When aware, we are no longer robots. – Young, KendoNotes
Here’s two stories on the topic of deautomization and getting unstuck from automated patterns of behaviors: one about a paper napkin and a second on saving 50 million dollars.
Recently, a teacher pointed how out I had initially been “stuck” with a certain course of action. I had been trying to remove a paper napkin bonded to a sticky table. He suggested pouring some water over it. I instead persisted with peeling off parts of the napkin as it had been working. However, it quickly became harder to do and I eventually tried out his suggestion. It worked like magic. So easy to remove!
Why bring up a somewhat embarrassing story? Well, I believe it provides a lesson for myself and perhaps others who may be stuck in a rut with certain ingrained patterns of behavior, thoughts and stimulus-responses – knowingly or unknowingly and in or out of kendo. Have you seen a child or an adult addicted to video games, the smartphone, work, drinking, thinking, their ego … or others prone to anger, arguing, self-aggrandizement, self-deprecation, silence and an inability to stand-up, narcissism, co-dependency, abusing others or themselves, …? Have you seen a pattern or habit of an opponent that you could exploit during a match or wondered about yours that others could exploit?
In addition, the story reveals how much of “me” (my behavior, thoughts, decisions and actions) is automated and how valuable it is to periodically pause – to check if I am in stuck in some ineffective pattern of behavior, thought or action.* This is an important step towards deautomization (reversing our automization, conditioning, programming or habituation**) and getting “unstuck”. Or, as some teachers would express it, “inserting a gap” between the stimulus-response pattern to experience instead the possibility of a “better” course of action (or inaction). So that we can experience spaciousness and “Infinite Possibilities.”*** And, interestingly, so that we may develop a “new” pattern of periodically inserting that gap of reflection to check if we’re stuck or residing more in that gap.
The story also reminds me of an alternate mode of keiko. That of residing in that gap, letting go and becoming present to the moment – in contrast to actively thinking, planning, strategizing, analyzing or imagining how I look during a match. Such an approach seems to facilitate “really” seeing the opponent and opportunities to strike and becoming a clear mirror as described by master swordsmen.
The second story illustrates the financial value of inserting a such gap starting at the 10:20 min. mark of this video on mind programming [Hiles_BrainWaves]. During a visit to a Manhattan bank office, the author Colin Hiles noticed something peculiar while walking past a room. A person was leaning back in a chair, with his hands clasped behind his head and his legs resting on top of a desk, looking out over the city at night. Hiles asked another person if people were allowed to sit and be like that? The person responded respectfully “Oh. Well, last time he had an idea, he saved us 50 million dollars.” What an invaluable and helpful gap!
“May you rediscover the gap!”
* From a neuroscience and reinforcement learning perspective, this falling into a rut seems tightly related to synaptic plasticity and the exploitation vs. exploration aspect of our decision making process [Sutton, p. 3]. With time, we may tend to become “hard-wired”, less flexible, more rigid and predictable. We may tend to stick with safe choices in, for example, food, restaurants, relationships, positions, investments, … The challenge seems to be in continually maintaining some flexibility (plasticity) and openness to exploring other possibilities.
** The term “Deautomization” is also used to describe the awakening process by Arthur J. Deikman, M.D. [Deikman_Deautomization].
*** For that spaciousness and “Infinite Possibilities” in kendo, it may help to develop the “mirror” that master swordsmen and revered kendo teachers speak about in “The Mirror in the Heart of Master Swordsmen (and Jedi Masters).”
[Sutton] Richard S. Sutton and Andrew G. Barto, Reinforcement Learning – An Introduction, MIT Press, 2018.
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