Please let me read the Shokushu #2 to you first.
“The Value of our Existence.
We are born of the Ki of the universe. Let us appreciate that we are born not as plants and animals, but as human beings blessed with the universal mind. Let us pledge to accomplish our mission, which is to join the circle of development of the universe.”
Tonight, our discussion subject is Koichi Tohei Sensei’s phrase “Gratitude leads to Maturity.” Sayaka, would you please say that in Japanese for us?
(Sayaka speaks the phrase in Japanese)
If somebody asks you what you are grateful for, what will you say? Well, the first thing you would say would I think be, like me, to count up all the nice things that you have been given in this life, the advantages you have, the wonderful easiness, the pleasures and comforts in your life. Those are the things we think of as being grateful for. In English we call this “counting our blessings.” But is that in fact what leads to maturity? And if not, is that all that gratitude really is? Or is that only perhaps a very narrow, immature view of gratitude?
All right. Let’s do a little Ki Breathing while you digest that. (10 minutes Ki Breathing)
I think of a mature person as a person with a mind of steadiness, a constant mind, a dependable mind. This is not a mind that never gets disturbed. But it’s a mind that is not unhappy when it gets disturbed. Think about all the times you’ve seen Tohei Sensei performing Aikido.
It may be that most of you have only seen Tohei Sensei perform on video, but I got to see him a lot in person. And whenever someone was attacking him, he smiled. And he smiled not because it was a clever thing to do to put the other person off guard. He smiled because he was delighted that somebody was attacking.
Think about what we do in the dojo, what’s our practice made up of? What do we repeat over and over and over again? Being attacked, someone attempted to control us, to hit us, to kick us, to grab us to prevent us from moving. Why do we do that again and again? We don’t practice having someone paying us compliments or caressing us, or brushing our hair, or doing something nice for us over and over and over again. Why don’t we need that kind of practice in the dojo? We don’t need that practice because we don’t struggle when we are experiencing pleasure!
Last Monday night, Tracy Reasoner Sensei taught the third part of Chapter 9 from the new training manual, which is about Tohei Sensei’s teaching of the three things, the three ways we all react to aggression, conflict, or challenge. And this is why we practice being attacked again and again and again, in the dojo.
Sometimes it’s someone attacking us from the outside. But sometimes there is conflict when we’re sitting alone, in meditation, or in Ki Breathing, or in Sokushin no Gyo, opposition to what we are doing arises within us and there is clearly no one else to blame but ourselves. So even in those circumstances, opposition within us may arise. So from within or without, when we practice in the dojo we are faced, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, with conflict. We’re constantly being bombarded with it. It’s never what’s easy and comfortable. It’s always what’s difficult and uncomfortable.
Everybody knows this, of course, but think about it. It’s this kind of practice that is teaching us gratitude. It’s teaching us how to deal with life. It’s teaching us in fact, maturity. So what is maturity? Maturity is a mind that is even and steady and dependable. It’s an adult mind, it’s a mind that we can depend upon, not just for others, but we can depend upon our own mind, our own level of development, our own level of maturity.
Now of course, we are all conditioned, every one of us, to seek pleasure, and to avoid pain, to seek comfort, and to avoid discomfort. Yeah, we don’t want to be uncomfortable, do we? And we try everything we can think of to avoid it. Sometimes we try to lie our way out of it. Sometimes we try to convince our way out of it. Tohei Sensei gave us these three things to notice within ourselves: Option A, option B and option C. I’m sure everyone knows that Option A is fighting back, trying to negate or do away with or somehow get rid of the negative challenge, and that always fails, whether we win or lose, we always lose when we choose that way. And Option B, of course, is collapsing, or shutting down and hiding, praying that someone else will come along and take care of the problem for us.
No, no, we must always choose Option C, connection. This is gratitude. We have to have gratitude in our hearts for the opportunity to deal with whatever the difficulty is that it’s arising whenever the attack is, and then we can connect and engage. This is why Tohei Sensei always had that big grin on his face whenever we attacked him. He was delighted.
So this is a very mature position to find your mind in. And this is not easy for any of us. We all have much more work to do, no doubt. We each have different levels of difficulty, different levels of pleasure, different levels of pain, and it’s always shifting around up and down, back and forth. Circumstances are always changing. But wouldn’t you like me, as I would like you as friend, student, or even teacher, to always be there for you, to always be steady and constant, to always have a mind of equanimity? Having a mind of equanimity means everything appears as equal in importance.
As an example, one of the things I’m learning to be grateful for lately is the new sound of my voice, which is quite different than what I was always used to. And it is somewhat difficult for me to speak as perhaps you can see. I apologize but this is how it is. So it means that maybe I don’t talk quite so much.
Anyway, now I would like to turn it over to the moderator who will get you together in your breakout rooms, so you can discuss this and come back and tell me what you decide about what I’ve had to say tonight.
Okay, so who is first?
Student: I was very fortunate to be in a room where we were talking about how difficult it is, when you’re really struggling, to be grateful, to know that you should be grateful. We also talked about having a gratitude diary and putting something in it every day as a way of maintaining equanimity. Then we just kind of went back to talking about this idea of gratitude leading to maturity. And, you know, how hard it is, and how much you need to work. The most difficult is when we are blaming, there is anger and hatred coming up. And that is just part of the process. Someone said that the solution is what it always is, which is just more sitting.
Anyway, I think part of the question that I was wrestling with, was that I bought something that turned out to need immediate repairs, I bought a car and then immediately had to spend half of what I spent on it to fix it within a week. And just managing that and recognizing as I saw it happening that it’s not the end of the world. I’m so grateful for so many other things. A car is a small thing in the big picture. This was a good place to practice for me, my anxieties about money. That is not what this is about. So that felt in that little moment, it felt good.
I think the main question we came up with was, when the storm is really going in us, how do we bring gratitude to it? I mean, of course, the answer is probably more sitting, but still, how do we cope, how do we manage in that moment when there is so much opposition arising?
Thank you. Thank you. You know, I think that it’s important to remember that the circumstances that arise in our life are what directs us where we need to go, where we need to look, where we need to put our attention. And I’ve always noticed that, if a circumstance of life doesn’t get my attention right away, it cracks me on the head a little harder. Sometimes I don’t want to pay attention to something because it’s going to direct me somewhere that I hadn’t planned on going.
You said, maybe you can keep a “gratitude diary.” I hope everything that’s in that gratitude diary is not just pleasant and comfortable things, the answers to your prayers. Unless your prayers are very open minded, then okay. You see that? Like, this is the most difficult part of this business of circumstances arising and directing us where we need to go. We don’t like to have our lives controlled. We particularly don’t like to be controlled when it’s doing something that we didn’t plan on doing, taking us somewhere or directing somewhere, causing us to put our attention on something that we didn’t want to put our attention to.
Each day, before these classes, I like to come in early to my office and sit for a bit. I rest in attention and become calm. Yes? So tonight for some reason, my whole Zoom thing just suddenly disappeared from the screen. So I rebooted. This was about, I don’t know, maybe half an hour before class, and when I re-booted there was no one there except me. And then I waited for 15 minutes and there was still no one there. So I re-booted again. Still only me present. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what. So I ran inside my house next door and asked Lynn if there was no one there on her screen. And she said there were many people. I checked and realized that Zoom had re-booted me into a new room with the same exact title, but a different number! Anyway, by the time I had it up and running and we were all in the original room, it was one minute before class was to start. . And I had been fooling around with this computer, and the computer is the one thing in my life that I’m not as mature as I could be about, and I realized that I had one minute to become very calm!
So you know it was actually pretty hilarious to me. It was quite nice to finally find the class. So I proceeded with class and everything was fine. Paying attention always brings calmness.
We all have our own ways of recognizing this thing we’re talking about tonight, understanding the nature of it, and dealing with it. But the process that I love so much in Aikido is that of constantly being challenged, again and again. That is essential.
Shinichi Sensei said on his latest blog that when he discovered that he must begin teaching on Zoom, he was quite disappointed in the beginning, because he couldn’t see how he could teach without being face to face. This was around 8 or 9 months ago. He did discover Zoom though, as we all did, and he began teaching like this. In his description of this he said that this experience has made him realize that there is some kind of training available to us all on Zoom that is not normally available in the dojo. Perhaps this is obvious to you, but that is something you might want to think about.
Student: Well, um, pretty much what we came to the conclusion was that in hindsight, you look back and you’re grateful for these difficult situations. But in the midst of it, we’re often too scatterbrained at that moment to be grateful. It takes time to be calm and see it for what it is. I have had my own personal physical challenges lately, and those have been difficult. We all pretty much agreed that when you’re in the face of it, at that moment, it’s hard to feel gratitude. Unless it’s happened, you know, a while back and you are looking back on it.
Yeah, hindsight is 2020.
Okay. That’s very interesting. I’m glad that you are getting healthier now. We can always be grateful for whatever else we might have. Ah, you know, even the way I just said, “grateful for whatever else we have,” but no, we must be grateful for everything, no matter what. If we think, “I will be grateful for the good things and then maybe they’ll make up for the bad things…” No, no, no, that’s immaturity. This is maybe something our mommy told us when we were too young to understand. As an adult, we need to notice right away when we think that “good takes care of, or balances bad” idea. That is another conditioned habit. Nobody’s ever going to be perfect, and that’s okay. We’re not supposed to be. This is earth. Here we’re always practicing. So yes, we are conditioned creatures. And yes, we’re conditioned to shy away from that which is uncomfortable. And yes, we’re drawn to that which is comfortable, and we want to have a life that’s filled with that. But let’s face it, if life was all pleasure, we’d be couch potatoes
Student: We looked at this from the perspective of wisdom in our society, where we normally think wisdom comes with age. We go to our kupunas, our elders for wisdom, and that wisdom comes from living life, and having an expanded view. But we then thought about what Tohei Sensei is saying here, and it’s not that “maturity brings gratitude” but “gratitude brings maturity.” So it’s somewhat of a different perspective that we are pondering here. And that really changes your perspective and widens your view somehow. Because that’s the characteristic of wisdom and of maturity. I think that’s about as far as we got.
Yeah. Thank you. Since use the word “wisdom,” I want to say that’s very appropriate that you do, because true maturity is definitely wisdom, and not accumulated knowledge. Knowledge comes about through reflection. When we think back on something, we can put together an understanding, intellectual understanding, and a history with a lot of past situations certainly brings us knowledge, that’s fine. But that’s not wisdom. The Japanese recognize wisdom as immediate recognition, wisdom is recognizing the truth immediately, in the circumstance as it is arising.
The word in Sanskrit for wisdom is “prajna.” Prajna means “pre knowledge,” or prior knowledge. Wisdom takes place before we reflect on what happened, not after we figured out what happened. That is what I call “stairway wit,” meaning as you’re going up the stairway, thinking what you should have told that guy down in the living room, or going downstairs to change after practicing in the dojo, thinking, “Oh, I should have done this.” That’s cleverness, knowledge. That’s not wisdom. Wisdom is doing this and this and this, right now, no matter what. I think this is a big part of maturity, beginning to recognize that the only time is now. It’s living, it’s not knowing as living. Thank you.
Student: We started by addressing the word maturity. The proposal is that gratitude leads to maturity and the discussion started on the end part of that proposal. What is maturity about? And one of the things that we came to was that it has to do with being available for the others, with being able to one’s time for others. Then we moved on to discussing what gratitude can be about. And, and we agreed that it can be about acknowledging the fact that we are alive. One person said that it has to do with the value of being able to interact with difficult people. The fact that we acknowledge that difficult people can be a blessing and can bring things to our understanding of what life is about is a sign of maturity. Being able to smile often enough and being open hearted. As makes me think about the way I connect with people who teach me something. This helps to make me able to acknowledge the fact that I learned from others. Being able to acknowledge the fact that I learned from others may be a sign of maturity.
Thank you, thank you. You know, I listen to National Public Radio often, and I hear interviews with various specialists. And at the end of each interview, the interviewer always says “Thank you very much for coming on the show.” And I have noticed that some people being interviewed say “Thank you for the opportunity,” but other people say “You’re welcome.”
This is about gratitude and it is a big deal. Of course, in our culture, it’s not considered impolite by any means to say “You’re welcome” when someone thanks us for doing something. I mean, it’s actually considered to be quite polite, and maybe even we teach our children to say this. But think about it. Suzuki Sensei taught me that whenever a student tells you, “Thank you so much for what you taught me,” you never say, “You’re welcome.” No, you say, “Thank you for the opportunity.” Because this life, your life, is the center of the universe. When you say “You’re welcome,” it’s kind of arrogant. You are taking credit for your gifts. No, you must say “Thank you for allowing me to teach today. I’m practicing. I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to practice further.”
Student: We learned the derivation of Lucky’s name. Because when he was born, there were complications and he almost died. And the treatments that he was given worked, and so he was saved. So he feels very lucky and very grateful. And this is very timely for me because I’m preparing to teach this subject in two weeks. You know, Sensei, in the Sufi tradition, they say that there are seven levels of the soul’s development. And gratitude doesn’t arise until the third level. Here are the seven levels:
1) The commanding/demanding self.
2) The accusing, blaming, complaining self.
3) The inspired enthused self (here is where gratitude begins to arise)
4) The serene, calm, peaceful self.
5) The contented and well pleased self.
6) The satisfied, nourished and enriched self.
7) The purified soul – this is the being purified of all selfhood, ego dissolved.
The one who is purified here is the one they call a “Sufi.”
So my question for you is, in order to come to gratitude you got to do some work on yourself. And how come it’s so rare to encounter a mature adult human being of the species? And why are so few people not interested in really practicing and developing themselves?
Of course, the answer is that human beings are conditioned otherwise. But then the question is why? Tracy Reasoner told me one time that in the introductory class he teaches, he always asks each student why they came to Aikido. Basically, “Why are you interested in practicing? This will mean changing your life in ways that you don’t even know.” And he said he makes them ask themselves this question five times in a row. Why? So “Why did I come to Aikido? Well, because I want to become a better person. Why do I want to become a better person?” etc. Five times diving deeper into it each time. And in those five questions, you’ll get very much closer to what it is that’s really driving you. And I felt that I learned something there, and that is that this is a good thing to practice when we’re in any kind of difficult situation, where we’re unsure, or maybe we’re doubting, or wondering, “How did I get into this? Why is this happening to me?”
To me, this is just a form of noticing. It’s a query. It’s looking deeply into something. This is what you are calling “working on yourself.” So we always have to be willing to ask that question. What’s so important is not so much the answer, because the answers are like a Barber’s double mirror, they go on and on infinitely. But the question is what counts.
And you ask, “Why isn’t everybody practicing?” That’s the question. “Why am I not practicing right now? Why am I doing this instead?” Let’s remember that in every moment we are practicing something. We often think, “Oh, well, I’m practicing sometimes, but then I’m taking it easy at other times.” No, no, when you’re cruising, you’re practicing cruising, and you are going to get better and better at whatever you are practicing! Thank you.
Student: This was an opportunity for me to learn something new. I started off by saying to our group that after you sent out this quote from Tohei Sensei, I thought about it. And I decided that we learn the gratitude through experience, which gets us to maturity. A lot of times in life, that’s the way it works. You don’t appreciate your pain until you are a parent. So I was taking it very literally. And it brought up some really good discussion. Sally spoke about the physical challenges she’s having in her life and how these have made her look at things differently and that she’s grateful for this. Then Tracy Sensei brought up the line he had read from “Ki in Daily Life” from Tohei Sensei. That was that we shouldn’t say “I made a mistake.” We should say, “I was being immature.”
When you asked the question, “What is gratitude?” I was thinking that I am grateful for everything. I thought, you know, my children, my health, all of that. But I was not thinking about all this other stuff that’s been happening in my life. Now though, through this practice I’ve learned how to deal with it a little better. And that is the training. So obviously, my answer. And then the other thing that Tracy sensei said that was really sort of mind opening to me was that these sayings that Tohei Sensei came up with because they make us think about things in ways we normally wouldn’t. Yeah, I hope that was cohesive in some way.
Yes, and not just for the student. The reason I love these sayings also, is that, as a teacher, I tend to get into grooves. Just like, as a landscape designer, if I’m not careful I will get into a habit of designing in a certain way. There are always certain things that we are drawn to, if we get patted on the back for something then we tend to repeat that. This can be a big mistake in our practice. So having something like this, it doesn’t even matter what you pick, really, but if you’re lucky enough to have Tohei Sensei giving you a list of things, then that is nice, yes? We take these and use them to inspire ourselves. And this will lead us into areas that we don’t always go.
I mentioned earlier that Shinichi Tohei Sensei said that he discovered there was something here in this kind of training that doesn’t exist in the dojo. Did you consider what that might be? Does anybody want to give me a guess as to what he meant by that? What is it that he sees, that happens here, but that doesn’t always happen in the dojo?
Student: Thank you, Sensei, for the opportunity. I think that he meant that this Zoom is a whole new venue and that through this we can connect with people we might not normally get to.
Of course, yes, that’s true. That’s true. And this whole business of being able to speak to someone halfway across the world is very attractive to all of us. Obviously, this is an opportunity to be together with people from Europe and Russia and the United States, Japan, and others. However also, what I’m noticing is that we can explore subjects in much greater depth when we are in this kind of venue. So it provides us a chance to ask and discuss those questions which we might never ask in the dojo, and so discover things about our practice that we might never discover in the dojo. People have always emailed me these kind of questions, but folks rarely asked me something like this in the dojo while I’m teaching a class or seminar. This is the reason why I always finish my seminars with a question and answer period. And then when Zoom came along, it was like, oh, perfect. So we want to return to the dojo, but also to continue to take advantage of this way of training also.
Student: Our discussion was that when we look back difficult times, we can be very grateful. Because of that, we can see that we are already grown and we are able to change. These are things that we probably wouldn’t have chosen ourselves, but life brought it to us so that, you know, we had no choice but deal with it. And as a result, I’ve grown so from this vantage point is easy to appreciate. One person mentioned that, if you lose someone, someone that you felt very close to, it’s very difficult to feel grateful about that. So our question is, how can we learn to feel grateful when you’re right in the middle of it? Also, what about when you lose someone we’re close to? How can we feel gratitude?
Thank you. This is, of course, very difficult sometimes because we’re so attached to each other. When we lose a spouse, or when we lose a parent, or when we lose a teacher. Yes. We don’t have them sitting in front of us. But they’ve fulfilled a certain requirement, a need in the world around us that we live in. Their presence made our life easier. It made our lives easier, emotionally, to have them around. Of course, it also made our life very much easier, responsibility wise. When Suzuki Sensei passed away, I was grieving him. And then I realized that one of the reasons I was grieving his loss was because now I was going to have to do everything myself. Now, I already took a lot of responsibility, but now I was going to have to be the one where the buck stops. I was always able to go to Suzuki Sensei and say, “What is the answer to this? How should I deal with this? How should I respond to this person?” Or he would just come right out and tell me, “Don’t do that. What are you doing?” But once this support is gone, we might miss the advice, and support.
Now, that’s your teacher. If it’s your mother or your father in your family, they’re carrying a certain degree of responsibility in that family. They may be old and not functioning in terms of responsibility so much, but they are holding the whole family in a way that is very obvious when they are gone. They are mature human beings and they’re there for a reason. And when they’re gone, then it is you who need to rise to the occasion. This is something to be grateful for.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in the middle of Headquarters in Japan, and I looked around the room and realized that I was the oldest person in the room. It never even occurred to me before, that I was no longer the youngest person in the room, like I was when Suzuki Sensei and Tohei Sensei, were alive. They were always there for me.
So the answer to your question I think, is that it’s not seeing the whole picture. When you’re really bothered by a loved one leaving Earth, it’s not seeing the whole picture. Of course, grief hurts, and that’s okay. Experience that completely. But at the same time, see that you now have a new responsibility. Now you take on new responsibilities, and you have to be willing and ready and grateful for that. Hopefully, your teacher or your parent was getting you ready for that, preparing you.
Okay, so that’s enough for tonight. And thank you very much. I hope that you’re able to understand what I say. And I hope to see you all Sunday morning. Aloha. Domo arigato gozaimashita.
(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 29. January 2021)