My wife recently said something – it turned out to be just something semantic – but got me thinking.
She said ‘attachment is not achieving your goals; it is what prevents you from achieving your goals’. Often what comes to mind is that attachment or fixation on a goal is bad, but ‘attachment’ in this sense was referring to all of a person’s hang-ups, preferences, ways of being spoiled, etc. They make for a rigid and limited goal, and they limit the ways a person tries to reach that goal. Instead ‘attachment’, I’m inclined to use ‘pickiness’, ‘predilection’ (weakness), or a refusal to compromise – ‘kodawari’.
The thing is, all masters and experts have some extraordinary motive and way of judging things that lead them to mastery, whether it is mastery of a skill or craft, or creation of one particular result. How to distinguish, or examine the distinction, between the kind of attachment or pickiness that serves a person and what hinders?
What my wife advised was some kind of clear, constantly refreshed, determined, view of a goal. It’s crucial to have a goal and also to keep it in mind, to work mentally to make it clear and vivid in one’s mind. Then, all there is to do is ‘naturally’ go toward that goal. It may not be a straight line. It is indeed like a stream of water finding the ocean. But for a person to be like a stream or river …
How to be steadfast and determined, yet not be attached to the result, to get to the ocean? This is difficult to express in words. It is an internal, personal issue. How to be serious, but not too serious?
I think the very asking of how much is too much is indicative of being trapped in a certain dichotomy. It is an insecure seeking of a formula that will solve all of your problems. The actual issue is a moment to moment assessment and judgment.
Here, what comes to mind is ‘sunao’ – which I’m recently translating as ‘the state in which one has a clear channel, without interference, between oneself and the world’ – and ‘hanpatsu’ -which is a reaction or reactivity against something, a resistance, suspicion, wariness, rationalization, intellectualization, or simple anger or despising. To be without attachment is to have this clear channel. You respond as water in a stream does to a change in the landscape. You ‘just’ respond.
But you keep moving.
Personally, I am at or I’m nearing a point at which I have the precious opportunity to apply the ‘clear channel’ that I know through aikido to some other arenas in my life.
When I face these new arenas, I observe that I seek to slow down or procrastinate, to know formulas that assure success and safety, and also to just go blank in my mind it’s so overwhelming. But at least, thanks to my aikido practice, I have a basis from which to observe and judge what’s going on within me.
What I’ve noticed over the years in aikido, I still know but now with a sense of sympathy and compassion/acceptance. What I’ve noticed is all the ways people express attachment in their aikido practice. They are preoccupied with who they’re sitting next to at the start of class, who they might have to practice with. They have a whole mental scheme in place, of what kind of behavior by others they’ll accept or not. They have a sense of identity, like “I’m a reasonable person. I’m an honest person. I have integrity. I am mature. Etc.” and that defines and limits what they themselves will do and how they will perceive and react to things.
I think that in order to achieve some mastery in aikido or any thing, you have to try many different things with many different circumstances and people. You have to observe yourself and what happens with as clear a view as possible. And all of the things that you try need to be with the premise, or ‘ground upon which you walk’, of your larger goal, such as becoming excellent at aikido, or even better, becoming a better person, becoming strong, becoming a more peaceful person, etc. Without that larger goal – the ‘ocean’ that the stream is flowing toward – all of those experiments and efforts to continue your practice are only going to bring some better skill, some peripheral benefits like some discipline and perseverance – but not much and not much else. I don’t think you’ll really achieve mastery and you certainly will be limited in how you’ll be of help to others and what kind of value others will find in you.