In his book The Way of Aikido, George Leonard shares the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
George tells us early in FDR’s life he was characterized as bright but somewhat superficial and a bit of a snob. Then, when he was 29, he was struck by a terrible attack of polio that deprived him of his legs.
That’s a hit.
But, was it also a gift? The polio gave FDR, George writes, “a depth of understanding and an uncommon compassion for human suffering that helped make him perhaps the greatest American president of the twentieth century.”
Misfortunes are a part of life. How can we learn to “take the hit as a gift?”
Insight #1: Though unpleasant, setbacks and challenges are generally energizing. They provide us a gift of additional energy.
Insight #2: The aikidoist understands this additional energy through the concept of “ki.” Ki is the energy created that we use to deal with the hit. But, the big takeaway is: there is additional ki left over which we can put to positive use. Ki can transform our lives.
So, what exactly is ki?!?
George tells us ki is “the activity of life, the essence of spirit… Sunlight is ki, thunder is ki, and 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.”
Let’s bring it back to misfortune and the challenges in our lives. Our common reaction is to fight back. Often, we make a bad situation worse. Or, perhaps we whine. Play the victim. Worst of all, we can deny it is happening. A dangerous path, indeed.
Instead, what if we:
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 and 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.
George tells us that ki is viewed as an essential element in every aikido technique and ideally in every aspect of the aikidoist’s life. Aikidoists will risk their lives to master it.
O Sensei, the founder of aikido, said he only understood the essence of aikido at age 70 after he had lost his muscular strength and had to depend almost entirely on ki.
Reflection: How have I responded to the biggest setbacks in my life? Reflect on the energy that was created inside me.
Action: Prepare to capitalize on this energy when confronted with my next obstacle.