I have often been confused about when I was supposed to be serious and when to let my silliness out. Perhaps the best I have come up with is to take what I am doing seriously but to see the silliness in myself. Is seriousness and silliness mutually exclusive?
Breathe in, seriousness
Breathe out, silliness
Can we see the seriousness in what we take as silliness and the silliness in what we take seriously? Can we balance the two as opposing opposite forces in harmony on the same spectrum? Can seriousness and silliness be simultaneous or must they always be sequential? Are they mutually exclusive?
Serious: (1) important and vital, (2) very bad or very good, (3) thought-full, thought-provoking, profound, meaning-full, and power-full, (4) not light-hearted, (5) meaning something literally, (6) dedicated to something, (7) likely to succeed, (8) substantial and significant, (9) earnest, honest, genuine, and sincere
Perhaps nothing is more attractive than intelligence. Intelligence often looks serious.
In the dojo, it is important to take training seriously. When we do not take our training serious enough people get hurt. Of course, if we take it too serious, people get hurt too. When many of us first began martial arts training, it was very serious business. Many of us were there to learn to overcome our fears and defend ourselves. Smiling, laughing, and talking were frowned upon. We were there for one thing and one thing only, to train. And train we did. We did the same thing over and over again with a very serious intent and attitude. After a while, we could look fierce and hit with power. Sometimes the anger was still there inside though. I learned to take the training, my changing psychology, the potential situation, and the lessons learned through sweat deep into myself, my soul, and my spirit with seriousness and intelligence.
In our lives, seriousness is an issue. I know they say that an unexamined life is not worth living. Yet, as a counselor, I have seen so many people examining and reexamining their lives (usually searching for the negative past event that created such conflict, confusion, and chaos) that they are internally lost. Many times we search the past from a spectator position for what was never there feeling hopeless and helpless to change it. Other times we search the future as if our greatest fears were now realities that we are trapped in. If all we look for is the negatives of the past or future, don't be surprised if all we find is depression and anxiety.
Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of self-reflection and learning from our past mistakes so we don't keep creating, facilitating, and perpetuating them. We actually don't learn from the experience itself, but from the investigation and reflection on it. It's never too late to take a serious look at why things are not working and find a solution that works to solve our problems. I needed to learn how serious intelligence and mindfulness could also be very positive. I learned to take my relationship with others seriously and attempt to be a more intelligent, mindful, empathetic, and compassionate role model. I also learned not to take myself too seriously. I am far too silly for that.
Silly: (1) foolish, (2) trivial, (3) dazed or helpless, (4) not intelligent, deserving of respect, or to be taken seriously, (5) inappropriate and unimportant, (6) a joke
Perhaps nothing is more attractive than a good sense of humor. Humor often looks silly.
In the dojo, I am often that adolescent clown who talks too much and makes fun of himself. I am sure that when O'Sensei suggested we train in a joyful manner, he did not have me in mind. His part training was in Budo and was very serious. Perhaps his more spiritual training was more joy-full. However, I am sure he was never accused of being silly. I love training. I am a mat rat. As a recreational hobbyist, I train for the joy of training. Training is the journey and the destination. I have nothing to sell and nothing to prove. I get dressed in my angry-white-pajamas, put on my black-pleated-A-line-pantaloons and role play a feudal Japanese warrior. How can I take that too serious? I am silly and I love it. Perhaps it's the silliness as well as the seriousness that keeps me coming back all these years. If I was not having a good time, why was I showing-up, suiting-up, and bowing-in? Did I really need one more place in my life where I could look silly?
In our lives, there is an instant rapport with those we laugh with. There is a vulnerability to being foolish, to take a risk. Often we down play our feelings as silly or our thoughts as silly. Both can be, but neither has to be. What is the positive intent in our silliness? What is the positive intention in trying to avoid looking or being silly? We often think of children as silly. Yet in their natural innocence, they see the beauty in the world and in people. They are not afraid to express how they feel, especially when they feel safe and loved. Nothing makes us feel more like silly children than love. Not the adrenaline entertainment often thought of as love, but the deeper quieter peace and contentment that bring tears to the eyes, laughter to the heart, and silliness to our behavior.
Silence: (1) quietness, stillness, and peace, (2) not speaking, (3) ignoring of something, (4) stopping making noise, (5) suppression, (6) end hostile behavior, (7) stillness, (8) muteness, (9) stop
Perhaps nothing is more attractive than silence and stillness. There is sweetness to the ability to sit contently with someone without needing to say or do anything. Meditation is silence and stillness. Perhaps the meeting point between seriousness and silliness is silence and stillness.
In the dojo, we often have workouts where no one talks. There is no instruction and no feedback. A technique is shown and everyone does his or her best to imitate what was modeled. What we see the instructor doing is based on our understanding of Aikido and the accepted limitations of our own abilities. The room is silent, but seldom is our mind. We talk to ourselves about the technique, about our training partner, about what we did before we entered the dojo, where we wished we were and what we wished we were doing instead of being here, and what we hope to do when we leave. The silence is only external with the internal screaming our worse fears and deepest doubts. Perhaps we will never relax an quiet the body if we never calm and quiet the mind. Aikido is supposed to utilize the unification of body and mind. Yet we often only train the body in the dojo. Perhaps we are not ignoring or avoiding our minds and hearts in training, but hoping somehow where the body goes the head and heart will follow.
In our lives, we are seldom silent in thoughts, feelings, or actions. We cannot hear what others are saying because we are too busy talking to ourselves about how to respond and hear something entirely different. We cannot hear or know our own thoughts because we have not silenced the voices of history and others in our heads.
I once heard that meditation was the patience and skills to sit silently and still until the mind clears itself. To see the truth, perhaps we need to see silently through the illusions we accept as accepted social norms based on fear and ignorance.
Perhaps the illusion of self is the one most needing our silent attention and intention. When we see through the illusions of the learned ego identity, we see through the illusions of seriousness and silliness. If we silence the seriousness and silliness of self-importance and ignorant attachment, perhaps we will free ourselves from our self-restricted minds and open our hearts to others, to love.
Breathe in, seriousness
Breathe out, silliness
(After just getting back from another excellent East Coast Aikido Bridge Seminar at Shindai Dojo in Orlando Florida, I considered changing the three words of this column: stiffness, soreness, and satisfaction.)
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 Andrew Sato of the Aikido World Alliance and Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) from Sensei Dang Thong Phong of the International Tenshinkai Aikido Federation. 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.