i wrote this article for Aiki Journal. i’m reprinting it here as i hoped it might have some value for my friends who don’t study the art on the mat.
Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei’s term ‘bestowed mission’ has resonated with me since I first began Aikido over four decades ago. In my experience, Aikido is commonly seen as a martial art, a physical form of self-defense. Though that view is not incorrect, O Sensei left us words that tell us he saw it as more than that. As such, I believe it benefits those who study the art, to read the words of the founder. Absent that guidance, and perhaps thinking of it only as a series of physical techniques, I fear we may miss Aikido’s greater mission and the incredible gifts it offers.
I entered the Aikido dojo thinking I was looking for ‘martial capability’, though as a yoga instructor, I was also interested in ‘self-development’. Luckily, upon entering the dojo I was introduced to the founder’s writings. Reading his words told me, this was exactly what I had been looking for, personal and spiritual development through martial practice. When I heard he called it ‘the art of peace’, I was confused, but totally hooked. Once I understood it as a path to, “Create a beautiful world”, I have devoted my life to the study. I have been pondering the inspiration of O sensei’s words now going into my fifth decade. Here are a few that are always with me:
The secret of Aikido is to harmonize ourselves with the movement of the universe and bring ourselves into accord with the universe itself.
Winning means winning over the mind of discord in yourself. It is to accomplish your bestowed mission.
Understand Aikido first as budo and then as the way of service to construct the World Family.
True budo is the loving protection of all beings with a spirit of reconciliation. Reconciliation means to allow the completion of everyone’s mission.
The devil-mind will go down in defeat and the Spirit rise up in victory. Then Aikido will bear fruit in this world. This is the mission of Aikido.
It is great to be able to handle a ‘situation’ on the street. And, as much as I experience it, I’d say, harmonizing with the totality of the universe does feel better. To whatever degree you practice that, I’m guessing, you probably enjoy life more, and for everyone else, you probably are easier to be around. However, I sense O Sensei was seeing the ‘art of peace’ as much more than that.
It should go without saying here, in sharing my limited understanding of Aikido, I am exploring. I’m questioning and learning out loud, not teaching. That said:
What I think we are really looking for is becoming who you really are, becoming an authentic person. The word truth is echoing around here somewhere, and the power of the world changes as truth ascends. There is the danger as soon as we start being ‘civilized, in the wrong way’, where one starts to become disingenuous, disconnected or disassociated from our essential being. As the founder said,
“All the problems in the world come from the fact that people have forgotten that we originate from a single source.”
“Calm the spirit, return to the source.”
The process of calming the spirit and returning to the source is in essence connecting to the source of your original or bestowed mission. Implied is a falling away of that which makes it difficult to discern what’s important to your mission. It is not as mystical as it may seem. Sometimes we get out of sorts enough, we sigh, or exhale deeply and let go of some of our tension. The intelligence of the system tries to calm the spirit and return us to the source even without our thinking about it.
This process is going on in our lives all the time, but when we are not paying attention to it we lose much of the power the process generates. Drawing on only a small percentage of the universal power we diminish our own capability. Equally so, by paying attention to this process we increase our capability.
Simply, whether we are talking martial skill or accomplishing our ‘bestowed mission’, one cannot attain the most effective state out of sorts and disconnected. And whether you can voice it or not, whether you are paying attention or not, the more you let go of that which is not you, to allow that which is to shine through, the more naturally your bestowed mission magnetizes your attention and connects it with your life.
As you practice, feeling your connection with the ‘one source’, or ‘being one with the universe’, everything extraneous melts away. That’s the idea of misogi or purification, so that something more original (the ichi rei – one light/one source/one spirit) shines or manifests in your life.
You are naturally what you should be, once the forces in your system are in harmony with each other and that which is not essential to your being dissolves. Through your purification practices the essence of who you are – not something new, something more original – comes to the fore and naturally leads you to accomplish your bestowed mission.
Harmonizing with the one source, how I understand Aikido, not only affects the tonality out of which you operate, it creates what O Sensei called ‘reciprocating echoes’ which dramatically affect the tonality of every interaction and the quality of your life. All of this is one system.
It becomes more apparent the older I get, that which does not belong in my life, gets harder to do. (I can almost tell by the attraction of my attention to given areas, what is important in my bestowed mission.) I hope you are tracking this attention in your own life.
And I wish for you, if you wish it, that your Aikido aligns you with what is essential to who you are and your mission in being here. As you grow in honesty and/or authenticity, as you become who you truly are, I don’t see how you can help but accomplish your bestowed mission. Nor, do I see how else you might accomplish it.