Attention Training

Where do I end and you begin?”

In the moment of meeting, boundaries touch boundaries, reactions trigger reactions and self-talk intensifies. Training your attention and becoming more familiar with your personal space helps you relax and know where you end and another begins. The more relaxed you are, the more aware you can be and the more you can touch another empathically.


Attention Training

Physically when someone enters your personal space, you map them out within your brain and they become a part of you in your brain. Centering puts you in contact with your perimeter to notice what is yours, what is not, how things land on you and what you send out.

Beneath the words we use and the stories we tell, every encounter is a play of very real non-verbal forces. Listening to another empathically can trigger your own pain, so you have to be able to tolerate emotional pain within your self first

The following centering practices offer a way to build your tolerance for the emotional pain you feel and to take full responsibility for its arising. It’s possible to change your relationship to your experiences by where you place your attention. Studies of neuroplasticity have shown that the neural network pathways of our nervous system change depending on what we pay attention to, and how often we pay attention to it. We can change our reactions by placing our attention on what we need.

The greater the reaction the greater the need underneath it.

Energy follows attention and what you focus on.

Energy will flow towards the needs we articulate because what we articulate directs our needs.

The following attention practices will help you visualize ways to stay connected and come back to being expansive and inclusive when you get knocked off center.Core Attention


  • Core Attention

Core attention brings our attention into our bodies and back to our self. This is the basic building block and foundation for all relationships. These two circles and the dots at their center represent two individuals at the perimeter of their personal spaces, at arms length.

Aikido has taught me the value of staying connected even through adversity. In any interaction, if at all possible, follow connection with the other because the more skillful we become, the better we can utilize whatever connection we have, even if it is very little.

Bumping up against another can knock us off our center. The practice of Core Attention, brings your focus into the center of your body while keeping contact with your partner. With practice you can learn to access their center from where your peripheries touch.

Monitoring the space around you helps discern whether you are physically safe or not. Knowing that you are safe, you can relax, center yourself, breath and be more aware present.


  • Empathic Attention

“If your heart is large enough to envelop your adversaries, you can see right through them and avoid their attacks. And once you envelop them, you will be able to guide them along the path indicated to you by heaven and earth.” 

Morhei Ueshiba founder of Aikido

Expanding your field, gives you more ground. Being centered and grounded, makes room for others.

This diagram is a visual representation of empathic listening.

Empathic attention is a skill that is inclusive, vulnerable and powerful. Once you have checked in with your core and then you can let your perimeter slowly begin to expand from your core until you include the other. One person centers and expands enough to fully include and allow the other person to just be.

By maintaining a centered presence you can stabilize the

listening field around you, expand it and make it large enough to touch or hold others graciously. Balancing your own field of attention without attachment or resistance allows unimpeded creative movement to any part of the interaction. Empathy and the basis for compassion is not about trying to change others. If we can hold the space above below and around as intensely as the feelings flowing from our hearts, then we can love in a compassionate way. You can ask yourself how high, deep and wide must I be with another and then adjust as need be.

When you center and open your attention to hold others with care, they are drawn into that calmness and stability. In doing so, you can get a clearer read on intentions of others, as well as gauge distances that feel safe or not. In this way, skillful vulnerability fosters connection and greater safety!

  • Merged attention

Merged attention comes in those moments when you loose your center and believe that your feelings and needs are the responsibility of another. Merged attention is when you loose your center and cannot clearly delineate between who is who. In this state, we blame others for our problems, morally judge them, and take what others say personally believing that others control what we need and feel. Merged attention is where we have lost our sense of center and lose our clarity about where I end and you begin. There is an unclear sense of “us”.


If you find your intention is to change others, you have lost your center. In this diagram, merged attention is represented as an oval with no true center. In this state, with 2 centers it is hard to discern who is who in the interactions. We are responsible for our own feelings. Where we forget this, blaming and shaming is common. It is easy to be seduced by merged attention. It is easy to be drawn to those outside us in favor of ourselves. Merged attention is when we lose ourselves to the other and when we base ourselves on the other. This can cause a lot of pain and confusion.


A Merged Attention Practice

To play with this attention state, take a partner and engage in a round of:

blame and shame,

power over oppressor/victim scenario

Give some heavy judgment to one another.

On a scale of 1 to 10 make the interaction a 2 or 3 please. Let the argument go

on for a minute or so and than notice how it feels. Do you have a clear sense or your needs. Are you taking full responsibility of your emotions? Do you feel centered?


  • Harmonizing Attention

Merging and harmonizing both have a moment of empathy. The difference is that with harmonizing attention your sense of autonomy remains intact.

It is when the other and I happen together in a moment in sync with our collective needs.

When we recognize that our deepest needs are the same, what’s to resist? In this moment, there is no longer attacker and defender.

When there are two of us and you see me as different, it is easy to want to attack. In this diagram of harmonized attention there is no center as a reference point.

It is a powerful state that once we become attached to it, we loose it. Athletes know it as “being in the zone”. A moment of peak performance where self and other, thinking and feeling become one. It is where our training kicks in and it is no longer about trying, it is about letting go, allowing and trusting.









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Children’s Class in Chimacum

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Internalizing a practice

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S.U.R.F.I.N.G: An Imaginative Centering Practice

IMG_0095Grow vertical first and then horizontal like plants.

Be in the form to let it remind you to re-center.

Then soften, open and make room for inquiry…then discover

Gratitude connects us. The more you cultivate gratitude, the less you are a victim of resentment, depression and despair. Gratitude will act as an elixir that will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your ego and need to possess and control as it transforms you into a generous being.

Imagination is a question to the body. Imagination is the language of the soul. (Webster’s) Imagination, different from fantasy helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of their lives.

To begin:

  1. This is a sitting practice. Have your head above your heart above your belly. Soften your gaze or close your eyes. Let your tongue rest on the back of your throat. Lengthen the back of the neck, imagine the weight that you carry falling off your shoulders for now. Unclench your sphincter muscles and feel your connection to the earth. Set the form then soften into it. Feel your tail bone connect to the earth


Breathe- Take a deep and relaxing breath in and let out an audible “ahhhhh” sound as you breathe out. Again.

Begin a gentle, even rhythm of breathing up you back and down your front and continue this through the practice.

S-Shape your foundation

Put your attention to the area around the base of your tailbone.

Imagine roots spiraling down into the earth and then spreading out, connecting you with the ground, the dirt, the rocks, other roots and organisms, the plants, animals, all living creatures, water, the air, birds, sun, the sky, the stars, all creation.

Take the moment to be grateful in your own way for the earth and nature that supports you.


U- Unify your Relations

Breath up your back and down your front.

Put your attention in your belly. Just a couple inches below your navel is the hara, the center of spiritual confidence.

  1. Place your attention to the space that is behind your belly, at your back. Feel into what supports you from behind and all that came before you. You can be selective. Invite the ancestors and older relative who were healthy and whole. (Leave the crazy ones out), the teachers in your life, the great teachers on this planet past and present. All the wisdom contained in your genetic cellular history back to the beginning of life. All this is behind you. Feel the support at your back. Remember you are not alone and that there is always much to support you no matter what you may think. You can imagine many hands holding and supporting you from behind.

     Let a sense of gratitude wash over you for all that supports you from behind.

  1. Now place your attention to your sides and imagine all those who walk beside you in your life. Your friends, brothers and sisters, partners and associates. Again be as selective as you like.

         Take the moment to be grateful for them.

  1. Now place your attention in front of you and imagine all the young ones who remind us to play, who will take us into the future and go beyond us, who make it all worth while.

          Take the moment and in your own way be grateful for the young ones.

     *At your own time and speed in your daily practice you can place your attention to those people on any side of you who were less easy for you to be with. Take time to look under their words and strategies to our common humanity. Appreciate how these difficult people are your best training partners. Your relationship to them brings your attention inside to places that you would never find without them. Reframe these people as your Lucifers, your light bringers. These people shine a light in places inside you that you would never find without them. In time, with practice you can build your capacity for loving those who challenge you in your life. *(See All Our Relations Practice for more on this).

R- Re-source Your Self

  1. Put your attention to the center of your solar plexus, that is around the hollow of your chest below the heart region and above the belly.

Take a moment to appreciate and give gratitude for all you are and all that you bring to the world.  If this feels lovely, stay with it and sit with that. If you notice that somewhere inside yourself sensations of uneasiness, sadness, pain, contraction, emptiness or the like, bring your attention to where it is in your body. Ask yourself this question and listen closely to the first intuitive answer that comes below and before your thinking.

  1. How old was I here when I learned this? If you do not get an answer try again until you do. Any answer is useful. Answers could be at birth, 2, 4, 6, 10,32, and 50, before birth… What ever it is take note.
  • It is an infant or newborn, imagine, holding yourself, looking into each other’s eyes. Take the moment to be grateful for the beautiful child within you.
  • As a young child. Let him/her nudge his/her way into your lap. Invite this child with love and gratitude. Take some time with the ages that stand out. Imagine holding, listening, walking with, or tending to these different ages of yourself in ways that you would have loved. Be patient with these younger ones. They may feel hurt and unseen. Take courage, a gentle curiosity, some caring and creativity. Consider the best way of being to care for another person at those various ages.

            Take the moment to be grateful for each of those ages of yourself.

            Take the moment to be grateful for your present self.

If this is a regular practice, it might be most useful to spend time with only one or two of these ages of yourself a day. (For more on this go to Core Strategies practice)


F- Field of the Heart

Breath up your back and down your front. Connecting and breathing from the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself and now your heart.

  1. Bring your attention to your heart region. This heart pulsating, radiating in all directions, offering and receiving. Connecting to all other hearts, to all life, giving meaning through all you feel.

In this moment, in your own way, have gratitude for all the love you are and that   you are connected with.


I- Initiate- Self Expression

Breath up your back and down your front.

Breath up through the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself, the heart and now your throat area.

Move up to your throat region.

  1. When you are rooted in the nature that supports you, all your relations, yourself and your heart you can know what is true for you. Rest in this knowing and express your self with confidence.

            Take the moment to be grateful for your ability to speak your truth.


N- Navigate-Blend and Lead

Breath up your back and down your front.

Breath up through the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself, the heart, and your voice and now up to your forehead, just between and above your eyes.

  1. When you are connected with all these resources and relations that are always available- trust that you know what is true for you.

Take the moment to be grateful that you can know your truth


G- Generate – Creating your Future

Breath up your back and down your front.

Breath up through the earth you sit on, all your relations, yourself, the heart, and your voice and now up to your forehead, your forehead and now the crown of your head.

As you breath, imagine extending your vertical line down to the center of the earth and then back up through the centers of your body, through the crown of your head to the sky.

Take this moment to be grateful for the present moment.

Now is a good time to begin a sitting practice and /or move into your day with a sense of gratitude.

*In this practice, as we move to each center in our bodies, with gentle curiosity and caring notice any places of discomfort, emotionally and physically. Let your feelings be. It takes courage of heart to just be with your self. By learning to tolerate your own feelings with love and patience, you increase your capacity for graciousness and dignity with others.






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All Our Relations: A Five Elements Practice

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“We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.”                                                              Haudenosaunee teaching


“Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”                                                                                                                                           Albert Einstein

IMG_0371 copyIn Nonviolent Communication there is an emphasis on developing a vocabulary to express needs.  Needs in this persuasion are universal.  They are words that express the Life that moves through us all.  You know you are speaking about a need if it is something that we all need.  Sometimes we’ll call it joy or play, sometimes we’ll call it understanding, autonomy, mutuality, empathy, peace, connection, and so on.

Our words alone are a clumsy way of expressing something so divine and requires some imaginative cognitive acrobatics to make it work sometimes.  In this practice, as we connect to what supports us from behind, we can utilize all of our senses to practice being the qualities of a need we would love to have a little more of in our lives.

Our body shapes our experiences and is the shape of our experience.  We can bring to awareness what our body is saying and let it connect us to the resources that are available to us.

Gratitude for those we appreciate, past or present, as a practice helps us to become more familiar with the virtues that that we most admire.  When we appreciate and are grateful for certain qualities of others we engage our feelings, imagination and emotional intelligence. The more we do this, the more we can become familiar with and incorporate those qualities within ourselves. Over the years, working in many cultures around the world, I have asked people to bring their attention to what is at their back. For some, it is unfamiliar, often startling and very difficult to do. Why? Because they have practiced something else for so long. It is not unusual for someone to tear up or cry as they reunite with a part of themselves that they have generally practiced ignoring.  This sadness that comes up has a sweetness to it, like seeing an old friend that you have missed for so long. The sweet sorrow is grief.  Grief is gratitudefor something you love that you have missed.  It is still  gratitude.  It is this gratitude and appreciation that deepens our connection to what supports us from behind.

2014-05-13 16.02.53This is a centering practice. Any of those we bring through us can become a different facet of center that we can learn to access more quickly.

With time and practice, you will be able to call  up the qualities and virtues you would love more of, at any given moment.  The more you practice doing that, the more readily you will be able to.

The story that “you’ve got to do it all on your own” permeates our culture and in turn has shaped our lives. We live in a society where the individual is often glorified at the expense of the collective.  Consequently many of us exhaust ourselves by thinking we are alone and not getting the help we need because it does not occur to us to ask for it.  We lose sight of people and resources that are readily available.  Our backs ache as we hold this weight alone forgetting that we are a part of a collective, with more resources then we can imagine.

Our imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental faculty through which we encounter everything. The ability to imagine one’s self in another’s place is a cherished ideal around the world.  Imagination is also a question to the body that connects us to our innate resources.

Everywhere in our language you can see the imagery and qualities that our backs represents in phrases such as: He’s got no backbone,  Talking behind your back, I’ve got your back, “Back down”, Don’t get your back up, He’s got no one to back him”.

This practice brings new life to what was commonplace in the older wisdom traditions around the world, to remember our ancestors and bringing their support and wisdom through us. Mitakuye Oyasin is a phrase from the Lakota that reflects the their world view of interconnectedness. The phrase translates as “all my relatives,” “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: ancestors, other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys.

When I sit in a sweat lodge with my Native American friends, we call in all our relations.

During a Passover Seder from my Jewish heritage’s tribal roots, I eat the foods of my ancestors to viscerally remember their passage from slavery to freedom, their struggles and virtues.  Indigenous cultures listen to the wisdom of their ancestors at their backs. Presently in western culture, our focus—realistically and metaphorically– is generally on what we are doing, where we are going and what needs to get done. In other words, what is in front of us. Rarely do we consciously bring our attention to what is at our back, to our histories and to what can supports us from behind.

Here is a simple practice for resourcing  the wisdom and support of those who came before us and who are at our backs.   At its core, this is a practice of gratitude and re-membering.

The Practice

Exercise 1: Our Helper

IMG_0085 copya.  Choose one person in your life that has come before you, that embodied a quality or virtue that you would love to have a little more of in your own life.  This could be one person that has supported you in some way; a relative, an ancestor, a teacher, a great teacher in the world (past or present) or simply someone who has positively effected you in a way that you love.  Just pick one.

b.   Remember one of the qualities they have (had) that moved you.  Remember how it feels to be in the presence of their beautiful virtue.   (Ex: The expressiveness of Martin Luther King, the humility of Nelson Mandela, the devotion of Mother Teresa, the tenderness of your next door neighbor, the dignity of your father……)

Exercise -2  A Writing Practice

Write a colorful creative description about the person you chose. Vividly describe this person so you can literally feel what you truly loved about them.  Explore what they exemplified and how their presence touched you. Write as much or little as you want. Most important, let your writing move you, so that at any point you can remember what you wrote in order to draw up that feeling, that whole-body sensation of the qualitie(s) you love about the person. Embue your writing with the gratitude and regard you feel.

A personal example

Sometimes when I get too busy or agitated I get upset and struggle with being as kind as I would like to be. I often bring to mind a dear old friend who has since passed, John Hazlett, to somatically remember the quality is kindness

As a young man, I left college to apprentice as a goldsmith in a very fine 4-generation jewelry making business in Detroit. I supplemented my apprentice wages with evening jobs, lived in a poorer section of Detroit. Outside of working day and evening, I had very little social life.   I was 22 and John was 63 when I met him..  He had a way about him that was gentle and humorous. He seemed to live to make me smile and I felt loved and welcomed in his world.  John and I worked together, literally back-to-back, for hours on end for 3 years.  He was a kind soul, during a period when I was struggling and felt very alone. There were two elderly goldsmiths at the shop. The other goldsmith, Ted, truly was one of the best goldsmiths in the country, but to learn from him was difficult, as he guarded his trade secrets.  John on the other hand, called me over when ever he was working on something interesting.  To this day I can feel the grandfatherly love as I rested my chin on his shoulder watching his masterful hands create beauty. He generously taught me about anything I wanted to learn. No secrets.  I cannot recall an angry word ever coming out of his mouth. And whenever I was frustrated or feeling hurt, he would listen. When I was upset, he could always make me laugh. I miss him dearly and am ever grateful for his presence in my life.


Exercise-3 Qualities of Center

Stand in your vertical line with your head, above heart, above belly.

  1. With open eyes, soften your gaze.
  2. Let the back of your tongue soften and relax.
  3. Allow the weight you might feel that you are carrying on your shoulders to just fall off. (If you are worried about it, know you can put it back later.)
  4. Unclench your sphincter muscles and feel the bottom of your feet open to the earth you are standing on.
  5. Take a deep, unifying and relaxing breath, with an audible Ahhhhhh sound on the outbreath.
  6. As much attention as you have in front of you, place that much attention behind you. You can also imagine yourself in the center of a large bubble.  Sometimes it is difficult or unfamiliar to bring your attention behind you.  If so, you can ask a friend to put their hands on your back and let your attention surround them.
  7. With your hands by your sides, and about 12 inches from your torso, turn your palms to the space behind you. Like radar dishes that pick up the signals of what is behind you, imagine feeling into the space behind you.  You can also try to imagine a large soft cushion that is supporting your whole backside.  Imagine that it is holding you.
  8. In that “field” behind you, place the person you have written about and recall the quality that you admire. You can imagine their hand gently supporting you from behind. With a sense of gratitude feel the support at your back. Keep an impression of how this experience feels so that with practice, you can draw it up quicker and quicker as time goes by. Another image to play with is of being a sail and letting the wind fill you. Take a moment to be grateful for this support.

Part 4: Re-sourcing Yourself

2014-05-13 15.58.25At first it can help to explore this as a partner practice. Once understood this can become a practice to be used anytime and anywhere with anyone. It is also a practice for working with your own internal conflicts

1)    Imagine a triggering moment that you have had with someone in your life. Coach the other to say a triggering statement to re-create the scenario.

2)    For starters, let the triggering moment be no more than a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Don’t make it too overloading, otherwise it becomes a little difficult to assimilate.

3)    As the person in front of you speaks allow yourself to get triggered and verbally respond without censoring yourself. Take notice of what you say and how you say it.

4)    Begin again, but before you respond, feel into the resource you have written about, who is now at your back.  Allow yourself to feel that whole somatic impression of the quality you would love a bit more of in your life.

5)    Imagine the person at your back and remember the quality of theirs that you hold so dear and then slowly let that quality come through you

6)    As the currents of the quality moves through you, continue to keep it flowing by remembering to keep the connection at your back. Let the urge to speak originate from your back and be the source of your words. Become it. *  Now within that same mildly triggering moment, say what comes naturally to you and notice how you feel and what is different.

*Remember:You are mostly space. You are porous. Those resources behind you can come through you.  Maybe you don’t know what to say, you don’t have the heart to – there is someone behind you that does! Maybe it is your Aunt Judith; maybe it is Gandhi.  Maybe you don’t have the intelligence to deal with a certain person. What you need is at your back.  There are many resources at your back that can come through you.  You are not alone if you choose to connect to your support.

IMG_9452These days I have a somatic impression of what that kindness feels like, thanks to my relationship with John.  John died many years ago now. I recall his image, his words, his mannerisms, his way of making me laugh and his virtues.  When I have a need for kindness or belonging, as a practice, I can recall a whole body somatic impression of the qualities that he embodied.  As I do this, a smile comes to my face, my breathing becomes more rhythmic, and my chest and shoulders relax. Moving from this “shape” and intention of kindness draws more of it into my life.  Like attracts like. This is a part of becoming what you need.

Instead of trying to think of what kindness feels like, I can pull from what is at my back, to call up exactly what I need.

Always accessible, always there.








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Declaring a Dojo

IMG_4950 copyThe term, “dojo” literally means a “place to wake up” or a “place of the way”. Dojos are traditional Japanese training halls where mastery of a chosen path is pursued. A “do” is a way or a path. There are dojos in Japan for learning many disciplines from flower arranging to Zen meditation, calligraphy to the martial arts. Dojos are a place to not only practice and master an art they are a place to broaden moral, ethical and spiritual horizons. Traditionally the martial arts dojo was a place where the Samurai of ancient Japan developed their “budo”, the warrior’s way. Here they would ground their practice in meaning by codes of ethics, the protection of their community and connection with Nature. They honed their spirit through the arts of conflict.

Wherever there are relationships there are conflicts. Conflicts show up in the process of change as our resistance to change. Facing and eventually embracing our resistance directly puts us fact to fact with what we need. Reacting to or ignoring conflict distract us from what life is trying to show us. The dojo is a traditional place to train in self-mastery. It is were we learn to face our own resistances with dignity, integrity, honesty and empathy.

My first dojo was a judo school in NJ. My parents enrolled me when I was in junior high school right after they caught wind that I had been in an afterschool fight. Mr. Shimimoto was a well-regarded judo instructor. He welcomed me into his dojo with a warm smile. He emanated a dignity and integrity that invited respect and my attention without any affect or forcefulness. In the 4 years I trained with him, I never saw him raise his voice or reprimand someone in a demeaning way, and yet his presence was commanding. His dojo was well lit, clean and unadorned. Fresh flowers were always at the front of the dojo and trophies lined the shelves in the outer greeting room. The respectful etiquette and attitude required were clearly visible in the dojo. Each night we’d all train vigorously throwing, flipping, tripping, pinning one another and then bowing to appreciate and honor our partners each time. After every session I would come home drenched in sweat and happily collapse into a hot tub. The more I trained, the less interesting the after school fights became. The intentions of honor and respect that Mr. Shimimoto brought to his dojo were qualities that became imbued in my own practice.

The first dojo I opened was at a rec center with some old wrestling matts, florescent lights in a bare room. Add some flowers and a candle in the front of the dojo, with a declared intention of Aikido training and we were good to go. Dojos come in all shapes and sizes. When I met my Aikido sensei, Reverend Lawrence Koichi Barrish his dojo was a modified garage at his home. Thirty years later his dojo out mountains by the rushing river is the main Shinto shrine in the US. As a senior Shinto Priest, the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America which he built, is the dojo of all dojos. Enshrined within is the spirit of Morihei Ueshiba No Mikoto (the Kami), the founder of Aikido. Whether it is a garage or a magnificent shrine with live deities, training takes on the intention that the dojo is imbued with.

IMGP0874Drawing from that tradition, wherever I teach my trainings, I declare our training place a dojo. Speaking is an action. Declaring something is a creative act and a first step towards creating possibilities that you are choosing to participate in. Declaring and creating an intentional space to train in provides the environment for doing it well. In the ritual of my marriage there was a moment within the ceremonious setting when Judith and I declared ourselves husband and wife. Everything changed from that moment on. A declaration articulates a vision that when grounded in passion, understanding and commitment invites possibilities, collaboration and others to a cause. Declarations create new and unchartered narratives to live in. Along with these new waters come new practices and attitudes. Change can be difficult, especially inner change. Creating an intentional space for this to unfold safely and with care helps to stay the course. A dojo is where ever you declare it to be.


The intention of the dojos I declare is learn how to “conflict well” and from that well to drink deeply. Practicing to conflict well means to practice staying centered and present in moments of conflict in order to feel its messages and give what is needed: not too much not to little. Creating a safe and respectful container for the practices to unfold with a mutual intention and commitment facilitates deep learning.

We do best when we reach out and teach ourselves. When this happens with other people, learning is accelerated.

A dojo is where ever you declare it to be

My wife Judith is a woman of many talents. One of her most exceptional gifts is through what she calls, Connective Food Practices. IMG_0547A big name for something quite simple and profound. Every detail of the food that Judith prepares for others (lucky me) is created within her kitchen. Food is her’ “do” and her kitchen dojo is shaped and ordered to manifest the most powerful budo, Love. She will make sure the vegetables are organic, most often picked for freshness out of our gardens. Meat, eggs and dairy are local and raised with care. She will make sure to cut the cucumbers at the right angle for beauty and flavor. She’ll chiffonade the kale making sure it is just thin enough to have the best texture and shape. She might walk outside to pinch off a bay leaf or two to bring out the flavor in the sauce. She will make sure the colors of the food and table are aesthetically enjoyable. Every aspect of the meal is imbued with and transmits the love care, time and energy put into its preparation. When it is our turn to cook in the rotation of dinners in our community, nobody misses a meal from our home. Some things are unexplainable, but over time when they happen enough, we just accept them as true. What I accept is that when something like a meal prepared by Judith is served and eaten, magic follows. Conversations are enlivened, the atmosphere takes on a welcoming texture, and ideas begin to fly and the next thing you know we are all planning to build a sauna together, planning a group retreat, envisioning future possibilities. Magic. Houdini said “Magic is Practice.

Practices imbued with intention, manifest what that intention is and in time bring us to places we might never have known.

We learn through deliberate, recurring practice that over time enable us to take new actions. A dojo is a place to learn about our selves. We can approach the dojo as a metaphor for our bodies. How we are with others tells us a great deal about how we are with our selves. How we treat others show us a lot about how we treat ourselves. There’s an old Jewish saying,” you get honor by giving it”. Honorable ways begins with ourselves. Our bodies are a temple. Our body is a dojo. When we train with others it’s important to keep this in mind. In all my classes and training one of the first things I do is to declare a dojo.

A dojo is wherever you declare it to be. In your own trainings whether you are alone or with others, intentionally create the space most conducive with what you want to learn. Orient the space. Where is the front? Bring flowers or objects that lend meaning. Enter and leave it with gratitude and reverence.

Anyone can declare a dojo. In my dojos I have articulated guidelines for training. The guidelines apply to individual or group practice. I have distilled guidelines for intentions to train with from conversations with others and where I have some mastery; aikido, as a Goldsmith, in Somatic Consensus. Here are the basics that I find that apply to all of them:

  • Enter the dojo as a metaphor for our inner world
  • Cultivate qualities of the heart: Courage, Care and Gratitude
  • Muster your curiosity
  •  We are always free to begin again
  • Leave self-condemnation at the door
  • There is always room for improvement and do your best
  • Practice staying present to what is alive in you
  • Train with the values you wish to embody
  • Cultivate a spirit that honors all
  • Forgiveness is always available
  • Give your judgments only the light of your attention
  • You cannot do anything wrong in the dojo, you can always do it better.
  • Just do your best.
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Beginner Mind

Beginner’s Mind unfolds to become a new kind of Expert Mind which relaxes to be a beginner once more – and on and on – beginner / expert / beginner…

                                                                                                     Dr. Stuart Heller

“Curiosity makes you want to learn about it. Clara 8yrs. old”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

                   Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

 Aspects of Somatic Consensus work comes out of my life long love for wandering and practices that engage the people I meet with what I call divine curiosity. This is a hunger to want to know in each of us where we all meet. This attitude is what in the Aikido tradition is called “shoshin” or beginners mind.

When I was just 12 or 13, to my mother’s consternation, for fun I’d walk out to the road, pick a direction and hitchhike somewhere unknown. I’d leave to chance who I met and what would unfold next. The randomness of these encounters brought me together with a wide variety of characters, some brilliant and generous and others unsavory and suspicious. I met people that I most likely would never meet again and learned to enter these encounters with as few prejudices and assumptions as I could muster. This attitude, in almost no time at all, led to honest, frank, candid and revealing conversations. For the most part, I felt at home with strangers and the scary encounters were very rare.

My father who worked in the clothes business moved us to different suburbs seeking better job opportunities several times throughout my childhood. I found it difficult to make new friends each time we moved and I think I was pretty lonely as a child. Traveling fed so many of my needs, in particular my deep curiosity of wanting to know what made myself and others tick. After high school, I left home to go to college and apprenticed for 3 years as a goldsmith in Detroit. Through out my college years and apprentiship, I was never quite out of the field of my family and its cultural imperatives with its messages of who I should be. My urge to step away was undeniable and at 24, as a journeyman goldsmith, I left a promising job, a lovely girlfriend, some family and friends to go on an extended sojourn.

I metaphorically and literally left the village on my walkabout, my vision quest, and my hanbelycha. When I reflect on what moved me to leave it all behind what it was that I was seeking was a deeper understanding of what my life was really all about?

I loved the adventures and meeting people and there was one unshakable set of questions that were always with me:


How are we different?


What is it that we all have in common?

At that time I did not fully trust my intuition, I needed to experience things and to find my own points of reference.  As my 8-year-old neighbor once told me, curiosity makes you want to learn about it. The beginner mind is an actively curious state of being. Curiosity is a question that invites, not demands an answer. It is a question without attachment to what comes in response.   Whether the question is to yourself, to someone else or the mystery of life itself, how the question is asked invites the answers that you receive.

Next time you are struggling with some one, imagine that you are in the presence of a wise elder and that you have the privilege of asking a question or two. In this situation you’d be sure to choose your questions with reverence and great care. Imagine what it would be like to speak to our children with that kind of reverence. What it would be like if our teachers asked the children in their classes regularly, “What do you care about?” and “What would you love to learn today?” with great respect and anticipation, awaiting their answer.

School would be a whole other awakening experience for our children and they would grow with a self-knowing and cultivation of their inner compass.

A questioning curiosity, coming from a place of truly not knowing and listening with your whole being is a creative act that invites profound responses in surprising ways not just with words, but also through feelings, image, sense, and vision.

To my surprise, on the night I packed my bags to go off on what turned out to be a 3 ½ year sojourn, my housemate in Detroit pulled out a deck of tarot cards and in regards to my 2 questions, his reading was this:

“You’ll find what you are looking for, and yet it will not be what you thought it would be”

The answers to my two questions are still unfolding. I did come away with some basic understanding and more importantly found confirmation for trusting my intuition.

To say it in a sentence or two it might sound something like this:

  • Deep down in each of us there is a part of us that we all share.
  • It’s our personal, familial and cultural strategies that are so different.
  • Move from love and learn to trust intuitive messages.
  • And if we always choose from that place, that is enough.

With out knowing at the time, as I traveled I learned the basics of Shoshin, beginners mind. In any art, even the art of the traveler, these basics apply.

A child walks in wonder as everything is new, and the elder walks with deep gratitude for the preciousness of life, together you have beginner mind.

Through out this book there are readings and practices. My hope is that you cultivate an attitude of emptying your cup and allowing it to be filled.

Shoshin, is an attitude of “beginner mind” and cultivated within the practice of Aikido. It is practicing with the openness and humility that there is much to see and learn everywhere, within ourselves and with each person we meet. There is a cliché that “we are all a universe onto ourselves”. Seeing each other as a universe unto ourselves is Shoshin. When I look at my wife, if she is a universe onto herself” that would mean that surely there are parts of her that I know. I know the foods she enjoys, I know she likes the tub scrubbed and enjoys singing and such. Alongside that there is an infinite side of her that I do not know. That perspective, I believe is one of the secrets to longevity in relationships. Being able to see one another as new is a practice of beginner mind.

Here is a story I heard about 30 years ago when Sensei Robert Fraeger visited my teacher’s dojo. He was one of those rare people who had trained years earlier in the Hombu Dojo, the main Aikido dojo in Japan with the founder of Aikido, Morhei Ueshiba. Morhei Ueshiba, affectionately known as O’Sensei or great teacher died in his seventies in 1967. So when our guest, told us stories we listened with great interest.

He shared that, as a younger man, he had gone to train every day and loved the exhilarating pace and fluidity of training with the many skilled practitioners in his class. Each night he would come home tired, drenched in sweat, and satisfied.

In each class, O’sensei or in his absence, a sempei(head student) would teach some aspect of Aikido and then the students would break up into partners to practice the dynamic throws, strikes, pins, and exercises demonstrated.

This particular day a sempei was teaching and our storyteller had been assigned to work with a first day beginning student. He let go of his hope of a fast paced exciting training, he began teaching his partner the basics of Aikido, slowly and patiently. He assessed the beginner’s abilities and paid attention to what was too much or to little for him to assimilate, breaking down the moves, correcting, and and taking note of his partner’s capacity and unique-ness.

O’Sensei came into the dojo and watched the student teacher, and all the students moving and practicing their techniques. Now at this time he was an old man and very much desired to pass on Aikido to his students. His health was failing too and he was known to have a potent temper sometimes.

Although he looked like a frail old man, when O’Sensei gave out a ki-ai (a powerful sound) the walls shook. After taking in what was going on in the room, suddenly he raised his arms and shouted, “Nobody gets it”, “Nobody understands!!!” The room was silent. And then he turned and pointed to Bob Fraeger and said………..Except you.

What I imagine O’Sensei saw was lot of people enjoying themselves and working hard to practice the techniques but doing it in a way that was missing the essential ingredient-loving connection, the consciousness that all the techniques are in service of.

As Robert Fraeger worked with the beginner he had to pay close attention to his partner. He noticed who it was that was in front of him in order to contribute reflections and corrections in ways that were safe and effective. What happened here was very much like how a group of musicians slowing at the end of a song, while playing together, must really listen to one another to end beautifully and with each other. This attitude of care, openness and presence is beginner mind, and it is what deepens any practice in order to eventually become embodied.

In any training discipline, it takes vigilance to not fall into just going through the motions when things are repetitive. Remember you are always practicing something. Intention gives practice meaning and builds that meaning into how your comport yourself. Practicing without intention is disempowering. Combining physical practice and intention, brings that intention into your muscles, cells and bones.

When a master swords man practices a sword cut a thousand times a day, each cut must be embodied. To imbue meaning into his training, he may practice for the sake of cutting away illusion in his life and making room for what would be enriching. His work and focus is on making each cut new. He must muster his curiosity and the intention to correct and improve each cut. Never wrong, always better. Slowing it down, to make it understandable, practicing, correcting, and practicing again, each time with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of an elder who knows with confidence the value of intentional deliberate, committed joyful practice over time.


Beginner’s Mind Practice

Here is a practice that builds on the SURF practice to give a felt sense of Shoshin, beginner mind.



Part 1

Ask yourself: How would that feel to feel a little bit more like a child? To have a child-like perspective on the world? What would it feel like in my body to feel that child-like sense of wonder and awe?

Let your body answer and notice the way it shifts.

Then walk, and let your body shape itself and shift, as your breath changes and your posture changes and youchannel the child. Be the child. Walk across the room with that sense of childlike-ness, then walk back.

Part 2

Now, Ask yourself: How would it feel if you felt a little bit wiser, like an elder? What would that be like? Let your imagination run. Think about what need or quality you would like to have a little more of.  Think of this as a quality you can access from within yourself, something that would make your life a little more wonderful. Perhaps dignity, clarity, happiness, l understanding, etc..

Become that wise elder and walk. Notice how it shapes you, notice how it changes your body. Walk across the room and thenwalk back.

Part 3

Notice the difference between those two ways of being.

Ask yourself: How would it feel if I felt like a child AND a wise elder? Practice both at the same time.

Take a walk and notice how this feels and what it is that like? What did you notice in your body? In your thoughts? Emotionally? What you tell yourself?

What do you appreciate about these two qualities separate and together?

Go through this practice throughout the day as much as possible.

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Shape Shifting

Shape Shifting Practice (formerly Elemental Needs)

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“Versatility as well as all of the core virtues, including authenticity, character, and self- control, cannot be manufactured. True excellence must be cultivated through a process that integrates our thoughts and feelings with our muscles.”   Stuart Heller


The Shape Shifting practice is designed to increase our versatility, resourcefulness and clarity to what we need in any given moment. This practice is inspired by Dr. Stuart Heller’s creative Tai Chi teachings. Derived from the Latin versatillis meaning “turning easily,” versatility is the ability to bring forth a way of being, thinking, feeling, and/or responding that best fits the situation you are in and the people you are with.

On an emotional and mental level, it is helpful to imagine the elements as movements of energy that develop qualities associated with their movement. As you explore and visualize the elements, notice the shifts in your body.

As you practice, engage your imagination and pay attention to the sensations, feelings, and changes in your body. You can develop whole body/mind impressions or “somatic impressions” of the qualities of being that you wish to cultivate, such as dignity, clarity, understanding, joy, play, appreciation and security.

In time, you can develop a richer relationship and understanding of these qualities. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to call up these somatic impressions of our various “elemental needs.”

In time and with intentional practice, accessing a greater range of qualities becomes far more instantaneous and creative.

With deliberate, creative and intentional practice over time the qualities will gravitate from a thinking process into a whole mind/body experience.

Like a divining rod moves towards water, your body will inform you and flow more easily to the elemental shape and intelligence that you have practiced into it.

Practice this set of shapes and movements on your right side and left side. I suggest learning these shapes and intentions in the sequence shown here. As you develop and explore Shape Shifting, I invite you to be creative, change the sequence and adapt the shapes and needs expressed to your own liking. See if you can notice how these elements relate. In truth, they are all facets of the same gem. As you go about your day, notice how your thoughts and feelings are effected by the wind on a windy or icy day. Do they get more clear or crisper? How does it feel to walk with more gratitude for the ground you stand on and along with that connection a responsibility for stewardship? The elements can teach you about your larger purpose in life, by affirming your harmony with Nature. Notice which element seems most meaningful to you, and as you explore, you can find guidance about the directions you are taking in your life.


Group or single person practice/Daily practice




What’s your predominant element and which do you practice least?

We each have all the elements, but we tend to practice certain ones more than others. Each element has advantages and drawbacks in any given moment.

Ground- Do you see yourself as a person who’s really solid, firm in what you care about and grounded in what you love and know? You can learn to align yourself with the earth to find centeredness and balance as you walk on your path. You can appreciate beauty and perfection of even the smallest forms of life as essential

Qualities- meaning, stability, understanding, centering and focusing

Shadow side- stubbornness


Water- Are you adaptive, calming, fluid, and do you have a strong sense of belonging and connection within your self and relationships? By merging with the water elements you can explore and let go of conditioned responses and move towards unconditional Love and greater acceptance.

Qualities- Belonging, flowing, surrender, acceptance and harmonizing

Shadow side- wishy washy


Fire- Are you expressive, creative and focused? By merging with fire you learn a more purposeful focus and power. Fire can be purifying, stimulating and expansive.

Qualities-expression, creativity, decisive, focused

Shadow side- explosive, overly intense


Wind- Are you playful? Do you have a lightness of being that does not get hung up or too attached to what other people are saying or doing? By merging with air you gain perspective. Moving from me-ness to We, wind can be freeing and uplifting.

Qualities-lightness, broader perspective, ease, joy and freedom

Shadow side- brittle, ungrounded, air-headed

Space- Are you often present, accepting, somewhat empathic and in the moment?

Shadow side- Spacey, not present


The more you bring your imagination to the practice and explore each of these elements of your self, the more they become a part of you and the more quickly you can access them.

Practice as fast or slow, as you want, spending just a few seconds in each position or several minutes. Enter this like an actor moving into different roles. Explore the feelings, the sensations, how your breath changes, how you feel when you’re in each of these different modes and the stories that enhance each. See if you can notice the relationship between each of these elements as you flow and shift between them.



To Begin:

Stand in an open stance, straight up, with your head above your heart, and your heart above your belly. Take a relaxing breath, settle into your full length; not too stiff and not collapsed. This, I like to imagine as an up-right stance of dignity.

*Practice all these elemental shapes on both your right and left sides.



GroundMeaning, Clarity, and Understanding

With your left foot forward, bend your legs slightly so that you feel grounded and centered. Have your hands down by your side and about a foot in front of you. Have your palms open and facing the ground and your fingers spread open. Keep your body vertical, head above heart above belly. Move into this position consciously with your whole body. In your own way, muster a sense of gratitude for the ground that is supporting you, that is under each of us and that brings under-standing and meaning to our lives.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you shape yourself:

  • What do I deeply care about?
  • What is the ground I stand on?
  • What brings meaning to my life?
  • What can’t I truly get enough of?

All of these questions lead to the same answer.

Each day articulate what you care about in a word or sentence. Be as succinct and to the point as possible. Each day feel your way to what is on center and what is not.   The clearer your answer, the more it can become an organizing reference point for your life. This can become a personal vision statement to help you organize your life.

You can speak it as a quality(s) to yourself or out loud such as “Integrity.”

You can shape it as a short sentence such as, “I care about dignity” or “I care about walking and expressing my truth with honesty, integrity and compassion.”

And you can ground your statement with:

“For the sake of……”

Ex: “I am committed to walking and expressing my truth with honesty, integrity and compassion for the sake of contributing to a better world for the children to flourish in.”

Find ways to say what you care about and what ground you stand on in your own words, so that when you speak it, the words resonate and inspire you.

Whether it is one word or a sentence that expresses a quality of a need and/or commitment, you can learn to feel how that feels in your body. Explore it, and as you move to the next element, see if you can hold the somatic impression of the later previous element.

A powerful practice is to develop a somatic impression of a need’s qualities and explore it for a month, several months or a year; in this way you can really get to know it deeply and intimately. In time, understanding of these qualities will become more expanded and accessible.



Fluidity, Belonging, Adaptability


From the “Ground” position you are going to shift directly into “Water” position. Take your left foot (which is currently forward for Ground position) and move it back so that it is behind your right foot. Keep your hands open to receive and offer, with your arms wide out in front of you, as if you’re holding a 3-foot beach ball. With fingers pointing out, reaching, imagine you are receiving what’s coming to you and offering what you

Before you move from water, you can bring your hands to your sides and slightly behind you. In one movement bring what is behind, to the sides and in front of you forward. Bringing these resources forward as you move to the next position, helps to stabilize and empower your words and actions (See pictures).

Use your imagination to remember, appreciate and find gratitude for those all around you, both past and present- all your relations.

  • Behind- The teachers in your life, the great teachers of our world (past and present), older relatives and ancestors that were healthy and whole (be mindful about who you invite) and the nature around you and the wisdom contained in your genetic history since the beginning of time.
  • At your sides- Friends, brothers and sisters, partners, associates.
  • In front- The younger ones in your life.

More about water:

Water is about belonging and relationship. As we shift to water, your body moves back and down. As we back down, we can take some rest and solace in the knowing that we are always connected to all the relationships around us. Resourcing all our Relations is a practice of elder wisdom cultures around the world. In our culture, we often forget these powerful resources and imagine that we are alone in this world. Take time to feel what is at your back and around you and choose wisely what you choose to invite.


Imagine, with gratitude and appreciation:

  • Your genetic history that goes back to the beginning of time, and the wisdom contained within that.
  • Your ancestors who came before you- who were wise and whole. Leave the crazy ones out for now. Though you might not invite those difficult ancestors right now, in time, you can actually have some conversations and even arguments with whomever you choose to reconcile; to learn from, to connect with and resource.
  • With gratitude, remember the teachers who are at your back, the great ones on this planet and the ones who have been in your life. Remember, at times when you don’t know what to do or say, you can learn to bring these wise voices through you.
  • Now, take a moment to remember those who walk beside you in your life: your associates, your partners and friends. In time, with practices, you can get more familiar with some of the difficult people who walk beside you as well. They are the ones who actually can shine a light on places within you that the easy relationships rarely do.
  • As a daily practice you can learn to empathize with those difficult ones around you; to appreciate those whom you love and to allow those connections to become resources accessible to you at any time.
  • Bring your attention in front of you- to those young ones in your life who remind you about the beauty of lightness of being, playfulness and joy. This is a moment to be grateful to these young ones who are so full of life.
  • From this place of belonging and inclusion of all your relations, you can actually express yourself. (see Shape Shifting Role Play Practice). Fire is more often a place to express and to advocate strongly for what it is we would love. When we speak and request to another from the place of water, it comes from a place of inclusion. But this is by no means the only way to use these conversations…. be creative.
  • Extra practice- Needs as a whole mind/body/spirit experience: Imagine an ancestor (that was healthy and whole) as a supportive person at your back. Think about a quality you might love to have more of that you like (admire) about them.   Let that wash over. you Build an impression.

As you move to fire to express yourself, you can imagine these qualities coming through you. You might not know what to say, but they do. To add to this practices and bring through you one quality at a time. You can also bring qualities from those who walk beside you or from the young ones in front.




 Document3Expression, Creativity, Decisiveness

Now bring your left foot in front again, putting you in the same stance as you were for the “Ground” position. Bring your hands up to head level, with your hands flat, palms toward each other and about a foot in front of you. Now bring your right hand forward enough so that your left thumb is a few inches from your right hand’s pinky finger. Imagine that your hands are like a sword and that you are preparing to cut through, cut away or clear the way with this sword. Open your hands and have your fingers pointing toward the sky with the blades of your hands reaching, pushing forward. Have your arms extended, but not too stiff or collapsed with just a slight bend in the elbow. Hold “the ground you stand on” within the “ocean of all your relations” as you enter this shape of expressing yourself with the fire of your unique creativity.

More about fire:

  • By knowing where we stand and by remembering we are not alone and that we have many resources around us to draw from, we can relax and better express ourselves with dignity and graciousness. The more relaxed we are, the more aware we can be.
  • As you move the blades of your hands in front of you, bring them to a place that is not too close to your body and not over extended away from your torso. If the blades of your hands are too close to your body, connecting with another is weak. If your blades are too far from your torso, it feels disconnected to your core. In this practice of fire, your blades are there to meet the other, to cut away what is unnecessary and to make room for that which we choose to bring into our lives. As a cook uses sharp knives to create beauty in the kitchen, sometimes we must be very decisive, articulate and creative to manifest the beauty we want in our lives.
  • By evoking and practicing with the impressions of (ground) what we care about and (water)qualities we appreciate and admire, we can draw up whole body/ mind/spirit felt impressions and over time with practice, embody them.






Autonomy, Joy, Playfulness, EaseFrom the “Fire” stance, do not shift the placement of your feet. Turn your feet and your body 90 degrees so that you are now facing sideways. With your left foot pointing forward and your right foot pointing back, open your arms and hands wide as if you were a bird that has spread its wings. Bring a lightness and buoyancy to this shape and let it evoke a sense of joy and freedom. Like the matador, as you turn, remember to get off the line of attack. As you do so, watch where it comes from, let it go by, and then- again- bring your attention to where it actually came from.

This practice helps us to differentiate clearly between what others say and what we hear and to not take things other say and do quite so personally!

More about Wind:

  • Wind is a lovely element and one that we often forget to access. REMEMBER, If you feel stuck and don’t know what to do, go to wind. When you feel overwhelmed, stuck or frozen and don’t know what to do, go to wind and imagine whatever is overwhelming you, blowing by. This is like a matador stepping off the line as he guides the bull to go by.
  • Wind is about lightening up, about playfulness, and most importantly it is about not taking what other’s say personally. Let it go by and remember to not take another person’s pain on as your own.This can be very hard to do in intimate, caring relationships where we can lose our sense of self and get confused in those arguments filled with blame and shame.




Presence, Empathy, Spaciousness

Come back to that original open stance. With both feet directly under each respective shoulder and facing forward, breathe deeply while you imagine and explore a quality of spaciousness within and around you. Feel your presence. This is a shape of being in this moment with your head over heart over belly. Settle into this shape with empathy and curiosity as you listen intuitively. Breathe.

Space happens between all the other elements. It is the backdrop to all that is going on. The other practices help give us the space we need to be present. Including another in this field is the essence of empathy and empathic presence.

You can enliven space by drawing up a quality that you would love to feel more of. (See S.U.R.F. Practice).



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A Ki Moment

The Awassa Peace Dojo in Ethiopia

by David Weinstock

IMGP0885In October of 2008, I travelled to Awassa, Ethiopia, to offer aikido training to Tesfaye Tukulu, a very talented martial art instructor with a background in Karate, Tai Kwon Do and Wu Shu. A year earlier he had come to Cyprus for “Training Across Borders”, an event organized through Aiki Extensions. This event brought Israeli and Arab martial artists from across the Middle East to train together in the peaceful art of Aikido.

Tesfaye’s gentle, powerful and respectful demeanor drew the attention of several of the teachers presenting there. Aikido ignited Tes. After the summit, he immediately began Aikido training in earnest and opened the first Aikidodojo in Ethiopia.

Several teachers, including myself went to Awassa to teach aikido to Tesfaye. Tes was co-directing the Awassa Youth Project (AYP), a tiny community center he had co-founded in the heart of the city. When I arrived, the center was bursting with activity. Kids of all ages migrated between a very small aikido dojo, an even smaller music room, an art nook and an outdoor area with mats. They used the mats for dance, acrobatics, and theatrical rehearsals for their circus show. Their travelling troupe raised awareness about aids and social justice issues as they performed around Africa.

The first night after landing in Awassa, Tes and a few of the other organizers took us out on the town. After some tibs (a traditional goat dish), chororsaa- (spicey beans) and injera (Ethiopian flat bread) we went out to a bar to dance.

My son, Sam was with us. Already a masterful tap dancer at 19 years of age, he had brought 20 pairs of tap shoes with him so that he could teach dance to the children at AYP. Also proficient at hip-hop, salsa, and other forms of dance, Sam, a tall strapping redhead was used to having all eyes on him when he got on the dance floor. This night, as Tesfaye stepped out, all we could do was stand and stare at this young man who danced so joyfully, powerfully, gracefully and fully in his body.IMGP0871

Into the night we danced, tasting some of the local drink and having a lot of fun.

Then at one point, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Tes quietly escort two of the women that had come with us out of the bar. In close pursuit was a very large, muscular man.  Something didn’t feel right to me, so I followed them at a discrete distance. Tes ushered the two women into a taxi and as he turned around, this very large and now angry looking man stepped up to him. I could not understand what was being said, but the tone and posturing of the big man was clearly confrontational. Later, Tes translated what had transpired in English for me.

Once outside, the man accused Tes of getting in the way of his advances toward one of the women. Clearly trying to provoke a fight, his voice grew louder as he took off his shirt and exposed his rippling muscled chest and six-pack. Looking on at this spectacle, my heart began to race. I had studied martial arts for 30 years and reflexively began to ready myself if I was needed. In the face of this menacing posturing, Tes, surprisingly calm, looked at him and said in a clear and genuinely curious manner,

“Wow! You are really built. Where do you work out?”

The angry look on the man’s face shifted to one of surprise. Somewhat dumbfounded, the man just said, “What?”Ethopia 080

Tes said, “ I was wondering where you work out? You’re in incredible shape and I am looking for a new gym to work out in too.”

At that point, the man’s demeanor began to soften as he responded to Tes’s genuine interest in something he clearly valued himself. The subject soon changed to workout regimes and it was right about that point, I went back into the bar.

Tes walked back in to the bar and did not know that I had witnessed the interaction. When I asked him what was going on, he said amicably,

“Oh nothing, I was just talking to a new friend”.

My aikido teacher, Sensei Koichi Barrish, once said to me:

“When someone attacks, you surround them in kindness, a ‘ki‘ field” and he/she will have nothing to resist.”

In that moment of impending conflict, Tes’s practice kicked in. He allowed his embodied learning to lead. Creatively listening with all his senses, he waited for a moment of clarity to guide his intention into action. The above story reflects his ongoing commitment to a way of peace and the recognition that we are all in this together.

IMGP0868David Weinstock and Tesfaye Tukulu

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Better than Chocolate

“Better than Chocolate!”
After a bit of play and getting to know one another, I asked this question to the nine children sitting around the circle,
What do you really love?”
This is a question so rarely asked, that most of us find ourselves struggling for an answer when asked. As a child, were you ever asked that question? Answering it puts us directly in touch with our deeper needs.

One of the children, exclaimed, “ice cream!”.
I suggested that she imagine a tall building, and if ice cream was one of the upper floors, what would love be on the ground floor?  Her voice softened and a tiny bit of color came to her face as she said, “My family and dog.”  I asked her to point to where in her body the center of that loving feeling was and to say how it felt.  She pointed to just below the center of her chest and said, “nice!”

Then, I walked about ten feet away, turned, faced her and asked her to imagine that I was a stranger, someone she had never met before.  I asked, “Am I in your space now?” to which she replied, “no”.  If she had said “yes”, I would have backed up until she felt relaxed and was sure that I was not in her space.  Her task was to say, “stop” when I was in her personal space as I slowly walked toward her. 
Right about four feet away she said, “stop”.  I asked, “Where in your body do you feel the feelings that tell you that I am in your space?”  These are unusual questions to ask anyone, but with a little coaching people will notice the tensing and contractions that occur somewhere in their bodies that alert them to a possible danger.  She pointed to her chest and said that it felt tense.

Together, we connected the dots.  This was the same spot where she most acutely felt that feeling of love as well!

I suggested that the tensing might be her love and caring trying to get her attention to warn her so she would be safe. She agreed.  I coached her to say to that place in her chest, “Thank you for warning me and caring for me”.  She realized, that when she brought her attention to that place, the tenseness relaxed and she felt much better.

I moved a little closer and again a slight triggering came up in her chest.  I suggested that she engage that tense spot in a conversation, beginning with, “ I am listening” and “What are you suggesting I do?”  She did this and to my amazement she simply walked around me like a passerby on the street. She then thanked this “inner voice” for the caring and guidance.

She lit up, immediately understanding the value of being able to turn inward to find clarity and council from a place that cared deeply about her safety and well being.

I asked how that felt to have this “inner friend”.  She exclaimed, “It’s better than chocolate!” We high-fived and then I proceeded to do the same process (with minor variations) with each of the 15 kids in the two workshops. I had a very similar experience with each child. What a joy it was for me to plant these seeds so early in their young lives!
Imagine how it would be to grow up cultivating such a friendship with our own bodies.

In adult workshops, it’s pretty clear that those “inner friends” that put us in touch with our needs are often ignored for a very long time. The deep pain and joy of reunion can be profound.  After class, one of the children came up to me and said, “My father works so hard, I wish that he would listen to that part of himself more. I think he would be a lot happier.”

Real change can happen when we listen to our bodies and our deeper motivations.

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  • “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

    -- Albert Einstein

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