I Like Driving in My Car by Mark Peckett
We’ve bought a new car. Well, technically it’s a used car since it was pre-registered by the dealer. But with only 10 miles on the clock when we got it, it’s new to me.
It’s larger than any car I’ve owned before, although I’ve driven a few hire vans and people carriers – but let me tell you, when it’s your hard-earned cash which has bought the thing and you own it, you’re a lot more careful with it than if you’d just hired it!
I’ve written before in another blog about how good driving requires us to extend our awareness beyond our hands on the steering wheel and the end of the bonnet of the car, to include the road ahead of us, and what’s going on all around us.
Now let me tell you, nothing makes you more aware about what’s going on around you more than driving a new car. Well, possibly redecorating your house. You’ll be amazed how small a crumb of food you can see falling off a plate onto a new carpet!
You notice every pothole and bump in the road, and you drive carefully around them. I have a friend with an expensive Jaguar, and in the past I have mocked him for driving around horse droppings in the road, because he didn’t want the mess sprayed up into his wheel arches. Now I find myself doing it as well.
I’m intensely aware of how everyone else is driving too – whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, and I give them plenty of room to do whatever it is they want to do. In fact, I’ve become ultra-careful and ultra-polite.
I’m patient with the unsure, and no longer angry with the queue jumpers and aggressive drivers. In fact, my main concern is taking care of my car, and in order to do that, I have to take care of everyone else.
I recently became irritated over something trivial and reversed my new car into a wheelbarrow (don’t ask!), thereby putting a scratch on the rear bumper which it is costing my £120 to have removed.
And is there a lesson here? Oh yes there is. Can it apply to aikido and everyday life? Without a doubt.
There is a famous about Hakuin, the renown Zen master:
Hakuin was once visited by a samurai warrior named Nobuchika. “I want to know about heaven and hell,” said the samurai. “Do they really exist?”
Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?”
“I am a samurai,” announced the proud warrior.
“Ha!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions,” Hakuin said, waving his hand to dismiss the samurai.
The enraged samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, “This is hell.”
The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master. “And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.
Or as the Buddha said, “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger,” and I certainly was. So what did the anger do? It took away all the awareness that owning a new car had generated, shrank me to a tiny knot of anger inside my body which meant I failed to notice the wheelbarrow behind me.
It also, for a period of time took away the kindness I was showing other people. Now it could be argued that the way I was treating other users was “enlightened self-interest”. I was being nice to them in order to gain benefits for myself.
Or as Richard Dawkins put it: altruism is simply a hangover from a time when the communities we lived were so small that anyone we ran in to would most likely be genetically related, or, alternatively, in a position to harm our survival if they weren’t on our side.
I would say, it doesn’t matter why I was being kind, it simply mattered that I was. And as a result of my actions everyone benefited.
Remembering how much better I felt when I was being more aware and more kind, I am making efforts to get back to that place.
And is it transferable into my aikido practice? I believe it is, and in some fairly obvious ways.
When we are irritated or angry, we are tense. When we experience loving-kindness we relax. And I mean this in two ways: first of all, we ourselves are more relaxed in our bodies when we are being kind, and when someone is being kind to us, we relax.
Have you noticed how even mild tension and irritation between you and your partner when practising makes techniques awkward and jarring, for both uke and tori? Obviously the first and most obvious solution is to tell our partner that he or she “was stiff”. There is a disharmony here which is contrary to the principles of aikido. At those moments I believe it is better to assume it is one’s own fault for not being kind or charitable enough, not your partner’s fault. After all, as Systema teacher Mikhail Ryabko says, how can you follow your partner’s movements if you are not kind to them?
Morihei Ueshiba himself said, “To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.”
And he went on to explain how to do it: “As soon as you concern yourself with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weakens and defeats you.”
Now nobody said it would be easy. If it was we would all be buddhas, or O’Sensei, or saints. But it strikes me that a good place to start is trying to drive our car every day as if it were brand new!