The Power of Contemplative Practice


We human beings are a wondrous concentration of a multi-dimensional integration of heaven and earth.  We are condensations of water droplets, sand and stardust, talking to and listening to each other.  We are miraculous creatures, capable of genius, compassion, and deep wisdom. We are also likely to be bound up, convoluted, entangled creatures, capable of heinous, corrupt and sadistic behaviors. 

            Most every day at the dojo a student, a parent, or an instructor says to me in some fashion:  “I want to find ways to be overjoyed, creative, maybe even miraculous!”  How do we do that in this demanding, multi-tasking world or ours?  Perhaps more than ever, contemplative, spiritual practices like Aikido, Zen, Tai Ji, Yoga, Taiko, Calligraphy and Psychotherapy can us answer that query; help us lean into the light, energize our spirits, and untangle our monkey minds.  Without consistent returning to our original light, we are easily distracted, even deluded by past thoughts and future planning.  When our limbic, alligator brains are in charge, we are capable of making a mess of our lives, creating obstacles with occasional disastrous consequences.

            We can seek to keep our spirits bright and our frame of mind clear in the present moment in our body-mind practices.  No question that finding time to sit quietly for moments in our day is invaluable for our psyche’s health. Some of us lay our mats down at the yoga studio, while others hit a drum. Taking a walk in the woods is another simple way to lean into nature, reminding ourselves that we are part of this gorgeous world.  It would do us well to find a combination of these practices that work for us and make these a part of our lives.

            There are multiple examples in Aikido of  ‘untangling mind’ practices.  The two-step turning exercise is one great example. In the act of spinning in place, we can identify a quiet center and, like the Sufis, turn, turn, turn. It’s a simple way to anchor ourselves in a center spot in our bodies. Our shin kokyu practice includes “tori –fune” movement that invites us to extend our body forward and backward rigorously. We can feel the extending receiving rhythm as though we are rowing a boat along a lively river.  (In Shinto mythology one is rowing a heavenly bird boat and traveling to the land that links heaven and earth.) Many tools available.

            One of the most important acts we do in practice is to offer our hand to our partner. We have heard it referred to in many ways.  Initiate the attack, send out a call to partner, offer an open heart of gratitude to the universe. There is a vivid overlap of life in this act, ordinary activities we may do daily by shaking a friends hand or helping a child or an elder take a seat, reaching out to pick up a pot on the stove. Ordinary life perceived as extraordinary.

            Whatever the practice we choose to consistently calm our mind and vibrate our soul, it restores us. Putting together a package of tools and practices that works for us given the complexities of our lives.  We know we need various ways to untangle ourselves from our delusions, our fears, powerful sense of inferiority and superiority.  We need to feel our miraculousness.

Kimberly Richardson