Sinking into the Present Moment by Flo Sensei
Recently I’ve been increasingly busy with hosting aikido seminars, entertaining out-of-town guests, moving dojos, etc. I’m always on the go – from one activity to another – from one moment to another. For me, I have lived a life based on planning, on moving busily, on getting things done – and I’ve thrived in this place where I find life to be of value in the doing. On the one hand it is very useful as I can be highly effective, but it is a double-edged sword. When I’ve lived in this tendency for too long, it becomes a routine, and I become increasingly unable to relax into the present moment. Last night I realized it is my goals, my wanting, my expecting the next steps in life – that are not allowing me to be fully and completely resting in this very moment. Children at play are wonderful at being present, they move spontaneously without the slightest self-consciousness. We as adults have lost that spontaneity. Because we are so responsible, we always plan, we react, we estimate a few steps ahead of what is happening in order to make the most responsible decisions. This is a double-edged sword which when used too often can mask one’s natural awareness. When we live in the modality of always aiming forward into the future, we have already taken ourselves out of the present moment. Anxiety, tension, and stress live here when our body cannot fully relax into this particular moment. We are always fleeing, chasing after an imagined future, or running away from the now – without ever establishing a firm ground. These tendencies make us forever dissatisfied with the present moment of what is as we are chasing after what could be.
In aikido, as beginners we are told to balance our weight 60-40 and to put most of our focus forward. This is a wonderful tool as we human beings naturally lean back and hesitate moving into the unknown. I can see in my beginner students as they learn the principal of 60/40, they become more and more balanced. In their bodies they might be feeling “I’m putting 60% on my front foot and 40% on my back foot”, but in observation the body is actually closer to 50/50. For advanced students, the body becomes more and more aware that 60/40 is out of balance, so 50/50 becomes the natural preference as the energy expands in the direction of the partner. With our body we are balanced 50/50, our mind is projected forward into the direction of the partner, and the energy naturally expands into the direction of the connection made with the partner. This is when the body is 50/50, but the body/mind/energy can be approximated to 60/40 – feeling as if we are moving forward or leaning forward, yet it is just the awareness that is just slightly ahead of the body.
In our awareness training, I would ask students to sink into this moment – even when we are faced with the most challenging, the most unsolvable circumstances. This is the moment a greater power can be most easily accessible. One particular exercise we do is the side-strike exercise when the attacker comes to strike to the side of the head. Our natural instinct is to block an oncoming attack for self-preservation. Aikido teaches the best angle to unbalance the oncoming attack is to move into the direction of the attack and re-direct the attack before it builds power. In my days as a bioengineer, we studied bodies in motion and various vector analyses to change a trajectory of a committed movement. The mind can easily analyze the force and trajectory needed to redirect the incoming vector, however, there is a delay in response. The time it takes your logical mind to analyze the incoming force and trajectory and find a powerful enough redirecting force and trajectory to not only unbalance the incoming attack but the actual attacker… Now the math gets more complicated…
Our first attempt to analyze with vector analysis failed. Now, let’s try to move our body and get there to block the attack before the strike can build up power. This is exactly how we teach beginners. We go through reps and reps of trial and error as the attacker tries to bring forth the same force and trajectory each time. And somehow every once in a while we can succeed and find an opening that is good enough to reflect, redirect, or even unbalance the attacker. But we realize the attacker will never attack the same way twice. The timing, angle, speed, and intention will always be different. Then how do you learn to always, unfailingly stay ahead of the attacker? Just practice. Or find a deeper insight.
Now, let’s try something even more difficult to describe. First, relax. Be completely ok with this moment. Sink into this moment, and know that you are already completely in sync with this moment. The more relaxed your upper body is, the more you can sense your synchronicity with the external world. Now scan the body to let go unneeded tension. The body naturally drops the awareness lower into the center, hips, legs, and feet. No effort. Just acknowledgement. In this state of no effort, your awareness expands, your aperture is more open than your normal modality, and you can move your body easily. And somehow your timing is always just right – without trying, without efforting, without calculating. Even when your timing is off – usually late, because of your heaviness of being, if your center is lower and more grounded than the attacker’s, you can still breathe and expand to become energetically bigger, and somehow the attacker is unbalanced.
To me O-sensei’s words “I cannot be defeated” have the quality of the latter. When the awareness is completely in sync with the present moment, we “see” the happening before it actually takes place in our own intuitive field of awareness. Unfailingly as we are one with the Ground-of-Being, we move without being hurried, and we move with the perfect precision.
In your daily mindfulness play, see how you find yourself always fleeing this moment or leaping into the next moment. Don’t condemn it. Just notice it. The awareness of it can bring a sense of instant balance. Then just pay a little attention to your center – your hara, and your lower back. The attention then naturally flows back into the Self. Now, just breathe. As we are truly sinking into this moment, we tend to relax, we let go, we are softer, more gentle, more aware, more open, more alive, and more ourselves. This is the moment that holds great power, not in the doing, but in the being. The “being” is no longer a verb, but a state, or a location, or even a singularity, where all time/space/individuality collapses into the Emptiness of the individual and expands into the pure Awareness of Being.