When we exercise intensely we often feel quite sore the next day. And, of course, this is a good thing because physical soreness means our muscles and other tissues will grow stronger. In the name of reaching our fitness goals, pain, soreness, and discomfort are deliberately tolerated, if not outright sought after. We all know that this soreness is temporary and will give us great benefit if we just stick to our exercise routines.
This principle applies equally to other areas of our lives. When we experience emotional or mental stresses, we often do not recognize the future benefits of some of these challenges. Indeed, when experiencing emotional pain it can be very difficult sometimes to see the forest for the trees. Physical challenges, for some reason, just seem easier to reconcile. But we must persevere and recognize that there is, in fact, little or no difference between physical and emotional stresses.
In Japan, there was once an Aikido student I trained with. This student thought he was really tough. He thought he could physically take anything his fellow students or even his instructor could dish out. He prided himself on this self-declared fact. And, perhaps it was true that the student could easily perform almost any physical technique or take any fall. His aptitude for Aikido was of the highest level.
One day, the dojo Sensei, who in addition to being an Aikido master (or Shihan) was also a Zen Buddhist priest, overheard the cocky student bragging about his toughness. The instructor approached his student and questioned him on how much he could take. Again, the student assured his sensei that he could take anything. The Sensei simply nodded his head once and said, “Alright.”
The discipline of Zen, though not seemingly powerful from a physical standpoint, can provide some of the most austere training in existence. The instructor decided to oblige his student’s assertion and test his toughness in a different way. As the Sensei, he felt that it was his responsibility to teach an important life lesson to the young and innocently-arrogant Aikidoka: that there is no difference between physical and emotional feats.
The instructor began to ignore this particular student on the mat, except only to correct him in his technique. At first there were a few corrections … then a few more corrections... and again, more corrections. Some might say that the Sensei was completely “nitpicking” the student’s every move. This went on for several classes until, it seemed to the young student, that he couldn’t do anything correctly. Having already had many years of Aikido training, these never-ending corrections quickly wore away the student’s confidence and ego until there was little left of the youth remaining but what lay underneath. Then after one class, the student broke down in tears and acknowledged to his teacher that he just couldn’t take it anymore. His training from that point forward would never be the same.
The student quickly discovered himself being much more considerate to others, particularly toward the new students at the dojo. He cultivated compassion, sympathy, and benevolence for his fellow students. Patience and tolerance for others became easy for him to express. He chose softer phrases when trying to help others understand Aikido techniques. He expanded his awareness of his own strengths and weakness. All of these attributes are aspects of Bushido, the code of ethics for Japanese samurai. These were the fruits of his own personal growing pains. The emotional strain his Sensei had put him through had stretched his spirit.
Where in your life are you currently experiencing similar growing pains? Do painful events and situations in your life have any deeper meaning or value? Or are they just pain? Where might you try to expand your awareness? We all should seek new experiences that challenge us with new perspectives that lead to personal growth. In what areas of your life do you truly want to shine? Mind, body, spirit, or all of the above?
It may still sound a bit funny, but luckily the overwhelming majority of us don’t suffer from the inability to feel pain. Both physical and emotional pain can be of great benefit to our lives and our training. Often times, looking back at a situation that we thought was painful or unbearable, we find how many benefits it provided for us going through it.
There will be times when things flow seamlessly in your life. These are the times when it is easy to come to the dojo to train. There will also be times when training is tough and frustrating. We may experience bumps or bruises, not just on our bodies but also on our pride, self-esteem, or sense of identity. This is when it seems tough to come to the dojo to train, but these are the very times we need to be training most. These are the times when we start to rationalize to ourselves that we are just “too” busy, “too” tired or “too” fill in the blank. When we catch ourselves starting to use the word “too,” that is a sign that we really need to get ourselves to the dojo.
If you need to simplify your life, then come to class and experience simplicity! The dojo is where we can once again find our center, our ‘hara,’ within ourselves and when we leave the dojo at the end of class we almost always find that those heavy “problems” we had going in seem much lighter on our way home. Then, let that simplicity you experience on the mat guide you the following morning and set you up for success throughout the day.
Aikido training consistently is what I find to have the most consistent value in our lives. We owe it to ourselves to persevere and to continue. Ultimately, we will always be rewarded for such. It is a law of the Universe. I have always thought of Aikido as a “moving meditation.” So I would encourage you to use your Aikido training as a moving meditation in your life.
The more we pay attention, the more we recognize how our training often mirrors our lives in sometimes uncanny ways. The struggles we have on the mat often reflect metaphorically what is going on in our lives off the mat. In fact, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many non-Aikido related challenges I have overcome while training on the Aikido floor. Ironically, I solve these challenges on the mat by NOT thinking about them, but instead, by embracing the training for what it really is… a microscopic representation of my entire life. So pay attention and for goodness sake, don’t quit! The solution is always found in the training!
I wish each of you the best of luck and hope you begin to see the connection between the lessons being taught us in our lives both on and off the mat.