Marc's Reflection on Aikido & True Play


May 16th, 2012 · No Comments

I have the great fortune to know three wise people, each of whom have been exploring the ontological basis of human experience continuously for more than thirty years.

Their starting points have been different. One–the mind. Another–the limbic system and emotions. And one–the body. And then there is me. Like many of you I have been curious about my lived experience, always surprised by deeper and deeper insights. My curiosity has been guided by coherence or fitness. I have not been unduly attracted to any particular answer, nor any particular place of safety or comfort. I have intuitively trusted my sense of coherence, or more accurately my sense of incoherence. I, like you, feel when things don’t fit together. I pay attention to this. I find it the most interesting of sensations. Of course the other side of the experience is that occasionally big chunks of experience suddenly fit together and THAT feeling is very nice—the eureka moments.

I just spent five days with these gentlemen. What an experience! Some new coherence showed up for me. I will share it with you.

Each of these gentlemen have taken on very difficult explorations. Bob has accepted a big challenge as he observes human thought processes and their outputs in an effort to make sense of thinking. The processes and the outputs are huge and complex. It is like walking around a large botanical garden. How does one begin to make sense of a botanical garden? That is not a rhetorical question.

When Julio began to focus in on the emotional life of humans it may have been slightly simpler than Bob’s challenge, less diverse than the mind, thought, and language of humans; but it is still a pretty complex landscape—maybe like one area of the botanical garden or one genus of plants. Still making sense of this area, understanding it, is challenging.

When Bert chose to focus on the body, in order to understand human ontology he may have chosen a simpler domain—especially if one focuses on it for a life time.

When I listen carefully to each of these explorers, these sense makers, something interesting shows up for me. I sense that there is a natural relationship between the three, that there has been a progression, a phylogenetic progression that may make sense, make coherence, of these related domains of being human: body first, limbic system second, self-aware mind third. Each is likely a fractal flowering from the former. The flowery complex patterns of thought, emotion, and body are intricate and complex and difficult to make sense of unless you see the original pattern which has been iterating and “flowering” for eons.

What if the original pattern is the simple two step dance of a single cell (the smallest living body), and this two step dance has led to the next more complex dance and so forth; its simplest flower leading into the development of its most complex flower—or this hypothetical botanical garden of plants and flowers—of moves, emotions, and thoughts.

So here is the idea—cells seem to have two modes that keep them alive and propagating forward. They either 1) open themselves to the environment and grow or they 2) close themselves off from the environment for self-protection until the environment is safer for openness and growth. It is these two fundamental moves that have lead to the flowering of cells into multicellular organisms, which then engage in the same two moves—this rather simple dance of life. As this fractal flowering of life has progressed for millions of years the two moves may have remained the basic pattern behind the development of the limbic system and the amazingly self aware cortex (thinking).

So what? When making any interpretation or hypotheses about what is going on in emotions or thought one can be informed by this possibility. The question which this will now always raise is—how does whatever is being observed create openness and growth OR closure, withdrawal, walling off for self-protection? We may benefit from always noticing the relationship of any emotional response and any flight of thoughts to these two fundamental moves or inclinations.

Put differently, one can always profitably  ask: what does openness (care, tenderness, and joy) OR fear have to do with it? One can lose sight of these two steps in the apparent complexity of emotions and thought. The body is less convoluted. One can often see the answer to this question. My emerging insight is that one can also almost always see the answer to the question in the reactions of the body, in the emotional reactions and experiences and in the world of thoughts.

What do you see? What avenues of sensemaking are coherent with this two step dance of life? Julio’s question is, “What ways of knowing (epistemology) are fit for the future of this planet?” My question is, “How do our ways of knowing connect to this original and ongoing two step way of knowing?”


There are several thinkers and scientists who have shaped my awareness in this topic and I want to mention two of them: Maturana and Verela’s book The Tree of Knowledge, and Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief.  Of course I am grateful for the life work of Bob, Julio, and Bert and for their generosity in sharing it and making it accessible to many.