Today’s Systema lesson was relatively simple. Meant to be a sort of evaluation class, we went through the absolute fundamentals of breathing, relaxation, movement and form. One of the drills included being pushed by our partners and letting the push through without letting the tension get stuck inside. I found myself much more stuck than I believed I should have been and went into an overdrive trying to find out why.
Some time later in a different setting, someone highlighted to me that I kept adjusting myself because of tension and that if Systema was so effective, I shouldn’t need to do that. I instinctively started formulating replies in my head such as “Systema is so good it makes me sensitive to even subtle misalignments”. I didn’t actually say it as it would rightly come across as an egotistical response and thankfully the conversation flowed in a way that did not allow it.
As I was making my way home on the subway, I pondered the reality of the comment as well as my performance in the class. I resisted the urge to compulsively check my mobile phone for notifications and discovered something very peculiar about myself – I was uncomfortable with my body. This naturally led to a pondering of Mikhail Ryabko’s holding of his own body and his psyche and anyone who has worked with Mikhail would start to notice not just how connected his body is, but how connected he is to his body.
There is a saying I once came across that makes me pause every time I recall it.
An American traveling in Africa hired a guide to lead him through the jungle to a remote village. In the mid afternoon the guide stopped and began to set up camp for the night. The American impatiently asked why they weren’t taking advantage of the remaining daylight to make it a bit further towards their destination. “We have traveled very fast and must allow time for our souls to catch up with our bodies” replied the guide. (as quoted from http://dickstaub.com/staublog/letting-your-soul-catch-up-with-your-body/)
And so I slowed down. My phone vibrated – I let it be. Upon reaching my stop, I alighted and started walking towards my home. I sensed this desire to speed up to get home faster. As I knew I wasn’t in any rush, I resisted that urge. I made sure that every step I took I was fully in it. Hardly 2 minutes into this deliberate movement, I felt different! How odd! And then it struck me.
In Systema we make a huge emphasis on experience. Not the sense of the word that implies qualification, but the sense of the word that means to allow ourselves to be immersed in the unfolding of a given situation. The slower, softer parts of our training is meant exactly to help us experience. We experience a strike, we experience a push-up, we experience a step, we experience a breath. And a lot of times, we begin the progression by being called simply to experience something without doing anything back to the person who did it to us. This sounds very much a passive and inactive way of training, but trust me, it isn’t and I’ll prove it. Consider this: when is the best time to take action? Think about it.
In my opinion, the best time to take action is when you have some sense of the process of taking the action. You don’t always need to know the end result (although it is good to) but you certainly need to have an idea about how to continue performing your action. If you were lost in a forest, you shouldn’t just walk blindly in any direction, you need to be sure that your walking is at least likely to lead you somewhere safer (like following a stream) or you should walk in a way that you observe your surroundings so that you can gather enough supplies to last longer. If you were beginning a business venture you might not know how it will end up even 3 months down the road, but you better know what you are doing each time you are doing your work. The same thing happens when you choose to act when someone is attacking you – you may not know exactly how a person will react to your movement, but you certainly better have an idea of how to perform that movement without getting yourself in a greater fix. What better way to do this than to know what situation you are in? What better way is there to get fully acquainted with a situation than to experience it?
Society these days places a huge emphasis on our ability to react. That’s right – react, not act. We’re told that we need to take action, but really we’re expected to make a reaction. This is certainly exacerbated by our mobile devices. Like the dogs who salivate upon hearing Pavlov’s bells, we will check every single notification we receive. Even worse, we start to check our devices pre-emptively. Yet more horrifically, we aren’t even doing it for a tangible reward. We’re doing it out of a false sense of affirmation as in “3 people like my photo! :)” or “he shared the joke I thought was funny!” What the hell does that even mean in any reality? I’m extremely guilty of this. Unfortunately, this has crept into the way I do Systema. When I don’t get the affirmation I am looking for, I keep pre-emptively doing things to get it. I try to adjust my spine, I try to force my breathing to relax my muscles, I insist on moving a certain way which “looks better” instead of letting myself experience the situation I am in and moving appropriately… The reality is that everything I need, I have. I have the breathing to relax myself. I have the ability to move correctly. I just need to slow down and let myself experience the real situation instead of looking for the false affirmation. And the same thing in my daily life – I need to stop interpreting other people’s digital activity as an affirmation of my identity. I don’t actually need it and I know it. I just need to slow down and let my soul catch up with me to remind me once more.
So I’ve sort of briefly gone through acting and reacting. What about overreacting? Now that’s a much simpler discussion. An overreaction is essentially comprised of a reaction (which is a mindless response) and fear. Imagine someone coming in to punch you. You move first without any sense of either you or the person’s positioning. To make things worse, you tense your neck and lower back and bring your hands to you face to cover it. It’s over – you’ve essentially rendered your spine immobile and you’ve also locked your main weapons away. You overreacted.
So how do we prevent this from happening? It is said in 1st John “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear”. In a similar fashion, we also need not fear an attack. But to do so, we would need to know the depths of an attack – its mechanics, its potential, its intent. Well… there’s not many ways to do this but to experience one. And that’s why we should slow down to experience things without needing to respond. We need to slow down so our souls can catch up with our bodies and let sense comes to our minds. Then we take action.