Shinichi Suzuki Sensei’s
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Onegaishimasu. Hello everyone. First, I would like to read the Shokushu #6. “Relaxation,” and then I’ll say something about this subject of “Do Nothing.”
We are accustomed to having trouble with unnecessary nervousness. Nervousness causes blood vessels to contract, making it difficult for the impurities to leave the body, and thus makes one susceptible to many diseases.
Relaxation is truly an elixir of life. Let us spread the true method of relaxation, which enables us to meet each day with a spirit like that of a mild spring breeze. If we practice this, we need never get nervous and excited in our daily affairs.”
When hearing the phrase “Do Nothing,” some people may imagine that it must mean “don’t do anything.” But it doesn’t mean “don’t do anything.” It means “do nothing.” When we try to effect a change of some kind, we often get in the way of the action needed and instead create a confused outcome. To connect clearly and effectively with people, objects, or situations, we must stay out of the way and simply allow the action to take place through us. This is “do nothing.”
We are used to seeing a need, and then making an effort to bring that need into being. This is perfectly sensible and certainly the way most human beings function. However, how we perceive and pursue need is not a side issue, but the issue at hand itself, if we want to be a true and effective human being.
Our life is all about connection. When we sit in meditation in the morning, we meditate with each other, because we’re already all together in this life.
Here is an illustration of the implication of this statement: The first time I went to Europe to teach Aikido seminars, I was gone about one month. After returning to our Shunshinkan Dojo here on Maui, I noticed the energy level in the dojo (what we call the kiai) to be a bit low. I mentioned this to my teacher, Shinichi Suzuki Sensei, who at this point had retired from teaching. Sensei said, “Why is that? I am sure you had a great experience with these students in Europe. However, did you hold only the students in Europe in your attention, or did you continue your connection with those students here at home?”
That took place many years ago, but still I had been teaching for a quite some time prior to that and did not yet understand how we hold our connection with each other when we are not in the same location. When we are physically away from others for some reason, we sometime feel we miss them. When we are with each other physically, we think of that as the most powerful connection, because we rely so strongly on our senses for verification of reality. But is this the case?
During the Covid pandemic, we often have only been able to practice Aikido on the internet via Zoom. Of course, this way we do see an image of each other, but we are not physically together. As such we imagine that we are connected with each other to some degree, but less than in person. For most of us, this does not provide as powerful a connection as being physically present with each other. As such, these Zoom sessions serve as a reminder of something we are missing. Even speaking on the telephone can give us a jolt of connection, but we feel that is the least effective for us, generally speaking. With all of these, their degree of effectiveness depends upon the effect they have on our senses. We feel our senses provide the ultimate telling of our ability to connect.
However, let me suggest that we are always, already connected with everyone and everything. If, within us, we go beneath our senses to the intuitive realm, we can discover a profound connection with others that does not depend upon our being in each other’s physical presence in any way.
Once we learn to recognize and practice this deeper level of connection with each other, we learn also a new way to feel connected with events that may take place far from our physical locality. At the same time, we may discover an even deeper level of understanding of what it means to “do nothing,” and still be effective.
As we learn to do nothing more and more, our experience of the world around us widens and deepens.
As we go through our life, we may notice that we are not always in complete agreement with everyone, or everything that takes place in our lives at each moment. We don’t always agree with every single idea or situation that comes along, whether it comes from the public at large, our spouse, or even our student or our teacher.
Koichi Tohei Sensei taught us that whenever some challenging situation occurs in our life, whether we experience someone in a plus or minus way, there are three fundamental ways in which we find ourselves responding.
We call these three types of response:
Option A, Option B, and Option C:
The first one, Option A, describes the use of force while attempting to improve things for oneself. Let’s say we do not agree with someone. While Option A generally refers to the use of force, this option can be more all-encompassing than what we might think of as “force.” Using any form of manipulation, advantage, or a learned power technique, is still Option A. Also, we might use a logical argument, money, the power of status or authority, or even the law to achieve our imagined need. We may try to use these things to bring about the change that we would like, maybe not just in a single person, but often in the larger community of our neighbors.
If we are a big, strong country like the United States, China or Russia, whether within or without, then force is most often the automatic response mode to a challenge. However, if we are a much smaller, less influential country, we may have to resort to other methods of manipulation to achieve our goals. But even here, most often the tactics remain in the category of Option A.
All of Option A is “trying to do something” as opposed to “doing nothing.” Basically, this means we are trying to force a change in our own favor. The small, shoga mind is the part of us that tries to cause changes. The immature ego always identifies itself as the “causer,” so it sees no choice but to exercise this method again and again, no matter how many times it leads to disaster. No matter how clever, powerful, or sophisticated we are, this method either fails immediately, or if it seems to succeed at first, it always comes back to bite us later.
The second way, Option B, (and this is second only to Options A in popularity in our society) involves sitting back and waiting for someone else to take care of a problem. It may be a friend, a family member, or a fellow worker. Or, perhaps even more commonly, we ask a priest, a teacher, the government, or even God to resolve our difficulties for us.
This Option B is very easy to see when it arises when training Aikido on the mat. Someone is holding us from behind, or by the wrist, and we find ourselves waiting for the “Ki of the Universe” to move us, or to cause our partner to move, as if “Ki” is a benevolent force designed to serve our petty needs. This is like walking up to a door and, instead of turning the doorknob to open it, staring at the door while praying for it to magically open by itself because of some “other force.” This would seem like an obviously foolish and unreasonable thing to expect in this example, and yet we do it all the time in less obvious ways.
This Option B approach is basically collapsing in on oneself, viewing oneself as a victim of some unforeseen circumstance, while hoping and praying that somebody else is going to take care of this that we see as a problem in our life. Clearly, this method is at least as undependable as is Option A.
The third option that Tohei Sensei offers in response to a challenge, and this is the fundamental teaching of our Aikido, is Option C. Shinichi Tohei Sensei refers to this a “intense connection.” This can be difficult, but if we want to see evolution take place in our lives, it is far and above the most effective way. Further, this “intense connection” may not be what we imagine it to be at first glance.
“Always let the other man win, and then we will be first, because we were last.” If we can understand this statement, then we already possess a basic understanding of this teaching. Naturally this approach requires completely connecting with the person or thing that we want to see become a part of a desired change.
In the Aikido dojo, when we want to move someone, we can try to use strength, power, force, maybe even trick our partner with some surprise technique, (all of these are Option A), or we can collapse in on ourselves, waiting for the “Ki of the Universe” to take care of it for us, (Option B). But if the other person understands how to connect with us, and so is following our state of mind and body very closely, neither Option A or B will work.
The answer here is always the same. We simply connect intensely with our partner and our surroundings. Even a God-centered religion here says, “God helps those who help themselves.” We must sincerely show up, open our hearts and minds, directly unite with the other person’s intension, and move with them towards a mutual resolution.
Many of us may be concerned about connecting when we see that it requires opening to our partner and becoming vulnerable. The last thing we may think we want to do is to come together with the person that we see as threatening to us. This is because we imagine that, in order not to be hurt by this person, we must defend ourselves, mentally, emotionally, and/or physically. Unfortunately, as we learn in Aikido, any attempt at defensiveness provides the perfect opening for an aggressor to manipulate and control us. By assuming a defensive position, we are automatically making ourselves the victim, providing the perfect handle with which an opponent can take control of us.
The last thing we might think to do would be to join with someone who apparently wants to control us. This may appear to be completely counter intuitive. However, by having the courage to do so, and moving into alliance with the “other,” we always discover a new way, one that we never before considered as a possibility. Of course, we get to see this kind of opportunity only after we have garnered the inner strength to integrate with the “enemy.”
This kind of joining together with that which presents itself as a challenge to us is what Suzuki Sensei meant by “do nothing.” This third choice, Option C, takes a willingness to jump into unknown territory.
Another example of this is the third stage of Ki Breathing, which we call “musoku,” or “no breathing.” This doesn’t mean there is actually no breathing. It means that we don’t “do” breathing. The action of breathing is always taking place. The confusion is caused when the small mind takes credit for that action. Try not breathing for a few minutes. Our body will simply not allow it. It begins breathing again once it needs breath, no matter what. Simply put, there is no one to be discovered doing something, and yet something is always being done!
Kaisho, Gyosho, and Sosho:
We have been taught to conceptualize the developmental process being made up of beginning, intermediate, and advanced stages. In Aikido we call these three stages “kaisho”, “gyosho,” and “sosho.” If we practice with these three in mind, we might recognize a beginning step by step stage, an adept stage many years later, and finally, at some point perhaps a mastery of whatever we are practicing.
Shinichi Tohei Sensei likes to characterize these three levels of performance practice as follows:
Kaisho: Form with no Ki movement.
Gyosho: Form with Ki movement.
Sosho: Ki movement with no form.
Kaisho, “form with no Ki movement,” means we are self-consciously following each movement of the body, step by step, making sure that we are acting correctly according to the form we have learned at each step. This constant watching obviously prevents any of what we call “Ki movement,” or natural action without thought direction. However, it is an effective and necessary way to memorize any set of movements.
When we move on to gyosho, “form with Ki movement,” this means that we can move when still consciously aware of the form, or each individual movement our body makes, but we are now learning to allow natural movement to begin occurring. This, by the way, should be the level of our performance during any Dan test, or when executing Taigi techniques.
When, and if, we finally move into the sosho stage, “Ki movement with no form,” this means that we are moving freely in immediate and direct response to whatever situation arises in the moment. At this stage, inner motivation and external motivation occurs simultaneously and no longer with the false distinction of “here” and “there” or “now” and “then.” We say, “no form,” but this does not mean that there is no particular form to our movement. Movement cannot exist without form. It simply means that we are unattached to that form, and so not preoccupied with the correctness or effectiveness of it.
Here again, this is doing nothing.
The practice of living peacefully here in this body is one of “following the way of the universe,” and this simple every day path can only be perceived by a very quiet, calm mind. A mind like this we call the “taiga mind,” and this implies an infinitely large and inclusive viewpoint. “The way of the universe” is not “the way of providing the small mind with satisfaction.” Ironically, this is the “high” way, and is never the “my” way.
And yet, the paradox here is that the way is completely unique to each of us, just as every living moment in our life is completely our experience alone, and no one else’s. We are the very center of our own world of experience. We are everything we come into contact with, within our universe of perception. It’s all us. The totality of our perception is what we call the “mirror universe.” Realizing and experiencing this is what Tohei Sensei calls “becoming one with the universe.” This is beginning to recognize the sidewalk, the stone wall, the spreading tree, our partner, everything we experience, as a part of this one who we are. This is beginning to recognize and experience that this is not just our shoga self that is who we are, but everything beyond action and form.
Everything is us. We are already everything that we can be at this moment. We can’t do anything to change what we are right now, except to hold on and pay attention, because this right now is in a constant state of flux, and never ceases. Therefore, in five minutes from now we will be different, changed, because this world that is us is a moveable feast. At every moment we are who we are, and at the same time this is a state of perpetual change, an automatic and constant transformation into what we will be in the next moment. There is no point in trying to manipulate or force or figure out, or even just sit around and hope and pray that it will be done for you. Just open completely and connect now.
Fundamentally, it is important to understand that this “do nothing” is very broad, in the sense that it’s not limited to any specific action or non-action. Do nothing is a state of mind. So, let’s be clear that do nothing does not mean “don’t do anything,” or “do something differently” or “wait to do something,” or that it even has something to do with “doing” anything at all. No. This is allowing our life to have its way with us.
When we set our own demands aside, or at least put them on hold for a moment, then we can allow the universe to guide us, to speak to us, to have its way with us. We practice this openness with our teacher until we are adept at it, and then we don’t need a teacher as much anymore. So long as we are not able to listen in this way, with our teacher or with anyone else, then we’ll never be able to do that within ourselves, and awakening will remain at a distance.
The action that we take is who we are when we enter a room, not what we do after entering the room. We know ourselves as that action. This is not something we do, but something we are.
Knowing Keiko and Shugyo:
When we practice in any sort of spiritual or even martial arts way, we often hear the phrase, “know thy self.” This means, among other things, that we must be able to notice when we are operating at the keiko level of practice, and then when we are at the shugyo level of practice, and to be able to clearly delineate the difference. We must be able to discriminate what is active, within ourselves. It is not so important to be able to tell somebody else about it, but just that we know it ourselves, directly. So, when we react with Option A or B, with force or with collapsing, that’s when we may very well be getting in our own way.
I always repeat the story about all those years I spent with Suzuki Sensei learning to cut the bokken in front of the mirror, because it clarifies this paradox of training so well. If, during all of that time, I had not had the goal of cutting well, which is the best of keiko practice, I would never have stuck with it all those years. I had a dream of being able to cut the wooden sword like my teacher, so I stayed with it. However, I couldn’t get it for many years, and I finally discovered that I wasn’t getting it because I was so desperately wanting to get it. When we make something our dream, we push it out there into the future, never allowing it to take place here and now. It’s always out in front of us somewhere, and so it can never become real for us. What we are right now is what’s real. That’s it. This is all there is.
And so, on the one hand we must have goals, we must make plans, and this means a sincere and disciplined keiko practice. We would not be able to accomplish the simplest thing without that. Of course, we need it, but we can’t be a slave to it.
I am the center of the universe.
I am mind and body unified.
I am the original teacher.
I am universal and I am the very center of this universe that is me.
How we experience these things is the result of the development of this realization taking place within us. This is the true “evolution” in our life. It is change. It’s called “the way.” Everyone is experiencing their own level of this reality and dealing with it according to their own abilities. Therefore, our teachers are continually emphasizing the three ways of approaching challenges, so we can learn to recognize these different aspects of ourselves and recognize when they’re dominant or when they’re not.
This is ultimately so sensible. It’s not that we should be acting differently than we are. Attempting to act like someone we are not, just puts us in a confusing tailspin and frustrates us, because we are who we are and can be no one else. We don’t have to do anything with our self, and even if we tried, we couldn’t anyway, because we are in every moment exactly what is here, nothing more, nothing less.
However, if we are paying attention to that reality of what of what we are in every moment, then guess what? Now, we are practicing shugyo. And if we practice shugyo today, paying attention to what we are in each moment, each action, then tomorrow we will be even better at this paying attention, even better at staying in shugyo practice. All change comes about through awareness, noticing.
Doing “Do Nothing”:
Student: I do think I understand the basic principle you are teaching, but whenever it comes to my actions in daily life, I don’t seem to be able to do it. I don’t know how to find my way to this “do nothing” state of mind. I always want to achieve something.
Everything is done through noticing. This noticing, awareness, is the engine of our true connection with the universe. If we stay out of our own way, resting quietly in awareness, then we allow the universe to live our life, allowing this to have its way with us. This doesn’t make us less. This permits us to experience being the center of the universe without trying. Only the center can allow everything to be unified, and that is our natural condition. Only the center can do nothing and get everything done that needs to be done at the same time!
Let’s not forget, this world is made of conflict. There’s always one thing against another. Of course, this clash is not necessarily just an intellectual juxtaposition between the way two people think, existing in a very nice peaceful setting. Sometimes it is insistent and aggressive, and it can even be violent. The bottom line is that there is always conflict in this world. The good news is that we are not bound to participate in that conflict. When we do, that means the conflict is being furthered by us. But we are not required in any way to participate in struggle, whether it be with an idea, a person, or a situation. We don’t make someone else’s problem our problem. We are not required to be a victim of someone else’s issue or values.
Even if we find ourselves to be in the middle of an argument, we can still pay attention to what is happening. Suzuki Sensei used to say, “Don’t be down on the same level as your opponent. Be up above, looking down, like solving a puzzle.” We need to change our perspective to see how the pieces fit together. We let our opponent be down below, but we remain in awareness, above. Our body and small mind may even be with the other person down below. But the one who is the center of the universe is up here, the taiga one is always noticing, always aware, always relaxed, always peacefully seeing the big picture.
This is why Koichi Tohei Sensei always said, “True calmness is not a static state.” True calmness is not experienced while sitting alone on the couch. True calmness is only discovered in the midst of conflict, in super stressful motion. He says it is like being the center of a cyclone, very calm. Be aware that it is calm by virtue of this tremendous power moving around it, not in avoidance of that power. We can learn to be in the presence of some great conflict that’s very disturbing, and yet still remain calm in our center. How? Practice, practice, practice.
Remember, we are all, always, practicing something, in every moment. Whatever we are doing right now, we will tend towards doing more of that, and in a stronger way, tomorrow.
Our “do nothing” practice is simply to learn to notice what is going on, to pay attention, no matter what. This is the key. In the best moment or the worst moment, when our life is successful and moving along swimmingly, or when we are being the most complete fool that we can be. We don’t try to change anything. In that moment, we “Do nothing!”