This month's "The Mirror" column was written by A.J. Garcia © 2012.
What's your aikido like? Is it an inspiration, always a challenge, exciting? Does it show you better ways of doing things, both physically and socially? It it a plus for your health? Does it keep you young, active? Does it inspire you in some mystical manner, aid you in centering yourself, or give you a sense of preserving a noble martial history? Does it help you relax and practice being peaceful? Does it give you a good feeling about your capability to defend yourself in a physical confrontation? Are you into its precision, its discipline? Do you love its awesome ability, when done properly, to transport your uke across the mat at lightning speed? Does the weapons practice thrill you? It your dojo a great social group to be a member of? Does practice, in some undefinable way, just feel like it fits your life?
Aside from political wranglings or personality conflicts, which we will not discuss here, sometimes we all hit periods of ennui where our practice is concerned. It's sort of like a dieting plateau--for those of you who've been on diets--where there isn't any obvious reason you can point to, but the weight loss has stopped (even though you haven't gained any back), and you're just not doing well with waiting for it to begin again. Everything can be fine at the dojo, fine with practice, fine with learning something new...but you still feel a bit at sea, and question why. Ennui. Not bad enough to really make you want to give it up, but you're without any strong inspiration to continue, either.
We live in an economically tough world today, even for those with stable lives and mostly steady employment. Most people have had to cut back on things, and for many it has been their practice (either they can't afford the dojo fees any more, or the dojo can't afford to stay in business any more). Others have cut back on seminar attendance. If you can't afford it, you can't afford it. Many of us scrimp in other areas of our lives to be able to keep up our monthly dojo fees. The times of barely blinking when we paid for seminars, or to support a visit from a highly-ranked sensei (in my dojo, Soke, our head sensei from Japan), are over for most of us. Fees that once would have been just part of a week's salary for many have become a savings effort over months.
That's where I am today. I've argued with myself since December about the costs of Soke's upcoming visit this month (which are above the monthly dojo fee)--his airfare and housing. In years past, I didn't give it a thought. This year the fees are lower than last year's (we're having a barbeque, not a banquet, and one of the members is putting Soke up in his home), but still it's a chunk of money for me, hard to come by--and, like a blister makes you focus on it due to pain, the effort to scrape up the costs has made me focus on my practice.
Now, you may be fine where money's concerned, but frustrated that you no longer feel deeply inspired. Or you may have more on your plate (kids, family, a sick relative, two jobs, transportation problems, looking for a job or better job) that limit your time and force you to juggle it--or that limit how much of "you" you can give to learning, because your mind keeps focusing on the other things instead of completely on your practice. Or you may have an injury that limits what you can do and that doesn't seem to be clearing up like you'd liked for it to. You just don't/can't feel fully involved and it makes you question why you're involved at all. So feel free to substitute whatever your "trigger" is for my trigger of "money."
My monthly dojo fee is in my very pared-down budget, but coming up with the visit fee required really cutting back to save it up. And I asked myself, "Why are you practicing? You could use that money for other necessities right now. Look at the economy! Would anyone blame you if you quit for a while because you really can barely afford to practice, much less pay for the visit? Are you feeling really inspired right now by your practice?"
Well, no. Not super-inspired, but not uninspired, either. I'm suffering from ennui.
When we did the Mirror group roundtable piece in January, I mentioned that for me, martial arts are meditative centering influence in my life. They add a stability that's just there, regardless of the other conflicts and crises I deal with. Yes, I "should" test (I missed doing so last year, due to finances; couldn't come up with the testing fee on top of the visit fees), but no, I can't again this year, due to finances. Well, so goes it. The real reason I practice isn't to gain rank anyway. The experience is more important than adding another certificate to my stash. So, I asked myself, had something changed in the meditative aspect of the practice? No, not really; the intensity may wax and wane, but it's still there.
Do I feel I'm not learning enough fast enough? No. I just learned a new technique three weeks ago and have mastered it (not on a super-subtle advanced level, but I have the moves down now, ready to refine and polish). Would quitting to use the money (both monthly fees and Soke's visit money) for "necessities" really make a difference? I know it wouldn't. And if I quit, well, my hakama still has years of use in it and why waste that? Why lose the peaceful (for me) time at the dojo, which, while it doesn't give me any certificates, really just feels right for me?
So, have I really found a solution yet to my ennui? No. I'm going to take advice from a poster I saw years ago, of a cat hanging from the end of a rope: "When you've reached the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on!" Saturday I paid my fees for Soke's visit. I've made a decision to just hold on and see what inspiration comes. To just experience his visit with no testing pressures and see what I learn, like last year. To endure. To stay on my "plateau" for as long as required until, one day, the inspiration of practice coalesces again for me.
Remember, the only constant is change. This, too, shall pass.
"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.