Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Happiest Person in the Room

On one unforgettable occasion, Maruyama Sensei was visiting Rutgers dojo. In our new location we had to walk the gauntlet of the weight training room to get to the practice space. Thirty-odd young men were lifting huge metal plates on various machines and sweating profusely. Three or four of us trouped through in our gi, feeling rather small in the presence of all that unadulterated muscle. I muttered something about how Sensei was still the strongest man in the room. Sensei immediately said, "Don't say I'm the strongest, say I'm the happiest man in the room!"

That point comes back to me often. Sensei often says that having money, a girlfriend, a job, will make us happy of course, but the practice of aikido will help us become more happy even without money, without a girl (or boy) friend, without a job.

Recently, because some trees fell in a storm, our house had no power for eight days. When it was turned on again we found that the hot water, the heating system, the garage door opener, the stove and several small appliances had been destroyed by the power surge. To me it was an inconvenience, certainly, a good story to tell, and in some ways interesting to see how being without power made me more aware of my environment. But we have no small children, we have wood stoves, a gas range, showers at work, homeowners' insurance. Yet as I've told people this story,  I can tell by the shocked expressions that many would have found it far more stressful than I did.

I'm no saint. Things upset me. But I do wonder if practicing aikido, especially under Sensei, has something to do with the fact that, even when I'm under stress, I still feel like the happiest person in the room.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dark Matter

In an earlier post, I wondered, "Is ki real?" Is ki an actual thing, or is it just a concept?

I teach aikido to college students. So I hesitate to write about science as if I know anything, because I know I will be challenged! But I offer this:

Only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum is visible to the human eye. We are all familiar with ultraviolet and infrared rays or waves and the ways in which they can be used: gamma rays, X-rays, infrared heat lamps, microwaves, and radio. Infrared light was only discovered by humans in 1800 and ultraviolet in 1901. But animals such as bees and snakes have sensed these parts of the spectrum for eons. How might a snake's ability to find prey or a bee's ability to find nectar have been described or understood before we had instruments to perceive these wavelengths?

Dark matter is a discovery that has only recently become known to non-scientists. Only 50 years ago, in popular culture at least, dark matter was the stuff of science fiction; in many ways it still is. As with infrared and ultraviolet light, its existence was originally postulated to explain observed behavior. We have since developed instruments that allow us to "see" and measure infrared and ultraviolet light, but we have nothing that will allow us to directly measure dark matter. Its existence can only be inferred based on the motions of galaxies and other astronomical "objects." Yet dark matter is estimated to account for 83% of the matter in the universe (maybe).  Astrophysicists seem to be overwhelmingly in agreement that dark matter's behavior is very strange, yet that something like it must exist.

So, given an awareness of the limitations of human understanding of how the universe is fabricated, does the existence of ki seem so impossible?

Thanks to Max Strom for inspiring this post.