One of the things that most appeals to me about the art of Aikido is that it develops the ability to soften even – in fact, especially – when under attack. Softness disarms your enemy internally: it melts the brace that is inside him. And even if it doesn’t achieve this, it gives you some space to work because you are more fluid, and it allows you to be more powerful because you can use your energy more effectively when you’re not tense.
Until I learned about all of this, life seemed divided into two areas to me: times when you could be soft and peaceful, and times when peace wasn’t going to cut it and you had to fight.
The idea that softness is the answer even in the most extreme and threatening situation was a game changer for me. If softness is the best answer when your life is at risk, then what reason can there possibly be for anything other than softness the rest of the time?
I guess I should be clear that being soft doesn’t mean being a pool of jello on the floor. It means that you are not tensed – in body, spirit, or mind – against what is happening.
Acceptance, releasing tension, and breathing are all components of softness, but it’s so much more than that. Most importantly, it is an attitude of opening yourself to others, looking for openings and opportunities to blend with others, and using joyful energy instead of strength.
Softness is dancing with life.
Generally I am predisposed to be tensed against life. If I feel bad physically, I tense against it, achieving nothing except escalating and prolonging the pain. If I feel tension in those around me, I tense in response, upping the tension one more level. If things aren’t going the way I want, I brace against them, trying to regain control, instead of flowing with them to find a new opening (which I can’t see because of my control-induced tunnel vision).
Now, however, I don’t just believe that softness is always the answer; I know it. I also know that softness is a practice – a practice of embodying that belief every day, of translating it into a physical reality inside yourself. It’s an alchemy waiting to happen in every moment that I choose to practice it.
I am far from mastering this practice, but now at least I know that life is divided, not into when softness is appropriate and when it's not, but merely into this: when I am practicing softness, and when I am not.