even when we are alone. So when we are interacting with somebody else, being aware very often becomes even more difficult, as there are more stuff to keep track of. Especially if the person with whom we are speaking is having a different opinion from us about the theme of our conversation.
If we have a discussion, and our conversation partner happen to disagree with what we are suggesting, we could easily fall into a position of defensiveness. The Ego is totally identified with the idea, “MY IDEA”, “ME”. Thus, if somebody is threatening the mental position, our idea, the Ego feels the threat of death. Naturally we are fighting for our lives to defeat the one who threatens our very existence, although our friend merely suggested a different idea to us? He or she presented a different point of view. Nothing serious, right?
A reflection of the tatami of Vanadis Aikido Club in Janne’s blueberry. Prior to the reconstruction in 2020.
Throughout the history of our world these “small disagreements” has caused ruined friendships, breakups and divorces, physical violence and murder, wars, justification for horrible acts of unimaginable character. And it all starts with our identification with our mind. And our mind will think, regardless of what we wish, because it does what it does, just as our digestion system. There is food, it will be digested. It is not something we as a person does. It is the basic function of that organ. As Eckhart Tolle so elegantly puts it: “you don’t think: Thinking happens to you”.
With awareness and presence we can observe our mind, the thoughts, the emotions, the memories/projections of the past to the future. In a present or aware, state we can see the reflex-like reaction of the Ego, going into defensiveness. I believe we should never fight that reaction, but we need to accept it, say “hello” to it like to an old friend who we now see from a different perspective. This time, however, we get to choose, instead of blindly follow the impulse like a robot on a program.
Were we to deny to ourselves that the reaction is there, because we insist that we have a higher level of awareness now, and we are beyond that kind of embarrassing reactions, the Ego would get the better of us again and are still controlling us on the next level.
Vanadis Aikido Club prior to the reconstruction in 2020.
So, the reaction of the mind, the thoughts and the emotions, are there, but we can see them, because we are observing ourselves from a reference point outside. The mind movements are only visible to us when we have a reference point which are not moving itself. We are not proud of it (being able to observe it), nor are we ashamed of it (embarrassed by what we see), but we are just observing that this is the current situation, which is neither good, nor bad. It is just a result of our current experiment. The observer is never judging. If it is, we are still trapped inside our mind and we don’t know what is going on.
But do we really want to get out of the identification with the mind? Maybe we are happy with our dream? Sometimes the drama of the mind feels really good, right? Let’s say that we are angry about something. It is like being on a high. Our Pain Body is feeding on the negative energy from our thought processes. The rage is making us feel powerful, even invincible. Nothing can stop our fury!
Maybe we notice what has happened at this point, and we “wake up”. We disidentify from the battling entities in the mind. At this moment we might feel exactly how I can imagine a dog feels when the owner takes away their tasty bone. The jaws are twitching, slaver is running. It misses the feeling of sinking their teeth into that juicy and tasty bone! This is the emotion of the Ego at the moment when we become aware again, but we can still feel the Ego, at this moment. Both worlds are momentarily there in front of us.
After a special keiko with some good friends, Anders, Jerry and Janne at Vanadis Aikido Club in February 2020. Photo by Aikidoinfo.se.
When we are upset our mind goes into a zone. The different entities in our mind are triggering each other in a cycle, feeding each other. We are trapped inside, being a prisoner of our own mind, and we are enjoying it. We do not want to be free! We want to continue to be upset and angry! Because it feels good!
Even self hate is enjoyable at some level. Very often we hear about people with big Ego as those with positive self thought. Usually those will meet a bit of resistance from the world, causing some problems. They are easily identified because they constantly crash with others of the same problem.
However, that is only one part of the Ego. The Ego is also the negative self thought. It is less obvious for people around us to detect, but it is the same disease. However, these people will meet their resistance inside, sabotaging everything they try to do, even before resistance will be met from the outside world. So why would anybody accept this situation? It is just stupid, right? But we want to know who we are. The Ego trips us into believing that it is incredibly important to know who we are. We wish to define ourselves. Even being a loser is better than not knowing who we are.
My left bicep is twitching when I re-live my most shameful and embarrassing moments of my life. I hate and despise myself beyond words, so there are no verbal thoughts, just emotions, and that violent twitch of my left bicep is a physical manifestation of those emotions. The twitches in that specific location is my reminder (my alarm clock) to wake up from my wide awake nightmare.
The hate is suddenly and abruptly taken away from me, and I get that feeling of that of a dog who’s bone has been taken away. This bone causes me suffering and unhappiness though. And I realise it a few moments later. But the first couple of seconds I feel lost. The bone I was chewing on is gone. Poison or not be damned, I loved that bone! It is an addiction.
After the keiko with Maren, Rachel, Tor Magnus and Marius in Trondheim Aikido Club in January 2020. Photo by Tor Magnus Nortun.
For me it is a twitch in the left bicep, but I guess it is different in all of us. However, I do believe we all have some kind of bodily reaction to our mind’s activity. Sometimes we can use our body as a detector to reveal what we are unaware of in our mind. If we see it physically, it is only a matter of time before we see the cause of it.
So when I do wake up from one of those nightmares, I look around, and see the real world around me. I can hear the birds singing. I can feel the Sun and rain on my face. I can smell the flowers, or freshly cut grass. For the first time in a long while am aware of my senses again. Maybe I was eating, and I could neither taste the food nor what I were drinking, because I was trapped in my mind, identifying with the entities in there. In fact one might call them demons, and it would not be far from the truth.
Of course if we hear about this, or read about this, prior to having some kind of awareness of it from personal experience, we would think, or say, that there are no entities in our mind. “This is only you. I am not like that! You are crazy!” “My mind is my own!” “There is nobody else here, except me!” OK. Good for you!
However, how do we know? If we are not aware we do not notice, and the words we are saying (or thinking) are not anything but a defensive reaction, which are not even our own, you know? And, if we get upset about it, well then I guess we know the answer, otherwise we would not be upset, would we?
Cimitero Acattolico di Roma in October 2019.
Let’s get back to the actual keiko. So in quite many words I have written that we often identify with mental positions, thought forms, and are unconsciously trapped in this identification, leading us to a un-free, reactive, state where we have no choices of our own. I believe that we can use the connection between our mental states, and the state of our physical body through connection with a partner, to “exorcise” ourselves, mutually, of our “inner demons” (these entities within our mind).
How about our kata/waza? These are also kind of mental thought forms which we could very easily fall into identification with. Do we identify with our technique? Just as with a statement we put into words, an opinion of ours, our technique, being a physical movement of the body, is often even more strongly connected to our sense of who we are than mere words, right? And just as with the mental position, the Ego will fight for it’s survival out of fear for death if any resistance should happen at any point.
In this state, during keiko, if we are tori, it is totally unacceptable for us if the partner does not go down when we are trying to throw them. The same happens if we are uke when it appears a problem with our ukemi. Especially if our partner points it out to us! The Ego goes to war! We would fight for our very survival, in fear of death. “Shattered goal fills his soul with a ruthless cry” as James Hetfield says in For Whom The Bell Tolls.
Post keiko tai no tenkan at Vanadis Aikido Club with Jerry in February 2018. Photo by Enzo Ivan Molina.
On the other hand, if we are not identified with our waza, we are free, and we can see the situation and any inner perturbation of the mind. This way we can make our own choices, without being triggered by reactions we do not control. This is the only way I see how we can have any freedom of choice.
Our waza are usually shaped by our history. We are projecting our experience of what has been, on to what will be, in an attempt to use the past to create the future. The Ego can only see the past and the future. It fears the present moment, because it is totally powerless here. However, the present moment is all there is in reality. All past events happened when they were in the present moment, and all future events will happen when that will be the present moment. In one way we could say that time is a mentally constructed concept.
Of course we should not dismiss past experience of similar situations, such as if we are practicing a kata. However, if we identify with the idea from the past we will be trapped. It could be our own idea, collected from past experience; or it could be an idea we received from one of our teachers, which we have adapted as our own. If we identify with our idea, physical or mental, the Ego will defend it as if it were a life and death situation. We will be having all kinds of disturbance in our mind.
Escalator tai no tenkan with Radoslav at Slussen metro station in Stockholm in February 2020. Photo by Jacqueline von Arb.
Sometimes when I practice with my seniors who has like forty years of experience more than me, any mental image, technical tricks, or economically constructed physical movements, are totally useless. They have been there, done that, and are (far) beyond it. Even if they are my dear friends, and they would do everything within their power to help me, it is too physical for them, at this point, and their system will reject it. It feels like a slight violation for them. As long as I am free I will use this situation to observe what happens and find a present situation solution to the problem, rather than stiffly defend on my more primitive ideas, which of course worked perfectly in the past with partners of more or less equal, or less experience, than myself.
It is a different kind of learning. It is rather a continuous relinquishing of stuff, rather than an adding of stuff, which is the kind we are used to from school. The time from having an idea to putting it into action have to be zero. We are going into the situation without prior judgement, and with open eyes. I heard Jiddu Krishnamurti speak of this kind of learning in a public talk from Madras in India in 1978 (a video on youtube). It described pretty much this thing, but maybe he was speaking of something entirely different. What do I know?
Non defensiveness is not an easy subject. Eckhart Tolle often tells a story of a zen master who were accused by a family of being the father of the unborn child of a girl of sixteen. She said so when she was interrogated by her family to find out who was the father. The Master only replied: “Is that so?” When the child was born the family brought the baby to him, demanding that he take care of the child. He replied: “Is that so?” He took lovingly care of the child for a year. Nobody came to see him anyway, because his reputation was totally ruined. Nobody was not a problem for him, and he took care of the child. After a year the girl admitted that it was the butcher’s son, next door, who were the father of the child. The family ran to the zen master demanding that he hand over the child, because they wanted it back. The Master replied, as you might have guessed: “Is that so?” And he handed the child back to them.
“May Peace Prevail On Earth” artwork by Motomichi Anno sensei. A gift to Vanadis Aikido Club from Linda Holiday sensei.
I really like that story. It is an extreme example of an individual who is totally free from the inner drama we create for ourselves, causing misery for both ourselves, the one’s around us.
Aikido is The Art of Peace, according to the founder, Morihei Ueshiba. I believe this might be a piece of the puzzle, helping us achieve peace, both inside ourselves, in our relation to our partners on the tatami, in our family and work place, and in the world. It is a continuous study, because we might be present and aware at one moment, and fall back into a lower level of awareness the next. However, the process is non reversible. We wake up, and then we fail, but we will wake up again and be able see what happened. The next time we will be a little bit better prepared.
Nobody can tell us how to do this stuff. We all have to find it for ourselves. The practice invites us out of our “mind dream” and confronts us the present moment, and we have to deal with it. If it turns into a non-action kind of manner or something else remains secret until we try for ourselves, however, with the mental static noise gone, we are a little bit closer to non-action at least.
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!