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Calmness wisest way to confront adversity

Tuesday April 09, 2013

Paul Linden

The Columbus Dispatch - I’ve been practicing aikido for 42 years and Parkinson’s disease for 10.

Aikido is a nonviolent Japanese martial art and a study in peacemaking. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease of the brain.

The two have much in common.

Many years ago, while visiting Los Angeles, I met a friend of a friend.As we sat eating lunch, he casually said: “You know, I could kill you as you sit there.”

I smiled and said, “Yes, of course you could,” and I kept eating.

I knew he wasn’t being hostile, just expressing a fact.

Astonished that I understood, he explained that he was a Vietnam War veteran — and that his comment was his way of testing me. He had killed people, so he knew that the line between life and death is thin.Combat soldiers learn to live on the edge of life and death, he said; when they return home, however, they struggle to re-acclimate into everyday society, which pretends that death won’t happen.

He was stunned that a non-veteran knew that edge.

I told him about my martial-arts training and how knowing the edge was possible even though I hadn’t killed anyone.

Two concepts underlie aikido as I practice and teach it.

First, emotions and attitudes are physiological events in the body, and, to receive an attacker in a peaceful way, the body must be trained to do so.

Second, the body moves with better strength and balance in a state of inner kindness and gratitude.

Practicing calmness when attacked carries over to stresses that aren’t attacks.

Such as Parkinson’s.

When my disease was diagnosed, my initial reaction was shock.So my practice for the next six months was to say “Parkinson’s” to myself many times a day and train my body to feel calm instead of fear.

Gradually, my stillness and compassion took the unease out of the disease.

The real function of martial arts, I think, is to help us accept our fundamental weakness.

I can block a punch, parry a kick, escape an armlock. But I can’t control the weather, a presidential election or whether I have Parkinson’s.

Once we build up enough personal power, we can accept the unacceptable somewhat calmly.

Having Parkinson’s is inconvenient, but, if I get frustrated or irritated at it, the tremors increase and the disease seems to worsen.

The more I meet Parkinson’s with an attitude of compassionate engagement and relaxed strength, the better my body functions.

The questions are: What do I choose to become as Parkinson’s eats away at my brain? Do I cultivate habits of fear or anger about my condition or habits of power and compassion?

In the end, then, Parkinson’s and aikido aren’t too different.

Parkinson’s, of course, will never be a popular path toward self-improvement.

The same approach, though, can be applied to everyday difficulties — whether personal, interpersonal or international.

The world would be far different if people didn’t respond to difficulties with a rush of fear and anger.

Think of all the killing and aggression that we would ward off if each of us took responsibility for his or her body and hurtful reflexes.Peace would be possible. Paul Linden, 67, is a resident of the Clintonville neighborhood.

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