Breathe in, empty
Breathe out, empathy
I remember one of the first healing visualizations I was taught. I would relax and close my eyes. When I would inhale I would say "In with the good
" and when I exhaled I would say "Out with the bad
". These were deep cleansing breaths while visualize white light getting brighter and brighter. And when it was just about me, it felt good and seemed to work fine.
But in a relationship, if I worked from the premise that I would take in the good and give off the bad, it might not work out too well for the other person, who would eventually leave, meaning it really wasn't too good for me either. Who wants to be in a relationship where someone takes the best you have to offer and gives you back the worse they have to offer?
Plants seem to have the right idea about being in a relationship with the environment. They breathe in the carbon-dioxide, use photosynthesis to make chlorophyll and turn green, and then give back oxygen which we need to breathe in. It's a nice natural reciprocal arrangement in which we and the plants both win. Maybe there is something to learn here.
empty: containing no-thing, to remove the contents, to discharge or transfer, to unburden one's self, unfilled, clear
In first learning deep breathing techniques, I learned that the inhalation was not the most important part. Breathing in deeply only worked well if the lungs where already pretty empty. It's like blowing air into an already filled balloon if you don't empty it first. It's like filling a cup with liquid when it's already full. Exhaling deeply empties the lungs of carbon-dioxide (that thing plants want) and created a natural vacuum to take in more oxygen (that thing plants give back).
(As an aside, I remember training at a dojo that kept reminding me that they knew I had a full cup to empty and I kept thinking to myself that I had no intention of emptying it but rather just getting a bigger fuller cup. To balance that was a friend who finally figured out that the cup was not half-empty or half-full, but was too big. If the cup was small enough, the amount he already had not only filled it but left it overflowing.)
In life and especially in relationships, perhaps it is better to empty ourselves of past hurts and pettiness before we invite someone in. They say you cannot say "Hello
" to someone new until you have said "Good-bye
" to someone old. Perhaps before I try to become a "we
" I need to find out who "I
" am? How does one empty? How does one find clarity in who they are? I remember realizing that everything I thought I was I had learned in a relationship to someone else and that the reflection I thought was me had more to do with who they were, not who I was. So the more I emptied who they were, the less there was of "me
", and the more room there was for "we
As a psychotherapist and counselor, I am often asked about treatment planning where the professional tries to figure out what to do from one session to the next. Life is not that predictable for my clients, so seldom do they ever come back into the next session according to my preconceived idea of where they should be. They just come in where they are and we take it from there.
In martial arts I find that most people have a pre-conceived idea about how someone is going to approach or attack them. It's usually consistent and congruent with their style. Someone comes in from another style and they have to be taught the correct way to attack so that the correct way to defend actually has some chance of succeeding. While this may be an okay strategy for practicing inside the dojo, the real world will not attack you according to your preconceived and practiced ideas. It will just launch at you from any angle at any time it sees fit. Perhaps we need to be empty enough of preconceived ideas and tactics to have a flexible response to whomever and however we are confronted.
It takes great courage to let go of the learned ego identity. But that is only where the journey begins.
empathy: the ability to identify and understand another's feelings, thoughts, and difficulties (because you can imagine what it is like to be them, compassion
There is so much suffering cause by the ignorant belief that we are all alone. It is that existential angst that we create to feel separated from all that is.
We all have pain. Suffering is perhaps one of the few universal experiences. Because we all have it, we can relate to others who have it. Most of us can also relate to ignorance. We usually don't know we don't know something but we know we don't know it all, so we know we don't know. You know what I mean?
As a couple's counselor, I am always amazed by how many people think their only problem is communication. Communication is very important, but what most people mean is that others need to listen to them. I have sat in session listening to everyone talking at once and no one listening to anyone, even me (and they are paying not to listen to me). In any communication there is the sender and receiver. There is also the encoding and decoding of the message sent. Usually we encode a message based on who we are, not who is receiving it. We also encode it based on who we are, not who sent it. It is rare to find two people with the same frame of reference so this encoding and decoding process lends itself to a great deal of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misery.
The greatest act of courage is to overcome fear and let love in and let love out. It takes courage to let go of our own frame of reference and really try to see, feel, and understand who someone really is from their point of view. It takes courage to reach out in love. Equally, it takes courage to let down our guard and let someone into who we really are. While love heals, loves brings up all the wounds that need healing. It is this reciprocal courageous act of empathy that stimulates, facilitates, and perpetuates communication and healing.
When I first began my study in Aikido, my sensei emphasized a complete 180-degree tankan. When attacked, I was to change places with my attacker. Perhaps this was more than just taking initiative, inertia, momentum, and taking balance on a physical level. It was the opportunity to see things from a 180-degree position change and to allow that same opportunity to be available to our attacker. Perhaps if we could stand in each other's position, see things through their eyes, from their perspective (and let them see and feel ours) the conflict would resolve itself.
For most people the courage to empty and develop empathy is a solo cognitive pursuit. It takes even more courage to actually act on it.
engage: to attract and become involved, interlock, hold, absorb, connect
Now that we have developed the courage to go inside ourselves to empty the learned ego identity and empathize with others, we need to move into action. We need to have the courage to enter and engage others and our environment, to embrace the opportunity.
Actually the question I usually ask couples and families in counseling is how they stop themselves from reaching out to each other's pain. When they see the pain in other's eyes, it is natural to have some empathic pain too. While it may not be the social norm, it is natural to come to each other's aid if we do not stop ourselves with our own ego-centric fears. When I ask what goes on inside them when they see the suffering, they all respond they want to reach out and do something for that person. I suggest they get out of their own way and reach out. Hugs and tears cried together have a healing effect.
I am often kidded about my Irimi in my Aikido. Irimi means to enter. I tend to have a very strong forward momentum with a reluctance to retreat or pull back. I did this in my bashing days too. The difference is that in those days my intent was to hit and hurt the other person. They were still separate from me. We were in opposition to each other in this adversarial process of conflict creating and perpetuation. In Aikido I learned that I could enter and engage with a positive intent of conflict resolutions by accepting my part in the reciprocal relationship. It's like being assertive without being aggressive. It lets the other person know that they are not alone, but in our connectedness they will not be hurt.
Life and live is only for the truly courageous. It takes courage to empty the learned ego identity and let go of ignorant beliefs. It takes courage to experience the empathy of reaching out to others and let other reach into us. It takes courage to actually enter, engage, and embrace the opportunities and experiences that life gives us. Live, love, and practice Aikido courageously.
Breathe in, empty the ego
Breathe out, empathy for everyone
Enter, engage, embrace, and en-courage each other
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 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.