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Ueshiba Aikido e-Reflections
ISSN 1712-2341
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Oct 31, 2008

"Everyone has a spirit that can be refined,
a body that can be trained in some manner,
a suitable path to follow."

Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei

It seems that we all have a morbid fascination with the macabre, the grotesque, and the negative.  Why do motorists slow down to catch a glimpse of accident victims?  Why do horror, splatter, and thriller movies intrigue?  Is there some enjoyment in being afraid and being scared?  Perhaps it makes us feel more alive, or gives us something to blame if things do not turn out alright.  Often it is a way to keep us in check and in line, to keep us on the straight and narrow.

In my experience, some students leave Aikido after a few lessons, or a month or two, because they are afraid of the forward rolls and breakfalls.  It has also been my experience that students who overcome their fear of rolling and high break-falling discover a sense of exhiliration and liberation.  Thereafter, they demonstrate more courage and confidence in not only facing the technical challenges in Aikido, but also in their daily life.  I do, however, acknowledge that fear can be a very real mental or physical experience that can be very debilitating.

On the other hand, what keeps us fearful of being blissful and happy?

I remember in my youth, when joyfully playing with my friends and cousins, laughing to the point of hysterics, my grandmother, aunts, and parents would caution us with the words: "Don't play or laugh too much now, or you'll be crying tonight, or you won't be able to sleep tonight."  Sure enough, something would then happen during the day that would cause some discomfort or disappointment, and we would sometimes cry ourselves to sleep.

This fear seems to follow us into adulthood.  When things are going smoothly and everyone is at peace and blissful, the alarm bells go off in our minds, warning us that everything seems too good to be true: that something is sure to go wrong, or that it is surely a prelude to some disastrous experience.  Sometimes it becomes self-fulfilling, or self-sabotage even happens to get to the disappointment sooner, because "it was going to happen anyway."  In a similar vein, as much as we desire to win the lottery, there is also the fear of actually winning it: and then nothing happens.  Does knowing that the fear of Friday the 13 originated from that being the day the Templar Knights were simultaneously executed take away the fear that it is an unlucky day?

The ultimate fear, of course, and the one in which we work so hard to avoid, is Death.

I recall, when very young, the moment I realised the inevitability of death.  I reflected on what was so fearful about death.  Was it the fear of the unknown, the manner of death, or the fear of losing and leaving loved ones behind?  It also occurred to me that if there has always been an existence beyond the temporary life that is being experienced, then which is the true reality of existence?  Wesley, in the movie The Princess Bride, challenged Prince Humperdinck with the words "To the pain" because he knew that death is a release, not a punishment.  To live and to experience the torment of insult, infamy, and alienation was a more painful consequence for a wicked life.

We are also sometimes afraid that what happens to one person could also happen to another.  In that, life, in its many facets, constantly reminds us that we have our own life to live, and that everyone has a different story to live out.  Merlin, in a movie, reproached King Arthur with the words: "Fates are not shared!"

One of the things that stayed with me from studying Early Childhood Education is that everything is learned; even character traits, personality, attitude, and behaviour: the (sometimes) unwitting first teachers being the parents - transferring all the fears, joys, and bias into our children.  The question then remains, are we willing to learn, or re-learn?  How do we want our lives to be, and what are we willing to do to achieve it?  By extension, when confused and lost during Aikido class, how determined are we to consciously take it as a challenge and break through the uncertainty into understanding and relief?  I think O Sensei says it well in the quote above.

Fear, of course, is on the flip-side of relief and bliss.

So we laugh at death and we celebrate all that is gruesome in Halloween.  We dress up with brains flowing down the sides of our heads, eye balls dangling from our cheeks, and blood dripping all over our clothes.  Death and murder is recreated in all its gory details, or we dress up as our favourite character from history or from literature.

All Hallows Eve, of course, is the evening before All Saints Day where everything that is Holy is celebrated.  That is followed by All Souls Day, when we honour those who have passed on before us.  Both festivals commemorate and honour lives that were ordinary and extraordinary.  These were men and women who have lived out their lives in its fullness.  How can we contribute to their legacy?  We could begin simply, as we go Trick or Treating with the children.  Do we feed on their fears and admonish them with "Don't get lost!", "Don't get run over!", "Don't get into trouble!", or do we encourage with "Stay with me.", "I am here with you.", "You'll be great!", and "Be safe.", to take them beyond fear into confidence and joy?

Have a Happy Halloween... and Happy All Saints Day too!

See you in the Dojo.

In peace and harmony,
Rafael Oei Sensei.
(© Copyright October 2008: Rafael Oei)

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