La Petite Mort
Longtime regular readers of mine (yes, both of you) will know these two things: 1) I started my aikido training on Valentine's Day (February 14th) 1979, and 2) each February I devote my column to aikido as love, and love as eroticism.
For reasons I won't go into here, I missed this year's special February column for the first time in nearly ten years (March this year is my ninth anniversary as AikiWeb columnist). I regret missing the opportunity to preach more openly my peculiar gospel of the aikido of love. Luckily aikido's quiver contains what R. Kobayashi Sensei called "secondary techniques." That is, things that are available when your primary opportunity has passed. In that spirit, this is my February column, coming to you in March.
Love, eroticism, and aikido may all be defined many different ways, and are experienced differently by everyone. Even so, these are universal things. It may not be appropriate for me to speak of them as synonymous terms, but their domain of convergence is my special fascination, my study, and my discipline. I will offer some of my perspective on this, in the hope that it may enrich your own, or else be a useful complement or contrast.
Let's go straight to eroticism. The erotic impulse is about sex, certainly. Sex is our vehicle for extending our species in general, and our own contributions to the genetic pool in particular. Even without reproduction per se, sex expresses and augments our own vitality and well-being. Rightly approached, sex is about fitness and survival.
But the erotic impulse goes beyond the sex drive, as we normally think of it. Our innate erotic motive is toward life, being, and interconnectedness. When we allow ourselves to be directed by this, we become more ourselves, more clear about our uniqueness as an individual, and aware that our place in relationships, in society, and in the universe cannot be occupied by anything else.
At the same time, we lose ourselves in the process of becoming. I am not the same person I was when I wrote that last sentence, and you are not now the same reader as the one who perused those words. When we are confidently ourselves, we can open up more to the world, accept more input, receive more sensation, process and synthesize conflicting and contradictory impulses. In so doing, we are changed. We become the offspring of our previous self and the world.
When we are confidently ourselves, we can assert our being in a way that fits well with our environment, matches and serves the needs and desires of others. We use who we are to change the world. We confront the stupendous realization that we can make things better. We have ideas and capabilities that are needed, and eagerly welcomed. By extending our sphere of influence, we grow the domain of self, so again the self is changed.
The erotic self is the will to live, the will to endure, the will to create and nurture life. Life, being dynamic, is a state of becoming, and so we are most alive when we become attuned to the perpetual state of dying.
Every moment, every breath, every heartbeat, the incandescent fire of all your neurons, is la petite mort.
Shall we now speak of love? What else is there to talk about, really? Peel away any discussion, every argument, look into the dullest and most dry academic tome, and there you will find love. If we do something we hate, it's because we hope to achieve an aim of our love. If we reject, if we resist, if we fight and destroy, it's because we want to save or secure something we love.
Love is a feeling. When your heart illuminates your interior like a sun inside your chest, that is love. When you know there are invisible threads connecting your to your beloved, that is love. When you feel so hollow and forlorn that the wind blows through you, that is love. When you feel the world's fingers caressing the lining of your lungs, that is love.
This feeling of love is the golden prize of a life well lived. Yet it is the lesser love. The greater love is only manifest though action and deed, regardless of feeling or sentiment. This love is the recognition of a need and the will and capacity to address it. This love nourishes, clothes, heals, informs, comforts, and challenges.
Love of action is not the same as the action of love. The action of love is fierce and persistent and vital, yet patient, still, and calm. Love can be violent in its campaign to destroy the opponents of love, yet it never imposes its agenda on an object of love. Love in motion, detached from wisdom and intelligence and careful awareness is not love, but greed.
Loving can be ecstatic or sober. Loving can be rewarding or a drudge. The doing of love is infinitely more important than the feeling of love. But when both come together, you can approach life as a more complete human being.
Being in love is an immersion in a baptismal sea. Remember though, that you are never in love with someone if they are not in love with you. In such cases, at best you are in love with your self, in love with love. Celebrate this, but don't confuse one for the other.
So go ahead and be in love, and don't wait for anyone else. In love, you can see all things in intercourse -- all things as intercourse. All commerce, all conversation, all study, all labor, all art and science, even politics and religion, obey the laws of erotic love. Admittedly the intercourse is often awkward, poorly timed, suffering from a terrible lack of experience or an elderly ennui. There may be abrasion and painful positions. (Most of this is forgivable, but certain things are not. We will not speak of such things today, but you understand my meaning.) But when the intercourse is good, there is a perfect union, and from that a perfect child is always born. Seek this in all your actions. Wake up to the intercourse you are experiencing right now.
Aikido is the discipline of love. It is a direct confrontation of life and death. Aikido embraces conflict and engages crisis/opportunity. Aikido reconciles opposites.
The Way of Aiki is also something beyond the human realm. Aiki is present wherever things come together in a proper fit. That which we call "aiki" exists beneath the atomic level, and is recapitulated in molecules and crystalline structures. Chemistry is aikido, also geology, meteorology, and cosmology. We see it wherever there is a self-organizing principle at work, wherever there is balance and dynamism and vitality.
Aikido is union, however brief. It is the intersection of the solid and the empty, and the membrane between them. Wherever there is aiki, there is male and female dancing together and apart, as rhythmic as your heartbeat or breathing, as intermittent as a thunderstorm.
A friend of mine, Stephen McAdam Sensei, says that aikido is dancing with someone who is trying to kill you. I say yes.
Not just someone, but all things. All things are killing you and sustaining you now. You can fight this, but you will lose. Aikido is the dance, and the learning of the dance, with everything. All things in every instance are trying to seduce you, to have their way with you. Aikido is the submission to this courtship, yet you get to keep the dowry and take pleasure in the labor pains.
"All things" includes you. You are the one who must learn to mate with the world, to give it your own child again and again. There is no self-defense without this. There is no martial art.
Regardless of the body you inhabit, you are always male and female. Sometimes more one than the other, but always both. Sexual preference does not change this. We receive, we enfold, we gestate, we produce. We enter, we impregnate, we protect and defend. We are Izanami and Izanagi, individually and collectively. We are the brother/sister husband/wife dynamic at all times. We make the same mistakes that they do, and produce the same horrors. We are the generative force of nature, and we bring forth creation.
Just look at it: rise and fall, in and out, joy and pain, giving and receiving, hard and soft.
The dance of aikido is the marriage ritual of matter, energy, space, time, and mind.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
Re: La Petite Mort
Ross, you have the most amusing metaphors when writing about aikido :)
As for the little death, wouldn't it hint at a moment of sadness after each throw? "Post coitum omne animal triste est (...sive gallus et mulier)." The separation ending the aikido technique is like an adieu, a small death of sorts reminding us of the big and definite one.
Why woman should escape that sadness, according to the old saying, might have to do with what is passed in coitus - the seed that will grow into a human being. So, in the act, one loses something and another one receives it - and that something is indeed a miracle.
Can that be compared somehow to the roles of tori and uke in aikido? We even translate uke as the one who receives. On the other hand, tori is the one who takes. How can something be taken by one and still received by another? Is aikido able of that paradox: intercourse where both are enriched, excluding the post-coital sadness completely?
Or is aikido really just foreplay?
Re: La Petite Mort
Re: La Petite Mort
The quote is usually attributed to Galen, but that's uncertain. The Romans may have picked it up from him, or it's a later invention, in that case probably Medieval, since it has the air of what was often discussed among learned Christians...
It's supposed to be specifically the rooster rather than the chicken. What was the case for other females than the humans is not stated. But the post-orgasm sadness is medical science as well, presumably somehow explained by the release of oxytocin. See (short texts):
Re: La Petite Mort
Well Ross, this makes three of us;) Nice poetic wisdom once again.
Stefan, Uke being receiver and Nage being the taker? Only an apparent paradox when you see that Nage is the taker of responsibility wouldn't you say? Indeed Aikido.
Re: La Petite Mort
Re: La Petite Mort
I'm at a loss when it comes to knowing these things as metaphors versus literal truths. I see an easy equivalence between (good) sex and (good) aikido. To use a frequent analogy, when plumbers and electricians talk about plugging the male prongs into the female receptacles, to me that's a literal thing. And that's really a lot of how I'm teaching aikido these days. But that doesn't mean that I'm out shagging all my students. Aikido is intercourse, and "sexual" intercourse is a redundancy -- but I'm not having sex with my students, at least in the vulgar sense.
The death that is spoken of need not be one of sadness, but may also be one of joyous release. Every moment is a death of who we've been, and the ejaculation of who we are, who we've become. This climax paradoxically exists in a steady-state and is available to us at all times, but mostly we just sleep through it. That's ok too, as it contributes to a pleasing sense of rhythm, as long as we do remember to wake up and be alive even in the ordinary or the troubling moments.
Tori takes and uke receives. We think this means from each other, and that's true to an extent, but there is something more. When two or more are rightly joined, there is a synthesis that occurs where the whole is more than the sum of the parts. A new being is created, and the couple (for instance) now have a relationship with this Third, as well as each other. Rather than thinking of tori as the one who takes, or uke as the one who receives, we might say that each is one who partakes, taking and receiving but also actively participating and contributing.
We also find relevance in the Izanami and Izanagi cycle, whose names mean "She Who Invites" and "He Who Invites." Uke and tori invite one another, but also and always the Third. In many ways, it's this Third that is the Aiki O Kami-Sama, who also invites us to come and play and combine and commingle.
That said, I do not map uke and tori to Izanami and Izanagi. Rather, I think each player, uke and tori, is simultaneously Izanami and Izanagi, female and male. The trick, as I see it, or the dance if you will, is simply to always align the male parts with the female parts such that real intercourse and creation can happen, and never violation or molestation.
Specifically: where uke extends a male component, tori should open and receive, embrace and admit. Where uke has left openings, tori may extend the male elements wherever they may be free to go without collision or undue increase in pressure.
When this simple formula or principle is manifest, aiki happens as an emergent property. And despite the mystic-sounding language, I have yet to find anything more simple, more concrete, or more practical than this.
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