1.0 Aikido and The Art of Happiness
On my last Aikido trip, to pratice with Yamashima sensei in Helsinki, I brought with me to read on the flight, the book of the Dalai Lama, "The Art of Happiness". This book is a good read at any moment, and useful as a repeat read as a guide to positive thinking even in life's difficult moments. Reading the book caused me to enquire what is it in Aikido that can make me happy and, in general, how can Aikido be used as a tool to bring people to a higher state of happiness and therefore a better state of health.
I look at Yamashima sensei, especially, as an example. At 73 years old, Yamashima sensei has reached the level of 7th dan Aikikai in Aikido, and is teaching his art all around the world. On every seminar I see him smiling and emitting joy wherever he goes. There is something in his life long practice of Aikido that has made him ultimately a happy man and I don't think it is the status of being 7th dan that has done that!
The book of the Dalai Lama covers a number of different topics, inclluding: Training the Mind for Happiness, Human Warmth and Compassion, Transorming Suffering, Dealing with Anger, Hatred, Anxiety and Building Self-Esteem.
When I think about those topics, I see some parallels about how Aikido can help.
|Yaashima Sensei, 7th dan Aikikai,the smiling sensei, seems to be contantly in a state of happiness!|
Training the Mind for Happiness.
In the Dalai Lama's book, the author writes about Mental Discipline and the cultivation of positive mental states and the importance of making a practice or training. I think Aikido should be practiced with mental discipline high on the agenda. When we come together to practice on a regular basis, we cultivate a discipline of regularity but also our attitude on the mat as to how we practice is important. As we regularly practice the movement, we want also to practice a calmness of mind during the movement. When we put our minds to it, we can all do this, but it does sometimes require some awareness and applied focus in doing so.
Human Warmth and Compassion.
The book quotes the Dalai Lama as defining compassion in this way: "Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, nonharming and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect towards others ... In developing compassion, perhaps one could begin with the wish that oneself be free of suffering and then take that feeling to oneself and cultivate it, enhance it out to include and embrace others". The Dalai Lama goes on to separate two different forms of compassion, attachement compassion and genuine compassion, noting that attachment compassion is often leading to suffering whereas the genuine compassion leads to stability and reliability for a long term. In practicing Aikido, we hope to cultivate our compassion by the nonviolent and nonagressive way in which we should practice. Also, as much as we cultivate ourselves in the practice, Aikido is ultimately about how we relate to others and, during the practice, we connect to others. Therefore, it gives the chance to practice compassion in real time with another person. Sometimes, the person we practice with is neither somebody we know or somebody we initially might not desire to know but, with the practice, we train our minds to accept all those persons that we practice with and to be compassionate and gentle towards them. On the other extreme, we may wish to practice with people we desire and like and, even, are attached to. This can lead to the attached compassion to the extent that. So, the exercise, in that case, is to try to be objective and neutral, no matter who we practice with. You'd think it's easier with somebody we like but, in fact, the exercise is equally difficult!
As a teacher, I must be aware of the example I'm setting although I know I have my own faults which makes me a perfect human full of imperfections. It is very important, nevertheless, for the teacher to consider very seriously how he is leading the group and the Aikido class. The example can have a dramatic impact on how the students practice. Therefore, the teacher should consider treating the students with respect, kindness and compassion, keeping the practice safe. The techniques and exercises should be shown nonviolently and nonagressively, giving to all that watch an example of care to those he/she practices with.
The book talks of facing suffering and of shifting perspectives. Indeed, in in practicing Aikido, because of the kind of contact we make, there is an aknowledgement of facing a "mirror" in the other person, as we recognise our own suffering and the suffering in the other person. With the right approach, the practice of Aikido is cultivating empathy and shared perspectives. In making the movement of tenkan (turning movement), for example, we gain a physical viewpoint which is equal to that of our practice partner, and this translates mentally into shared perspectives. Therefore, by training our physical movement in the space on the mat, we hope to develop a more flexible mind which allows us to expand our perception of the world and others that live in it.
Dealing with Anger, Hatred, Anxiety and Building Self-Esteem.
In training for mental discipline, the Aikidoka aknowledges also the moments of negativity. No matter how much we train, negativity cannot be avoided. But, again, by focussing our mental state we can still practice in a calm state and not transmit the negativity to a physically agressive act. As an example from the book, the Dalai Lama gives an antidote to axiety by transforming our motivations which are influenced by anxiety. Aikido allows us to recognise our habbits and underlying motivations triggered by anger and anxiety. For example, when we are angry about something, we tend to automatically target somebody or something as the cause of our emotion and we may be motivated, as a consequence, to do something irrational related to that hate. Aikido practice gives us the opportunity to observe this process and reshape the underlying motivation to something more controlled, focussed and aware. When we are more in control of our emotions we gain more confidence in our abilities to deal with people and our interactions with them.
Well, I hope these thoughts gave you some ideas how Aikido can lead to happiness and let me know from your side what you think about that. If you don't agree, I'd invite you to practice with Yamashima sensei and other great happy senior teachers, and then review your opinion :-).