Breathe in empathy
Breathe out compassion
Connectedness and Conscience
I hear myself talking about these three characteristic more and more these days. It does not really seem to matter what the subject matter is. Somehow it is always an opportunity to cultivate, facilitate, advocate, and perpetuate empathy and compassion for others by developing a sense of connectedness and conscience. Either I think the world needs more of this or I think I need to work more in it.
Empathy: (1) understanding of another's feelings, (2) attribution of feelings to an object, (3) sympathy, compassion, identification, and responsiveness
In the dojo, at first we feel that we are in opposition to our training partners and that they oppose us. Perhaps this is the yin/yang balance or only the differences in the systemic roles we play, but as long as we perceive and conceive the other person as separate from ourselves we will never extend our energy (ki) across the distance (miai) and establish a connection (musubi). It is hard to cultivate a sense of understanding when someone is approaching and attacking to knock your block off. At least I hope they are giving you their honest and genuine best so you can practice. That is the other side of empathy in training. They say what goes around comes around and how you train will be how you fight. So perhaps we both need to give and receive each other's best shots. It is not about being a jerk or continually trying to stop one another. It is about establishing that connectedness (empathy) to know that the other person needs to train and to give it to them. It is not about competing but about cooperating at a very deep level. Perhaps this is why such deep bonds form quickly with people we train with. We can feel this mutual empathy.
In life, it is no different. We often want to be on the receiving end of empathy with people understanding where we are coming from. Yet, we do not often practice the skill of getting out of our own frame of reference and truly try to understand where the other person is coming from, where they have been, and where they are going to get. We live in a society that idealizes and romanticizes the separate independent earned ego identify or self. We are to listen to ourselves more than each other. We are to reach in rather than reach out. Perhaps this is why there is so much depression, anxiety, and addiction. The myth and illusion of the existential angst (aloneness) as the glorified Holy Grail is not leading us to enlightenment but to despair and depression. Empathy is the ability and skill to step up and look from another person's point of view while equally having the courage to let them return the favor by openly disclosing and discussing how we see ourselves. This is the dialogue and conversation that heals no matter what the content. However, few have the clarity and courage to take this road and find themselves with the masses settling for the superficial far less than we all deserve and want.
Compassion: (1) sympathy and empathy, (2) concern and kindness, (3) consideration and care, (4) kind-heartedness and benevolence
In the dojo, I am truly concerned for the safety of others as well as myself. While accidents happen, they are just that. We talk a lot (and if we are lucky, we practice) about how intent directs our energy and the execution of the technique. Everything we do starts as a thought whether we know it or own it or not. When we train with a sense of fear and anger, it shows in our technique. Fear and anger uses physical power and force which creates the reciprocal power and force of resistance. First in our minds, then our bodies, and then the body of our training partner. While this is common in many martial arts, it does not appear to be the Aiki way. We extend not just our hands but our hearts and minds to each other every day on the training mat.
In life, it is not that different. Violence creates violence. Fear creates fear. Life is unconsciously contagious. Compassion creates compassion. I remember reading a college study where people were asked to give a lecture/speech on compassion in a lecture hall across campus. On the way over was a man (actor) in need of assistance. If the actor was alone, no one stopped. If another actor was offering assistance, people stopped their own journey and joined in. When people show us compassion, we often want to reciprocate and return the favor. Of course, there are those people who are developmentally narcissistically damaged and are just takers. Perhaps they deserve more of our compassion and sympathy because they will never truly know happiness. I see this in couples and family counseling all the time where everyone wants to be have their hurts heard and healed but no one wants to listen and learn first. Yet, when the first one does (usually the most intelligent and healthy one) the others often follow suit. Perhaps we need to stop hurting each other and start healing.
Connectedness: (1) join together, (2) related, (3) with beneficial social connects, (4) with wealthy relatives, (5) logical and intelligible, (6) describing mathematical relation
Conscience: (1) a sense of right and wrong, (2) shared moral viewpoint, (3) part of super-ego, (4) being fair and reasonable, (5) truly the case, (6) causing guilt or anxiety about something, (7) ethics, integrity, morality, scruples, and principles
In the dojo, we often live by a code of conduct. This may be quite different from the code of conduct in our own lives outside the dojo. Besides training our bodies, we are training our spirits. When we physically move a certain way we begin to cultivate that sense of right feeling in what we are doing. This is also mental training because for the body to do the right thing, the mind must first have trained and retrained it through sweat and repetition. Then the mind can get out of the way, but not until that point. We are re-patterning ourselves. We are training to connect to others in times of conflict and crisis from a place of empathy and compassion. We are training to keep our minds and bodies relaxed while connecting and moving decisively.
In life, it is not that different. I usually see couples and families in counseling during times of confusion, conflict, and crisis. Why else would they be there? The typical response is for everyone to be hurt and defend themselves with anger and aggression. Everyone is talking (unless they are passive aggressive -- then they are silent) and no one is listening. Everyone is contributing and perpetuating the systemic hurt. Everyone is coming from a place of not feeling loved and appreciated. Usually it all breaks down when someone (anyone) finally admits the hurt (hiding behind the anger) and I ask how does the family respond to each other's pain. Please remember that part of empathy is remembering that everyone is hurting. That is our common denominator. How do we want people to respond to our hurt and pain? Perhaps our conscience (code of thought, feelings, and conduct) can learn that others usually respond by how we respond to them. It is one of those "what goes around comes around" kinds of cyclical systemic processes. Perhaps we can be proactive and start the healing process by responding to each other with empathy, compassion, connectedness, and conscience.
Breathe in empathy
Breathe out compassion
Connectedness and Conscience
Thanks for listening, for the chance 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.