Aiki means that the defender tries to blend with one’s attacker, rather than fighting against him/her. In aikido, this involves moving in the same direction of an opponent’s force, blending with it instead of trying to oppose it. This goes against many of our primary instincts – typically, when we meet with an attack, we want to either escape from it or fight against it. However, the results when it’s done correctly can be incredible.
This can relate to life as well – my sensei sometimes talks about flowing with the energy of life. What this really means is that we pay attention to how we live and interact with the world and people around us. In the real world, this can include responding to a stressful situation (For example, an impossible deadline at work, an argument with a spouse, a traffic ticket) in such a way that we don’t take our frustrations out on the people around us.
This is easier said than done – when we get frustrated, our stress tends to manifest in ways that others notice. When stressed, some of us become short-tempered with your co-workers, friends, or family. Others are more prone to road rage when driving, and vent their frustrations behind the wheel. This is understandable, and human. But the unfortunate result is that it perpetuates the stressful feelings and can negatively affect those around us, which then causes *them* to get stressed out and affect the people around them.
Sensei tells a story called “Kick the Dog” that illustrates this well. The story begins with a businessman get chewed out by his boss. The businessman then goes home and picks a petty argument with his wife, who in turn is frustrated and yells at her son for a minor infraction. The boy is so upset that he goes outside and kicks the dog. Dog-kicking aside, I think this is a scenario we can all relate to.
The takeaway is that we let our own problems affect our emotions in ways that create negative energy, and that energy is in turn shared with those around us (which affects THEIR energy, and so on). When we get into this cycle, it can seem like the entire world is trying to resist us or fight us. Much of it is human nature – when we take out frustrations on others, they are less inclined to want to help us or work with us. It feels like our lives are not “flowing” well.
Like in aikido, we can learn to blend with what life throws at us and respond in ways that create harmony. Also like in aikido, this is NOT always natural or easy. I think the best way to do this is to seek out ways to handle life’s frustrations (negative energy) as quickly as possible before it manifests outwardly and affects those around us.
For some people, this is done by meditation or breathing exercises. Some people need to talk problems over with an outside source (friend, spouse, colleague). Others (including myself) prefer to work things out physically. After a particularly stressful day at the office, nothing is more calming than a long walk, or even a run. For more intense frustration, a session with a punching bag can be helpful.
However you choose to handle stress, anger, and frustration, the first step is to recognize that it’s happening. Take a deep breath. Talk to yourself in your head (or out loud) and acknowledge the emotion. Then formulate a plan to deal with the situation in a way that provides the most harmony for you and everyone involved (e.g. My boss made me angry because I am more qualified for that promotion and he gave it to Sarah instead. I want to go tell him exactly what I think! But instead, I’ll take a deep breath, go for a run, and discuss this with the boss tomorrow when I’m calm).
It takes practice to do this, especially in the heat of the moment when you want to go on the attack. In aikido, we learn to overcome our natural instincts to fight back when we are attacked, and instead learn to flow with our opponent’s energy. This skill is vital in life as well.