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The Body Psychological and Psyche Embodied:
Embodying Peace in Conflict Resolution Using the Martial Art of Aikido
By: Timothy H. Warneka, M.Ed., L.P.C.C.
President, Psyche & Soma Consulting, Ltd.
Other Articles By Tim Warneka • Latest Articles on Cleveland Therapists.com
"Aikido is not an art to
fight with or to defeat an enemy. It is a Way in which to harmonize all people
into one family. The essence of Aikido is to put oneself in tune with the
functioning of the universe, to become one with the universe."
-Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido
A phrase that is frequently tossed about in the holistic literature is the "mind/body" connection. More and more disciplines are coming to the realization that what you do to the mind effects the body, and vice versa. In an attempt to become more holistic, many disciplines are seeking to integrate those parts that have been left aside.
I work with children, adolescents and their families as a psychotherapist in the non-profit public mental health sector. I have been practicing the Japanese martial art of Aikido for the past ten years. The principles of Aikido have helped me to develop a body-oriented approach to working with populations of sexually aggressive and physically aggressive adolescents. I would like to offer some thoughts on using the body in conflict resolution based on the work with which I am currently involved.
By virtue of living in Western civilization, all of us are more or less disconnected from our bodies. We have been led to believe that what is happening in the body is not as important as what we are thinking "in our minds"; as if that could be separate from the body. This disconnect will have been increased by any traumas that we may have experienced - trauma in the form of verbal, physical or sexual assault of our person. Even our language supports this disconnect. We speak of "my body" in the same way that we speak of "my car" or "my microwave". Our body becomes something that we inhabit, something that we can ignore as long as it is "running fine", and something to become annoyed or exasperated with when "things" start to go wrong.
There has been a great deal of interest recently in the three areas of mind, body and spirit as well as how they integrate with each other. Of course, our dualistic language raises problems almost immediately, because although we speak of three different areas of mind, body and spirit, in actual experience those three areas are the same. For humanity, there is no psyche, no mind, and no spirituality that is not embodied and contextualized in a temporal, historical setting. When you shake a person's hand, you are quite literally touching their being, their soul. When a person is raped, they are not traumatized merely in their mind or their body, but their entire embodied being has been horribly victimized.
This perspective, however, is not meant to foster more of that which Roger Brooke, at a lecture given at the C. G. Jung Educational Center of Cleveland, described as "puritanical humanism". This is the sense, often fostered in best-selling pop psychology books, that we (as egos) are solely responsible for what happens to us. In days of yore, the Puritans believed that people became ill or bad things happened to them because they had sinned. As the concept of sinning is rather passé in pop psychology, it is much more in vogue to insinuate that people become ill or have bad things happen to them because they do not (check all that apply!) eat the right diet, listen to the right guru, exercise enough; weigh the right amount, have the right positive thoughts, or are not self-actualized enough.
Rather than this narrow perspective, a much broader perspective of humanity as embodied beings is much more multi-dimensional. I draw a great deal from the work of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. Jung articulated much more broader, deeper levels of consciousness and unconsciousness, which he referred to in total as the psyche, of which the ego was only one smaller part.
The Japanese martial art of Aikido is frequently translated as "The Way of the Spirit of Harmony", or "The Art of Peace". Aikido was developed by a man named Morihei Ueshiba (c. 1883- 1968), who's name means, "abundant peace", and who is referred to as O'Sensei (Great Teacher) by Aikido practitioners. O'Sensei was already recognized in Japan as a great martial artist when he began to become disillusioned with the competitive, hurtful face of the martial art world. A deeply spiritual man, O'Sensei sought to combine ethical principles with effective martial arts practice. He developed the art of Aikido as a way a bridging the gap that he saw between these two realms. He even stated, "Aikido is the manifestation of love." (quoted in Stevens, 1987).
So, a reader may ask, what does Aikido look like? One way to describe Aikido is that it is very similar to what most people think of judo, with very circular and flowing movements. Since Aikido does not rely on brute strength, people of all sizes can practice it, young and old, male and female. Aikido is usually described as a "defensive" art, in that most of the techniques are geared toward the protection of oneself (as well as your attacker), and there are no "offensive" Aikido techniques.
Certainly I am not recommending that someone needs to study Aikido or any other martial art or body training system for ten years in order to make use of the principles in conflict resolution. And I am clear with the families with whom I work that I am not teaching formal Aikido to them. I am instead focusing on helping the families to develop a better awareness of their bodies, as well as helping them to learn the some of the basic Aikido principles that they can apply to any conflictual situation in which they find themselves.
The principles of Aikido have a great deal to offer the fields of both psychotherapy and conflict resolution. One of the exciting things about Aikido is that it allows us to study our responses to conflict. Some of the principles of Aikido that I find helpful to focus on include: (1) relaxation and openness; (2) grounding; (3) being centered; (4) extension; and (5) blending.
Relaxation and Openness - Aikido very much emphasizes the ability to be open and receptive in the face of an attack. This is very easy to say, and very, very difficult to do. On the Aikido mat, the attacks come in the form of strikes, punches and grabs, sometimes even with weapons. In life, attacks usually do not come in the physical form, but can be just as devastating in the verbal and emotional form. For myself, when I am practicing on the Aikido mat, if someone is coming to punch me, I notice a tightening of my stomach muscles, and a strong desire to hide my head in my arms. When in my psychotherapy office, when an angry parent begins to scream obscenities at me because their teen is court-ordered into treatment, I also am aware of a tensing of my stomach, as well as a desire to hide behind my arms (if not under my desk!). Practicing Aikido teaches me to relax and become open when I am being attacked, a state that paradoxically allows me to better protect myself.
Grounding - In Aikido, grounding is identified as a way of being in touch with the earth, connected to the earth, and drawing energy from the earth. In life, we often speak of "standing our ground" when an issue comes up that we firmly believe in. As with many things, it is important to find a healthy balance. If I am not grounded, any passing person, thought or desire easily sways me. If I am too firmly grounded, I can become inflexible and unyielding.
Being Centered - In the West, with our strong emphasis on cognition, the center of the person is frequently identified as being in the middle of our forehead. In the East, the center of the person is located at a point approximately two inches below the belly button. This area, called hara in Japan, and seika tanden in Chinese, is the area from which the life force (ki in Japanese, chi in Chinese) emanates. Moving from a centered place allows me to make decisions and interact with others from the core of my being, which then allows me to be more authentic.
Extension - In Aikido, people often talk about "extending ki", which means something along the lines of sending positive energy out into the world through our techniques. The concept of energy, such as ki, is extensively noted in Eastern literature, while it is often denigrated in the Western world, as Western scientists have not been able to empirically demonstrate its existence. You may have experienced extension of energy if you have ever tried to pick up a child or perhaps a puppy that did not want to be held. They suddenly feel much heavier than they were two minutes ago. Aikido is sometimes described as an outpouring of positive energy. While it is a defensive art, it is not a passive art.
Blending - The concept of blending enters into Aikido in the sense that one should not oppose force with force. If we do that, then whichever force is stronger wins. Blending allows Aikido practitioners to join with the energy of the attack, move with it in a similar direction, and then lead the attack to a peaceful resolution. If you've ever gone swimming in an ocean or a lake on a windy day when the waves were high, you probably learned how to blend. If you are in the water when the waves come crashing in, and you try and stand strong against the waves, you get knocked down. The waves are much stronger. However, if you "go with the flow" in the movement of the waves, you probably find that you may lose your footing temporarily, but you can regain your footing once the power of the wave has past. That is blending with the waves.
Using the Body in Conflict Resolution
James Kepner (1993) has written an excellent book on the use of the body in psychotherapy. Kepner distinguishes between two types of body structure: biological and adaptive. He defines biological body structure as, "We all have remarkably similar basic biological equipment and are all subject to the same laws of mechanics and physics that govern postural distribution and movement." (p. 47). Kepner defines adaptive body structure as "…[being] formed out of our adaptation to our life history and experience as persons. These adaptations are many and varied, and their cumulative effect profoundly affects our physical being in the world." (p. 48)
In incorporating an awareness of the body into conflict resolution, it is the adaptive body structure that we need to pay attention to. Whether in the therapy office, in the high school cafeteria, or at a negotiating table, it is very important for people to be aware of how their bodies, and by extension their own selves, have adapted to conflict and aggression. It is critically important that anyone working with conflict resolution is aware of his or her own patterns of adaptive body structure. You cannot help others see how they embody reactions to conflict if you do not understand your own patterns.
Let's take a moment and do an experiment in being aware of your body, as you sit here reading this article . When I am in therapy, I often talk with my clients about doing experiments rather than homework or exercises. True experiments are done in the name of learning. If something happens - we learn something. If nothing happens - we learn something too! Experiments helps take the burdens off around what "should" be happening or what "must" happen, and allows us to be open to learning from what does happen. So, let us try an experiment. It will only take a moment, and no martial arts training is required! Read through the each experiment, try it out, and then answer the questions out of your experience:
#1. Sit comfortably in your chair, and close your eyes. Think about something that makes your heart smile. This might be someone you love or something you enjoy doing that makes your feel alive and connected in the world.
Questions: What do you notice about your body? What parts feel lighter? Heavier? What else are you aware of in your body? Colors? Textures? Images? Sensations? What changes have occurred that are different from when you were reading five minutes ago?
#2. Sit comfortably in your chair, and close your eyes. Imagine yourself in a highly conflictual situation that you have been called in as a consultant to the two parties in resolving their issues together. Imagine that both parties are very upset, and almost at the point of violence. And they are not happy to see you.
Questions: What changes were you aware of in your body? Did your breathing become more shallow or deeper? What were you aware of with regards to your energy level? Were your ready to go, eager to jump into the fray? Or would you rather have avoided it like the plague? What did you notice in your body that made you aware of what you wanted to do?
#3. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Imagine yourself as a world famous consultant who has been called in to resolve a point of conflict between two parties. You are sleazy and arrogant. Frankly, you can care less what the issue is, as long as you get paid (and hopefully be sexual on the side with one of your many admirers). You have been told that there will be a great deal of media coverage. You are going to do a great job, because that will help promote your new book that is coming out. You are there by yourself and for yourself. You only want to know what's in it for you.
Questions: Ask yourself the same questions, as in #1, above. In addition: What changes in your body were you aware of as you became sleazier? What changed in your body in revulsion to that sleaziness? What changed in your body to rejoice in that sleaziness? (We all have those parts of ourselves that we do not like, which Jung called the shadow. In general, it is much better to acknowledge that each of us has those parts in ourselves, than to deny those parts (as long as one understands that "acknowledging" does NOT mean "acting them out"). For parts of ourselves that are denied return as demons that haunt and torment us.)
In the latter two examples, either going into a highly conflictual situation or being sleazy, most people experience their bodies compressing, tightening and hardening up. The particular "how's" and "where's" depend on your own adaptive body structure. In the first example, most people feel their bodies as lighter and more open. Notice that it is impossible to maintain two opposite bodies states at the same time. Your stomach cannot be tight and hard in anger, and soft and open in love at the same time. While at one level, this is a very basic observation, at another level, it resounds with depth. If I enter into a conflictual situation with my stomach tight and hard out of fear or anger, it will color all of my interactions with everyone in that situation. If I can train myself to be in conflictual situations and still remain open and soft, then that too will change the interactional field.
A Cathedral of Peace
I recently had a chance to visit Washington, D.C. for the first time. One of the most amazing sites I saw there was the National Cathedral, the 6th largest cathedral in the world. In the Cathedral, you can ride up an elevator to get to a level where you can look out over the D.C area. On this floor there is a small theatre where a short movie was showing about the stone carvers who had spent their lives working on the Cathedral. The film showed the carvers working away at the stone to create a work of art. To me, the work seemed maddeningly slow. Toward the end of the film one of the carvers makes the point that while he was working in some niche of the Cathedral, he frequently felt that he was making little to no progress. Yet, when the Cathedral was done, he had an overwhelming sense that he had contributed an important part to a grand project.
Those of us working for peace have work that is very similar to those stone carvers. Sometimes I feel as if I am a stone carver in some grand Cathedral, slowing working on a gargoyle that is in some far off corner. The work is painfully slow and sometimes isolating. The work that we do is also similar to those stonemasons who worked on the great medieval Cathedrals. They knew when they began that they would not live to see the completion of their work. So too do we work to build a Cathedral of Peace that we will probably never live to see, but with hard work, our children's children will live to enjoy.
Brooke (2000) observes that Jung "recollects what our culture has forgotten: a perceptual understanding that the world is a temple and the earth is consecrated ground." (p. 14). It is very important to include our physical processes into any type of peace building that we do. Without our bodies involved in the process, we risk focusing solely on what we think, and consequently developing solutions that are half-baked and lop-sided. To create a Cathedral of Peace for our grandchildren's children, we must embody peace. Thinking peace is not enough. Peace must be embodied in the stone, glass, wood, metal, water and flesh that is our world, that is our Cathedral, that is our consecrated ground.
Brooke, Roger. Jung and Phenomenology. Routledge. New York. 1991.
-----. (Ed.) Pathways into the Jungian World. Routledge. New York. 2000.
Chodorow, J. Dance Therapy and Depth Psychology. Routledge. New York. 1991.
Kepner, James I. Body Process: Working with the Body in Psychotherapy. Jossey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco, CA. 1993.
Linden, Paul. "Embodying Power and Love: A Somatic Method of Understanding Violence and Teaching Peace". Perspective (the newsletter of the Association for Humanistic Psychology), December, 1998.
Palmer, Wendy. The Intuitive Body: Aikido as Clairsentient Practice. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA. 1994.
Stevens, John. Abundant Peace: The Biography of Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido. Shambhala. Boston, MA. 1987.
Strozzi-Heckler, Richard. The Anatomy of Change: East/West Approaches to Mind/Body Therapy. Shambhala Publications. Boston: Mass. 1984.
1 This article was first published in The Fourth R, Volume 92, August -October 2000 by the Conflict Resolution Education Network (CRENET). The author also acknowledges his debt to Dr. Roger Brooke for the initial phrase in the title.
2 O'Sensei could also be truly be called a mystic, which was embodied in his martial art. There are a number of eyewitness, as well as filmed accounts of him performing techniques that can be called nothing short of miraculous. With respect to his gift of Aikido to the world, it is my humble opinion that O'Sensei should be included in the ranks of such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. I would refer any interested reader to any of the excellent books on O'Sensei by John Stevens for further reading.
3 As usual, attempts to categorize fall short. Similar to the T'ai Chi T'u (also known as the yin/yang symbol), in defense, there is offense, and in offense, defense. On a more basic level, as Aikido practitioners take turns attacking each other in order to perform the technique, then it stands to reason that you become better (by virtue of practice) at offense by practicing Aikido.
4 Many of these experiments are either based upon or influenced by the work of Dr. Paul Linden. Dr. Linden has developed an Aikido-based body and movement awareness approach called "Being in Movement ". Dr. Linden has a number of articles that he has written available free on his web site, and I would urge interested readers to explore these further. See bibliography for more information.
Timothy H. Warneka, M.Ed., L.P.C.C. is an outpatient counselor at Crossroads, a private non-profit mental health agency near Cleveland, Ohio. He maintains a consulting firm, Psyche & Soma Consulting.