Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Stanislav Grof and Robert Hall—all associates of the vipassana community—work directly with the body and/or breath as a path of insight and means of healing. We asked them to talk about their motivation and methods, and what the wisdom of the body and breath have to teach us.
When I first saw aikido, it was like falling in love. To me, the people practicing aikido were doing the Tao, not just talking about the Tao or studying it. Their bodies were forming and shaping that book of wisdom in that very moment.
As we reinterpret the Newtonian idea of body—the body as thing, the body as object—we come to see the body as a living field and through this field is the possiblity of coordinating action, of making intimate contact with another, and the possibility of awakening.
For me, aikido and vipassana have a lot in common. Aikido is a practice of paying attention, of finding an object of concentration and then opening the focus of attention to meet what comes your way. In aikido practice, however, you have to shape and reshape yourself in relation to another person, remaining fluid yet centered in a basic ground.
In aikido, as in sitting meditation, there has to be a background of listening and a context for the practice. It’s crucial to ask, “To what end am I doing this?” Through a practice of listening, we start to see the kind of suffering that we bring to ourselves, and to see that suffering as a common denominator for people. Without that background of listening, aikido can be simply breaking bones. There will be a preoccupation with winning and losing. But with an ear for wisdom, we begin to see how we all share the same ki or energy, to see our underlying unity.
The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, made the declaration that budo is love. One of the most reknowned martial artists in all of Japan teaching that budo, the art of war, is love, is as radical as Gandhi. He said that when you attack someone, you are actually attacking the universe. If we look at how that is written in Japanese, it becomes clear that he was talking about the deep interconnectedness of all things in which a single self does not dominate. Morihei Ueshiba had tremendous compassion for all human beings, and, at the same time, he taught a way of being that is effective on the street, a way of taking care of the world.
Aikido teaches that when someone is attacking me there is a possibility for harmony. People get soft-minded and sentimental about what it means to harmonize. As I see it, love has teeth. Love does not necessarily mean giving in. Sometimes to harmonize demands tremendous directness and power.
Aikido lives as a theme of life. This means that through aikido we harmonize with the universe. Through the body as a living field, we have moment-to-moment conversations with life, and we begin to awaken. We see what it means to truly be a human being and to live as an expression of a universal spirit.