A Twitter friend of mine, Old 454 writes on his own blog about training, particularly in the context of triathlons. His comment on my post, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office…, inspired some additional consideration I thought worth posting, particularly in light of his posts about the transitions the athlete has to tackle as part of the race. Go check these! (… and then come back!)
First the Zen
What if sitting at the computer in the living room is swimming, driving to work is biking, and toiling at the office is running–three states where I am comfortable, places where you can say my mind abides? Then what are the transition periods where gears are shifting? Is it the thought “Shit, I’m going to be late for that meeting” at the first boundary and is being comfortably ensconced at my desk marking the second boundary?
When I spoke of the three states, I only spoke of the major activities, sitting at the computer, driving to work, and being at the office. If a zen master somehow suddenly appeared in at any one of those times and asked, “What are you doing?” I would likely answer: “I’m checking the news,” “I’m driving to work,” or “I’m going to a meeting” respectively–the high-level names of To-Do projects on my checklist so far. I would likely answer that way without any consideration to all of the subtasks or subprocesses underway–like “I’m activating the left blinker,” “I’m carrying a cup of coffee on my way to the meeting,” or even “I’m breathing”–that, in some sense, I was also doing.
Perhaps just as telling, if the zen master did not pop in and ask what I was doing, there would likely be no thought of “I am checking the news,” “I am going to work,” or “I am working” at all. But it does seem that if you understand where that “I” is rooted which is said to be doing something, there’s some insight to be had (which surpasses simple zennish word games surrounding the word “I” itself, by the way–perhaps a discussion for another day)–and that might lead to a more accurate answer with mind and body coordinated, so to speak.
Now, if while driving a spider dropped down from the ceiling in front of my face, I might try to smack it away. This is not fundamentally different than a zen master suddenly appearing in the passenger’s seat and asking “What are you doing?” and in both cases it’s equally true that getting caught up in the impulse to respond to either stimulus may very well screw up your plan to get to work without the delays of completing an accident report.
So, what of these states, transitioning between these states, and interruptions to your plans of reaching these states? What is it to be at work, watching the clock, wishing to be elsewhere? Do you see where you really are? In the end, the sun rises and sets and doesn’t particularly give a shit about your plans, but your boss will insist you log your 40 hours this week. Perhaps just as importantly, given your circumstances, what you are already doing right now precisely what needs to be done—though it could be different.
Then the Aikdio
In basic aikido practice, we have the completely antipolar states of uke and nage working cooperatively to create an exchange with a particular form, a named technique. After a few repetitions, the practitioners switch states completely. Between complete submission (uke) and utter dominance (nage), where does the transition occur? Where is the retooling and shifting gears to get from here to there?
In one type of more advanced practice, freedom of attack and response–jiyu waza–are explored. Still though there are the roles of attacker and defender. In another type of advanced practice, changing conditions in the attack lead to changing techniques in response–henka waza. In another type of advanced practice, kaeshi waza, the roles of uke and nage are blurred: as uke perceives nage’s response as an attack, suddenly the roles are reversed.
In essence, through the fixed practice of forms–as even these advanced practices are by definition somewhat constrained to the “Form of Formless”–hopefully the practitioner tastes something beyond nailing that shomenuchi iriminage.
Now the Disclaimer
First the Zen, Then the Aikido, Now the Disclaimer. What are these states, and where are the transitions?