by Jenny Coletti
I spent much of my first year training Aikido with my mind something like this: “Don’t pull, stay centered, bend my knees, keep my back straight, stretch my back more, keep my hands in front of me, keep my hands open, keep my mouth closed, step forward, no- step backward, tenkan, wait-what is tenkan?, toes down, toes flexed, relax my shoulders, bend my elbow, keep the grip, roll, fall, move my hips, let go, don’t let go, remember to breathe!” I thought that if I could just remember all these things all the time, I would begin to learn Aikido. I thought I was paying such close attention to all the details, but I was allowing myself to become lost in them. My attention was far from clear or focused, it was scattered and distracted.
And then I found out that I was to be tested for 5th kyu. I wondered how I could remember all these things for all the techniques I would be tested for and it seemed overwhelming. Somewhere in the process of preparing for my test, my mind couldn’t take in any more details. I felt overloaded. I found that I couldn’t appreciate each moment and movement in a technique with my mind always anticipating, yelling, and demanding. My mind had distracted me away from the techniques, not toward a better understanding of them. I needed to begin to feel the techniques and to allow my body to move unobstructed by my overactive mind. It was a revelation for me and I felt a shift in my practice.
Preparing for my 5th kyu test gave me an opportunity to stop thinking and let go of my disquiet mind. I was practicing each technique over and over again until I finally allowed myself to feel the energy and movement through my body. It was freeing. I felt unencumbered when I finally let go of the never-ending dialogue and checklists my mind had been reciting. I realized that my intention and spirit had been hindered by my distracted mind and that I was always hesitating and wavering.
As I continue my Aikido practice after the test, I struggle to remember to keep my mind still and my awareness more focused. It’s easy to fall back into that mental dialogue, but I am getting better about quieting it. I try to approach each class with a clear intention to concentrate on one detail that I really want to work on and not get bogged down by all of them. It is a different way of knowing and of being, but I am trying to learn more with my body and less with my mind, to rely on awareness and attention and not memorization and details. Instead of thinking my way through Aikido, I am slowly trying to find my own way by experiencing it.