Aikido and Kabbalah I

A while ago I was contemplating the Kabbalah’s tree of life, and considered how its structure could be used to describe the martial art of aikido, and it seems to work quite well. For this post, I’ll start working from malkhut, through Yesod and Hod, to Netzah, working up the tree of life. You don’t have to know anything about the kabbalah, and my purpose here isn’t to explain it, but using it as a basis to reflect on aikido. In the near future I shall complete this series with two more posts.

Malkhut (the dojo) – this is the “kingdom” the physical arena in which you find yourself. This is the dojo (training hall), covered over by the tatami, or mat. Before entering the dojo we must remove our shoes out of respect. There is a lot of ettiquette about entering and leaving the dojo, and about where we enter and where we sit or stand during class. This is the place where we learn and have our abilities tested. It is a place in a sense “separated” from the outside world where we dedicate ourselves. It is guided by different rules than what we are used to in every day life. Entering the dojo isn’t just a physical action, it is psychological, and we enter into a different attitude or martial discipline with respect for the space and our companions.

Yesod (the class and ki) – the students themselves make up the body of activi ty as we practice with each other. We form a fellowship where we all learn from each other and help one another as we practice. Here we can also talk about ki or life energy. This is the vital energy that links mind and body, an important concept in aikido. Aikido is the “discipline of coordination”, which immediately becomes evident as we struggle at first to coordinate our limbs, and also to harmonise our actions with our training partner – each person presents their own challenges: stiffness or floppiness, aggressivity or timidity, these must all be dealt with as they arise. Above all, it is the harmonisation of mind and body through ki. Our lack of bodily coordination or harmony with others signifies our own disharmony between body and mind. Eventually, we must learn to unite our ki, so that there is no aperture of action between mind and body – there is fluidity, continuity and oneness.

Hod (instruction) – the students sit in a row facing the kamiza, the wall on which the portait of the master is hung (usually Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, but sometimes another master, such as Kobayashi in my school). There the sensei gives their lesson, presenting techniques and exercises with their uke (the person that “recieves” the technique). Usually they just show a technique, but occasionally will explain the finer details of each part. The sensei will ask if we have understood, if they need to show the technique again, we may nod but we’ll have to put it into practice to really see.

Netzah (practice) – we select a partner, bowing in front of each other, then we put into practice what the sensei has explained, or as close to it as we can. Each person is different, the habits and attitudes built up in our bodies interfere with the harmony of our ki. What works with one person becomes a struggle with another, but that’s good. If there were no difficulty or struggle we would learn nothing.The sensei stands by and observes his students, correcting where needed or silently nodding approval. Aikido, as a martial art, is not something you can learn quickly, it takes a lifetime of learning and discipline to perfect aikido, always something to learn. It isn’t just technical, it shows us who we are and how we relate with and react to the world, teaching us to turn conflict (inner and outer) into harmony and peace.



Neo-Pagan Meanderings

012I came to Druidry through neo-Paganism, mainly Wicca-inspired at first, but later went a more informal and non-traditional way. I wanted to explore and experiment, not get tied down to any specific tradition or doctrine.

Modern Paganism I’d say comes in two parts: ancestral tradition and reverence for nature (it gets more complicated than that, but that’s the general picture). On the one hand, there is a sense of recovering ancestral pre-Christian religion that somehow still exists within us. On the other hand, these ancestral religions represent being closer to nature, and give us a link to our own image of the “noble savage” – a native one rather than one appropriated from another culture.

I was drawn to the “native” traditions of the Celts and Norse, but couldn’t restrict myself to them, since my sense of ancestry and cultural heritage was broad. Western Culture has a strong Christian element that I couldn’t ignore, and much of our philosophy and politics has found its way in from the Mediterranean. If I were to “honour my ancestors” I would have to be inclusive and recognise the multiple sources that have affected my ancestry, both biological and cultural.

But my real interest was “nature-based spirituality”, so I only recognised the spiritual value of something if I felt it would connect me to nature. I searched a wide variety of sources, but I had no special interest in formal religion, gurus, spiritual celebrities or progression through graded initiations. My spirituality was far too anarchic and “organic”; I wanted to connect directly to the spirit of nature, not follow artificial spiritualities with their arbitrary systems. I wanted to contact with nature in a quiet and private way. I felt I was developing a Celtic- or Nordic-flavoured Taoism with hunter-gatherer aspirations (but not quite a luddite – I still used the Internet a lot, lol).

Things like chakras, the kabbalah, methods of meditation, ritual, divination and all sorts of spiritual theories and theologies were “human inventions”. I have to admit, they were never far away, since my curious intellect always liked to play with these interesting “toys”, and let’s face it, we’ve come a long way since the Stone Age, and can’t do away with the many technologies and philosophies accrued along the way. Many “human inventions” are very useful, and even essential to a modern lifestyle.

I think you can see why Ecopsychology just seems so logical for me: it’s modern and yet is a way to contact our deepest roots. We can’t regress, but we can integrate the deepest ecological parts of us with the more modern, technologically inclined parts. And we need to. I have a tattoo of the Celtic god Cernunnos, holding a horned serpent in one hand and in the other a torc, symbols of nature and of human artifice, respectively. He holds them both, mastering both qualities and synthesising them without rejecting one or the other.  This has been a dominant theme throughout my neo-Pagan journey.

National Triad

Three fantasies of nationalism: historical continuity, common identity and political autonomy.

(relating to Separating Nation and State?)

The history of a nation isn’t as smooth and coherent as we’d like to think, the homogeneity and the solidarity of its people leave much to be desired and on a small planet such as Earth, no nation can be considered an island. *

*yes, okay, some nations are islands, but I don’t mean geographically😉

Studying Ogham: Beith and beginnings

I’m taking part in a study of the Ogham on the Ancient Order of Druids of America’s new forum:

Each week a different few will be studied and meditated upon. Here are some of my reflections:

This morning I sat and did a meditation, repeating the name “beith”, visualising the image of the few at the same time and letting thoughts and images come to me.

There are no birch trees where I live; it is too hot and dry for them. But what there are are Aleppo pine Pinus halipensis, or “white pine” as we have nicknamed them, since it is paler than the red and black pines(pinus sylvestris and pinus nigra). Fifty years ago the land where I live was bare, covered with terraces for cultivation. Fifty years later, it is forest dominated by Aleppo pine, the first stage in the recovery of the forest. I wrote a blog about it here: (just realised that this was written exactly a year ago!)

Last night, I went to a place which for years has been too thick with undergrowth to access. Last night I managed to enter and find a few interesting places, and reach a terrace that I had only reached from the other side before. Ideas have come to me, and its an interesting place to get to know and begin to discover it.

Most important beginning for me is the one I’m expecting in Nov/Dec. Me and my partner are expecting a baby, a girl. We’ve been together ten years (5th Dec ’06 was when I first came to live here, close to the expected birth). It’s a new phase in ours lives and our relationship, and extremely new and different one. Our baby has already taken a place in our hearts, and I’m looking forward to fatherhood. Not just the beginning of a new life, but a new beginning in my life!

Peace Triad

Three gateways to peace: humility, vision and creativity.

By setting aside personal interests for the greater good, holding to a vision that guides us on our way and responding to the challenges that arise with inexhaustible creativity, we can have peace.

Eco-Art: Autumn Blend

008This is something I did for my Eco-Art course last autumn…

I went for a walk with my dogs, and whilst I did that I searched for items that could be interesting in my artwork. I picked up leaves, twigs, twigs with leaves, stones, hazelnuts, nettle tree seeds, acorns, a feather and a snail shell. Then I wondered how I might make it into a “touch art”.

My idea was to put them into a little bag I have (perhaps a bit too little for all the things I have, I’ll get a bigger one) so that the only way to interact with them is to touch them, without removing. Some of the items reflect the time of year, and it would be interesting to make this a practice for each season.

I call it “Autumn Blend”, as it is composed of items from the autumn. What does the autumn feel like? The answer’s in the bag. I’m intrigued, since the whole point is not to look at all. I know what I put inside, but I’m intrigued by how it might feel.

Senses connect us with what is happening with our environment, but touching the items in the bag made me feel that I was also connecting with my own body. Through the senses we connect with the existence of our bodies, and I feel that though I use my touch often enough, perhaps I don’t pay as close attention to it as I normally do. It made me feel closer to the power of my own finger tips.

I think it may be one of the more concrete senses, in the sense that it is a reliable way of confirming the existence of something, even more reliable than “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I touched my cat and he reminded me that touch is a way to comfort oneself or another. If we feel lost or unbalanced, touch can help counter this.


The State-loving Anarchist

Weird, I consider my ideal world to look anarchist, but I support the idea of the state? More political quizzes with I Side With have shown me that I’m more authoritarian than I thought (not thoroughly, but a bit more than on the Political Compass) On the balance of small/big government, I keep coming up strongly for big government, which just shocks me. The most effective arena for expressing personal sovereignty is local, face-to-face, grass-roots government. What have I been doing wrong? I think I know, the quizzes present me with the “state” option, issues of politics on a national scale, and of course I give my answers in respect to that.

My philosophy here is “if it exists, make use of it”. The state exists, it has its function, might as well take advantage of its existence, right? It’s the world we live in, it’s the way most politics works. The basic sovereign unit is the nation-state, it’s how everything is organised. The highest political organisation in the world is the United Nations, not United Regions/Municipalities/Citizens. Going against this seems a tiny bit like a water pistol taking on the ocean. Just call me a defeatist anarchist, or a “biding-my-time” anarchist.

And if we abolish the state? Chaos. People are used to the idea of “the State”, take that reference away is a recipe for much confusion. I’m a sucker for stability, and replacing the current status quo with anarchy just won’t work, people aren’t ready for it, they aren’t psychologically equipped to exist in a world where they must think independently, rationally, ecologically and cooperatively. But governments will have to do this for them (in so much as they are capable of it). The government exists as a compensation for what the citizenry is not yet ready to do, but the more they do it, the more empowered they become and the more irrelevant big government becomes. I envision this as a gradual phasing out or displacement as opposed to a revolutionary abolition and replacement. Its roots lie in the education of the people, which is a looooooong process – 500 years? It also requires a more hands-on approach to local politics instead of delegating it more and more “upwards”. I voted for the UK to remain in the EU, not because I believe in the multi-national bloc, but because I see it as a better opportunity to have stability, social justice and learn cooperation.

I like the state – having lived in two – since I feel that it has given me a relative sense of security and the freedom to pursue my interests and live the life I want. Any form of government or non-government can be corrupted by anyone with a will to do so. The democratic nation-state seems to be the best way of neutralising this tendency, and giving a relative sense of freedom and security. This sort of space also gives freedom to experiment with other political forms. Whilst this status quo exists, I’ll support it because it presents us with opportunities to try something different and more direct, such as Flatpack Democracy or the Transition Movement  (see also the works of Murray Bookchin). There’s no magic formula to make the world perfect, but with a bit of imagination, energy and personal drive, we can always make steps towards it.



Leftward Bound

Oh no, I’m turning a peculiar shade of Red, it won’t rub off. Uh, feeling faint…

So, a little while ago I wrote about Getting Radicalised, and how my thinking has taken a turn for the Left. I thought I might be a bit more specific, and explain more here.

If the economy doesn’t work for the benefit of all and only for the rich few, there’s something wrong with the economy. Capitalism has in it to be of benefit to everyone,to provide everyone with enough wealth to make life bearable. And I’m not talking about economic equality for all, just that there’s enough wealth to go around to give a bit of basic support to everyone without buying them luxuries.

For example, one rich man has 6 private jets in their garage, and he has the money to maintain them, even when they’re not in use. This is a lot of money. On the other hand, 6 families struggle each day to earn enough money to have a loaf of bread each day. The rich man doesn’t have to get rid of all his planes, and he doesn’t have to buy the families planes to make them “equal”, but the cost of one of those planes and its maintenence could pay a year’s worth of bread for six families, and with the change left over there’d still be enough to buy a small business or two (i.e. to make more money).

It also seems wrong that a lady living off a poor pension can scratch around the bottom of her purse for spare change to put in the charity box whilst some rich folk store their millions in offshore tax-evading schemes. Perhaps she feels embarrassed that she “couldn’t give more,” but she’d feel angry if she knew. The world is upside down. I have a feeling that millionaires have it within their power to make taxes and charities a thing of the past. Possibly even poverty. If only they could gain a bit of generosity. Some governments sell off public services to private owners (i.e. privatisation) in the hopes of ironing out economic irregularities. Wouldn’t it be easier to tax the rich and raise the quality of public services with that money? Crack down on tax-evasion? (well no, because the government is in cahoots with private owners, and they even cut taxes to the rich to “encourage wealth”).

Perhaps what’s even worse is that a lot of people are rich, not because they have worked hard and done something productive for society, but simply because they know how to navigate the economy, knowing how to make more pour in than out, and how to hold onto that money. Other people do the work, and they reap the benefits for merely owning the “means of production”. That’s like getting the cream from the top of the milk bottle, then getting half more of the milk before using the rest to pay for workers and various expenses.

The capitalist idea of “accumulation of wealth” sounds good, and should be applicable to everyone, owners and workers. But something isn’t right because most people live month by month, accumulating very little of what they earn and spending the rest on taxes, bills, debts and other expenses (most dreaded are the unexpected expenses). Perhaps they can put some aside for savings and then what little they have left they spend on luxuries. For those that can accumulate a lot of wealth, they quite rightly have a sense of “ownership” of the money; for everyone else there is a lack of control and a continuous leaking away of money. Even of the money that they rightfully earned, that should by right be theirs but instantly gets swept away in the tide of expenses. I suppose we can count ourselves lucky; we’re having to live month by month, but many more live day to day, hand to mouth, not sure where their next meal will come from. Aren’t we fortunate, eh?

If I put my mind to it, I could make a lot of money. I could take what little money I have, invest it in something, and within a few weeks or months, I’d be bathing in the stuff without having done a bit of work. It would take a bit of knowhow (something I haven’t got, but I suppose I could learn it), but I could do it. But my “problem” is that my values and priorities are elsewhere. If I start concerning myself about money, I’ll get money, but I may miss out on appreciating other things in life. Simplicity for a start, which doesn’t earn much money, but doesn’t cost much either. It also makes me feel more human, and if I put that aside to prioritise making money, I’d feel less human! I have no problem with capitalism in principal – it does indeed create wealth and has brought benefits for many people – but it’s the way it is used that gets my goat. It’s become something essentially unfair and in some cases immoral and destructive.

So, what do we do? Tax the rich? Put all production into public hands? (crack down on tax-evasion, that for a start). I’m not sure that will work either, not without a change in mentality. We can change the government and how it works, but if we don’t change our very thought patterns, we’ll repeat the same mistakes again but in a different form; instead of “privatisation” we’ll call it “nationalisation”. Just because the political form has changed, doesn’t mean the psychological patterns behind it have changed, too. Power adapts itself quite well (ooh, I think I’ve just lost a bit of Red). This is where I turn anarcho-communist, but only in an ideal world where everyone has learnt psychological autonomy combined with a potent spirit of cooperation.

Education is needed. Not “fill head with information”, but “learning how to think for oneself” and self-directed education. If we want “power to the people” then it’ll have to be based on intelligence and reflection, not knee-jerk reactions of the masses (which will be delegated to a “specialised” ruling minority, anyway). If money must be invested in anything, let it be education, so that future generations can learn to think independently and democratically. The rich need to learn that money isn’t worth what they think it is (it’s actually worth more, but not in the way they think it is). Not entirely sure the State can handle this type of education without fudging it up, but just increasing education funding and removing economic barriers to it should be a good start. Education also is an effective way of slowing down or reversing population growth, so millionaires don’t have to worry about creating new generations of “dependents”.

Perhaps I’m not so socialist after all, since it shouldn’t be the government’s responsibility to redistribute the wealth, but the responsibility of the wealthy themselves, of anyone with money to spare, no one should have to force anyone to do anything (fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of a liberal man). The rich should be decent enough to share their wealth and invest it in things that improve society as a whole – there are decent rich, philanthropists and such, but it seems to me they aren’t always so visible. But until that happens or the role of money is replaced by something else, redistributing the wealth will have to be the government’s job, and I’ll have to continue entertaining socialist thoughts.

Wha… what happened? Where am I? I think I must’ve had some sort of black out. It must have been a red out.😉



Empathy and Identity

How did the achievements of others become our own? This question comes after all the recent events in sports and politics.

In sports, like the Olympics and Tennis, the UK is often a united whole with the individual countries forgotten. Yesterday, for the first time in many a year, a British sportsman won Wimbledon. Suddenly the whole of Britain is celebrating, “We won, at last!” A few Scots are saying, “No, Scotland won.” From my perspective, nations don’t play sports, individuals do, so Andy Murray won that one. Obviously, in football, it’s a bit more difficult since the teams share their names with their nations. Still, Portugal the country didn’t win UEFA Euro 2016, a group of skilled athletes from Portugal did (or maybe I’m getting a bit too postmodern). When a government does something bad, the nation is blamed, as if it were meaningfully unified. Likewise, if it does something good, everyone gets a share of the credit. Imagine my confusion years ago when a Spanish waiter told me “Give us back Gibraltar.” What have I got to do with Gibraltar? I’ve never been there, and certainly have no say over who “owns” it (and nor do I have interest to). I may be British, legally and culturally, but I am not the UK.

Years ago I saw something on telly saying that what we see we experience. The example was a rowing competition, and the idea was that as you observe their effort, somehow, the brain interprets it as your effort. This is something I’ve experienced with various things. Watching sheep give birth, for example, is a tense affair, as if you were able to get involved and help (which, as a male human, is pretty difficult). I’m not really interested in sport, but I have experienced at times the elation or disappointment of “my team” winning or losing, whether it be England in the world cup, Wimbledon or the Olympics.

There’s a good word in Spanish to describe this: ajena, which means, roughly, ‘of someone else’. At some point our empathy with someone else becomes identity, and we lay claim to logros ajenos, someone else’s achievement, or achievement by proxy. It doesn’t quite sound fair, yet in many circumstances is accepted and even encouraged.

I’ve also been experiencing this lately with Brexit. For the first time in my life I feel identified with politics, not because I’m particularly attached to Europe or the UK, but because Brexit could affect my legal status in Spain. I have been living here freely, like any Spanish or European citizen, because of free movement. Suddenly that is put at risk. Will I be able to stay here as I have done? Am I expected to apply for a visa? If I hadn’t followed the news, I could have carried on with my life without any knowledge of it, yet a distant happening is affecting how I feel. Some of my identity and empathy is certainly invested in it, and quite rightly, but it isn’t my life, the life I live day to day, just one of many influences upon it.

I’m quite fascinated but Roberto Assagioli’s idea that “what we identify with controls us,” I think it’s a key that could open up so much insight into how we are. When we identify with a group, for example, we become subject to the ebbs and flows of that group, and to some extent lose the right to our own individual thoughts and feelings. If individuals can’t think and reflect for themselves, they’ll be pushed and pulled by a blind mass, not their own insights – it’ll be the “blind leading the blind.” Obviously, this can lead to stupid and/or dangerous results. Perhaps there is a point where the overlapping of empathy and identity is useful, such as compassion for a fellow human being, but I think it’s important to look into where these two are entangled so they don’t trip us up.