In May, 2010, I wrote a brief article entitled “Fear as an opponent.” Carina Reinhard responded with a brilliant illustration of what fear can cause in a man’s behavior. You may find both in the Forum section of my website, aikidoacademyusa.com.
In assessing what we as Americans, and all of us as citizens of this planet earth, are truly facing at this time of unprecedented uncertainty, as well as from economic, sociological and religious turmoil, much of the cause, as well as the source of viable solutions may be found in the same comprehensive, though complex answer.
Fear is an elemental component of our DNA, being responsible for the so called “fight or flight” reaction that resides in us all, as well as in many other higher level animals. Nature provides us with many resources with which to compete, to survive and to ultimately thrive in our respective environments. I do recognize the phenomenon of fear, along with its historic role in mankind’s evolution, as a significant, but little understood or appreciated factor in the quality of our existence, and in the direction of our continued growth of being mutually progressive on environmental issues, and as a species interacting responsibly with one another.
The Japanese word for fear is “kyofu”, and the state of being afraid is “osoreru”. All cultures recognize that being fearful, being afraid, and being paralyzed by those “things” we fear, are seemingly unavoidable facts of life. Kind words of consolation, or courageous exhortations for bravery, may well prove inadequate when it comes to dealing effectively with those things we truly fear, that we do not yet fully understand.
The state of being fearful, is simply being afraid. Yet, how much effort are we taking to 1) correctly identify the cause and actual source of such fear, 2) assessing our options in taking appropriate and immediate action in dealing with the elements comprising and inspiring such fear, and 3) taking instant action by choosing correctly? Will we then be implementing our best resources immediately, in uncompromising fashion, until the source of fear is gone, or find that we have sadly failed in the attempt?
If we indeed have other options, what are they and where do we look? Can it be as simple as adopting new attitudes, deleting old habits of negative thinking, discarding “traditional wisdom” from the murky past, and by truly embracing the positive lessons that fear can teach us, if we but have the courage and foresight to explore, experiment and to fail forward? Even our super heroes have their genesis within our own psyches and immense capacity to imagine, to dream and to create. We have done so before.
As a human species here on earth, we were never meant to win every encounter, to be in command of each situation of challenge and of danger, or to fully appreciate or understand the circumstances and causes of the threats we ultimately will face if we live long enough. The samurai of old called this state of mind, “mizu no kokoro”, where the inner spirit is so calm and centered, that the moon reflects perfectly with the water surface of their resolve. We accept what we cannot change, we courageously attempt to change what we are capable of, and we find the wisdom to hopefully know the divine difference (apologies to The Serenity Prayer enthusiasts).
My overriding concern this time around, is the malaise and self perpetuating sense of bewilderment that we Americans have in allowing certain factions, and their nefarious policies, to dictate our demise as a fully democratic, and self determining people. As martial artists, we should unequivocally recognize the futility in ignoring what can and succeeds in visiting harm on us. We should also decry the shame and hopelessness in not preparing our minds, bodies and spirits to sufficiently deal with any real threat to our survivability, and to that of those we nurture and love. When 6 million of our own children go to bed hungry each day, are we doing enough to ensure that they eat properly? When 2% of our population effectively controls over 90% of our wealth as a nation, are we correctly and successfully using our talents, our skills and our vaunted and humane philosophies to address these issues of imbalance of our nation’s hard won resources, and the unabashed assault on our inviolate values as a free nation of self respecting and self reliant people? We can, and we must do better in being there for ourselves, our children, and for our brothers and sisters in America and beyond. We must face our repressed fears, proactively breakdown the arbitrarily and arrogantly erected obstacles to our original democratic standards of fair play and for the passing of reasonable laws, and to willing demonstrate timely leadership, based on the proper fulfilling of our sacred obligations of “Giri” and “On” to our beloved nation.
One lesson I have learned is that fear is undoubtedly a thing to respect, to identify and to address with full understanding and appreciation. It can be an obstacle, but it can also be co-opted into a formidable ally. History is replete with examples where negatives were turned into pluses, where powerful negotiating skills, tools and experience won over the day, when real disaster might have occurred. The great strategist, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in turn co-opted rival Generals Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and finally Kobayakawa Hideaki, the grudge-filled General, just before the pivotal battle of Seki ga Hara in September of 1600. It was his treachery against Ishida Mitsunari that finally turned the tide in Tokugawa’s favor.
Tokugawa’s fearsome reward, was then being named Shogun by the Emperor of Japan, even as he turned his horse from the grave that was meant for him.
People, as a rule, do not plan to fail. It is true, however, that they fail to plan. Fear can be such a formidable foe that exact and uncompromising planning is required to first assess, then plan, and to finally execute such plans, indefinitely. Dealing with fear must become a habit of excellence, as even our opponents too know full well its true potential. We must do it first, do it better, and know that we do it with Principle.
For the vast majority of us with lesser visions, goals and energies, we can still deal with our individual and collective fears in the same way as usual, by being proactive on a daily basis, and doing our level best to be consistent, vigilant and prepared. Remember, a hero dies but once, while the coward stands to die many times. Let us go joyfully to our finale, facing the wrath of the Kami with O Sensei’s smile on our faces.