Everyday Training by "The Mirror"
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This article was written by Pauliina Lievonen.
I don't want to try to teach anyone who reads this article, or pretend
to know what they might be struggling with. So I just write about what
I have been thinking lately, and hopefully it will strike a chord with
someone else as well.
I don't know how it always happens, but just when I make up my mind
that this is what I need to work on, life throws another question in
my way. Around April, there was quite a lot of discussion here on
Aikiweb about commitment and motivation in training. I was planning to
start training more, and I was planning to write an article about the
process later. Someone actually asked me to, if I did discover the
"secret" of daily training. For a couple weeks, I did train five to
six times a week, and felt proud of myself. Around that time David
Valadez send me an email that discussed the same topics, off the
forum, that got me thinking in a different direction, or what I
thought was a different direction:
"How do we break the cycle? Answer: Faith and Humility. You asked
about these terms in another letter. I will here try to discuss them
in light of this first letter -- hoping that I will also define them
for you (as I understand them). As you read in one Exchange,
"humility" is "getting out of your own way." Let me here define
"faith" for you: "Faith" is possessing a capacity to doubt yourself.
I realize that this is not how these terms are often defined, but here
I am trying to discuss them in their practical sense, and, in
particular, how they are related to us breaking the cycles of
habitually reinforcing action that have us unable to live a spiritual
life (e.g. training beyond the whims of motivation and desire,
Faith, as a capacity to doubt oneself, I could relate to. Training as
an Alexander Technique teacher isn't possible without some faith I
think. The training asks of a trainee to believe that her sense of how
she moves and where her body is in space is is unreliable, and to
trust that the - often more uncomfortable at first -- ways of moving,
sitting and standing that happen under the hands of a teacher are
actually better. It's difficult to describe in words just how
fundamentally wrong a movement can feel, and still at the same time
better, easier, lighter -- and still WRONG. Without the ability to let
go of relying on one's own inner feeling of how movement is supposed
to work, the training is impossible.
...... Faith works here to doubt what our habitual self is telling
us. Faith, the doubting of oneself so as to be able to move beyond to
something greater than oneself, is what allows us be skeptical of what
comes to us "naturally," "right," "in our best interest," and
...... One may want to ask, "Where does one get faith?" Answer: Faith
is always ours. Man is special in that sense, in that Man has both a
need for self-doubt and a capacity for self-doubt. While a lack of
faith is cultural, a capacity for faith is natural to Man. It is ours
by birth -- as is our spirit. Nevertheless, some of us have been so
"cultured" in a lack of faith, some of us have been so taught not to
doubt the self, that our capacity for self-doubt might as well not be
an innate human trait. For this reason, humility is needed. Humility
works to support faith. It does this because humility is a cultivated
state. That is to say, one can be taught humility, one can develop
it, and one can mature in it. As humility increases, one's capacity
at practicing faith also increases. From there, the two go on to feed
each other: more humility, more faith; more faith, more humility;
etc., etc. Thusly, one moves on to live a spiritual life."
It's really quite amusing how little humility I had learned after
three and a half years of being reminded, in a very concrete way in my
own body, that though yesterday I'd thought I had my posture and
coordination figured out, today I find that I was wrong, again. So
when I read what David wrote above about humility, I would have
prefered to just put it away. I don't know why I didn't. What I did
instead was take it with me to aikido class one night and give
humility a chance.
Aikido classes offer plenty of practical ways to work on humility! For
one thing, I don't always agree with my teacher on the best way to run
a warm up, or execute a technique, or explain a principle. Even worse,
sometimes my peers will try to tell me something! Even worse than
that, sometimes my juniors have the nerve to actually correct me! And
aside from all these outward pressures, there is me myself too: I get
nervous with one particular sempai because he's quick and big and
strong for example. And when I teach I worry about everyone having a
good class, and when I flub a technique while demonstrating it in
front of everyone, I get flustered, of course I do.
Let's take the example of the big strong sempai and look at it a bit
closer. Now I've trained with this guy for years and he's never hurt
me. He's a very nice person in fact. So what is it exactly that I get
Or when I worry about everyone having a good class when I lead it --
why does that actually matter?
Why should I get annoyed when someone junior to me in mat years, but
otherwise an intelligent, reasonable person, makes a suggestion during
practice? Our dojo is full of nice polite people who usually offer
suggestions quite tactfully enough, and I might not show it, but there
will be that little twinge of annoyance anyway, however politely my
partner made their suggestion.
I wrote a sort of short summary for myself about it, after I'd been
thinking about humility for a while:
If I approach my life with pride...
I need to do whatever I need to do in order to not lose my pride. That
means I can't look at my weaknesses/faults/things I'm not perfect in,
in full. That means I can't practice too much, because in the process
of practice, I'd come across my weaknesses. Or I have to practice in a
way that lets me turn a blind eye to my weaknesses. I'm stuck with
defending my pride.
If I approach my life with humility....
There's nothing to lose. There's nothing to hold on to. The more I
practice, the more I see how much I have to learn, and how much I
_can_ learn. Any weakness or fault I have, is not a threat, because
what would it threaten? My humility? :D Humility makes me free.
Now, what about the idea that we "need to be proud of who we are"?
If I approach training with pride, big strong training partners are a
threat, even though they never hurt me. They threaten my illusion of
how well I can execute technique. I worry about giving a good class
because not to do so wouldn't allow me to be proud of giving a good
class. Being corrected by a junior -- well that one is obvious I hope!
They might be right, and it might mean that someone with less
experience than me is right about something that I was wrong about,
and how will my pride survive that? And even if they are wrong --
just offering me their advice, they threaten my place in the hierarchy
of our dojo, my place as an advanced student that I'm so proud of.
If I approach training with humility - a more difficult training
partner is a valuable help, because there's so much to learn, and
since I don't have my pride to hold on to, there's nothing to lose
even if not one single technique works. Giving a class becomes more
about asking questions than providing answers, more about discovering
what aikido is and not about how good an aikido teacher I might be. A
correction is something to be grateful for, whoever it comes from,
because it just might be true!
The difficult thing to believe, before you experience letting it go,
is how pride really isn't at all necessary for existence. The absence
of pride seems to bring a different sort of confidence, or maybe trust
is a better word, with it. Just like moving in a different way felt
awkward and difficult and uncomfortable at first and then mysteriously
turned out to be lighter and freer and just plain better, and only
faith could get me there, too, because there was no way to prove this
to me short of taking the leap and having the experience.
Humility and self-doubt have something to do with the discomfort of
training more as well. I can't pretend to know how to train more
because I again don't. What I've started to see is that my reasons for
wanting to train more weren't very good ones. I read discussions
between people who train every day and seem to know what they talk
about and I wanted to be one of them. And when I succeeded in training
more my success wasn't based on anything that would last.
For a couple of weeks, I did train five-six times a week. Training
more meant I was more tired, and I didn't have time for other things
that are easier to do and offer more immediate pleasure. I couldn't
manage to plan my days so that I would have time to do the things that
I really do think are more important than aikido in my life, like
playing music, but I'd still waste most of my day just entertaining
myself and then discover I wouldn't be able to finish my work because
it was time to go to class. The only reason I managed to train more
was that I ignored the rest of my life and chose to only do
aikido. Aikido class became somewhere to escape to. And then I got
injured, and once that healed, I got sick... and here we are, back at
square one. I'm training an average of three-four times a week, and
often at the cost of doing other things that I also need to do, and
only at times when it's convenient to train. The only reason I train
even as much as I do, is that I have quite a lot of free time.
So there are the pressures during class - annoying training partners,
my wish to do well etc. - and there are pressures outside of class -
work, other hobbies, family - and they all work to push me away from
practice. How pride works during class to get me in my own way I find
easier to see, and because of that, easier to work on. Writing here
now I realize that it's been tripping me up in the rest of my day,
making me think that I'm somehow entitled to a leisurely morning and
effortless afternoon, and that hard work and discomfort are things
that I don't deserve. I also see that daily training would actually be
very easy, if I decided to throw everything else out and just do
aikido. The difficult thing isn't doing a lot of aikido. The difficult
thing is integrating training into the rest of my life. The difficult
thing is living an integrated life.
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