The world is living through an intense period of change; floundering about in a wide-open, chaotic space that’s too big, undefined and mercurial to be comfortable, yet is ripe with potential. It’s the space between stories. An uncomfortable and creative space in which we are witnessing the death of an old world-view and the conception of a new one.
This is natural. The old story has become too small to contain us and is simply running out of energy. Some of us have unplugged altogether, but most of us are in an uncertain transition, half-in and half-out. The old story is being de-energized as increasing numbers of us are unable to stay connected to it, unable to support and up-hold it’s (increasingly) obvious, false premises.
Just as a child leaves it’s world-view behind to become an adolescent, and then an adult, we are doing the same. What got us through one stage of our development will not serve us in the next. As we mature and gather new experiences, our world-view necessarily changes. As the infinitely wise Joseph Campbell once said, “The virtues of the past are the vices of today”.
The old story revolves completely around the Human individual and its family or tribe. Its core belief is that we are separate, autonomous, rational beings, apart from Nature, which we must harness, control and dominate to survive. This story’s ultimate authority becomes science as we totally embrace reductionist materialism and believe our own rational intelligence is the pinnacle of evolutionary development. Under the spell of this world-view many of our more sensitive, internal powers and intelligences devolve; they are not valued and many experiences become taboo as they challenge our core beliefs. In this old paradigm it’s survival of the fittest in a hostile and meaningless Universe.
Since we will “know a tree by its fruit”, the massive amount of suffering and destruction in the world reveals a fundamentally flawed & un-satisfying set of values. In the face of great inequality, injustice and violence, the old story is dying and we are now casting about, looking for other ways, other stories. Whether we are embracing the change or resisting it, we are all being challenged to look at radical new evidence, hear very different truths and feel a lot of pain.
One modern Mystic who felt this shift personally was Morihei Ueshiba. O’Sensei recognized these challenges as fantastic training opportunities. (It’s one of Life’s many paradoxes that you can’t get beyond anything without directly engaging with it). If our evolutionary leap involves overcoming fear, we are going to have to feel it.
Because O’Sensei was a highly trained and skilled martial artist, his gift to the world came through in the arena of violence and conflict. His fundamental message was that we need to evolve beyond violence and understand our automatic fight, flight or freeze instincts. We must start cultivating our higher abilities, values, skills and potentials.
Through his own enlightenment he saw that the “solution” to all of our physical problems was, in fact, a spiritual one. He felt that humans would come to find violence of any description, personal or national, increasingly unbearable. He also knew that we’d need a practice to help us make the necessary changes as we shifted from one operating system to another. In the last two decades of his life O’Sensei developed Aikido into a practice, a path, that we humans could take; leading us to directly experiment with, contemplate and explore the radical idea that we are all interconnected. Not just humans either, but all Life, all of Nature; the entire universe. I believe that O’Sensei, as the archetypal warrior/farmer, saw Aikido as a seed. A seed which he planted in a decomposing world-view, knowing it would bear magical, healing fruit for the challenging journey that lay ahead.
The seed-story that O’Sensei watered is based on a radically different world-view from the one we’ve been living in. One known to all Mystics throughout time, which Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as “Interbeing”; the understanding that not only is all Life interconnected and inter-dependent; but co-arising. There is no independent self. The “self” is a process, a collective and is the result of all events, life-forms, the environment, etc. Everything is alive and possesses it’s own consciousness and intelligence, contributing to the whole event which we call the universe. I could not be sitting here typing this without the cloud outside, my neighbour’s dog, the air I’m breathing or the micro-biome in my gut. My very existence, in every moment, is dependent on all existence.
O’Sensei said, “True victory is self victory.” If I change myself, I change everything. Imagine a moment of conflict. You have developed the skills and can choose a higher intelligence, overriding fear. In the face of violence, you don’t need to become violent yourself. You feel only curiosity about what you could create; no need for passivity nor aggression nor ill-will. There is no “you” really, there is only everything appearing in the moment…. this moment, that’s you.
If someone is attacking, that’s what’s happening. I can not be separate from that. To see myself as separate from an attack either makes me a victim or someone who needs to fight back. I’m part of the whole event. It could not be happening without me. Can I know how I’ve participated in creating this moment? How do I wish to respond? Can I understand everything generating this moment? Do I wish harm on any aspect of this event? How can I fully engage with this moment adhering to my highest values?
O’Sensei is asking us to live with the full, embodied realization of Interbeing and he developed Aikido as a way to practice moving into this new world view. For those of us who are not enlightened, there is much practice and healing to be done. We have all been wounded by our participation in the old story. It has evolved us as we are now evolving it. We need patience. This process is Life; exploring and deeply changing itself. O’Sensei’s vision offers us a much more mysterious, beautiful, interconnected and compassionate path to walk, and on this path we don’t walk alone. In fact the path is us.