Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Before And After

Like most people, I've struggled with feeling unimportant and unappreciated at times. Especially as a kid coming up...there were times when my family simply didn't understand my genius.

Even when I was in my 30s and running a department for a major hospital, my considered opinion was completely disregarded by my crazy family. Or worse, at work, those above me wouldn't listen; I'd get the patronizing, "Well, thanks for sharing but I think we'll do it this way..." GOD! It used to really rankle me.

That's how I came to my life view that even Albert Einstein's parents never saw him as more than their kid...what did he know, really? A rocket scientist can successfully blast people into outer space, but when at home, is just a kid to his or her parents.

It's not that we don't have good ideas and inspired moments, it's that we get 'fixed' in people's perceptions as to who we are, when we are. And, it's hard to see the changes. The growth. The acquired wisdom. The Divine inspiration.

So, the usual reaction is to push back. Insist that you be listened to. Argue your very valid ideas, concerns, knowledge. But, then you're not only ignored, everybody starts wondering why you've become so very disagreeable. A Know-It-All. Immature. Strident. Annoying.

That didn't work, now, did it?

It wasn't until I started training in Aikido and was exposed to Japanese life philosophy, that I finally gave up my struggle to be understood and acknowledged as having a brain in my head. Interesting to think, that while I was taking my plummets onto the tatami mats, I was truly growing into my life. And, liberated from the need to constantly make myself heard.

There's a wonderful philosophy that is part of Japanese life called Sempai/Kohai. When you first hear these words in the dojo, you incorrectly translate them into Senior/Junior. Sempai translates into: "One who has come before." Kohai to: "One who comes after or follows." In the very hiarchial culture of Japan, knowing who you are in the long line of humanity is critically important. Knowing your place. So is respect of elders. Those of greater wisdom. The need to serve as an apprentice before you can ever be considered a master.

Not unlike Senior and Junior. But, those two terms, as we use them, are fixed positions; a father is the Senior, the son with the same name is Junior. However, Sempai/Kohai, I was to learn, are complex, fluid states.

One of the reasons I am so fascinated by Eastern philosophy is that, generally, it always holds an "Ah ha," moment. It's not unlike an onion when you peel away the first skin. There's still so much there- it's simply a different onion. Sempai/Kohai is no exception.

In the dojo, which is a microcosm of Japanese feudal life, the senior students are cared for by the juniors. They carry the seniors' bag....they fold the seniors' hakama at the conclusion of practice. They clean the dojo. They apprentice through these chores. And, in return, the seniors take on the responsibility to teach. To mentor. To support. To completely care about the development of the juniors.

When I was learning, I had a great deal of difficulty with forward rolls. In Aikido, this is a critical skill because we are taught when attacked to roll onto the earth. Using that momentum to successfully get up on our feet again; ready for what might be coming next. But, for me, the notion of pitching myself forward onto the mat from a standing position was impossible. I froze.

It took months and months and months of attempts before I successfully did it. One of the biggest triumphs of my life. And, the dojo's. Everyone on the mat stop and applauded; everyone there had worked to help me hurtle my fear. So, when I finally learned how, it was as if all of us had achieved.

Because I struggled so hard and long with this very simple, but vital learning, I became the Aikidoka who was responsible to teach new students to roll. Not the work I wanted, but it made sense. And, as I learned and progressed, it became clear that I was the 'senior' to ask questions of on techniques because of my ability to make the abstract, tangible.

Let's be clear....it wasn't because my technique was more superior. There were many, including Doog who already had a black belt in another art, who were far superior when it came to moves and technique. But, because I am approachable and easy to learn from, many junior students often asked for my help.

One of the Kohai during my time at Baltimore Aikido was Steven. I adored him and his wonderful energy. An artist, Steven has that delightful creative spark about him. He was curious about it all. Wanted to know everything. Questioned. Experimented. Was always polite while continually pushing the envelope. He made me a better teacher because I had to be ready for anything. He was one of my favorite Kohai; I was one of his many Sempai.

Time has passed. Life moves on. He lives in Colorado where he continues to practice Aikido. He is now a very advanced Dan, (black belt.) I, on the other hand, after nine years had all I could physically handle and stopped playing Aikido. I am only a Sho-dan; a first degree. I am proud of my accomplishment. It is never far from my thoughts and I handle most conflicts with my understanding of aggression, and how it can be re-directed, thanks to Aikido.

Some months ago, I heard from Steven. He was going back to Baltimore to teach a seminar; it's quite an honor to be invited back to your home dojo as a guest instructor. He wanted me to know so that I might be there. Unfortunately, I couldn't. But, what he wrote is the point of this long ramble today. He said, "It would mean so much to me if my favorite Sempai could be there with me."

His favorite Sempai... I was humbled. Honored. Because, in reality, he is now my senior. He has been promoted way beyond my rank. Surpassing me. In Aikido, he would be Sempai now. But, in typical Steven fashion, he honors me by acknowledging that I walked the road first; for him, I remain Sempai. Both in life experience and in our memories of each other.

In life, regardless of who you are, what you know, what you have achieved, you will always be Kohai to someone who has come before. But, you are also Sempai to all of those who come after you. We are both Sempai/Kohai all in one being. No need to struggle.

When you long to be acknowledged for what you are; when you hope to be viewed as proficient and knowledgeable, wait and be patient. Stay open. Be willing to assist instead of prove. Recall those areas of your life in which you are expert and knowledgeable. Be willing to possess a beginner's mind about the parts of your life you need to develop. Someone who is behind you is looking and watching. While someone who is ahead of you is hoping to see you succeed. Lead by example. Stay humble.

Kohai will learn from you best that way. While Sempai will be reminded by your harmonious example. Today I wish you moments when you are acknowledged as Sempai. And moments when you learn something new as Kohai.

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly aka Sho Dan


Eileen said...

Holly I absolutely love today's post and will be sharing it with others ... such valuable life lessons for us all! Once again thank you for putting the word on the screen and hitting the key to send them out to us!

Toni said...

ack. this sentence: "It wasn't until I started training in Aikido and was exposed to Japanese life philosophy, that I finally gave up my struggle to be understood and acknowledged as having a brain in my head. Interesting to think, that while I was taking my plummets onto the tatami mats, I was truly growing into my life. And, liberated from the need to constantly make myself heard." cuz this is the battle I'm still engaging MYSELF in at work ... fighting for credibility and a voice and some freakin' acknowledgement that oh, gosh, maybe she DOES know something ... hmmm. I do NOT want to take Aikido. would YOGA or PILATES do this for me? or can you recommend a book, Eastern religion or philosophy? (I'm serious, here.)

Anonymous said...

Toni, try the book The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

James said...

That was a great post Holly, thanks for directing me to it. Yes a lot of wisdom there. I understood and more importantly, felt every word you wrote.

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