Using lessons from the martial arts to transform our lives
George Leonard couldn’t believe it.
His agent was on the phone. The publisher of his next book was turning it down. Worse, they were demanding the immediate return of the money George had already been advanced. All of which he already spent.
Two months earlier after reading the first installment of the book, George’s new editor had taken him to lunch and said, “It’s the most alive book I’ve read. It’s sure to be a bestseller.”
What had happened? What was he going to do?
“At first, I was too dazed to do anything except drive,” writes George in The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons From An American Sensei. “My upbringing as a Southern male had explicitly and implicitly taught me to be brave, maintain control, never admit weakness, never display any sign of emotionality.”
Yet, as an aikidoist, George had been trained in a different way of dealing with sudden and unexpected blows.
“I started out by fully aknowledging that I had taken a terrific blow. I felt shocked, disparaged, deeply hurt,” George states. He felt pain in his heart, and pressure in the back of his head.
“Then there was the matter of the money, the money I’d already spent. How could I make it up? Maybe I could get another publisher, another advance. But what if I couldn’t? What if the book really wasn’t any good? [The editor’s] earlier praise only made the hit worse, more devastating.”
George checked his feelings and discovered “a root of fear” in his abdomen.
On his drive, he kept working with his feelings about the blow he had just taken. At one point, he sensed an insistent pressure just behind his eyes. “I had told students in my workshops that such a pressure was was often a need to cry,” writes George. “Then cry, I said to myself, and let the tears stream down my cheeks as I drove along at 75-miles per hour on I-280.”
Then, something changed.
“One of the most marvelous, most euphoric infusions of ki I had ever felt began rising from my abdomen up to my shoulders, like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.”
For the martial artist, ki is the energy created that we use to deal with the hit. It is “the activity of life, the essence of spirits,” George writes. “Sunlight is ki, thunder is ki, the wind is ki. It is tinier than an atom and more awesome than the galaxies. It is the vital essence of the universe, the creative energy of God.”
The ki needed to tackle George’s book problem also spurred him to make a long-overdue change in his life. In an instant, a solution came to him. He picked up the phone and made a call which set in motion the measures he had long delayed which ultimately made the situation right for himself and everyone else involved.
About the book? George ended up getting a larger advance from a new, better publisher. Upon publication, it was featured on the cover of three national magazines.
When things go wrong, we can use the ki or energy created to deal with the hit. And, as George experienced, there is often additional ki left over which we can put to positive use. Ki can transform our lives.
Here is the process:
1: Experience and acknowledge what we are feeling. As aspiring aikidoists, we consider not only what we’re feeling, but where in our body we are feeling it. We describe (aloud or silently) the specific location. Benefits include: (i) makes denial impossible and (ii) doing so mitigates or eliminates the tension or pain.
2: Next, we center, ground ourselves, and breathe deeply. We bring our attention to our physical center. If we are standing, we also focus on the soles of our feet and experience a deep and powerful connection with the earth. We breathe deeply several times.
3: Now, we become aware of all the available energy. Through the act of returning to our center, we’ve assembled this energy and brought it to a much higher level.
4: Use this vital energy wisely. Ki can be spent for any purpose we desire.
Reflection: Consider a crisis in my life. In the aftermath of what happened, do I recognize any of the principles of aikido at work?
Action: Journal about this experience.