I love good surprises, but the bad surprises aren’t so much fun.
I wake in the morning. Get out of bed. Get dressed in my best suit. I head downstairs and turn on the Nespresso machine. I wait while it warms up. I place a blue capsule in the space. I push the button for a long coffee. It cranks up its pump motor and coffee begins to pour out into my cup.
I take the cup and as I turn, I bang into my girlfriend. Coffee covers my clean shirt, my suit pants. I’m drenched in coffee. How do I react?
There are crap things that can happen to us in a day: from the little things like spilt coffee, unexpected traffic, lost keys, forgetting stuff at home through the bigger blows like a car crash, the end of a relationship, loss of our job, loss of a loved one.
What can we do?
Martial Arts and Intentional Reaction
Martial arts are about dealing with blows. In the case of karate, judo or aikido these are real physical blows in the form of punches and kicks. A punch in the face hurts. A kick in the ass hurts. Martial arts are about practicing to handle these blows so that you don’t get hurt too much.
Karate is about blocking the blow. Judo is about using the energy of the blow against the attacker. Aikido is another level of response entirely.
How Aikido Deals with Blows
George Leonard brought the Japanese martial art of Aikido to the USA back in the 1950s. He and 3 friends opened a dojo in California. He spent his whole life practicing Aikido. He was asked to write a short article for a local magazine on the art of mastery. The goal is discipline of daily work to improve towards excellence. His article was requested so often by readers, that he was asked to expand the material into a book. The book is called Mastery. The book explores the path towards excellence. It may be excellence in chess, excellence in tennis, excellence in piano, excellence in karate, or excellence in living.
We don’t have space in this short post to go into all the ingredients of mastery which George describes. There is only space to cover one idea. The idea is the decision to react intentionally.
Are You Practicing To Be Frustrated or Practicing To Be Productive?
Imagine Mr A and Mr B. They both had coffee spill on their fine clothes this morning. Mr A is pissed off. Mr B is fine. Why does the same occurrence cause two human beings to end in two different internal states? Mr A is in a negative, disempowering state. Mr B is in a positive, empowering state.
It is not what happens to us that really shapes our lives. It is how we practice responding. It is a little bit of choice, but a lot of habit. If I am in the practice of getting angry and frustrated, I am getting better and better at turning any start point into a frustrated state. If I am in the practice of seeing the bigger picture, I am getting better and better at keeping myself in a productive, empowering state.
George tells us that there are 4 ways that humans respond to the blows of life.
The 4 Responses to the Blows of Life
The four ways of responding that are demonstrated by George Leonard are:
- Defensive/Aggressive – respond to the blow with anger and a direct attack. My friend tells me that I have arrived late, so I tell him that he was late yesterday.
- Victim – respond to the blow as a victim “Poor me, this always happens to me”. My friend tells me that I have arrived late, so I break down in tears.
- Denial – respond to the blow as if nothing happened. “I feel nothing, I will go on as I am.” My friend tells me that I have arrived late, so I ignore it and dive into my donut.
- Leader – respond to the blow by centering myself, really feeling how the blow affects me, accepting the blow, accepting my feelings and then acting once I have blended the energy of the external blow with my own. My friend tells me that I have arrived late, so I notice that I feel attacked, I notice a surge in emotion, I notice an urge to respond. I pause accepting this energy and I say “It is 12:15. Do you still have time?”
The Practice of Resilience
This is a matter of practice, not choice. If I practice centering myself for the little blows, I am preparing myself to make good choices when the bigger blows hit. How do you choose to practice?
By the way I screw this up 8 out of 10 times but one highly empowering view from a Buddhist philosophy is this: if only once in your day you pulled yourself back from a knee-jerk reaction and made a conscious intentional decision – it has been a good day.
Don’t put yourself in a guilty state because you reacted poorly this morning. The fact that you are now aware of that poor reaction is a good step forward. Get ready for life’s next blow. They come guaranteed.
Featured photo credit: alixroth via flickr.com