Fight or flight? It's the automatism behind many, if not most, of our actions. How many times in life has our running-towards been a running-away? Ever heard yourself say, "Where God closes one door, God opens another (or a window)"? Don't we think and say such things out of our angst; our desire to live and fight another day; our desire to fight to the death in an effort to overcome; out of that automatism, probably wired into our genes, that drives us to live, to make it, to survive?
For those with ears to hear, Jesus spoke and acted so that those encountering him would awaken from this survival spell.
There was a long tradition in the East embodying this very enlightenment, a branch of which eventually evolved into what we know today as martial arts.
Some of the most exciting martial arts--which I absolutely loved as a kid to watch and mimic and with which I often imagined myself rising up to bully-defeating occasions--were, ironically to us Hollywood-absorbed, action/adventure-movie goers, born of the very concept of NOT being ruled by automatism. Regardless of style, most Eastern-based martial arts begin with awareness. When the heart races, the pupils dilate, the adrenaline-puffed goosebumps radiate, the hearing deafens to all but our heart beating, and the neurotransmitters numb the mind of pain and focus; when the body becomes ripe for nature's reign; in that very state, martial arts masters teach disciples how to NOT be moved. The masters are able to observe without reacting. To me, the most beautiful and artful of the martial arts are those that recognize the ignorance of all attackers and move the master to compassion. Aikido is a great example. Every move requires that the master remains aware; that the master understands the energy of the assailant, takes that energy upon his- or herself, and completely redirects it in such a way that the attacker awakens to the very automatism driving him or her to ignorance. The goal of the master is to, first, protect the enemy and then to love the enemy into awareness.
The truth that must be learned is that we are always what we've decided to be. Forget concepts, like "free will." Just go with this simple fact for a moment. Where am I? I am where I am. (It may take one's arm wrapped behind their back or pressure applied to a most sensitive point to snap one out of the automatism, revealing the current moment.) How did I get here? The way I got here. (At times, a throw and flip need jar us back into our bodies.) Think these simple questions and answers--this truth--are pure rubbish?
Moses: "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name,' what shall I say to them?"
God: "I am who I am."
Everywhere I've decided to go, every step I've decided to take, every decision I've made has brought me to this point. If we're not careful, we make these decisions on autopilot out of our automatism. We find ourselves where we are and think, "How did I get here?" Legitimately, we don't know because we were not where we were when we were where we were. Somewhere along the way, amid our fighting or flight-ing, we never had the wherewithal to ask, "Where am I?" To forego that basic question is to forego awareness. To forego awareness is to forego each moment's opportunity to create this world. To forego each moment's opportunity to create this world is to live in a world that seems already created, a world all ready for someone else, a world mostly out to get me, and thus a world in which I must suffer. In effect, I become entrapped by my own unintended decisions. Nevertheless, there are decisions.
Lent is a time to awake from our automatism (Isaiah 26.19, Ephesians 5.14). When we are awake, we can be where we actually are. We can begin to decide in compassion and love without the slumber of a sleepy automatism driving our bodies while impaired, under the influence of that fight-or-flight intoxication. Things arise from a deciding world around us. We observe these things like the master and then move only in compassion, loving assailants and working solely to bring awareness where there's ignorance. Sound a little woo-woo? Nah, it's straight-up Lenten: John 13.12-17.
I imagine the Aikido master knows he or she cannot decide their way out of an impending struggle. Instead, the master observes the struggle right where they are. The master seeks harmony and moves in reconciliation with love as the ultimate goal. Fight or flight, either one, will break this harmony. When there is disharmony, there will be winners and, ultimately, losers. Jesus spoke of this harmony, and his purpose was for All to be whole and in order.
New Kirk, we face struggle. It seems surreal, as though it happened to us. Remember, nothing happens to us. We are where we are. Every temptation spurs us to fight for our survival or to flee for our lives. That's automatism. Our Master was not intoxicated with this survival instinct. Rather, as we follow him through this Lenten season, we observe one who welcomed inevitable pain, constant struggle, and overwhelming dis-ease as a fellow journeyman or as a dance partner, bringing awareness whenever he met ignorance and love whenever he met an enemy. I spoke with a fellow yesterday about challenges. He alluded to the metaphor of rafting the rapids, his point being that one should paddle their butts off full-steam-ahead amid challenges, as does any experienced rafter through rip-roaring rapids. "If you paddle against one another, the boat flips," he said, "and if you do nothing, the boat flips." I couldn't help but wonder what one does when they're "up a creek without a paddle," so to speak. The Aikido master would probably say something like, "One then becomes as they always were: as the water, as the boat, and as the rafter." Jesus, I suppose, would speak the same way (Matthew 6.25-34, Luke 17.20-21).