This column was written by Al Garcia © 2008
The world is in turmoil from the present economic crisis. Jobs and savings are disappearing at an alarming rate, many have been forced from their homes by forclosure, and the price of everything seems to have risen drastically due to fluctuations in energy costs. There are very few people at the moment who don't regard the future with caution or even dread, wondering when the worldwide economy will finally hit bottom...and if they'll still be standing at the end.
We say that aikido is a paradigm for life, a microcosm of society, and that the dojo is a mostly-safe environment where we can experiment with growing ourselves into more capable people who are better able to negotiate living. Our teachers tell us to take what we learn on the mat out into our lives and apply it. Numerous books have been written about applying aikido principles to everything from army special forces training to sports mastery to business excellence. But how do we apply it to present circumstances?
First, the uncertainty of the economy: how many of us, as dojo members, have not gone through hard times in dojo life? The challenges of keeping ourselves afloat financially, struggling to pay bills, keeping members engaged, and recruiting new members are often daunting. Many a dojo does fail, or continues for years barely scraping by. If we own the space, we worry about taxes, maintenance, and insurance; if we rent, we worry about our lease, whether we can pay it or if the property will be sold out from under us, requiring an unanticipated move to a new location that may lose us members due to travel distance. If we're part of a community program at the YMCA or a college campus, we worry if we will be renewed each year and whether we will have enough attendance to justify having classes. Maybe, if we're part of a national/international organization, headquarters hiked our fees; or, we need to raise our own fees to cover costs, which may mean
people will drop out. Point is, we have lots of experience dealing with uncertainty...and adapting to it. If our dedication is to aikido, we don't let go of that dedication, and we find a way to practice, keep the flame alive, even though circumstances change. It's the same in life.
How do we do this? Lessons on the mat teach us to deal with what is happening at the moment, right where we are. Be fully conscious: don't overreact, don't underreact. Instead, blend and lead. If uke is barreling down on us, we cannot just stand there and be hit, we cannot pretend the attack does not exist, we cannot wish it away. We must move, respond, now. Some responses are more appropriate than others, because they have a higher probability of being effective. Our size, uke's size, uke's momentum, the dimensions of the space we're working in all factor into our response. We do not want to get hurt ourselves nor hurt uke, but occasionally something goes wrong that's unavoidable, so we need to concentrate on minimizing the damage when we realize it's happening...and also accept that in the tiniest number of cases, there's nothing we can do; it's going to play out badly, and picking up the pieces well will be our only way to mitigate the damage.
Are the stocks in our retirement accounts taking unacceptable losses? We could consider moving these assets to a safer vehicle temporarily, perhaps bonds, to attempt to preserve principal. Is our bank giving indications it could be shaky? Yes, many of our deposits are government-insured, but in the event of a default, it may take a while to access that money, so what will we live on in the meantime? We might want to keep some accessible cash on hand to tide us over the gap in case real disaster strikes. Is our mortgage at risk? There is no shame in talking with our lender now about payment arrangements, instead of in a month or two when it may be impossible to negotiate any kind of terms. Have we lost our job, or are in danger of doing so? Pulling our financial belt in tight immediately and cutting all discretionary spending would be a wise move. We may move from one job to another quickly, in which case that's fine, but what if we don't? And
if the whole pile of cards, everything, comes crashing down on us? Then we must resolve to stand up, dust ourselves off, and get on with rebuilding the world!
On the other hand, if uke is not attacking us, should we panic? React? No. Staying conscious of what is happening around us, and, if we detect something that may indicate an attack (or financial castastrophe) could be imminant, adjusting our stance accordingly, is appropriate; but not acting precipitously. Let's focus on allowing our opponents no openings if we can avoid it. Be prepared to move, but don't move until it is necessary. We must base our reading of the situation on what is happening now, at this moment, not on what we imagine may (or may not) happen in the future. Worry is a wasted emotion that occupies time better spent in actively pursuing solutions.
While the present world situation is frustrating, we must refrain from getting angry. Anger clouds our judgement and dulls our eye. We see many things we don't like in life, and often are called upon to choose what we would consider to be the lesser of two evils, rather than having the option of a pristine path. We need to accept this reality and carefully choose the best option we can--the one that, hopefully, will cause the fewest negative outcomes. We must make a choice to actively participate in life, instead of simply complaining or being immobilized by our emotions. Remember, in aikido we are always dynamic, ready to respond, even when we are just standing there. We give a better response when our minds are cool and focused.
And we must adapt. If something isn't working, we need to go to a different move immediately, and if that doesn't work, try another. Don't be proud; be practical and pragmatic. There is always a solution, an opening; we just have to find it. At present, with the world's daunting problems, that may require patience and take a little longer...but it's not impossible.
What we desire (to send uke into a breakfall, to buy a new car instead of repairing our present one) may not be possible for us at this exact moment, but may be on another day. We can't allow frustration with our rate of progress to mess us up. We must keep working toward our goals even if they seem unreachable. How many are now shodan who doubted they could even make nikyu? With practice comes experience, and we won't master a new technique the first or second or third time we do it, but in most cases we will understand and do it well with practice. Most of us have never lived during really dire economic times, although a few have heard stories of it from our parents or grandparents. It will take time to adapt to this, and as we gain practice in doing so, while it may not get any easier, we will develop more confidence in our individual abilities to cope with what life throws at us.
We must work with, not against, others. Cooperation gets us farther. In a crisis, we need our friends and family more than ever. Two heads are often better than one, because each sees things just a little bit differently.
It's best not to run away (into alcohol, drugs, etc); better to stay present, conscious, and kind to those around us. They're suffering too, and it's not necessarily because they're personally weak, stupid, or irresponsible. There are things in the world beyond our control. The only thing we ever can control, after all, is ourselves. We learn that...in aikido.
Now, back to practice!
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.