I work in an environment where, at times, we get a high-maintenance customer or two. I love the challenge though. At work, when a customer comes in bent out of shape, it seems natural to try to place myself on a throne of authority and make the goal of the interaction to be the first one to assume that power and win. Being the one “who works there” I naturally feel like I need to hold my ground against this rude intruder in dorky pants (yep, I work at a golf course) and be in the right, reigning victorious over the customer as he vehemently apologizes, realizes he’s way out of line, and leaves shamefully… Okay, we all know that assuming this stance almost never leads to this result. It usually escalates to the embarrassing point where the customer makes a scene and never comes back, with the end result being a lost customer(s) and a ruined day. This is especially difficult when dealing with customers/people who are older than you (which, in my line of work, is usually the case). Almost impossible. Instead, lately (not that customers blow up on me all that often, thankfully, but they more often come to me with some minor frustration or confusion about various things), I’ve tried shedding the cloak of authority which is really a fear induced go-to state, and sinking down into my humanness which we both have in common. Here we can both relate and easily resolve the issue. After all, we’re both human, right? I mean, I’ve been confused/frustrated/stupid at times. It’s getting into this mental state that’s the hard part. Finding our humanity and seeing where this person’s frustrations stem from is the direction we should take which, once attained, will have a better chance of leading to a resolved conflict. Turn as in tai no henko and look in the same direction (ideally without allowing any openings) as that person. This is the moment of musubi or blending with them. Nobody’s surrendering here. From here, redirection can happen and we can work something out, if need be, because most of the time, this is all the customer/co-worker/family member/telemarketer was trying to achieve anyways.
In the dojo, while doing the technique, we should try to see the reality that: we’re both humans here, in a very human interaction. This tends to bring us out of our aloofness and into harmony with the reality of the conflict. It can also help us be more alert knowing that from this very human place, we should be prepared for anything. Out of the dojo, the attacker may have a knife, gun, bouquet of flowers, pacemaker, banana peel, or who knows what. That smooth kotegaishi we have successfully pulled off 1000 times in class becomes more of a raw thing that may potentially go in another unpredictable direction at any time when we train with this intention.
Sometimes it’s fun to do Aikido from a higher place and feel like we’re shedding our human flesh for a while, moving more like a wave or an electrical current. Sometimes we feel like we’re moving in pure intention and energy, and our movement feels, how could I say, “cloudy” more than solid and physical. On the flip side of this though, it’s really interesting to get really embedded in our humanness. Sometimes, especially in the metaphysical realm which Aikido walks the line of, it’s almost discouraged to come from this human place. We’re encouraged to bring our mind to different places and to get out of the fight/flight mode of being. I think this is great, even necessary, when we first start our training, because I think, especially us westerners, live most of our lives from a lower-level human place. The thing is that we don’t realize our humanness because we’re consumed by it. If not aware of something, it’s hard to separate yourself from it and work with it. It’s when we can see it, feel it, and are aware and conscious of it that we can re-experience it in a way that is to our benefit. Getting out of this initial phase of our lives (well, a lot of us anyways) a bit, and experiencing different states of being is the great thing about this art, and is one of the many gifts it gives us. We can experiment with these. However, it does us nor anyone else any good if we stay there and don’t bring those gifts back to our humanity. It’s great to really get deep into our humanness while being aware of it. It really is a gift to be human and its really empowering to be okay with it, experience it fully, and realize how great it is. From here, we can mold it and rearrange it in whatever way is best for us.
I’ve heard “Aikido” defined as “meeting the energy”. This can mean many things, I guess, but it does relate to what I’m saying here. When we die, all that’s left is a lump of flesh and bone. This, I don’t believe, is “us”. What makes “us” humans is the life energy that moves and gives life to that flesh, or – our humanness. It’s interesting to sink into that part of ourselves and connect with each other on that very human level.