For those who don’t know me, my name is Matt and I just completed my first year of Aikido training at Quiet Storm. I’m also a mental health clinician specializing in the treatment of suicide, self-harm, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One of many factors drawing me to Aikido is the congruence between The Art of Peace and the techniques I use in therapy. For example, when working with individuals in crisis, both the client and the clinician confront many powerful forces coming at them at once. And just like in Aikido, the many ukes of life are most effectively met with the strength of a muscle car, the calm harmlessness of a teddy bear, and the alertness of a cheetah. Aikido training helps me improve and maintain such spirit in all things.
I have much more to say about the congruence between Aikido and the work that I do. More so than I could possibly fit in one blog post. And I am certain I will only have more insights the longer I train. For now, I will focus on one concept that has most been on my mind this particular week: irimi (entering).
In Aikido, one effective technique for facing attacks is to do the opposite of what the body wants to do. While an untrained nagemay respond to an attack by ducking, recoiling, or tensing up,sometimes gently going toward the attacker’s body (irimi) is the safest place to be.
The body and mind are one, and so it should come as no surprise that psychological principles can work similarly. Like an untrained response to an attack, painful memories and emotions are often responded to with avoidance. Some even turn to numbing agents such as self-harm and substances to completely shut down emotions. While humans understandably wish to avoid pain, many efforts to do so only transform the pain into deep suffering.
The development of PTSD is a good example of this. In studies where large populations of people endure a similar traumatic experience (e.g. 911 or Hurricane Katrina), survivors can essentially respond by following one of two pathways. Those who avoid their memories and emotions veer toward PTSD. Those who enter and experience their memories and emotions veer toward post-traumatic growth, which is a concept researchers are only recently beginning to explore. If proper entering techniques can improve responses to traumatic events, it most certainly can occur with more mundane ones as well.
Of course, entering is not enough. In both Aikido and tending to our mental health, concepts such as timing and balance are equally important. One might over enter, becoming mesmerized by the attack or unpleasant situation. Rick Sensei describes the process of entering as joining with the attacker’s negative energy with the intent of disrupting it, taking its balance, and restoring harmony. One must learn to not just enter but to restore peace upon doing so.
On Saturday, July 20th, my wife and I said goodbye to our family dog, Doc. She was our faithful companion for 14 years of our 15-year marriage. She was also a therapy dog, joining me in sessions with clients for the majority of my 16-year career. She was by my side most of the day, nearly every day for quite a long time. I know people have different relationships with animals, and all are valid. My dog and I had a very special bond, and losing her has been excruciatingly painful. Nonetheless, I am making sure to enter the experience properly. For example, I made a video tribute to her life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsuGMYCKpQc and I make sure to experience every sensation in my body as I watch. While one’s initial instinct may be to distract and avoid grief, entering enables me to celebrate her life and grieve her loss. This allows Doc’s legacy to carry on as a life-enhancing force in my life, despite her death.
Here’s hoping my exploration of irimi can be helpful to someone out there reading this. Perhaps you may pause and consider some situation in your life that you are avoiding, where some entering may be more effective. Perhaps you might finally have that conversation you have been avoiding, or you might sit with a painful memory instead of numbing it, or even something as simple as stop procrastinating on a task. Even if nothing negative comes to mind, perhaps there is a positive experience to enter, like mustering the courage to ask that person on a date, applying for the job you always wanted, or mindfully drinking a cup of coffee. All may require effective entering over further avoidance. As Rick Sensei encourages us to do, let’s take our learnings with us off the mat.