I've always been uncomfortable with money, especially asking for it. I come from a hard-working immigrant family and there wasn't a lot of extra income when I was young. And asking other people for money? Forget it. Every time the band fundraiser came around, I would go to the two neighbors who I knew would buy a tin of cookies without fail. The prizes for the student who raised the most never motivated me. In this area of my life, I had no problem coming in last place.
So when I heard the word "fundraiser" at the dojo, I thought, "ok, I'll do my part, I'll buy a ticket, I'll help clean, and that's that." After coming back from summer camp last year, which was paid for by a dojo scholarship, Sensei pointed at me and said, "You. You'll be good at raising money. You're going to help with the fundraiser." I wanted to tell him, "No, no, I think you might have it wrong. See, I'm terrified of asking people for money. It makes my stomach churn." Instead, I replied, "Uh, ok, yes, sure."
To maintain distance between myself and the discomfort of asking for money, I focused on logistics. If you're keeping your head down and working, no one can really find fault with you, right? It's a good way to hide. But surprise! I chose to train in a martial art that's about the opposite of hiding. “Present yourself!” Post-fundraiser, during the follow up, I messed up and some things fell through the cracks. When we discussed it as a team with Sensei, I wanted to say, "It's not my fault. I really hate money. Also, I don't know what I'm doing, and no one told me what to do." Thinking about it later, I realized that I didn't just have an issue with money. I also hesitated in stepping up, taking responsibility, asking for help, or even being ok about making decisions. It was hard to say "Yes, the buck stops with me on this. So if it's messed up, it's me. And if you need to know what else needs to be done, that's me too."
I decided this year would be different. If I saw what needed to be done, then I would step up and do it or ensure it was done by providing guidance or a helping hand. I wasn't going to look around the room and wait and see who else would do it. Shockingly, I was also excited about raising the money. What changed? I'm not quite sure. Maybe it was just an accumulation of seminars, hours, injuries, and off-the-mat experiences, but it was clear to me that the dojo was central in me seeing myself differently, and in making better choices for myself. The fundraiser was no longer only about asking people for money. If I thought about the dojo like a well from which I drew water, then I wanted to help replenish that well for myself and for others. And how long was I going to keep hiding behind my fear of money? If I was serious about Aikido, then it was time to present myself to my fear and do it. I felt this shift in attitude palpably when I accompanied Sensei to Athens in September. My sempai, Andrés, hadn't arrived yet, and even though there was a former uchideshi there, I was the only student from Brooklyn. Stepping onto the mat straight from the airport in a surreal haze of jetlag and sleep deprivation, I thought, "Shit. It's me. There's no one else."
At the same time that the fundraiser pushed me to see that “it's ME, I'm IT,” I also saw that it wasn't all me. It wasn't about me keeping my head down and trying to do everything. First, that's impossible. Second, that's hiding and will mess things up. And third, it's unfair to the large, strong community of people who are pouring themselves into the dojo in so many ways. In lifting my head up to present myself, I also got to see all the beautiful things that others were doing. Festival quality films got made, posters were designed, donations were made from around the country and the world, spaces were organized, quiches were baked, prizes were donated. Everyone was presenting themselves, and it was humbling. I guess this is the weird paradox that Aikido points to: be focused, see the target, be present, present yourself, but also see everything, also step off the line, also absorb. It is all about you, but it's not all about you.