Small Things

Hello, everyone, I hope everyone’s fine tonight.

I’d like to read you Shokushu # 13. “The Unity of Calm and Action.”

“Just as top spinning a very rapidly mimics calm state truck on the height of actual is the eye of the typhoon is always calm, movement gains extreme. From this calmness, calmness and action are exactly one by always experiencing our one point and unifying our mind and body. Spirit time appears even when busy, and we don’t lose our mind, even when facing important tasks. in such a state, you’re able to perform extraordinary works.”

Tonight our subject for discussion is the saying by Koichi Tohei Sensei, “Make a habit of doing your best even in the smallest key tasks.”

Sayaka, would you read that in Japanese press please? (Sayaka reads)
Thank you very much.

“Making a habit of doing our best” is very simply just paying attention. That is the major practice of our life, isn’t it? Just paying attention. So no matter what we’re doing, there are levels and levels and levels. Some things are very, very simple and physical. And some things are very complex and need to be considered deeply in our mind. We’ve been talking about all these different forms of practice, over the past year. But the fundamental lifetime principle of practice is paying attention. And let’s remember, calmness is the side effect, the result of paying attention.

All right, let’s do some Ki Breathing. And then we’ll be back.

Okay, very nice. So, again Tohei Sensei says, “Make a habit of doing your best, even in the smallest of tasks.”

These tasks are all keiko, of course. These are the practices we have to do in order to learn to get along in this world and to earn ourselves a living too. To have relationships. In the beginning, of course, we have to learn to walk and talk. And then we get into education and maybe even advanced education. And then we have to learn a skill, something that might be a sport, or it might be something to do with our work. And then of course in Aikido we have to learn all the Keiko practice techniques, swinging the jo, cutting the sword, Ki Breathing, Ki Meditation, these are all keiko. And the one thing we can’t succeed without, with any of these keiko practices , is to bring deep attention in the moment to whatever it is we’re practicing. That’s why I say that’s a lifelong practice. That’s the true practice we’re here to learn to do. We call this true practice “shugyo.” We have all of these petty keiko things that we learn to focus on to get us through the whole thing. If we didn’t have all these little fun things to work on, we’d have nothing to pay attention to. Right? So this gives us a chance to practice shugyo, paying attention, right away. When we learn to pay attention, then we notice that it creates a great sense of calmness in us, even in the midst of conflict. We will have great calmness when we are in great attention.

In the beginning, of course we have to have discipline. But we only need discipline until we learn to love what we’re doing, when we see that we like it because it’s good for us, because we enjoy it, because we see what a difference it makes in our life. When we see this, we don’t need discipline anymore. Of course, getting there we don’t realize that yet. So for all of these things, both for the keiko and shugyo, we have to start out with discipline, and then gradually we learn to love it.

Of course we can talk about this, for instance, when we’re referring to something like physically swinging to bokken every day. Right? So we have to learn, we have to discipline ourselves to do that. But once we learn to feel this feeling of dropping into the exercise, then we can’t wait to pick it up again, and experience that. And obviously, the more we do this, the more attention we are able to bring to bear on anything. And the subtler our attention is, the more effortless, the more we love and enjoy the thing. This is true feedback folks. Until we forget all about the idea of doing it, the “why” of doing it. That’s when we reach an advanced stage. It’s not ever that we don’t care, it just doesn’t ever cross our mind that we are doing anything significant.

You know, in the beginning, we can be too strict with ourselves, sometimes we do that. And that’s a big mistake. I remember when I was younger, and Suzuki Sensei was my teacher. And he told me, “You got to breathe one hour every day!” And I made myself breathe one hour every day. But, you know, at some point, I realized that I wasn’t actually in it. I was watching to be sure I did it just right and for just long enough. I wasn’t learning to love it. I was forcing myself to do that every day. So I have to admit to you right here, what I did is I changed and said, okay, only get up and breathe when you feel like it.

So for some period of time, maybe six months to a year, maybe even two years, I didn’t breathe every day. didn’t sit every day. I only did it when I felt like it. And please remember, this is just me. I’m not recommending this for anybody else. This is just me. So don’t say I recommended this, because this is what I personally needed to do in order to understand. I had to do it this way.

And then gradually, I began to enjoy it, and I found that I wanted to get up and do it every day. And now for the past 10 or 20 years, I don’t think I’ve ever missed a day, unless of course I am traveling, or if I’m really sick or something. But even then, I just really love sitting so much. I don’t think it ever could have come to this if I hadn’t stopped forcing myself.

So please, we have to be gentle with ourselves. We are like children. You can’t force children to do things. You have to teach them how to pay attention. Give them something that’s attractive. And, and they’ll learn to love it.

And there she is our dojo child. [sees the Hana Reasoner on the screen] Okay, so hello, Hana. How are you? Everyone say hello. Ok so Sayaka wisely doesn’t force her to stay off of the screen. If Hana wants to come on the screen, she says okay, you can. There’s wisdom, right Hana? I hope you’re nodding because you agree!

One more thing on this. Let’s remember our three options, A, B, and C. Because they always apply, not just when someone’s holding your wrist. You know when we’re talking about doing Ki Breathing every day, we’re talking about, you know, any sort of discipline, like making your bed, brushing your teeth, taking a bath. All the things that we learn to do as we’re growing up, no matter what it is, you can push yourself to do it. That would be option A, forcing or fighting.
But on the other end, you can’t just do nothing. That would be option B. But you can’t just not do anything, because then that’s what you’ll have, nothing. So it’s always option C. Connect.
We are compelled, we are committed. We put our whole mind and body into whatever it is that’s in front of us to do, no matter how small. Even the smallest task is critical, because however we do that one little thing is how we will do everything else. You cannot say “Well, I’m not very good at brushing my teeth, but I’m really good at meditating.” Probably not.

Something to think about. There’s a lot of room in here for discussion. What do you hear others say? What do you have to say about this? So Prakash, please have them all go to the rooms. And then we’ll get back together in 15 minutes.

Okay, welcome back. So let’s begin.

Student: Hello, Sensei. I notice that I’m either teaching other people to do what I have learned, or else I struggle with forcing myself to do things that are new to me. But after training for a while, just being present and paying attention to the tasks at hand, then I am able to love and commit to whatever it is, and I no longer feel I’m forcing myself to complete these tasks. So those are the things that I realize, especially a new task, or a new skill, like the one that I recently completed, scuba diving. Many other students were easily able to complete the tasks given, because they’ve been doing it for a longer time than I had. But I had to struggle learning those tasks. And then after a while, it became not forcing myself to do it, but easily being able to love and commit to doing it. And that’s a very, very cool way of learning any tasks in daily life.

Yeah, so it’s interesting that we go through these stages. We are given a task, and we’re excited about it. Maybe we even choose it as you did with learning to scuba dive. Quite often, it’s some sport or some happy activity that we choose to learn to do. And maybe even we choose something like Aikido. It’s really exciting in the beginning. And then we see how difficult it is and how much detail is involved, and how much effort we have to put into it. And it goes on and on and on. And we’re not getting nearly as good at it as fast as we thought we should. And so we’re not able to enjoy it or love it as much as we’d like to. And suddenly the brilliant things we hear from the teacher now start to seem like such drab and much-used phrases. And so maybe we even think about quitting. We go through a dark period. And then we suddenly find something on the mat that we do a little bit better, and it gets easier all around. And then we’re on a roll. And away we go.

I think that, you know, there’s so many wonderful examples in each of our lives that we’ve discovered, and it always hurts me so much when I see somebody that I know is having a tough time in Aikido, and I see them nose diving and not coming to class so much. And it’s wonderful when they come back, but they don’t always. Everybody doesn’t always make it through that tough period. And maybe that’s even all right. I mean, everything isn’t for everybody. Maybe you choose something that’s too much for you. Maybe it’s just too much.

And this can happen at any stage in our training. I mean, you know, we’re like porpoises, we’re swimming along like this, up and down. So even as we become more and more expert, we’re still going through these phases. You know, there’s still things we have to learn. As we adjust to paying attention more deeply, we begin to expose deeper and more telling parts of ourselves. At any point it can become a little bit troublesome or intimidating. We lose students even when they’re at a very high level this way. This is usually because they reach a part of themselves that they don’t want to face fully.

Really folks, if we can just remember the simple phrase that Tohei Sensei gave us, just to pay attention to do our best with even the smallest thing, we will persevere.

I recently had an experience that was difficult for me, and a friend of mine who’s an expert in this particular thing that I was dealing with, said “The key is always just taking little steps at a time.” I think this is very wise and it really was helpful for me to hear. And isn’t this what Tohei Sensei is saying? Okay, thank you very much.

Student: Good evening, Sensei. My group had several views on a kind of the contradiction between loving something and forcing yourself. Boyer sensei explained that he had a period when he breathed only when he wanted to, and he, he was quite okay with it. And sometimes for weeks, he did not breathe, but then at other times he breathed for longer. At that time you gave him the advice to get serious, and start doing it every day. This gave him that extra push to actually get there. So when you explained that you gave yourself some room to experiment for two years, that felt like a contradiction to him. So he would like you to explain about that.

We had also a question, David asked that if you do something over and over again, and you find yourself doing it without thinking, is that you’re paying attention? Or is it just daydreaming? And another student explained that he is not able to breathe every day at the moment, and that he’s a little bit scared that if he starts pushing himself to do it, when he doesn’t want to, he will have negative results, and make it worse for it

My experience is that I sometimes complain to teachers that at certain times, I cannot sit for longer than 30 minutes, for instance, before becoming itchy. And they usually tell me to just pay attention to the moment, now is enough. What’s happening at that moment. We can also pay attention not actually sitting on our butt but even doing the dishes. Just as long as we pay attention. And of course when we are moving around, paying attention is harder than when we are sitting still. So when we find we cannot do it moving, we will probably go back to sitting because it’s easier for us.

Thank you very much. That’s a lot. I think maybe before I address Boyer Sensei’s objection to my contradictions, I will talk a little about the question, “Is daydreaming paying attention?” Well, yes and no. In other words, just think of driving down the street. And suddenly you miss the turn that you were supposed to take to get to the supermarket. This happened not because you were not paying attention, but because you were paying attention to something else. Paying attention means learning to pay attention, of course, to whatever the task at hand is, and not become distracted by something more attractive. It may be something that is worrisome to us, or something we are dreaming about, or some desire of ours. Maybe these concerns are important, and there are always appropriate moments to sit down and give them some undivided attention. But when we’re in the middle of doing some specific task, like washing the dishes? Better pay complete attention, or you may break those wine glasses.

Student: Thank you Sensei, but let me clarify my question on that. Let’s say that you are a craftsman, doing something you do very well, and you know, the rhythm is just there. And you don’t really have to think anymore, you know, you’re just in it. That’s really what I was asking about.

Okay, okay. So that’s a little different. You know, when you’re really, really good at something, and you can be completely in it, that is very specific. This is what I meant when I said earlier that you’re not even aware that there’s a task being done. It’s just, it’s just a flow. And in fact, time just disappears. When we’re in love. When we’re loving the moment and we’re in a very deep state of attention. At that moment, there is no more self. Because the self, or self- consciousness, is made of time and place. And when time disappears, and the place doesn’t count anymore, you could be anywhere, then the self is not there anymore.

This is just like giving a Ki Test. This is when all of your attention is on the task at hand, in other words completely on the other person and not on yourself doing the task. The task during a Ki Test is reading the other person’s state of mind. Right? Not checking my own state of mind, but reading the other person. So if you’re only watching yourself doing the task, then no wonder it doesn’t work.

Student: Thank you.

Okay. And then, of course, all things are made of small things. So small things are the only things that count. There’s no such thing as large things. Large things are just a lot of small things gathered together over time and space.page5image38719808page5image38720000

And then there is the one other thing. Boyer Sensei, please excuse me for contradicting myself. When I was telling that story, I said, “Don’t be like me.” This is just what I had to do at a certain time to get over my Nazi agenda, “You must breathe every day!” I was completely subsumed by that demand, that command. And even when I spoke to students, I would even torture them “How much breathing have you done today? Are you breathing every day? I want to hear that you’re breathing every day!” I do remember, Carlos, when I spoke to you about that, when I gave you that advice. And I do remember that I did not give you that advice in a demanding sort of way. I suggested because that was perfect for you right then. It was time for you to get off your couch and stop giving yourself so much slack and move forward. And I think you did that in the right spirit in a loving way, in a responsive way. And now look at you. All right.

Student: Hello to everyone. One student mentioned that he pays attention easier when he’s doing harder tasks. I guess he focuses better rather than on easy tasks. And someone else says that she can multitask. However, her husband tells her to just do one thing at a time. For me, I’m kind of bad at some tasks. You know, sometimes I think there’s just so many tasks to do and so I don’t do some of the smaller tasks, like fixing my bed. I just focus on things that need to be done. I need to be more disciplined.

Linda sensei says she glosses over the small tasks. But at her job, she knows that the small tasks affect the outcome of her job. So she has thought that that’s very important. And then we talked about little bit about breathing in the morning. And for Joelle, it helps her relax, and things come become clear and she is able to make better decisions during the day. It prepares the way for the tasks for her for the day. For me, I have started breathing in the morning. But I noticed in the afternoon like if something bothers me, I get upset or excited, then I have to take time and breathe so I become calmer, and things become clear.

So yeah, let’s just talk about multitasking for a moment. or what we call multitasking. In Aikido we practice randori, this means several people attacking at once. So when we practice randori we understand that we do it the way we do everything. Never try to do two things at once. It’s impossible. You may think you’re doing two things at once. But what you’re really doing is neither thing. In randori. When this person attacks, we give 100% of our attention. If we are thinking a little bit about the next person coming from behind us, then we will be 25% here and 75% there. Instead, we want to be 100% in each direction and in each moment. So we deal with beimg completely in the present, and then go to the next thing. And if you’re paying attention, then you’re calm. And if you are calm, then you will move smoothly from one task to another without thinking anxiously.

There’s something to be said for prioritizing. It’s not necessary that we complete every single task that pops up in our head right now. Maybe it’s not even possible. At least it’s unhealthy. Maybe that is a better way to say that. So we want to know ourselves well enough to realistically know what our capabilities are. We’re always practicing paying attention. We’re always practicing doing the small things one at a time. If we’re always doing that, then we’re becoming more and more refined and excellent at what we do. And then gradually, we’re able to do more and more and more. That’s why this teaching is very important.

I think one other thing you said was that one of you said that he was better at doing things that were important. The biggest thing? Yeah, I think maybe he just means it’s nice to be motivated. We all get motivated to do the things that really need being done. So that makes sense for everybody. Again, though, prioritizing is very important. Like Linda says about her work, you know, she sees certain things in her work. And she’s good at that. And she knows that has to be done. It’s a little bit easier at home to say well, we’ll do that later. It might not have that much effect on her everyday life. But if we sit every day, and we sit as much as possible, we get to know ourselves, we get to know what it is that we’re doing, when we’re avoiding, and what we are capable of. So of course, another way of saying “paying attention” is “noticing.” Okay, thank you. Next group.

Student: Good morning, Sensei. Though we had a very interesting discussion, many points came up. One was that when we love doing things, even small things become much more effective. When you’re selling something, it’s the love and the connection with the customer that is actually doing the job, and not the quality or cost of the thing you’re selling. It can even be not such a good product, but the better you are and the more enthusiasm you bring into this action, the better the result. And another point was something you already answered, basically, but maybe you can expand a little bit more. We found there actually are no big events. It’s all small tasks. And it’s just that in our mind, we make something a big task. But when we are in it, we actually see it’s just small things like always. So how does that relate to this saying from Tohei Sensei that we have to take care even with the smallest things, when in fact there are only small things? And then one other thing Sensei. This might be my understanding of the English language, but how can we make a habit of paying attention? Isn’t that a contradiction? working from habit and paying attention to me are two different things. But that just might be my English.

Yes, maybe semantics. Okay, so yeah, this is such a great subject. Of course, there is a well- known joke about this, which is probably apocryphal but is attributed to Albert Einstein. He said, “When I first got married, my wife and I agreed that I would make all the large decisions and she would make all the small decisions. And it didn’t take very long before I realized there were no large decisions!”

This really reflects on what we’ve been covering recently about goal seeking. Establishing a goal and working toward a goal makes the goal a very big thing in our mind. But it’s not. The goal is made up only of small things. So when does that goal get actually achieved? Well, it doesn’t actually, because there is no such thing, as such. It’s just an idea that we sort of throw out there in front of ourselves as a kind of carrot to follow. And it helps to motivate us. But it’s also important to learn somewhere along in the process, that the practice of paying attention and completing every small thing is infinite. It never stops.

Yes, so even the smallest thing is critical. Tohei Sensei might have said, “Even when you think it’s the smallest thing, please pay attention.” I don’t think he would mind me putting those words into his mouth. Because he was constantly saying to us, you know, “What are you going for there? Are you trying to throw someone?” Because in the dojo, we do this all the time. But It’s not about the big “throw” at all. It’s all these little connections that are made, and the flow of those intimate moment by moment connections are what end up being Aikido. Well, and there isn’t any spot of manipulating and controlling others. Or, if there is, it will show.

Let’s remember what Shinichi Tohei Sensei said in his latest blog about slow movement. You know that the real power comes out, when you see someone moving very slowly. Of course, he says, for a beginner to move slowly, it’s just boring. But when a master is moving slowly, it’s very powerful. And we want to train ourselves so that we can see the difference. So that we can help our students grow and develop. Because that’s what we’re nourishing, and that’s what they are discovering. So, we must be able to see that. Okay, thank you very much.

Student: Hello, Sensei. Hello, everybody. I wish I could summarize, but because I was with all the Sensei’s, the topic was a little too advanced. So I just shared my experience from my work. I actually do like small tasks. I wasn’t always like that. But now I pay attention to small tasks. And because even though those can be tedious, I know that it’s going to pay off at the end. And I wasn’t always like that. But I used to work in a hotel and basically, I was the only person in the training department, and I didn’t have anybody else to help me. So everything was actually small, but I knew that when is the deadline and what kind of quality I have to deliver and what they’re expecting of me. And I used to get really overwhelmed because I have to do everything myself. So I was reading a book and it suggested that I take care of quantity and let the universe take care of the quality. So I put that line on the wall. And I decided okay, this will be teamwork, me and the universe. Because if the universe is going to take care of it, then as long as I am doing my part, the small things, then okay. And so my question is, is this kind of thinking, or approach, is this in line with what you are trying to teach us?

Thank you. Yes, so we all are faced with this, aren’t we? First of all, the answer to your question is “Yes, of course.” It’s like if we do our simple job, as you said when you made the deal, “I’ll take care of the quantity, you take care of the quality, universe.” So this is so true. Because if we do all these little tasks, in every moment, of which there are no others, there are no other tasks other than what we’re doing in the moment. In the beginning they might be sloppy, and they might be careless, it might be clumsy, because we’re learning. But as we learn to pay attention, our body becomes more skillful, our hands begin to work better, our mind becomes warmer, freer. And gradually, the quality begins to get better and better and better, all by itself. So the universe in the sense is our natural way. It’s our natural self. It is, in fact, nature itself, taking care of itself. As long as we’re doing our simple part of just doing each task that comes along, we’re good. And this is true, no matter what kind of job it applies, no matter what kind of task you do, even if it’s in sport, it’s all the same. Everything applies the same way. Please remember to do this in the dojo.

Sensei, thank you very much. I have one more question. What is the universe? Where is the universe? Is that inside us or outside?

There is no inside, no outside. It’s this. This is the universe. Everything that you can perceive is the universe. As you practice, more and more, you will begin to perceive more and your universe will grow. You know, for a child the universe is very, very small. So I don’t mean only that the universe will grow as in becoming aware of other countries, and so forth. No. I don’t mean that. Of course that happens and that is logical. But I’m talking about beyond logic. We begin to perceive the universe as containing so much more meaning and power and grace. This is the growth I am speaking of. The more we give ourselves over to this simple task of practicing moment by moment, the more we grow.

Now okay, please understand: no inside, no outside. There’s just this. Okay? Thank you. Domo arigato gozaimasu.

(Online Training with Christopher Curtis Sensei, 19. February 2021)