Grow 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“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
In 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.
This 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.
Exercise 1: Our Helper
a. 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.
- With open eyes, soften your gaze.
- Let the back of your tongue soften and relax.
- 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.)
- Unclench your sphincter muscles and feel the bottom of your feet open to the earth you are standing on.
- Take a deep, unifying and relaxing breath, with an audible Ahhhhhh sound on the outbreath.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
At 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.
These 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.
The 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.
Drawing 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. A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shape Shifting Practice (formerly Elemental Needs)
Click here for the video or go to: https://www.dropbox.com/s/piyzhyxu3gkttv1/Five%20Elements2.mov?dl=0
“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
GROUND–WATER – FIRE – WIND – SPACE
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.
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.
Meaning, 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.
Expression, 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).
The Awassa Peace Dojo in Ethiopia
by David Weinstock
In 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.
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?”
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.
David Weinstock and Tesfaye Tukulu
“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.
Somatic Consensus Series
Care, Curiosity, Courage, Center, Confidence, Creativity and Commitment
- Care- One Heart
- Curiosity –Makes you Want to Learn About it
- Courage- Willing to Feel what you Feel
- Center –Me, We
- Commitment –Dedicate Your Practice
- Creativity- Imagination and all the Senses.
- Confidence- Trust your Training
|On August 11th, 2006, president Barak Obama said this: “You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.”|
Our First Language
You might say that empathy is our first language. It’s how mother and child initially communicate. From early on, in our culture, we have been taught to value what we think over what we feel. A general somatic understanding is “use it or lose it”. Our natural empathic abilities become atrophied if not used. After a lifetime of practicing otherwise, to reclaim and hone empathic skills requires purposeful, deliberate, rigorous practice over time and a personal commitment to do so. The 7 C’s make the practice of empathy more understandable. Empathy take us on an adventure where we are at the rudder, accountable and even though we might not know where things will end up, we have what is needed to navigate the journey.
Empathy connects us to our innate and unique gifts that we each bring to the table and opens possibilities for greater healing of self and the world.
Listening empathically requires taking responsibility for our own moods, emotions, thoughts and feelings to quiets the enemy images we project on to others and listen more intuitively.
When listening empathically, in the time between our asking the question and receiving the information, there is a state of openness and not knowing. This not knowing is where creativity and intuition arise. Most of us give ourselves grief for not knowing. Instead we can learn to tolerate this state and let our inner wisdom arise to answer.
“If you speak from the heart, there is never any waste” Lucrica
“When someone truly sees us and in caring urges us into the warmth of a loving embrace, we leave the darkness in which we have taken refuge and come once more into the light.” Stephen Harrod Buhner
To live a meaningful life it’s essential to know what you deeply care about. Touching in on our deeper motivations is not what many of us were taught growing up. Were you ever asked in school, “What do you really care about?” or “What would you most love to learn today? It’s sad to say, but in my workshops I find that it is about 1 out of 30 people who were ever asked such questions. Consequently we practice choosing from a narrow selection of classes being offered while motivated by grades and approval of others rather than an inner desire to learn inspired by what we care about.
Care is the ground level of our being. It is what’s meaningful. We know what we care about through bodily sensation, the aliveness we feel as we are moved in one direction or another and find the ground we stand on by listening to our hearts. “Under-standing” the ground under our feet that we stand on is a metaphor for what we care about and the deeper needs we all share, our common ground. As illustrated in Tes’s “confrontation”, our common ground and connection can happen in a moment. Empathy is a quality of presence that values and tends to everyone’s needs. My Aikido teacher, Sensei Koichi Barrish once said to me, “When someone attacks you, direct your attention surround them with kindness, a “Ki” field.” The attacker’s whole being registers that there is nothing to resist and relaxes. This is a good beginning to harmonizing conflict.”
To be deeply listened to with care is one of the most lovely and healing things we can do for one another. It is also one of the most disarming. My wife, Judith, once told me a story about a friend of hers who was hitchhiking and got picked up by a man, who proceeded to take her off the road and force her to take her clothes off. When he climbed on top of her, she said she felt a deep love and compassion for him and what kind of pain he must be in to do such a thing. She put her arms around him and looked him right in the eyes, with a profound care, telling him that he really didn’t want to do what he was doing—that he wouldn’t want to live with that weight in his heart. He got up, helped her back to the car and took her where she wanted to go. This is an extreme example, and yet the principle is the same. The better you can appreciate what you and another care about the more readily and deeply you can connect to what is needed in the moment. Care is an expression of connection that recognizes that to harm another is to harm one self.
“In the place my wonder comes from, there, I find you” Bruce Cockburn
I once asked my 8 year-old neighbor, “What is curiosity?” Her brilliant and concise answer was, “Curiosity, makes you want to learn about it.” In relationship, our curiosity is what makes us want to learn about each other.
Curiosity is that compelling, infectious quality that urges us to walk into the unknowns of life, love and relationship purely to “under-stand” and to find meaning. Curiosity is not forceful. When it is associated with compassion it leaves us feeling connected and good about ourselves.
A grounded touch and a listening face
When I am lost, your smile I trace
Back to the source, to change my disposition,
Right on course, with my heart I listen
Listening to the Nature and the nature of me
Igniting my soul with curiosity,
It’s that and that alone, something that I yearn to learn,
burning to know what’s around the next turn.
What we are most ashamed of is often what is most common.” Carl Rogers”
Regardless of age, when someone is genuinely curious about who you are, it feels good and gently moves us to offer windows into our worlds to one another. One Friday night, when my youngest son, Sam, was in 2nd grade we were out on a drive together. Sam and I have always had open conversations about most anything. We have always enjoyed a mutual curiosity about each other. This particular night, from the shadow of the cab of my pick up truck I heard his little voice ask a very different kind of question for us, “Dad, what is your deepest darkest secret?”
The question this surprised me and the earnest voice behind it conveyed seriousness. Pulling the truck over we sat quietly together as I thought about his question. After a while, I took a deep breath and said,“ Sam, I don’t know what my deepest darkest secret is, but I’ll share something that is close to my heart and that I have truly never shared before.” I spoke vulnerability and honestly to him and in confidence revealed a deeper part of my self to him. He listen and appreciated what I had said as a calmness grew between us.
I asked, with genuine curiosity and care, “Sam, what is your deepest darkest secret?” In that moment my whole being wanted to know this lovely person behind the fear. This is empathy. My son gave me a window into his world. A courageous little voice said hesitantly…… “Well…There’s is a girl in my class… that I like… and whenever we play or talk together the boys in the class, especially Lyle, makes fun of me”.
Questions are more powerful than answers sometimes. I shaped my questions to better understand his feelings and the situation. Empathic guessing is empty of judgment, conveys care and inspires connection.
With my help, Sam really heard himself, some of pieces started to fall into place. He guessed that the other boys must feel uncomfortable and afraid to talk to girls and that was probably why they made fun of him. He realized that girls are just people and that no matter what others said; he knew that there was nothing wrong with being friends with them. You could almost see a light bulb switch on. All hesitancy left him. He said excitedly, “And dad, you’d like her too. She’s got a great sense of humor and pretty eyes… and she has a hamster, just like mine…and on an on he went”. His discomfort around girls shifted forever.
I think of divine curiosity as listening for that divine being that is beneath our actions and words within each of us that we all share.
“Think of fear as part of doing what we have to do. When I get scared and I am pushing out of my comfort zone, my heart is going crazy and pounding. Instead of thinking that you are going crazing say, “ Oh those are inner applause”. Alice Waters
“Courage is resistance to fear, acceptance of fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” Mark Twain
Courage is the act of mustering ourselves to face our fears and be present with them. Many of us learn at an early age to protect our hearts. Whether a threat is real or imagined, there is emotional pain involved. Fear and pain are contracted states of being. Empathy is an expanded state. It is extremely difficult to offer genuine empathy to another when we are feeling contracted.
Often the more powerful the needs are, the more intensely the emotions are being expressed and this can make it very difficult to fully listen to them. How you naturally respond to others pain will tell you much about its nature just as it will tell you about your own. Courage is not so much about going off to fight dragons as it is about facing our own demons, tolerating our feelings and not reacting so quickly, in order to actually listen to what our emotions are trying to tell us.
Courage is a quality that, when connected to a heart felt caring, is ennobling.
The word, courage, comes from Old French, a noun-“corage” which means heart, innermost feelings and inner strength; and to temper,” The word “temper” fills it in nicely. It comes from the late Old English word, “temprian”, which means to bring to a proper or suitable state or to modify some excessive quality. It is usually described as from “tempus”, as in a sense of proper time or season.
Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to quiet our minds in order to listen empathically. Courage is also the practice of speaking your mind with your heart. We are wired to tell our stories. The culture does not let us tell our stories of imperfections, and we have learned to be ashamed and afraid to show ourselves. Through the years in my workshops there is nothing more moving as when someone who is afraid, musters the courage to speak out for the sake of connecting and contributing to the others in the room. When someone brings their whole self to the conversations, with all their imperfections, it opens the heart of all who listen and draws admiration and appreciation.
A Call to Courage One day a young woman, Joanne, in her mid 20’s showed up at my home. She was strung out and wanted help to come down from her heroin addiction. My wife and I and the community around us knew her when she was a teen, friends with our son, Sam and an Aikido student of mine. She had once been a very bright, capable and caring person. A darkness had welled up and enveloped her life. With her mind and body compromised by drugs; she was now fighting for her life.
With the help of our neighbors she spent the next month at our house coming down from the drugs while using methadone and marijuana to ease her detox. She was never completely clean and her ability to be honest with herself and commitment to stopping were patchy and tricky.
She had a lot of work to do and we had little experience with this sort of thing. A friend of mine, Peter Hassen, stepped in to help. Peter, an extraordinary 60ish year old, artist across many mediums and a former junkie, was familiar with what Jo was up against. He had given up drugs many years ago and since had poured out his heart many times trying to help people struggling to get off drugs. Many beloved friends had died. You could see how difficult it was for him to enter yet another situation where he might lose someone he cared for. He sensed that the chances of Jo getting through this were marginal, at best.
Peter, having wrestled his own demons, gave her an ear that she could trust. He listened, suggested, asserted and supported her as best he could. Then there was a moment, a call to courage. That moment was moving for all, especially for Jo.
He offered to go to Narcotics Anonymous with her every day for the next 30 days if she committed to it. He was not a professional and it scared the hell out of him to open his heart, yet again, to this young woman because he knew that she could very easily fail to go clean, go back to the street and possibly die. He courageously kept his heart open willing to face the unknowns and the pain that the future might hold all for the sake of caring for this young woman. He knew that he could not save her life. That was up to her. He did know within himself how important it is to care for one another. He did not help because he felt he “should”, he chose to step in to help because he was moved by her courage to fight for her life.
When I speak of courage I’m speaking about the willingness to trust your senses to listen and deeply feel what it is that you’re feeling with out cluttering the moment up with words, strategies and busyness. Often the more intense the emotions are, the more powerful the needs and the more difficult it is to fully listen to them. It takes courage to listen to our emotions, to trust our senses, and to stay open and centered in the face of intense feelings.
“Center is the eye of the hurricane, it is the place where you are able to be calm in the midst of the spinning without spinning. Karen Sella
“There is only one Heart “ William Blake
Centering cultivates emotional stability, physical equilibrium and spiritual composure. It brings balance between body, mind and the world we live in. When centered, your mind is alert with a heightened awareness of surroundings and an uncanny ability to focus on essentials. Centering opens us to a mindset of discovery that is willing to embrace change and where there is no end to the learning.
The world’s shortest poem was by Mohammad Ali. It goes like this: “Me, Whee!!”
Listening empathically requires centering in order to separate our own stories, frameworks and perceptions from our listening. Sometimes the emotions stirred within us when we’re listening empathically to another can be triggering and overwhelming. How do we hold anxiousness, irritation, anxiety and loneliness?
It is important to fully feel these feelings and yet not indulge them. If we are not centered we are much more likely to get stuck in old and unwanted feelings. Our own reactions can be our worst enemy. Taking moments to let patience and stillness replace the anxiety and high pace activity in our lives is certainly good advice.
Somatic Consensus is essentially a plethora of centering techniques that synchronize the resources of our head, heart and belly with what brings meaning to our actions in the world. The intention of practice is not about being centered all the time, it is to learn to come back quicker when you notice your off. To be centered all the time would seriously overload our systems. We are not built for that.
Centering practice helps us understand how our physical, emotional, and spiritual balance are inextricably linked. When you center yourself physically your mind and spirit come into balance too. If your body is off balance you can shift it almost as easily through a balanced state of mind. Centering practices that include mind, body, emotions and meaning are potent.
Tapping deep into our center we can uncover both our core nature and the reality of our collectiveness. It is how we can recognize that as an individual, we are an integral part of the collective whole. Centering is a resource for addressing the challenges we face in our personal relationships and for finding solutions to global problems.
If you lost and riding in the dark, let the horse lead.
The more secure we become in our selves and our practices the more confidently we comport ourselves and share our gifts. The confidence that is embodied is reflected in a powerful yet calm resolve, skillful movement, an increased awareness and capacity to adapt and learn. Confidence is the presence we have when we trust where we stand and what we have come to know. You feel it and those around us feel it.
As a child, like most of us growing up in 20th century America, I developed strategies to keep others at a certain distance in order to protect myself. Sometimes being a kid is like being in a room with the doorknob only on the outside. Adults can access you, but you are limited in ways to access them. The strategies we learn when we are young were the best we could do at the time and hard to change as adults. Some of the old strategies for safety are like training wheels on a bike/ Once you have learned to ride, if you don’t take them off, they get in the way and slow you down.
From early on we learn to build emotional walls believing that we will be safer and more able to deal with people from behind them. Aikido offers a different approach, which at first might seem counter productive: inclusivity keeps us more aware of others intention, improves our timing and increases our resource-fullness. It actually keeps us safer. After 3 decades of Aikido training, I am confident about its validity.
Just the Basics
In 1997, I was teaching Aikido in a local community center as a Shodon, or first-degree black belt. One day, one of the other Shodons, and at the time a student of mine, told me that he was preparing for his Nidon (second-degree black belt) test.
I felt an overwhelming, competitive urge well up in me and felt compelled to call my teacher, Sensei Koichi Barrish, to see about getting a promotion of my own! When I called, I reminded him that it had been eleven years since my last promotion, and that I felt ready for my next. I asked what was required that he would need to see from me. His response was simply; “Just the basics… pause……… the way we do them now.”
My teacher is a master from the old school. Always creative, this gifted martial artist was the real deal. It had been several years since I had trained in his dojo. As I watched the class I was both mesmerized and confounded by “the way the were doing it now”. I recognized the moves, but everything seemed altered. It was like a classical musician walking into a jazz session. It was music, I could recognize and appreciate what I was seeing, but to do it myself was a whole other thing.
So, in earnest, I began to take all of the classes offered, beginner through advanced. Although I already had a strong Aikido base, in many ways I was beginning my training anew. I had to come to it with a beginner’s mind, to continually stay open to learning new ways of improving. Imagine a swordsman, practicing a sword cut movement 500 times a day and what it takes to stay with it and strive to improve with each cut. In a sense, I had to keep emptying my cup in order to allow more in. This open state required me to maintain a quality of commitment, humility, curiosity, determination, and purpose. This is the essence of what it takes to embody a practice over time.
It was about a year later that I started to notice something different and exciting. I began to feel the interactions with others on the mat directly through my body. When I was attacked, my movement was spontaneous, informed by what I felt intuitively rather than a calculated response coming from my head. In that same moment that I noticed this shift from “thinking” my way through an interaction to “feeling” and “sensing” my way, my teacher, noticed the shift as well and promoted me. I had gained a new level of confidence.
Relaxation is key. The more relaxed we are the more aware we can be. When we are tense we are less flexible in any given situation both mentally and physically. Relaxation does not mean limpness or collapse; using just the energy that is needed. Watch a cat lying on a sofa, its body is completely relaxed, but when startled it quickly organizes and is gone in a heartbeat.
Confidence is a physically expansive state. Insecurity is a contracted state with elements of mistrust and fear. It’s difficult if not impossible to be contracted and empathic simultaneously. When we are tight and contracted, it is hard to feel the nuanced feelings that guide intuitive choice. It is also hard for someone to relax and feel trust around some one who is contracted. Messiness and getting lost in relationships is unavoidable. Confidence that comes through deliberate practice and experience provides reference points and resources to navigate unchartered relationships.
In my early forties I participated in an 8-month initiatory rite of passage modeled after a Lakota tradition called Hanbleycha. It culminated in my leaving the “village” and spending 4 days and nights “on the hill”, alone without food. In the forest, I sat alone with Nature and with the commitment to face myself. I listened and re-membered something I had once found in my twenties after years of travel. That is, no matter what I may think or where I am, “I am loved”. This simple knowing has become a foundation for my personal practice and professional life. I continue to find my footing and draw confidence in this simple and profound knowing through the practice of this basic understanding.
Empathy is a presence that opens the way to seeing the world through another’s eyes. Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu stated that true empathy requires listening with the whole being. The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear or to the mind. The whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.”
Communication, done artfully, is felt in moments of connection. Empathy is the medium in which listening moves inspires and connects us. Around the world there are many names used to describe this creative medium: Ki, Pranna, Élan Vital, Spirit, Life, our deepest Needs and within its field who we are is revealed.
Just before the stroke of the brush, the artist quiets and centers herself to listen to what is deeply felt. Imagination sparked, feelings grow, the skillful painter, divinely curious, musters the courage to step into the unknown. Her imagination connects what her mind perceives with what her body feels and knows. Things that we touch, see and hear coalesce via the imagination. Imagination is essential for understanding what it might be like to walk in another’s shoes.
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination … is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
Webster’s Dictionary says: Imagination, different from fantasy helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world, and plays a key role in the learning process.
We are each a story. When we talk, our whole history, culture and unique personalities are communicated behind the words. When we listen empathically, what is said can move and excite our senses and imagination. We are touched by more than the words, we can taste, smell, see and imagine as we take it in.
Listening from our whole self is how we hear another’s whole self. Gathering all of our body’s faculties to listen, imagine and perceive is like discovering the part of an iceberg that is below the surface of the water.
Our bodies send and receive volumes and by incorporating our bodies into our listening we can hear nuances through gesture, tone, inflection, movement and shape that we can never hear through words alone.
After four decades as a goldsmith, I’ve narrowed my business down to what I truly enjoy: co-creating the symbols that are meaningful for my clients. Making someone’s wedding rings is a sacred and intimate process for me. Some clients come to me with elaborate ideas drawn out in detail of what they would like me to make, while others don’t know what they want at all. As we create together I listen with a deep curiosity and carefully questioning to see if I am getting what it is they are trying to convey. It is up to me to listen and translate what they would love into something visible. The medium is metal and stone. To listen fully in order to hear what is moving and meaningful to another and help make it visible is the essence of empathy
Listening empathically in any relationship is a sacred act that honors the creative life in each of us. Whether it’s a piece of jewelry or a mutual understanding we are creating, the 7 c’s describe the basics
I listen with care to what is meaningful. As I listen, I am curious who is in front of me and what is wanting to come forth. I muster the courage to fully enter into this new and unknown relationship. I center myself, to create a space to allow and listen to what is unfolding.
Resting in the confidence of my skills, I relax; open my attention and awareness without the worry of outcomes. Staying present, feelings become known, common ground is sensed, a moment of connection approaches and presents itself. Synergy. Discovering the beauty of creating is at the heart of my commitment
Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions, which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
What ever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Goethe
In 1991 I helped start the intentional community where I raised my family and still live today. When I began, I had very little understanding about what it would really entail. I did know how to work hard and what I cared about. That was a good starting place. A well crafted commitment creates the environment to fulfill on what you declare much like a compass helps to map a course and points towards our destination. Without that compass, I doubt I would have weathered the intense conflict, relationship upheavals, overwhelms and disillusionment that are part of the natural cycle of Community building. These days the community is thriving. It feeds me in ways that are far beyond what I imagined when I began!
My personal commitment has been to learn to live more fully within the bonds of community, to share resources where ever possible, to raise my children more collaboratively and, in the bigger picture, contribute to a more nurturing world for generations to come. This matters to me and has been worth working towards.
Our biological programing is wired, in part, to preserve a status quo. We gravitate to what is familiar. To create new ways of being, a commitment needs to emerge from a deep appetite and hunger. It must be powerful enough to inspire a shift towards new actions and through one’s own resistance to change.
New actions and practices can easily become lost in the bureaucracy of our historical habits. So it is the commitments that we come back to when we lose our ways. They remind us of the choices we have made and offer guideposts to refer to and come back to when we get lost. A well-crafted, meaningful commitment can light up a clear path.
Over the years, in my community, there have been those who have resisted or outright refused to make commitments. For them, commitments seemed to be obligatory structures imposed upon them that restricted their freedom. Follow-through on a commitment is difficult when there is a feeling of obligation or “should” rather than personal conviction and free choice. Too many rules and structures can hinder the creative process, while without structure it is easy to get distracted and lose sight of our goals.
The intentional practice of empathy begins and ends with commitment. To cultivate the qualities of Care, Curiosity, Courage, Center, Confidence, and Creativity the intention, practices and commitments need to be as clear and do-able as possible.
For example, one do-able task within my community commitment was to not talk about people in my community, negatively, behind their backs in ways that I would not speak directly to their face. Keeping to this commitment has served me well and it has cultivated more of the same with those around me. It is do-able and the results are viewable.
Another example was when I was an apprentice goldsmith, I asked Ted, an elder master goldsmith, what are the skills I need to master to become a goldsmith. He said, “Learn the saw, the torch and files (he also added, don’t forget to pick up your pay check). I committed to practicing the file, saw and torch. Those were do-able skills to learn and practice. In time that became an embodied skill, the “known” as I went on to develop my creativity in that medium.
Until we articulate for clarity and power, through language a vision and shape our commitments it is unclear what we are moving towards. Declaring your commitments and living it, opens possibilities for new actions and draws others who might like to collaborate. Life will go on and happens without this, of course. But articulating a possibility, choosing it, committing to it and being willing to take the consequences for the sake of a more enriching life sets a direction and galvanizes the resources within and around u.
*Conjures the question: What do I care about? What do I want do bring forth in the world and why is that important? What are the actions I need?
**Specifics to Fulfill- Specific tasks for delivering on your commitment. Note what it would look like if you were successful in completing each of these tasks.
***Regularly evaluate specific actions, progress and their completion