Breathe in, questions
Breath out, quiet
As a follower of Zen Buddhism, I have a deep interest in Koan discipline. Koans are those insane questions that cannot be answered. A famous one is, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?
" This question is used to focus the mind and search for answers.
Bill Cosby had a comedy album titled, What Color is Up?
(I always thought that was actually a true or false question.)
Life has many questions. Some are worth pondering and some are not worth hanging on to. In communication, I was taught that questions should always be phrased in a way that the question is answerable and in many ways actually contains the answer in the context or context of asking. The art of the question is not only how it is phrased but also who it is asked of and is it worth asking.
Question: (1) inquire, (2) doubt, (3) issue, (4) examination, (5) interrogate, (6) uncertainty
We can call into question, or pose or put a question. We can think something is beyond question because it is simply out of the question or without question. Ancient wisdom would say that an unexamined life (unquestioned) is not worth living. Why do we question everything and believe that everything has to have an answer? Why do we tend to answer questions with another question?
In the dojo, I am often asked what to do if somebody does something different. People do not always like the answer that if other people do something different, than you have to do something different in response. In other arts where I was not required to blend with my opponent, it was easy just to stick to my own fight-plan. In fact, the rule of the ring was never to fight somebody else's fight-plan because their fight-plan was designed to help them win and I lose. In Aikido, I was taught not only to blend and utilize the other person's fight-plan, but to now call mine a "fight" plan and to respond naturally to whatever they did. Of course, my usual plan (by any name) incorporated "fight". Why did I see everything as a fight?
Moreover, the questions continued. Since Aikido did not fit the pre-established fight-plans, I was required to make one of those paradigm-shifts, meaning I had to learn something new. Of course, before I could learn something new I had to question it. I wanted to know why it worked and why we did it a certain way. I find many times answers do not come before the experience but rather in reflection on the experience after it has already occurred. Seems like I had the sequence wrong, doesn't it?
Life appears no different. I remember an old scene in Out of Africa
where Merlly Streep is asking Robert Redford about the future of their relationship. Redford just commented that the reason the world was round was so you could not see too far ahead, if you wanted to see further down the path you had to travel further down the path.
As a professional therapist, I had to learn that before I answered any questions, was to ask if that person really wanted to know what I thought. I find most people want agreement and not honesty. Few people ask me questions anymore. Guess most of them already know what I would say. (If you have read a few of my columns, you probably already have a good sense of what I would say. Don't you? I am pretty simplistic. Aren't I?)
Quiet: (1) calm, soft, or gentle (2) silence, hushed, peaceful, serene, or tranquil, (3) settled or still
Usually after we ask a question, we start to scramble to find an answer. It is almost as if we cannot just hold a question in our minds to focus on it. The question becomes the direction and obsession of our time and energy. The harder and more elusive the answer, the more frantic we become.
One of the best descriptions of Koan and mediation practice is that the mind is like a pail of muddy water. If we want to get some clarity and to the button of things, we put our hand into the water and keep stirring it up. Yet the opposite may be more useful. If we sit quietly beside the pail of muddy water, the water will become still, the mud will settle to the bottom, and we will be able to see clearly to the bottom.
In the dojo, if we how the question while we practice, we may not just discover why the technique works but how it works, and where it works, who it works with, and who it doesn't. A friend of mine refers to blending with an opponent as listening to what they are saying (though he tends to listen with a kinesthetic and energetic sense while I remain visual and at times auditory). Rather that asking how to overcome resistance, I usually ask which direction the opponent is already going and how can we help them get there. The quieter I am, the more I can see, hear, and feel what the other person is telling me.
The same appears true in life. Watch most people. Half way through their question, they stop listening and start search for their answer. They have already missed at least half the question (and its search information) before they even start to search for something that will satisfy you and impress you with how much they know. I always enjoy the people who answer the question before you ask it because they already know what you need to know and they know it all already. Perhaps the person who will be most helpful is the one who is quiet while you ask a question and who takes a moment of quiet after your question to make sure they understand it before they even begin their search.
Remember a while back I mentioned that if you have been reading my columns, that you might already have some idea about what I would answer? I am one of those people who often answer a question with another question. Do people want the answer from me or do they really want to answer for themselves? Do I really know what the answer is for them? Is this a question that even can be answered? I usually just remind people that if they quiet the chatter in their own minds, they already know the right answer and the right thing to do. We all already do when the mind is quiet, don't we?
Quit: (1) give up, (2) stop or resign, (3) relinquish, renounce, or resign, (4) refrain from, (5) suspend, (6) leave, abandon, or walk out/away
Quitting has gotten a bad name these days. We try to believe that if something isn't working, we simply need to try the exact same thing harder, more often, or for a longer period of time. In (12-step) program, we say that insanity is doing the same things we have always done and expect different results.
In the dojo, that shift from a resisting and bashing mind-set and fight-plan to a blending-strategy is not an easy one. At best, most of us fall into to fight, flight, or freeze response to anything unexpected or threatening. Now I am supposed to stay relaxed in my body, quiet in my mind, and let my response flow from what is offered. Yet, in truth and in practice, I don't have to do anything to flow with the experience, I simply have to quit using my old fight-plan.
In life, I often have to remind myself to quit trying to make everything the way I want it to be and to accept and appreciate it for what it is. We tend to be very mentally and emotionally active when we are into our negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Yet, when we are our most productive, creative, and content, the mind and emotions are often very quiet.
When we ask too many questions and look for too many answers, perhaps we just keep ourselves in a constant state of continual confusion, conflict, and chaos. Perhaps the best answer to many questions is to get internally quite and quite asking others.
If you focus the mind on the Zen Koan "what is the sound of one hand clapping
", you will try to find deep and profound cognitive answers. One day, you will quit the questioning and quietly hear the birds sing.
Breathe in, questions
Breath out, quiet
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.