Letting Go of the Stick: Ego and Attachment

In aikido, we have a practice called jodori, or staff taking. Similar principles appear in sword taking (tachidori) and knife taking (tantodori). In these practices, it is very easy for the two training partners to turn the exercise, the technique, into a wrestling match over the stick. Neither is willing to relenquish their hold on the staff, bokken, or tanto as they struggle to retain control.

On the surface this becomes a battle of muscle or leverage.

Beneath the surface, though, it is a battle of ego. The mind, ego, says, “It is my stick. As long as I am holding it, I win.”

That is not, necessarily, true.

Rather, it is better to release the stick, to let it go. At some time, this may be physically letting go of the staff, but more often it is a matter of removing the ego’s attachment to the stick. Releasing the ego’s hold on the stick keeps the body from clamping down, from becoming static, a fixed point. Releasing the ego’s hold on the stick allows the body to move, to flow, to reposition, to act . . . and that way lies “victory” and “winning” . . . that way allows the aikidoka to reposition and execute a throw (which may strip the staff, sword, or knife from the opponent’s hands, or may send the opponent across the mat or to the floor still clutching the stick).

In training, I find that I am at least moderately good at this, probably because I cannot out-muscle most of my training partners.

Off the mat, out of the dojo, I need to work on applying this to life in general.

For instance, for a long time I held that the one who had the last word in a debate or argument was the winner. That was ego talking, being attached to control, to “winning”. This is not true though. Sometimes, the “winner” is the one who is willing to let go of the debate, to release attachment, to walk away, to move on with life.

Social media, despite its benefits, I think, makes ego attachment much easier. Not necessarily for the reasons commonly cited (tweets or such about where someone is or what they’re eating), rather for likes, reblogs, retweets, and all the other little numeric metrics social media is rife with. They create something measurable that ego can attach itself to, a stick by which ego can measure itself against others, if one becomes attached to the numbers.

A Zen koan comes to mind as well:

Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.
As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.
“Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”
“Brother,” the second monk replied,
”I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”

(Swiped from  http://goto.bilkent.edu.tr/gunes/ZEN/zenstories1.htm)

Voice and Authority (part 2?)

A sort of add-on to my last Writing post:

The question of authorial voice, tone, genre, and the like also gets into one’s adaptability as a writer.  This is, really, one reason I quoted Darwin and Morehei Ueshiba (O-sensei) for writing earlier, even though they were discussing natural selection and aikido respectively.

Being able to adapt to different tones and perspectives is a very important skill in writing, I think.  It may also be required, depending on the writer’s situation.  I’m likely biased here, thought, since I’m a fan of adaptability over all, which is one reason I’m a big fan of liberal arts education (but that’s another story and post) and aikido (an apocryphal quote from an anonymous aikido sensei goes, “Your mistake was assuming there are rules”).

Acquiring experience writing in different genres and undertaking different types of writing helps improve one’s writing.  Likewise, reading both in quantity and variety is helpful for writers.  On one hand, both practices enhance vocabulary.  Reading also exposes the reader to different styles, voices, and methods.  Reading a variety of works also exposes the reader to myriad subjects, positions, and points of view, from which synthesis and new solutions and ideas are born.  I’ve also found in the last decade of teaching that those who read a lot tend to write better over all.

All of the above should ultimately bring us back to authorial voice, tone, genre, and perspective.  Why?  Because through practice and reading, the developing writer’s (and we are all developing writers, no matter how experienced) voice and style, even writing and pre-writing method(s) evolve.

(By evolve, I do not necessarily mean to imply steady improvement or advancement, but rather evolve in the biological sense of adapting to better suit one’s environment.  And this is a good thing.)