Re: Discussion of Spirituality from an Aikido Perspective.
I have often found Spirituality in Aikido to be a muddled topic. This is despite the fact that I have always been keenly drawn to this aspect of the art. By muddled I mean that most Aikidoists (there are few notable exceptions) seem to avoid talking about spirituality and when they do, the discussion is often fatuous and not too useful or (infrequently) questioning but with few authentic answers.
Why is the practice of Aikido any closer to a spiritual path then, say, playing soccer? They both involve grace and beauty. They both require technical skill. They both provide immediate feedback and are extremely challenging.
Perhaps the answer is that they are both equally valid spiritual paths as long as the individual plays them that way. Of course, it seems obvious to most that just because one plays soccer doesn't mean one is on a spiritual path. In fact most soccer players probably could care less - why should they? This is also true for Aikido , even though in its genesis, Aikido was intended to have a spiritual dimension. However, the landscape of Aikido practice is so large that people can easily stay in the "Aikido as non-spiritual activity" terrain their entire lives and have a perfectly fulfilling training.
It is evident to me that not everyone needs Aikido to augment their spirituality. For example, many of the best people I have ever known have never even seen Aikido. The most important mentor in my life never even heard of the art. I was drawn to Aikido because I sensed there was something in it that I needed.
Here is a list of some of the spiritual elements that have developed in my own training. Please excuse some of the broad metaphors. I don't necessarily mean them literally.
1. I practice Aikido to more fully inhabit my own life and become the person that the gods had in mind when they created me. I don't want to get to the end and think that I missed this one.
2. I want to enhance my EXPERIENCE of being alive.
3. I am seeking for an experience of a larger connection to my world and a sense of the greater mystery that underlies all things.
3. Aikido cannot be practiced between a person and a lamp-post or and inanimate lump. It is a feedback system that occurs between living beings. It is a generous engagement that we provide for each other.
4. Aikido is an art in the fullest sense of the word. It requires skill, training, vision, courage and an aesthetic sensibility. True Art can connect us to a larger experience of the world and trigger transformation within.
5. Aikido is rooted in a martial edge. By this I mean that its fundamental lessons are contained in the martial integrity of the practice. On some level "its gotta work". Practices such as "internal power" training encourage physical transformations that can reverberate spiritually in fundamental ways.
6. My spiritual state is immediately reflected in how I execute technique or take ukemi, whether I want it to or not. The feedback provided by my movements and my partner and felt in my body provides a continuous stream of information and countless opportunities to adjust and improve. By paying attention to this information and changing how I manifest technique I can change my inner landscape.
7. I have to define for myself what it means to grow spiritually. What does it mean to continually advance the task of becoming who I am meant to be? What are my values? What does the soul want? In any case, what I intend when I practice Aikido, over time, is likely to be what I will get.
8. By default, any fundamental human capacity we avoid gets placed into our shadow. The shadow is our dark side where dangerous and unacceptable energies are imprisoned. These energies are the Mr. Hyde of our lives and cause all kinds of mischief. This is why there are as many soft, spiritual people who unconsciously manifest betrayal as there are aggressive people who unconsciously promote a kind of spiritual poverty. By taking material out of my shadow bag in a physical way and letting it breathe I can access energy that was formerly unavailable and become a more balanced person.
9. Like most people, I grow by working my edges. For example, one of my personality traits is that I naturally tend to avoid aggression. Thus it is really good practice for me train in situations where my level of assertiveness is challenged and exposed. In such situations I am forced to move out my comfort zone and practice projecting myself. Taking manageable risks is the key to effective training and if I don't have some moments where I am feeling uncomfortable then I am probably not growing.
10. The practice is designed to encourage our thinking out of the mundane onto a more aware and vital plane. This is why I agree to wearing old-fashioned Japanese formal-wear and practicing in a consciously designed dojo. By placing myself in a this created sacred space I am reminding myself of the higher purpose of training and connecting to a larger tradition. Otherwise I could do just as well wearing sweats. Without this purpose the wearing of a gi and hakama is like a Japanese person dressing up in a cowboy outfit - harmless enough but perhaps a bit daft.
11. Aikido is an art that really does have its own parameters. One can have a practice with all of the above attributes and not be practicing Aikido. Aikido is rooted in a tradition that sprang (at least) from the explorations of Morihei Ueshiba and practioners need to follow that transmission as best they can if they want to call what they are doing Aikido.
Geez - this is longer than I intended. I am sure that there are many who can't see putting all of this stuff into their Aikido practice, but I appreciate the opportunity provided by this thread to talk about it.
Last edited by donhebert : 09-26-2011 at 04:13 PM.