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 out how 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 this direct approach seemed to work well initially. However, this became more difficult to do as parts of the napkin remained stuck to the table. I eventually tried out his suggestion and it worked like magic. It was 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. Such patterns can be observed in many forms. 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, difficulty in standing-up or expressing themselves when necessary, narcissism, co-dependency, the abuse of others or themselves, …? Have you seen a pattern or habit in an opponent that you could exploit during a match or wondered about those in yourself 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 might be stuck in some ineffective pattern of behavior, thought or action.** This is an important step towards deautomization 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.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Victor Frankl
The story also reminds me of an alternate mode of keiko that I have read about and am exploring. That of residing in that gap, becoming present, letting go of any plans on what to do next, experiencing the other, noticing with “soft eyes” their energy, facial expressions, breathing, body movements – in contrast to, for example, actively planning what to do next or being “stuck” in a self-centered mode of keiko that I still revert to at times. That of striking whenever one wishes to strike irrespective of the opponent’s state (“Wagamama kendo” [KendoNotes_”O” Sensei]). The mind seems unwilling to let go of control and shift into this alternate mode. However, this mode, when experienced, 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 such a gap and getting “unstuck”. It starts at the 10:20 min. mark of this video on mind programming by Colin Hiles [Hiles_BrainWaves]. During a visit to a Manhattan bank office, Hiles notices 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 asks another person if people were allowed to sit and be like that? The person responds respectfully “Oh. Well, the last time he had an idea, he saved us 50 million dollars.” What an invaluable and helpful gap!
When you’re looking for something or a solution, take time to pause and enter the stilled state of consciousness. Don’t think of it as wasting time during the work day. With practice, this little exercise takes very little time, as others perceive it. Think of it as a creative way to think through your problems by engaging your higher mind to meditate on work issues. In that state of consciousness, the answer can come to you suddenly. – Enoch Tan [Tan_Slow]
For more information on ways to deautomize and get “unstuck” from certain patterns of thoughts and behaviors, there’s a number of helpful resources compiled in: “Resources on Habits – To Manage Them” and “Awareness and Who is this ‘I’? – Quotes and Resources”.
“May you rediscover the gap!”
* The term “deautomization” is also used to describe the awakening process by Arthur J. Deikman, M.D. [Deikman_Deautomization]. I use it here to refer to the unseating of certain conditioned responses, programs, ways of thoughts, behaviors and habits that we may have.
** 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.
*** For that spaciousness and “Infinite Possibilities” in kendo, it may help to experience 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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