Another used-book sale, another random encounter --- and this time into my hand leaps, with a twist and a kick, The Aikido Student Handbook by Greg O'Connor (1991, 1993). I expect to see a discussion of martial arts, perhaps plus some humorous anecdotes. Instead, I read about life, love, and peace. As Rick Stickles says in his introduction:
Aikido is a process. A martial process, yes, but more importantly, a process by which we attempt to bring about a balance between our physical, mental, and spiritual selves. Not unlike other mind/body/spirit disciplines, Aikido is merely one path an individual may choose to improve the quality of life and come to a basic understanding of the nature of being human.
Martial arts, yoga, meditation, movement, and bodyworking therapies are some of the techniques we use to bring us to a singular destination. To describe or "label" this destination is a difficult task. Some believe it to be a state of personal clarity that enables us to connect in a healthy way with others and the enviornment which surrounds us all. It is through this type of connection that we may have a positive effect on the world around us.
The book itself is a delightful mix of practical advice ("Always ask permission before using the dojo phone. Please keep all calls brief.") and deep philosophy. At the end of the chapter "Training in Aikido" O'Connor summarizes:
Aikido can be practiced by many types of people for many reasons, at many levels and degrees of intensity. Whether we realize it or not we are all drawn by the real power behind Aikido --- peace.
The first thing we learn to recognize is that we can easily defeat someone with the techniques of Aikido. Realizing this and having the confidence in the simple soft power of Aikido, the next stage is to see ourselves in our attacker. We must recognize our commonality and admit that we, too, have lost our balance as this person has, and perhaps have regretfully done harm to someone. We lovingly forgive the attack and the attacker while taking care that we are not injured or unbalanced by their loss of balance.
This way of approaching interactions transforms our daily life. There is conflict only if we agree that there is conflict. If we mistreat everyone we come in contact with, especially those who put their trust in us, we will have an army of people looking to mistreat us in return. If we care for and protect those we come in contact with, we will have an army of people who will care for and protect us. Be mindful, though: if selfishness is your sole motivation, that will taint the energy involved in the interaction. You must care for and give to others without ulterior motives. You should do it because it is the right thing to do. It is the way of truly powerful, peaceful people.
Perhaps, as O'Connor suggests elsewhere in the book, everybody has to find his or her own pathways to self-awareness --- and the routes for a single individual may change radically as the years go by. At the moment my main Aikidos seem to be reading, journaling, and distance running. Your mileage will vary ...