Ten generations before you were born, there existed a special group of people. Roughly 300 years ago lived a particular population of exactly one-thousand, twenty-four individuals. At the time, there was almost nothing to identify most of them as belonging to the same group. Many of them may have occupied far-flung corners of the globe. They may not have even all been alive at exactly the same time. Nevertheless, a good many worked, lived, and grew old near one another. One peculiar fact about this cohort is that exactly half of them were women, and one half were men. Even if their names never made it onto history's ledger, it is nevertheless known that the men and women married (or mated with) one another... precisely five-hundred and twelve couples.
These people all found their respective partners some time near the beginning of the 18th Century. Not much can be said of a certainty about the members of this elite group besides their exact number, their gender distribution, and the fact of their pair-bonding. Some may have had great influence, but the majority were statistically average.
In their lifetimes, the fate of a continent, still new in their minds, was being decided. Off the shorelines of that world, pirates sailed and lived by their own rules. A powerful earthquake rocked Japan, Fujiyama erupted seven years later, and in between, 47 ronin committed seppuku. Wars enraged Europe, emperors rose and fell. China and the Pope had a philosophical disagreement. There was unrest in the Middle East. There was famine in Timbuktu and in Ireland. There was much much more, but suffice it to say that they lived in interesting times.
Who were they, and what's it to you?
They were your ancestors. Your family.
How can I know this? Because the same thing is true for anyone reading this. The dates may be a little squishy, I'll admit. If you're 90 years old as of this writing, then ten generations ago pushes things back a bit. And if you're in grade-school now, you can look to slightly more recent history. But I've placed things in the historical ballpark, and as far as the other numbers go, the math is precise: each of us have exactly two biological parents, and ten generations of mating pairs works out to be 1024 people -- no more, no less.
Seen from your individual perspective, the many have become one. You may have siblings and cousins, and distant relatives numbering in the thousands. But for each one life, the past converges to an exquisite passage, like the glass esophagus through which grains of sand mark time.
Take a moment, if you will, to reflect on your inheritance. Unimaginable forces, far beyond your sphere of influence or even your possibility of knowledge, have conspired to bring you into being. Within the span of just a few hundred years, over a thousand human beings had to find each other, couple, and produce offspring who in turn would successfully repeat the cycle.
All of this sets the stage for a far more complex concentration of patterns and structures within you. Beyond your genetic lineage, there exists your entire corpus of knowledge. No doubt you remember learning to read, to memorize math tables, to tie your shoes. Perhaps now you can fly an airplane, play an instrument, or create new cosmological theories. Regardless, what you know, how you learned it, is uniquely your own. Each moment has been an instance of you becoming you.
But who taught you to read, and who invented language? Who were they who helped you understand long division, and who built your schools, and who taught those carpenters and architects? Where did shoes and laces come from? Or aircraft, musical devices, and telescopes? (Bernoulli, the piano, and Gauss were of the 18th Century.) If your genes seem innumerable, how much more so the molecules of your very own knowledge?
You and I may not know each other, but if we each practice aikido, we are kindred in thought and deed. Our teachers are not the same, they may not know each other, or perhaps they won't even speak to one another. But we all have a common lineage, and it's a grievous falsehood to let styles and affiliations obscure this truth.
Where did aikido come from? My father fought in WWII in the Atlantic while his brother, my uncle, fought in the Pacific. During this time, Ueshiba was teaching the Japanese military. My teacher's teacher's teacher was the enemy of my father. I was not yet born, but these events would inexorably make me who I am. How can it be that a Texan, son of a Texan, can spend so much of a lifetime promoting the art of a nation that was the sworn enemy of my family? Suffice it to say, we live in interesting times.
This provides a small hint at where my aikido comes from. What about yours? What about Ueshiba's? Where would we be without Deguchi, Takeda, and the others? Did aiki really emerge from murderous feuds and clan warfare? What were its roots, 300 years ago?
Tokugawa and Tiepolo, Bach and Blake, Shah and Jiang Tingxi. Austen, Bassi, and Catherine the Great. Contemporaries of your one-thousand, twenty-four.
And now, from the singularity that is you, the future flows outward. If you have children, and they give you grandchildren (and so on), no one can say what the numbers will be in ten generations. It could be as few as ten, or as many as ten-thousand. For while a child may only have two genetic parents, a couple may have many children.
Even if you have no children, or if your line stalls some time in the next century. It doesn't matter. You touch people. You influence them. You become a part of their ideas, beliefs, emotions, and all of this affects their behavior. And behaviors make the future.
It's possible you will earn a permanent place in the history books. If so, may your legacy be kind. Or, you may bend not a blade of grass, make not a ripple. If so, you will still be felt by the unseen, which is always greater than the seen.
You are the center. You are the nexus.
You house the archives of the imprinted past, and you author a text written in sunlight upon wind.
The circulation of held wrists, the respiration of extension and reception, the inspiration of realization and relay... aikido practice in its most mundane configures the eternal. These insubstantial moments are the atoms of eternity.
Unmoving sands above, and settling sands below... grains in the narrow gauntlet flow. Passing particles (discrete, yet unfixed and indefinite) animate dust and bones, and crystallize the mercurial future. Now is the fulcrum of balanced time, and we, the living, are the symmetry of generations already, and yet.
April 1, 2010
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
Re: The Hourglass
Beautifully written and thought-provoking, as always, Ross. Thank you.
Re: The Hourglass
Time comes and time goes.
I guess its all in how we use it.
Well said. Compliments.
Re: The Hourglass
Wow. Beautiful. Thank you so much.
Re: The Hourglass
I have a question sensei which is one among the numerous points you made,
You talked about the birth of aiki through warring clans and violent times. Daito ryu ju-jutsu itself was a violent style made to incapacitate the opponent. Is it fair to say then that for peace to exist, violence must be present too? That everything just goes in circles. That if we live in peace now, there must be violence in future . If so, then why does aikido teach us to preserve peace which we know must eventually be broken?
Re: The Hourglass
"Now is the fulcrum of balanced time, and we, the living, are the symmetry of generations already, and yet."
My wife and I are taking the journey through history to find our ancestors. In my line I am related to many of the early kings of Scotland, of England, France and even Roman Emperors. We have traced it to around 1040. One of my son's has passed and the other in his 40's shows no signs of having children. It looks like my line will end with him. It is interesting to feel the generations past alive in the present self. It gives an interesting perspective.
As usual a well written wonderful article. Many thanks.
Re: The Hourglass
I am grateful to you for sharing this article. It is helping me cultivate humilty.
Re: The Hourglass
I don't believe that balance requires that for every good, there must be a bad. This would be like saying that if I have ten ounces of gold on one side of the scale, there must be ten ounces of shit on the other. That's one approach to balance, and we do see it manifest, but it is not logically necessary. There could just as easily be ten ounces of gold on the other side, ten ounces of silver, of pearls, of feathers, or compassion.
That said, I have come to believe that violence is a universal condition (see some of my other writings for more on this). Aikido can help us live more constructively within destructive patterns. It can help us transform destruction into creativity. And it can help orient us to increasing alignments with the forces of synergy and coherence, which are also universal.
We place ourselves at risk when we wish to destroy violence and establish an everlasting peace. The paradox of living peacefully means that we must accommodate the inevitable passage of structures that no longer serve. We ourselves must be ruthless in doing away with things which do not promote life. But where we choose to do violence against institutions, against ideologies, against our own beliefs, we have the opportunity to do so with as much care and gentleness as can be possible.
Even these articles which I write sometimes cause a certain level of violence in my own processes to bring them into being. Sometimes they are meant to challenge existing structures inside of others, and occasionally break them. But I do so hoping that any changes are voluntary, and that the process might even be pleasurable in some degree, and rewarding.
The act of eating, of consuming, even breathing -- these things are destructive (say transformative if you prefer), but are the very basis for life. Every encounter changes us, so we are destroyed moment to moment, and born into the now, and the next.
Aikido can wake us up to this. Being awake, we can participate in the cycle more mindfully, with greater wisdom and sensitivity.
Re: The Hourglass
Perhaps we are related. I've not done the genetic tests, but I get my paternal name from one of the oldest of the Scottish clans. Back then, it was common for people to take the name of a nearby successful clan, so of course I can't be too sure of a blood relationship going all the way. But still, it's fun to think.
The Robertson's claim a direct lineage to King Duncan I, of MacBeth fame. The same line is purported to descend from the ancient Pictish kings.
Geneology, or genetics, matter, certainly. And I love my three boys like nobody's business. It is a privilege to be a father, and perhaps someday, grandfather. Yet our genetic contribution to future generations is already considerably diluted within an easy handful of iterations.
Far more lasting, potentially, are our ideas and the example of how we've chosen to live. So I think your "line" little depends on whether your children (or even you) reproduce biologically.
In writing to me, you've reproduced yourself all the way from Nevada to Texas, and of course everywhere else all around the world wherever anyone cares to tune in.
This was one of my central points in the article. We should be grateful to our fleshly forebears, but so much more of our existence is the crystallization of the ideas and labors of an unimaginably complex web of human interaction. Accordingly, our own actions today can have consequences and implications that can last for centuries or more.
I think this should both give pause and embolden. Pause, because we may realize that what we do (or fail to do) really does matter. Embolden, for exactly the same reason. We can make a real difference, if we simply choose.
Whether or not you and I are related, it means the world to me that you and I are relating.
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