True Emptiness

“If you have not
Linked yourself
To true emptiness,
You will never understand
The Art of Peace.”

~O’Sensei, The Art of Peace

imagesI’ve been contemplating what the phrase “linked yourself to true emptiness” means in this poem, at least in an Aikido context, for over a week.

What is “true emptiness”? Is it a feeling? A moment? And how does that relate to the Art of Peace that O’Sensei practiced and handed down to Aikido practitioners?

For me, true emptiness as he writes of it here, is a moment in time and space. It is the transition time, the point at which one person either takes the balance of another or one person loses her balance. When I am taking ukemi, when I am the person attacking and being thrown, there is a moment, usually brief, when I’ve begun to lose my balance and I can feel myself falling. If I give myself to that moment, that space of falling, then my mind becomes blank and all I experience is that space in which I am no longer in control of my body, but I am at the mercy of gravity. The trick is to give myself to that moment fully, to experience it and to not fight it.

It is a third space, neither standing nor falling, neither balanced nor completely unbalanced; it is the time and space in between.

It reminds me of the feeling I got as a child swinging. I’d go so high that the chain would become slack, and there was that moment when the swing and I would hang for a brief fraction of time before we swung back towards the ground. I loved that feeling. Still do.

So, maybe that is the true emptiness. It is that third space when I am giving myself over to my body to transition from one space to another, from one moment to another, from one type of consciousness to another. When I give myself to that space, I lose my conscious thought and simply become my body, only feeling the movement, not thinking of it. Whether I’m the person doing the throwing or the person being thrown, I can still give myself to that space. If I am throwing I can step back from conscious thought and just blend with my partner’s energy and allow that energy to be transformed into something new.

O'Sensei exudes peace, and yet maintains a martial presence.
O’Sensei exudes peace, and yet maintains a martial presence.

I do not know if this is what O’Sensei meant when he said to understand the Art of Peace, I have to understand “true emptiness,” but perhaps the meaning of true emptiness and how we link that to the Art of Peace is up to all of us to find for ourselves.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced true emptiness? If so, what does it look or feel like for you? What were you doing?

4 thoughts on “True Emptiness”

  1. wow. if true emptiness is a between space,i feel like maybe i only feel that on the occasional night when my thoughts aren’t going wild. that heaviness just before you drift off, not fully asleep, but not truly awake. i have no thoughts, i am just with my body. i wish at times i could have that feeling during the day, just once in a while. because it is peaceful.

    1. kimberlysbarton

      I’d never thought about that space between sleep and waking. That’s a very meditative space as well. I think it takes work in our waking hours to attain that true emptiness. It’s not easy to let go and shut off our thinking mind. For me, it is more likely to happen when I’m moving. That’s why I do aikido and dance.

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