Z: Zazan, Zanshin, and Living in the Zone
Breathe in, zazen
Breathe out, zanshin
In the zone
Zzzzzzzz … okay, wake up. We made it through the entire alphabet from A to Z.
If there is a beginning, perhaps there is an end or another beginning, or just a continuation. If there is an A, there is a Z. Several months ago I decided to try and experiment in my writing and expression discipline. I decided to take one letter per month and find the three words to complete the haiku I begin and end with. We started with Awareness, Ability, and Assertion and will end with Zazen, Zanshin, and the Zone.
I have always been interested in the inter-connectedness and inter-dependency of all systemic inter-actions. I love the slightest strategical change that is transformative and generative. We do not do anything alone, despite the fact that we tend to honor the learned ego identity, the individual self that we have conceptualized in order not to become too attached to other, only to become too attached to a sense of self. I was intrigued by Carl Jung's concept of the collective unconscious in which we all go through time and space belong together as a unified energy field. All mystics and mystery schools have attempted to teach and reach beyond the duality and see the unity of all existence. Find our way from the beginning, knowing there is no end, pertains to any transformative and generative activity or endeavor we undertake to overcome prior learning and conditioning. There were articles before the A to Z and there will be articles after the A to Z. Like water, everything flows.
Zen: a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism that teaches self-discipline, deep-meditation, and the attainment of enlightenment by direct intuitive insights into a self-validating transcendent truth beyond all intellectual conceptions which typically expresses its teaching in paradoxical and non-logical forms(Disclaimer: I know and acknowledge that O'Sensei Ueshiba was never reported to have studied or practice Buddhism, let alone Zen Buddhism. I use it here because they say to write what you know and because it starts with the letter Z.)
They say that direct transmission started when the Buddha silently held up a flower and allowed it to be the absorption point of his present-tense awareness. Some monk in the back of the audience laughed, getting the point directly without words and without intellectual understanding.
Zazen meditation begins and ends with breathing. Breathe becomes the focus of attention and awareness. When the mind wonders, we bring it back to the natural rhythm of the breath. This practice both disciplines and liberates the mind.
In the dojo, they say we have to steal the technique that is only demonstrated for us. We have to find the truth in the technique ourselves, otherwise it isn't ours. This can be confusing and frustrating for the beginning student who wants to be told what to do, who to do it to, and why we do it. Perhaps we are used to being educated from the outside-in by others without having to do our own research. The path in Aikido is all about doing our own research. Aikido is both a martial art and a way of self-discipline and development. Like bringing our minds back to the breath, we bring ourselves back into our bodies and into the reciprocal relationship we have with our training partners. In that moment, in that opportunity and experience, we both find and lose ourselves.
In life, we often have to find our own meaning and purpose. It would be nice if someone just told us who we were, but then that would not truly reflect who we are. Where we learn the most about ourselves is in a relationship of love. We may get caught up in the everyday hustle and bustle of life (just remember that whoever wins the rat race is still a rat), but we have to bring our minds back to what's important. Power and control are temporary and only brings the briefest of ego satisfaction. We have to stay focused and mindful that the true meaning and purpose of life will never be found in immature isolated egocentric ignorance and arrogance. We all want to love and be loved. Perhaps that is what we keep bringing our awareness and attention to. Perhaps it is only in love that we find ourselves and lose ourselves. Perhaps love is the path of liberation beyond the singular learned ego identity and become a part of something larger than ourselves.
Zanshin: (1) lingering spirit, (2) extended attention and intention, (3) maintaining psychological and energetic connectionIn Aikido, we usually think of zanshin as lingering spirit or attention after a physical technique is completed. It's a way of projecting one's situational and environmental awareness. Once an opponent has been subdued with a physical technique, zanshin subdues and quiets their spirit. Zanshin is a peaceful controlling extension of nonviolent intent to stop aggression. Perhaps we can extend the concept of zanshin or lingering spirit before, during, and after a technique. Perhaps zanshin is a mental projection of mindfulness.
In life, they say that everyone lights up a room. Some when they enter and some when they leave. Often our reputation precedes us and meets us in that room and other times it's the reputation we leave behind by what we do when we are there. Bruce Lee once said that the secret to immortality is to live a life that is worth remembering. What do we want people to hear about us before they meet us? What do we want them to think of us during our presence? What do we want them to say about us when we leave? I have often asked people what they want people to say about them at their funeral and that this can give some direction to life. Perhaps our legacy, or zanshin, is what we leave behind by what we modeled when we were here.
Zone: (1) a section, (2) a subdivision, (3) a flow state of optimal and peak performanceIn sports and performance psychology we study what is "being in the zone" and how to create, facilitate, and duplicate/perpetuate it. The zone is that special section where the body and mind are synchronized and unified between being psyched-up and psyched-out. It is often a relaxed state of focused awareness on the task at hand (whatever that task is). Everything seems to come together.
In the dojo, we study a martial art which implies then zone of fighting. Yet, in Aikido, we train to find the zone of flowing. In this zone, or context, we train to defend ourselves from external threats but also from internal restrictions and limitations.
In life, we often talk about how we respond to each other. Due to early experience, we often learn to take a life position of fight, flight, or freeze. I have often written about these fear-based startle responses and how they become the way we perceive and relate to everything and everyone we encounter. After a while, these become unconscious automatic responses where we zone-out and become victims of our past. In certain situations of real survival threat, this may be the optimal zone to be in. But those events are fortunately rare for most of us. What most of us want to find is the zone of safety, security, stability, and love.
How do we find the appropriate zone for the appropriate situation in life? Perhaps by relaxing our bodies and minds, extending our awareness, and taking control of where we choose to respond, we can find what we really want and need in life.
Perhaps we find what we really want in training and in life by cultivating an open unattached mind and heart, and awareness of our interconnectedness to all things, and an attitude of gratitude to the temporary opportunity we all share.
Zzzzzzzz … wake up, the lecture is over.
Breathe in, zazen
Breath out, zanshin
In the zone
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for over 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Yondan (4th degree black belt) from Sensei Dang Thong Phong of the International Tenshinkai Aikido Federation and Sensei Andrew Sato of the Aikido World Alliance. He is the co-author of three books on Aikido (with Phong Sensei) and his martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders, victims, and families of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He is a professor of clinical and forensic psychology with an expertise in family violence and treatment. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains and teaches at Kyushinkan Dojo, Roswell Budokan.
Re: Z: Zazan, Zanshin, and Living in the Zone
That was a nice piece, Sensei! The eulogy point reminded me of one of my favorite philosophers, Jack Handy, who wrote, "I hope when I die, people say of me, ‘That guy sure owed me a lot of money!'"
Anyway, I love the idea of unattachment during the training. I would estimate that 99.99% of the time, I am much too attached to the idea of "completing" the technique. I screw it up because I become invested in "doing something" to my opponent. You know the jerks I have to deal with in the dojo ;) Anytime they feel something, they're going to take advantage of it! We've been trying to focus on balancing the in/yo, so that nothing actually goes into uke, and this works WAY better! Miles to go before this is done consistently...
Looking forward to another series :)
Re: Z: Zazan, Zanshin, and Living in the Zone
IMHO, there are always miles to go and friends to share the journey.
Looking forward to some soon.
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