Relaxing the Mind

Utilizing the martial arts principles of Ki in everyday life

I was stuck in a repeat nightsnare, tossing and turning for slow hours, wrestling an incessant, nonstop instant replay. It was like having a colony of thought spiders. You know, mind-spinning. Thought webs.

And the ‘hit repeat’ button, ‘repeat all’ coming back again and again. Buried in my gut, I could feel the heat of my stress thermometer pegging the high bar. On mornings after a night of wrestling — as the sun performed its morning stretches — signs of my torment were spread across the sweat-stained sheets and my poor, crushed pillow.

But using the Jiu Jitsu Principles of Ki (chi, prana, energy), I have a different experience. The closed circle logic stops. Stress and fatigue give way to calmness.

How? I relax my mind.

The truth is, most of us are pretty awful at figuring out how to relax our mind. But there is a spot that resides between the frantic spinning of thinking too much, and being calm. It is a supple area, camping out somewhere between the hard tension of a chunk of ice-cold steel and the limpness of soggy pasta drooling over the kitchen sink. It’s an ‘in-between’ place.

Mushin and the Martial Arts

An ‘in between’ place.

Martial artists are trained to be in this spot, sometimes referred to as ‘mushin’ or empty mind. But the mind is not empty. Rather, it is calm. And in that state of calmness, we can learn to sense the slightest ripple. A cat, of course, completely understands this. It will sit in a window, perfectly still, mind in neutral. Patiently, calmly, watching for the slightest sign of movement.

Ripples are disturbances in the calm, similar to Yoda describing disturbances in the Force. They can be negative or positive. But when our mind is frantic and disturbed, how can we sense nuance, or sense the slightest sign of movement?

There are many circumstances in our lives when we could benefit from an early warning system. We need a system that alerts us to an upcoming problem before it becomes visible, before it becomes an issue. But unless we can keep our mind calm, we can’t sense the ripples. Until we can sense the ripples, we can’t experience mushin. Until we can sit, walk and live in calmness, we are lost in the noise and heavy banging.

It’s like going out to enjoy the calmness of nature, and bringing a jackhammer with you. Unless we quiet the jackhammer, we aren’t going to hear the warm breezes. But park the jackhammer in the garage and we can then walk away with a still mind. That’s how we can learn to sense the first ripple of thought and of intention.

This isn’t mere theory. A trained martial artist becomes highly cognizant of a still mind, and the phenomenon that is experienced once he/she achieves that state. It’s nature. Cats sit on a window ledge and stare within stillness. Their still mind is at rest, waiting for the first sign of movement. Their minds are calm but not empty; they are alert for the slightest ripple.

Similarly, the advanced martial artist learns to reside so perfectly in the stillness, that even when he or she is moving, they are able to sense a thought ripple in someone else. A thought ripple as small as the hint of intention.

An Essential Point of Self Defense

We often think of self defense martial arts as fighting arts and skills. But my Sensei often stated, “The biggest thing you have to defend against is your self.”

This advice is also true when it comes to stilling our mind. We typically associate a mind full of active and moving thoughts as a productive and healthy mind. But is it?

The empty mind begins where martial arts lessons begin, with an assignment to practice an everyday application of an essential point of self defense:

“Move the body as a unit, not as isolated parts.”

In this case, we don’t want to think of our minds as something separate from our bodies. Instead, we want to find an area inside our own body to relax; once we start to do that, once we find an area in our body to relax, our mind will start relaxing, too.

The Relax Spot

One way to do this is by finding exercises. For example, the martial artist is taught to focus on a spot an inch or two below the navel. Called ‘hara’, it’s in the center of the torso, an imaginary spot. But not so imaginary really, because we often find that spot to be tense. It should be relaxed, though. In martial arts ‘hara’ is also referred to as being our center. The center is like the eye of the storm — the place of calmness.

The mind leads the body. When we become aware of tension, and our mind tells our body to relax, it usually does. And as the body relaxes, the mind — focusing on relaxing the body — begins to also relax. And as the mind relaxes, it starts to become more and more still. More and more clear.

“Most people can see the difference between the mind and body being coordinated and the mind and body not being coordinated but they cannot see or understand how to maintain this state of being. We often think the mind is a difficult thing to understand because we cannot hold it in our hand, it has no color, shape or physical or visible boundaries. While the body is finite and has substance with visible boundaries. In today’s society, we have to deal with our daily challenges and many of us suffer from anger, anxiety, sadness, etc….. This is because most people still think of the mind as being separate from the body. But, since both are born of the Ki of the universe, and are fundamentally one and the same, it is relatively easy to unify mind and body with practice. The difficulty is learning to maintain it in our daily life.” -Tohei Sensei, of The Ki Society.