Soft Power

7 Apr

It is a chilly day in Wettenbostel.  The day before Easter.  I woke up this morning to see white flakes flying through the air.  My first thought was… perhaps they are blossoms coming from a tree… it’s Spring, right?  But alas, the weather today has been below freezing and those white flakes were snow.  The day has been a strange culmination of sunny blue cold skies and unexpected flakey white showers.

I recently finished a week-long Aikido workshop here in Wettenbostel.  It was led by Reiki Master and the  Head of Discipline in the Usui Shiki Ryoho tradition, Paul David Mitchell.  I am left in its wake feeling like I just took a magic carpet ride!

This workshop was not your typical Aikido workshop, but a poetic journey of exploring Aikido practices and principles.  Paul calls the workshop ” The Way to Harmony” and we were lead home to ourselves, to each other and to a power greater than ourselves.  Paul has been teaching Aikido workshops in Wettenbostel and other places in the world for over twenty years.

Paul Mitchell is a gentle, thoughtful, attentive, powerful and kind teacher. I was the “new kid on the block” in an assembly of around 16 returning and dedicated students.  I was welcomed into the group with open arms and challenged to be present and rise to the experience.

The workshop began with an introduction to the Aikido concept “one point”.  One point physically is located in the pelvic area.  If you hold your thumb to your belly button and extend your hand to your pinky, it reaches your one point.  Being in “one point” gives one access to a soft gentle power that to me felt like coming home.  The first few times I experienced being in “one point” it almost brought tears to my eyes, being so relaxed and at ease yet being strong and unmovable.  In that space of grace and ease there is an undeniable power that is greater than any physical force, resistance or effort.  Learning to connect to one point for me was like beginning to meet an unmet need.

We were partnered up and began a series of tests to learn and explore being in one point.  We began with holding our bodies in a state of resistance.  Holding tightly, we used force to hold our bodies still and with some effort our partners were not able to move us from our stand.  Then we explored holding our bodies in non-resistance… that is we allowed their hand to move us as we gently fell backwards.  Then, one point.  Standing in a space of non-resistance we focused our attention on our one point.  And when tested… we didn’t move.  But not only did we not move, unlike with physical resistance, our mind-body and spirit were in a space of openness and relaxation. Paul referred to being in one-point as our natural state, which he called mind-body unified.  The creator of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, calls this the perfect state of balance with the spiritual and the physical self.

We were guided to access mind-body unified in other ways as well.  We explored the principle of weight underside. To understand and experience this concept we were asked to stand next to our partners and put our attention on the bottom of our feet and let that feeling of attention flow through our whole body.  When doing this, guess what?… again unmovable.  To test this our partner put their hand on our ankle and tried to lift us.  When in a state of resistance we would eventually go toppling over with some strain.  But with attention to weight underside, again unmovable and ease and grace in the body and mind.

As we continued to explore these concepts in the workshop I began to see that certain things can take you out of the state of mind-body unified.  If I was worried, or thought to much or let me emotions take the lead I was unable to maintain the soft ease of mind-body unified.  I noticed this and practiced returning to the space of mind-body unified in the midst it.  I was coached by Paul to let my emotions go to my one point and with some practice I was able to find my “center” again using these techniques.

To demonstrate these ideas, Paul had us do an exercise where we went to one point and whispered to ourselves… I can’t do it.  And notice the results… which were, of course… not being able to stay in the soft power of one point.  Then we whispered “Maybe I can do it”… and similar results.  And then we said “I can do it”… and with that positive intention there was success.

The workshop invited us to explore our relationships and connection with one another.  With some practice, we progressed to some more challenging exercises.  One of these exercises used wooden swords.  We learned a pattern with the swords, dancing over and around our shoulders, that at first we did separately.  But then, we came together and worked with that pattern in relationship to a partner.    We stood, legs stretched out, connecting first one point for ourselves and then connecting in mind and heart with our partners.  And then we began.  As we did our individual patterns together, our swords connected with our partner intermingling in a beautiful and powerful pattern.

During this exercise, I learned a little bit more about the importance and possibility of trust.  First I had to trust myself… with my own power and my ability to do my part.  Second I had to trust my partner to do their part.  I saw that if I didn’t trust my partner, I would hold back… trying not the “hurt them” which limited the connection and the experience.  But if I trusted myself and let go and trusted my partner, the exercise was a satisfying experience of play and connection.

In the workshop I saw that I am not a victim… I have equal access to the “inalienable right” of soft power of mind-body unified.  I got to experience that even when challenging feelings or emotions came up, there is still the possibility of reconnecting with this strength.

And now, the week  has come to a close.  New faces and connections from the workshop have come and gone.  And time continues here in Wettenbostel.  We have received the gift of a young traveling Canadian couple here to work and visit for a little while.  Their smiles and spirits very welcome here.  My friend Olaf from Hamburg unexpectedly arrived in Wettenbostel as well so on “Easter eve” we have a small community here.

There is an easter bonfire in Wettenbostel tonight.  It is promised to bring out most of the 59 residents of this small farming village.  The cold weather may be a little daunting, but I intend to make my way to the community event.

But for now, I enjoy a little quiet time in the intimacy of my room looking out the window at the expanding woods outside.  Bathing in the aftermath of the Aikido workshop and the experience of my own strength and soft power.

Photo by Michael Hartley from the emerging… Spring?… gardens of Wettenbostel.

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