“No matter what you bring up, there’s always an opposite sitting there looking right at you.”
Friday night class – Feb. 8, 2008
There seems to be a lot of confusion, when I talk with students and see them moving in the dojo, about the main teaching in Ki-Aikido, or the central tenet of our practice, which is non-dissension, non-fighting, otherwise referred to as “no struggle.”
Ki-Aikido is the art of finding peace in the midst of conflict. Some people imagine that if they can emerge victorious from a conflict, they can find peace, as if it is some sort of goal, or object that can be obtained, and that struggle to win is a means to that end. And then others think that if they can struggle to put and end to conflict, or simply avoid conflict all together, somehow they will find this illusive peace. But Ki-Aikido says the spirit of non-dissension, or peace, exists in the midst of the most rapid movement; in other words in the midst of the conflict of the world.
Everything in this world is in conflict. It is, after all, the relative world. Everything is up against something else, it’s own opposite. There’s birth and death, health and ill-health, male and female, over there and over here, his ideas and my ideas, their beliefs and our beliefs. Everything is in conflict at all times. No matter what you bring up, there’s always an opposite sitting there looking right at you. But true peace is not at all like that. True peace is not the opposite of conflict. Peace is what’s left over when all struggle is absent. Peace is present all the time, but not often noticed. This noticing requires awareness. And when there is struggle, awareness is necessarily absent. Peace is this right here. It is your essential nature and this essential nature is always present. We miss it, or don’t see it and feel we must go out and find it, because we are struggling with conflict. Struggle is suffering. Suffering is struggle.
It is so simple to see in Ki-Aikido. When someone grabs your hand in Katatekosadori Kokyunage, for instance, no matter what you try to do, you only make things worse for yourself. You get into deeper and deeper trouble no matter what you try to do. And if someone is really experienced at holding you, they can block your every struggling effort. This is very frustrating for you and you think this is impossible, that there can be no peace. “There is too much conflict here. What am I supposed to do?” Is there anyone here who has not had this experience? Of course, we all have. And if you don’t have it any more, then be assured that sooner or later you will meet someone who can hold you. There is always someone who can bring you to this place, corner you in this way, and this is a blessing when it happens. When this happens we can easily see that not only are we not effective when we struggle, but this struggling can never lead to peace.
We use the past to try to bring together or accommodate what we think is happening now, versus what we are actually experiencing now, in this moment. We try to use the past to squeeze these two together; what we think is happening and what we are actually experiencing. This kind of thing is forcing life and covers over any sense of peace. And we use the future in a similar way. We use the future to accommodate what we think should be happening, versus what is actually happening. And we try to squeeze those two together. And we think if we succeed we can have peace. All of this is just one big struggle to manipulate life to fit our idea of what life should be. Any effort to avoid conflict, or overcome conflict, or solve conflict, or resolve conflict is all struggle, which is suffering itself. The thing that you dislike most, is the very thing that you are doing.
Therefore in Aikido we say, “Do nothing.” Do nothing, and accept everything as it is. What does that mean? Does that mean that you have to agree with every foolish thought that comes along? Does it mean that when someone tells you to do something unreasonable that you must do it? It that what it means? No? What does it mean?
Student: Things happen and you just let it go.
Student: Sometimes it means don’t try to make things happen because things will happen in their own good time. Don’t get excited about trying to make things happen.
Yes, this is like, when the sun comes up in the morning and shines on the flower bud, the bud gradually opens, as you say, in its own good time. It doesn’t do any good to pry the petals open and try to speed it up. But the flower does open. Stuff happens. Life goes on.
The thing about accepting things exactly as they are, or in other words being in a state of mind/body unification, is that when it comes time to act, you know exactly what to do and when to do it. This is natural. There is no gap, in other words, between experience and action. The thinking, struggling, striving mind acting in reaction to what it is experiencing, creates a gap. This is because of the way we use our conditioning to bring ideas of past and the future to try to correct the present. When we try to bring together our idea of what is happening now, and what is actually happening now, this creates a gap in us and actually makes effective action impossible. So in this way we are always struggling and never satisfied. Whereas satisfaction, peace, is already this, right here, without editing.
I think this is really important. Not only because it is Tohei Sensei’s teaching, and this is what we are all studying, but because it is the answer to living without struggle, without suffering. And if you think about it, what is the real reason you are here tonight? Why did you pick Ki-Aikido? I mean, is there anyone here who came here to learn how to struggle more effectively? Anyone? No. You all came here because you were tired of struggling and you thought there must be a better way.
I think everybody agrees that we all came here to learn to live without struggle.
And how then do we go about that? What happens when you first begin learning to perform a technique?
Student: You find that you get yourself in the way.
And what that makes is….?
Struggle! So we do struggle in this way, but what we are actually doing there, since we are struggling to perform an Aikido technique, is we are struggling against struggling.
This is why it feels like we get in our own way.
Look at our world. We fight against fighting. We have the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty. We even have fighting against the war, struggling to find peace! How can that be? We are making war on war. It’s all struggle. And yet, “accept what happens” doesn’t mean to hide yourself away in a corner some place. You have to show up. You have to be present in the face of that conflict. As everybody knows about relationship, whether it’s a business relationship, or a parent-child relationship, or a spousal relationship or a teacher-student relationship, number one is you have to show up. If you don’t show up nothing happens. If you have some difficulty, some conflict, you have to be there for it and not avoid it. Right? That’s the first rule. So no one is talking about avoidance, but just the opposite. We are talking about living life completely, with no hesitation, no doubt, and no fear. This is living without struggle.
Struggle comes out of doubt and fear and anxiety, a feeling that you must do something to alter whatever it is you don’t like about your experience in the present moment. Whatever you don’t like, you want to change. So you struggle to change it. As if each one of us were the arbiter of our lives and, guess what, everyone else’s life too.
Somebody wrote me an email after I returned from teaching in Virginia recently and he said, “I am struggling with the dynamic between training, family life, and work. Can you help me? What should I do?” What would you tell him?
Student: It’s all training.
Ah, very good. Do you others agree?
Student: Well, work when you have to, spend time with your family as is appropriate, and come to the dojo whenever you can.
That sounds logical, but does it avoid the struggle?
What I told him was, “If you perceive that there is a difference between training, time with your family, and work, then you are missing the point entirely.” Of course this probably made him think he needs to spend more time training so he can realize this!
Training is not just something that we do in the dojo. Of course we do train here.
But everything we do here is a metaphor. It’s pointing at right living. It is pointing at this spirit of non-dissension. Sure it is difficult. It’s not easy for any of us. None of us are really very good at it. But that is not a problem. The things that stand in our way are things like willingness and skill and these can all be improved over time. We can learn to be present in this way, no matter where we are. We can become more willing to be present. We can become more skillful in this practice. We can surrender more to our original condition. So if we are struggling between that triangle of dojo, work, and family then something is confused in our understanding of what it is that we are doing here.
One other thing. If you really know this in your experience, and you are really living your life in the dynamic of this practice, which is constantly challenging and extremely intense, then you will relish the moment to sit in silent meditation. This sitting alone in peace is so easy compared to having to deal with people and events. This is where you can go deeply into the condition of open awareness. And then you have this treasure trove to come forth with you into daily life and enrich and enliven the experience. So if you find yourself not really relishing sitting, maybe what you are doing in your life is actually avoiding being present, avoiding showing up. Because showing up not only means facing what is happening in your life, but it also means seeing how unskillful you really are. And that is sometimes not easy to look at. We have to go through the middle of that. We have to accept that. And accepting unskillfulness is requires great skill.
Similarly, accepting the end of struggle is what you were always struggling for. This you can have now, right now.
Biography of Christopher Curtis Sensei (8th Dan)
Chief Instructor – Hawaii Ki Federation
Christopher Curtis was born in 1944 in Upland, California, and grew up on a ranch in Northern California. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Theatre Arts, he worked as an actor for several years in New York City. It was here that he had his first encounter with Aikido. In 1969 he received personal instruction from Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei, a student of Koichi Tohei Sensei, while preparing for a role with the Open Theatre. This first exposure to Koichi Tohei Sensei’s teaching left a deep impression upon him. Even though he was experiencing a successful career in the New York theatre, he was very dissatisfied with the lack of depth in his personal life. At the age of 25, he “retired” from acting and play writing, and moved to the hills of California, where he lived alone and concentrated on meditation and self-development for several years.
In 1972, Curtis moved to Hawaii, on the Island of Maui, and there encountered Aikido once again. He began training in 1974, with his teacher Shinichi Suzuki Sensei. Through the years he has trained with Koichi Tohei Sensei in Japan on many occasions, attending World Camp annually, as well as special training sessions. As Suzuki Sensei’s otomo, Curtis has, over the years, accompanied Suzuki Sensei as he traveled to teach seminars in Japan, throughout the United States, South America, and Europe.
In January, 2000 Curtis Sensei was appointed as Chief Instructor of the State of Hawaii by Tohei Sensei. Then in the fall of 2001, he was awarded the rank of “Okuden” by Tohei Sensei in Japan. Tohei Sensei has also recognized Curtis Sensei as an official Ki Lecturer.
Curtis Sensei now teaches regularly at the Shunshinkan dojo on Maui, and continues to travel and teach Aikido and Ki Principles in Europe, throughout the United States, and Hawaii. At the specific request of Ki no Kenkyukai Headquarters, Curtis Sensei is now acting as the official KnK representative for the Ki Society in the Netherlands and in Germany. He is the author of two books, Ki-Aikido on Maui and Letting Go – Talks on Aikido, which were both published by MAKS Publishing in 2001 and 2008 respectively. His second book beginning in January will be featured in monthly Ki Lectures and podcasts at the Shunshinkan dojo. The podcasts can be downloaded at http://www.hawaiikiaikido.org/.