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The Paradox of One and Many
in Aikido Philosophy

By Charlie Badenhop

Read about how we can better appreciate, empathize with, and respect the diverse people, energies, and opinions that we come in contact with on a daily basis.

My Aikido teacher Koichi Tohei sensei used to say that in a healthy person the flow of their "ki" (the energy inherent throughout the Universe) is like the outpouring of an underground spring sitting at the bottom of a deep lake. The spring feeds water to the lake, much like we can feed the universe healing energy. The spring feeds the lake a constant flow of water without ever being diminished, and this outpouring of water is not impeded by the weight and pressure of the lake bearing down upon it. When ki flows it follows the path of least resistance. This is a path of great power. As human beings we are designed to feed energy to the universe, by following a path of least resistance. This feeding of "our" energy is what helps us to also maintain our own personal health and well being. We receive by giving, because our ki belongs to the Universe, and not to any one individual.

In this article I want to talk about how we can better appreciate, empathize with, and respect the diverse people, energies, and opinions that we come in contact with on a daily basis. I hope to give some small insight into how we can begin to understand the paradox of One common energy source feeding all of the diversity and difference that we see around us. In Aikido we practice what I guess could be called a "physical" discipline to accomplish this. We PRACTICE appreciation, empathy, and respect, in regard to our partner, with the hope that some day in the future our practice will transform into an embodied reality. We practice breathing exercises and meditation, and in the course of these experiences we have a sense of being one with the universe.

In Aikido, as new students we first learn how to balance our physical structure and relax the body's musculature. It is this balance and release of excess muscular tension that allows the weight of the body's trunk to come to a natural resting place in our lower abdomen, in the general area of our reproductive organs. This area in our lower abdomen is what Tohei sensei calls "the one point" and he exhorts his students to maintain the feeling of the body's weight resting naturally in this area. By maintaining physical balance and relaxation we release excess physical tension, calm the thinking mind, and sense a common bond with all of life. At such times we naturally generate a copious flow of ki, and exude a healing presence to those around us. Previously I said that ki is the life force that animates all living beings and that all living beings share and utilize the SAME energy source, the same ki, the same spirit. In Aikido we call this shared universal spirit "reiseishin." When we balance and relax the body, unify our thoughts and actions, and calm our thinking mind, we manifest an outpouring of "Reseishin" in the same manner that a mother holding her newborn baby exudes and expresses love, protection, and compassion. When we experience the flow of "reiseishin" we naturally appreciate, empathize with, and respect all of life.

For me personally, what is important to say in regard to sensing the flow of "reiseishin" is that the experience is not generated by the activity of the thinking mind. Our sense of unity with all of life comes about when we "do only what is necessary, and nothing more or less." It is this "doing less" that leads to greater power and a greater sense of connection to life. We gain the paradoxical experience of calmness and action being two sides of the same coin. One being the mirror image of the other. Great calmness leads to great action, like a hurricane radiating out from its calm "eye." Great action leads to great calmness, as when a strongly thrown top rights itself and calmly spins round its center.

When you balance and relax your body, unify your thoughts and actions, and calm your thinking mind, you move from an experience of duality to an experience of commonality. At such times you understand experientially what is paradoxical to the thinking mind - That so much difference comes from One source.

  • You breathe deeply and sense the simultaneous inflow and outflow of ki.
  • You breathe deeply and feel a "heavy-lightness" in the body.
  • You breathe deeply and sense the "immovable-movement" of your spirit.

When you sense and move with the energy that is manifesting throughout the universe you find that you have a greater ability to live a life that is healthy and fulfilling, a greater sense of valuing and protecting all of life. When you learn to instinctively move with others rather than attempting to oppose them, you quickly come to a sense of intuitively understanding your counterpart's thoughts and actions, and you increase the likelihood of your being able to gently lead your counterpart in new directions in the future. This is certainly a timely topic given the current conditions in the world today. Aikido is a martial art that wages peace. We have no attack form in Aikido, even though Aikido is very much an effective form of self-defense. As I said previously, in Aikido we cultivate an experience that leads us to believe that all living beings utilize and share a common energy source (ki) that helps to run and maintain our environment as well as our individual human systems. We believe that since we all share a common energy source, that in some important way we are all truly members of the same family, and that we share our lives with all of nature. We do not have an attack form in Aikido, because attacking another human being would be like attacking a family member that you love. One of the main ideas of Aikido is to find a way to honor and protect your own being, your own opinions, your own right to life, while CONCURRENTLY honoring and protecting the same in your opponent. Not at all a simple task, but one well worth trying to embody.

As you learn to locate and maintain your own personal "center", you discover that your center is both local and global, or as Akio Morita the past CEO of Sony said, "We must think globally while acting locally. We must develop the capacity to be 'glocal'." When you experience this sense of being "glocal" you manifest a greater capacity to join and blend with the "ki" of others. You realize that in some very important way we all share the same ki, the same ancestry, the same God, the same life. There is a "oneness" to all of life, and this "One" can never be reduced to zero. From this "One" energy two counterbalancing forces appeared and stimulated and supported each other, and the conditional world was born. The conditional world requires the ongoing working relationship of "opposites." Night and Day, Male-Female, Yin and Yang. These opposites REQUIRE and support each other. If night were to oppose day, if male denigrates and or suppresses female, if one group of people subjugates another, all of life is diminished in some important sense. The relative world REQUIRES difference in order to maintain the commonality of life. Differences in opinion, difference in beliefs, differences in religion, all lead to a feeding of the "reiseishin" of our common spirit. It is so important for us to realize that "difference" creates the diversity that supports the viability of future life, that opposites are necessary for counterbalance in a conditional world. We must sense our oneness with all of life, while not in any way requiring that there only be one right way, one set of beliefs, one religion.

Three important components in supporting the diversity that feeds life, are Appreciation, Empathy, and Respect.

1. Appreciation of diversity fosters an openness to exploring difference. An openness to exploring difference means that we will have a much richer wealth of ideas and alternatives to draw upon. This is one of the necessary components for successful adaptation. We move away from a concept of "right or wrong" and instead consider what will work best in this particular instance. We welcome and acknowledge the process of trial and error, knowing that all learning requires that we make some mistakes along the way. If we belittle or stifle the answers or opinions that don't wind up fitting our needs this time around, we denigrate the creative process, and diminish the flow of new ideas in the future.
2. Empathy helps us to be responsive to the needs, dreams, and desires of others. When we are sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others, we soon realize that "MY" way is not the only way. "My" way is not THE right way. "My" way is only one of many ways.
3. Respect is an important component in fostering all of life, because it leads to the manifestation of "reiseishin." Our task in life is not easy. But luckily, we each have great capacity, as we are each fed by the "One" ki of the universe.

May the importance of differences in opinion and beliefs be appreciated. May we empathize with the plight of others. May we bow to and respect the sanctity of all life.

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