Using embodied principles to speak, listen and move in life affords each of us access to a unified bodymind that is one with universal spirit (Jp. reiseishin). From that opening we can perform at our best in all situations. This is what O Sensei called takemusu aiki: the free and spontaneous creation of harmonious action. But from where does this come?
Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought. — Matsuo Bash?
ELBA - four noble tasks
Embrace life as it arises, in all its beauty and confounding chaos. This embrace is grounded in the inner life of the body (keep one-point) and includes the flow of circumstance (extend ki). Curtis Sensei points out: “Open to whatever is happening and receive it without changing it.” And Tohei’s Sensei instructed: “Keep one-point and respect your partner’s ki,” All of these express embracing life as it is given to us. “Show up and open to what is.” is how Ken McLeod Sensei says it. So, the first noble task is embrace.
2. Let go.
Let go of reaction. The embrace of the first task is simultaneously a release of our grip to our reactions. Letting go is not getting rid of, suppressing, avoiding or fixing reactions, it is embracing them just as they flair up. We can open to and let the reaction move thru the body just as it does. Like releasing a stone, we open our hand and the stone falls to the earth. It is not gone, just no longer in our tense grip. It becomes part of everything. So, the second noble task is letting go of reactions.
Behold the stopping. The instant we embrace and let go, the relative world stops, the tumult ceases, and there is an opening, a fresh, clear gateway. We cannot hold this or understand it, but we can non-conceptually know it. It manifests in the body, but transcends the limits of body. This boundless shimmering stillness is often missed, as the mind panics and races ahead, or as we “do” something in reaction to this astonishing opening. Then we miss the preeminent result of practice: the timeless, the effortless, the absolutely connected, the transcendent. It really is right there. As we practice these four tasks, we learn to dwell, to abide in this opening. So, the third task is to behold the opening.
Within this opening we can act: move, speak and listen in a manner that is entirely unavailable to the usual separate mind. This is takemusu aiki. This is mind and body, form and emptiness unified. This is finding the resolution in the present moment connection. One is empty of agenda and reaction, perception is cleansed of filters and beliefs, and we can move with the “direction of the present”. This is not what we wanted, and not what they wanted, but what the whole system yearns toward. We are empty of doubt, empty of vanity and preference, and no longer fettered by memorized rules. We act, not out of self-interest, competition or control, but right out of the embodied wholeness of the moment and actions just fit.
(With a deep bow to Stephen Batchelor and his work with the original roots of Buddhist practice, from a secular-modern point of view.)
So, a practice:
1. Embrace what is.
2. Let go of reactions.
3. Behold the fresh opening.
4. Act in this opening.
It is a way of doing what we practice in Ki Class:
1. keep one-point and respect the ki
2. relax completely, let go
3. perceive unification and oneness
4. move with confidence
This can drive the separate-mind crazy. There is no control and no advanced planning that props us up in the moment. Of course we plan, we train, we gain knowledge and learn skills. These are all important for functioning well in relative life (Jp. keiko). But in the actual moment, if we are concerned with engaging life and for performing at our best; if we want less struggle, separation and dissatisfaction, then releasing our grip and practicing the four noble tasks can open a way for us (Jp. shugyo).
Like all such “practices,” two caveats: One, you actually have to DO IT in the body. Thinking or talking about it is only useful if it leads to actual embodied practice. And two, in the moment, we only have the capacity of awareness that we have and sometimes this capacity is exceeded by what is happening. Rather than withdraw to a separate mind judging and thinking about it, stay as present as you can to what is happening in the body, and try an activity that is positive, like walking and breathing. How to work with capacity is a subject for another day or days.
May your practice go well.