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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > February, 2007 - Enduring Love
by Ross Robertson

Enduring Love by Ross Robertson


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Suppose you had to make a choice. What if it were possible to be completely free from harm, but only by one of two methods. One, you learn to have complete control over those who would assail you. The other, you have complete control over yourself, such that no one can possibly affect you adversely. Now choose.

Either path requires a different kind of perfection. You may argue that the decision I place before you is false, because neither is attainable. But I say that even though neither is possible, it's a choice you have to make every day.

We know that we can't be perfect, yet with training we do expect to improve. We cannot reach the ideal, but this is no excuse not to move toward it. And because neither goal is within our capacity, so we compensate for the shortcomings of one way with the advantages of another. We find a balance in how much we focus on controlling ourselves, and how much we control others. Where you place that balance determines the entire quality of your path.

So now, choose.

Your decision is there, whether you are conscious of it or not. If you've never thought about it before, if you are unsettled about the answer, there is likely to remain a great deal of cognitive dissonance when your technical practice is at odds with your stated aims and principles. (Or, perhaps you are among those who have tidily swept the problem under the rug by saying something like "all control is really an illusion, so I practice not controlling at all.")

Certainly the rhetoric of aikido favors choice number two. Masakatsu agatsu, and all that. "Aikido is not for the correcting of others, but of ourselves." Good, but why nikyo, why shihonage, why katame waza? How much energy do you spend trying to get these things to work on someone else, as opposed to doing what you do simply to stay safe and free? Again, the emphasis here is what defines outcomes, expectations, success, and the nature of the effort itself. If you don't truly know what you're trying to accomplish, you'll never know if you're approaching success or not.

The choice for me is clear. I could have perfect control over others and therefore be perfectly safe, but I would never be perfectly free. Whereas if I were inhumanly invulnerable, I would be both safe and free. So this is the star I set my course by, and the only time I lose my way is when my rudder deviates more toward controlling others.

Really, I can't think of a single argument with my lovers where one or the other of us (and usually both) is not trying to change the behavior of the other one. All my dissatisfactions with my students are rooted in my own needs for attention, respect, financial support, and so on. If I were perfect, not only would I be free, but so would you. Knowing you could never harm me nor let me down, how could you possibly sin against me?

Now, if you know me, you have very good evidence before you that I'm not perfect. Not being perfect, I am not free from the disease of trying to control you. I want things from you. I want you to read my articles and say good things about them. I want you to love me and care for me without needing to change my behavior. I want you to pay your dues on time, to show up, to take your damn test already, to pay attention, to take care of one another. I want you to invite me over to do a seminar. I want you to build me a dojo and create a community of lovers of strength, joy, beauty, and compassion.

I not only want these things, I need them. Yes, I need you. I need your help. Onegaishimasu. Now, how much do my needs control the world? The answer is written very clearly in the spaces between these paragraphs.

My insufficiencies are the root of my every misery. Being miserable, I need the world around me to compensate for my inadequacies. When you fail to meet my needs, I deem you insufficient. Being insufficient, you need to do better, be better. And to be able to please me, you'll just have to let me improve you. To improve you, I need to control you.

My ship is lost in circles, the rudder warped, and my star lost behind the clouds.

Yet, even when the skies are clear and my vessel is fit, the way can be difficult. To move toward self sufficiency and invulnerability means this: I must need you less, want from you less, depend on you less, lean on you, less. I must be free of you. Every bit of unnecessary baggage I can toss, every worry, every care I can release myself from, makes me more en-lightened. Now I can move more freely.

But what happens to intimacy? Where went love, friendship, devotion, and loyalty? How can we be one and not be interdependent? Balance, balance... balance!

How can I love you without needing, wanting, expecting anything from you? If I can't answer that, I can at least approach the paradox by asking the question's negative: How can I love you if, because I need, want, expect, you will eventually let me down?

The answer, which will surprise no one, is in the discipline. When I do aikido, freedom is in the connection. Control is only realized when shared. And if we find an intimacy in our embrace, we know that it's only part of a cycle and that soon enough we will go our separate ways, free never less nor more. And then we will do it again, coming together and apart, entering and exiting, merging and releasing, like breath.

The air inside our lungs is one with the air outside. But it's the in and out of it that makes us live.

Last night my lover said to me, "Look into my eyes -- I am not your enemy." Beloved, when I look into your eyes, I do see the enemy... I see myself reflected in you. You deserve more than my inadequacy and neediness. You deserve a complete and total freedom from me. Intimacy within spaciousness.

My choice, my path, my goal, the only thing that makes sense to me is to work toward my own perfection. Self indulgence and self aggrandizement are monsters lurking in the depths, but these can be confounded by authentic humility and service to others. A better self really would make a better world. And yes, we can help each other here, affirming a true need without cultivating an unhealthy dependence.

Love endures, because all else falls away. That which is weak, unsupportable, unsustainable, does not last. The evolving universe is comprised of things which are sufficiently durable and adaptable,and things which are still new and experimental. Partial and uncertain. Therefore the universe is both perfect and imperfect, complete and incomplete. Full of love and the absence of love. Yet love endures while rage will always burn itself out, overbalance, and fall away. Love endures even in the face of apathy, which is only the winter of the soul.

My frustration as I write this, is that I know the answers. I've cracked the code. I understand aikido, and have penetrated its central mystery. It is profoundly simple, elegant, and beautiful.

Take away everything that is not essential. Strip away all the outer forms and the assumption of techniques. Stop trying to throw. Stop trying to unbalance. When everything is gone but clarity, what of aikido endures?

You.

Me.

Practice.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Center
Austin, TX, USA


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