Sensing with my third eye
Our native living fossil the Tuatara has an ancient vestigial third eye.
I’ve been trying in my aikido journey to develop my third eye – the aikido ai of harmony, spelt A-I in English.
The trouble, as we all find to varying degrees, is that our other two eyes get in the way – the I spelt with just the letter “I” that is the conscious I, and the visual eye spelt E-Y-E. So we have our conscious I, our visual eye, and our third eye, the aikido ai.
The Tuatara may be ancient, but my lineage and yours is just as long, going back in a continuous sequence for billions of years. More recently – we don’t know how many millions of years ago – our ancestors did not have what we would today call consciousness, at least not to our degree. In those days our forebears knew no better than to act harmoniously in all things, responding naturally to whatever was the issue of the moment.
Then came the conscious I that started taking control, to think ahead, to plan and scheme. This has been greatly beneficial to humanity in terms at least of our numbers and technology. It is what our culture, our educational systems, our employment requires, expects and reinforces – we are trained to think logically and sequentially, and our jobs reward us for taking that approach.
There are mixed opinions in academia over whether our thoughts shape our language, or whether our language shapes our thoughts. Either way, the point is that the two are inter-woven and like language, conscious thought is a linear thread of thought: it is sequential and takes time. My conscious thought process is “I want to perform these actions, in this order”. Harmonious activity of our body – our system – however, is displayed by an extensive range of coordinated movements carried our simultaneously and practically instantaneously. So our conscious I is very good at planning and intending, but incapable of performing spontaneous and simultaneous actions.
Then there’s that second eye, the visual eye. It’s our conscious I’s favourite sense, nicely suited to its linear sense of the world. Our body or system however, while still using the visual eye, will respond as fully to our other senses such as touch or feeling, and our kinaesthetic sense of our own body position and movement, merging all these senses into one immediate and ever-changing state. We can only use the power of this spontaneous immediacy by lifting our conscious I from control. We need to be able to make the cultural shift from the conscious I as director, to the conscious I as observer or passenger.
So why should I want to spend so much time and effort learning how to let go of my conscious I, and my conscious I’s control of my visual eye, and releasing the aikido ai of harmony or, as Nadeau shihan would say, letting my body body?
O Sensei founded aikido as a path for self-development and being – in his language – part of and at one with the universe. I would perhaps put it less grandly as being at one with myself and my environment, including the people I meet and the challenges I face.
I have reached a state like this in my kayaking, where I have through experience learned to paddle and react to waves instinctively. When kayaking, I can paddle for miles without any conscious control, letting my body body and the conscious I to wander. It’s a euphoric, liberating and relaxing feeling. In running I can reach similar states, but usually not for as long as there are more novel problems like obstacles and traffic that flip my body back to control by the conscious I.
Aikido is more challenging than either of these, as the movements of aikido are more varied, and these movements are not relative to the static track or the rhythmic sea, but relative to the complexity of another person’s energies. The conscious I keeps taking over – “what should I do – am I doing it right?”. In aikido, the great challenge is to reach the state where the conscious I can let go and let the body body. As a start I need to learn to make my own movements efficient and instinctive – that takes time enough. Then I have to learn to make those movements in harmony of time and space with another person and their unique energies. So, I practice and I practice in sensing and feeling myself and my interactions with others, and as I do this it is less and less the conscious I that is practising the ‘do this, do that’, and more and more my body or system experiencing the ai of harmony….
So, through my other activities, I know how to be harmonious with myself in certain situations. I hope we all have our own comfort zones where this is the case. What aikido is teaching me – progressively, cumulatively, ever deeper – is how to be harmonious not only with myself but also in interaction with different people and situations, even confrontational ones.
The Riai school of aikido that we practise – emphasising the harmonious ai rather than the conscious I – is teaching me how to be harmonious in an ever wider range of circumstances, to continually expand my comfort zones. That is why aikido is good for me, why I keep training, and it’s why the philosophy and practice of aikido is so essential for us all.
Roban for Sandan