This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Linda Eskin © 2015, all rights reserved.
In just a few weeks my first classes will finally begin. I am combining my experience and training in psychology, experience design, technical communication, and exercise instruction to create educational fitness programs designed to get people moving on the path to healthier, more active lives. It's been an exciting process getting to this point.
I've been noticing, as I launch this new career and get my business up and running, that I'm naturally putting into practice what I've been learning on the mat at the dojo.
First, there's staying present and taking effective action in the face of threat, fear, and uncertainty. That was one of the things I originally sought in Aikido, but in the context of horsemanship. I hadn't considered that it might be just as applicable to business. Sure, no one is swinging a sword at my head. But making such a drastic change in one's life is definitely filled with uncertainty, the threat of failure, and all sorts of fears about getting it right. While early-50s isn't "old" it doesn't leave a lot of time for long-term career development or second chances. Waiting for someday, procrastinating, and "thinking it over" aren't part of the plan. I need to hit the ground running, and it has to be a success. I have a lot at stake, but because of my Aikido training I've been able to stay focused, keep moving forward, and respond fluidly as circumstances change and opportunities arise.
Sensei tells us, about techniques, "Don't go reaching for things. Let them fall into your lap." Indeed, looking back, that's exactly how things have been working for me. Rather than seeking out or deliberately creating components for the programs I'm developing - forcing pieces together even when they don't fit quite right - I've been simply noticing ideas as they come to me, and gathering up the ones that will work well in my new projects.
I have the same experience when photographing wildflowers or hunting for interesting rocks. At first I don't see anything; they just aren't there. Then I start to see a few when I'm really paying attention. And then I see them everywhere I look. I can't not see them. Lately I've been in that state of mind with my work - concepts, exercises (whether physical, written, or experiential), information, and inspiration are everywhere I look, now that I'm open to seeing them.
Like techniques that come naturally to us when we open ourselves up to moving freely with our partner's energy, ideas have been coming to me as I've become more receptive to them.
Through Aikido training - and the meditation practices we do at the dojo - I have developed some capacity for being still and quiet, watching patiently to see how things unfold. Like remaining calm in the path of a strike or punch until one's partner has fully committed. I am less inclined to jump away, try to interfere in a situation, or control the outcome, and more able to allow it to work itself out as it will.
I'm less tentative because we practice being direct and assertive. When it's time to act, I am able to act. Because I'm not holding back I've been able to jump on opportunities to get practical experience, take advantage of good prices on equipment, and keep moving even after a stumble here and there.
Things haven't all gone the way I envisioned. There have been some twists and turns, and a few dead ends. When a concept isn't working out I am quicker to notice that than I might have been in the past. It's like feeling the resistance when trying to force a technique. I can be softer and more responsive. I find I am spending less time staying stuck in thoughts of "how it's supposed to be." I can let go, and move quickly, fluidly, on to something better.
But underneath that, before decisiveness and action, is the ability to see the situation for what it is. I've become more able to feel - in my body, in my gut - where I am and what I should do. I'm living less in my head. Not only is this a more effective approach, it's a more pleasant way to live!
These qualities - calm focus, alert presence, fluid responsiveness, direct assertiveness - are ones I'm continually working to develop in my Aikido. To the extent I'm able to express them now, and apply them to my work, I credit partly my past experiences, partly maturity, but mostly a whole lot of consistent training.
"The Mirror" is written by a roster of women who describe themselves as a disparate bunch of scientists, healers, artists, teachers, and, yes, writers. Over ten years into this collaboration we find we are a bunch of middle-aged yudansha from various parts of the world and styles of aikido. What we share is a lively curiosity about and love for both life and budo, and an inveterate tendency to write about our explorations.