If I’m entirely honest with myself, the truth is I’m fundamentally intolerant of fundamentalism.
I read one oppositional comment too many on social media and the adrenalin push is in full throttle – heart racing, blood boiling, the rant in my head unrolling, I’m ready to put fingers to keyboard and defend what I know is right.
Trouble is, this knee-jerk response aimed to convince myself I’m actually doing something that will make a difference … it’s not really working. My liberal dogmatism can get pretty ugly, ultimately becoming an expression of the very thing I find fault with in the established attitudes of others.
Even when convinced I’m right in my mind, I don’t feel good in my body.
Years ago, I learned through my study of Aikido – the Japanese martial art form developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs – that the best defense is not striking back, but neutralizing an opponent’s advance by moving with and redirecting the energy of the attack.
Aikido often translates as “the way of unifying with life energy” or “the way of harmonious spirit.” How can we simultaneously engage in battle and maintain a harmonious spirit?
Author, public speaker, and self-described “degrowth activist” Charles Eisenstein writes, “Yes, I am horrified by racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and the rest of the ugly sentiments … But if we really want to change these things and not just feel righteous about being on the right side, then we have to address the ground from which they spring. To do that, we have to let go of war thinking with its accompanying dehumanization, and enter the question that defines compassion: What is it like to be you?”
This work is hard.
Let’s face it, some primal part of us thrills in the throes of polarization. The dynamic of opposition itself implies an inherent tension, and in that tension there is energy, there is potential.
I find myself struggling a lot these days. If I want to realize the full benefit of this potential, if I’m to exist as a sane and whole person, I know it’s imperative that I learn to consider both poles of the divide. Not necessarily to agree, but to make a space for the experience of another within a context that may be entirely foreign to me.
Did I mention this work is really hard?
One definition of to win is “to succeed in reaching, especially by great effort.”
In the framework of Aikido, I have to ask how I can possibly move with the energy of my opponent’s attack if I do not know my opponent. In order for a strategy to arise, I must resist reflexive reactivity in service to reaching a state of unification with life, harmony in spirit.
This task amounts to a practice of inner work with no one but myself, who is often my greatest adversary. And this process is not instead of all the other crucial ways we must act in resistance, but it recognizes that in the long arc of a human life our inner work is bedrock.
If we truly want a more peaceful world, that peace must first be realized within.
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