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)