Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
This story illuminates that also when we study and practice aikido, it is important to always inquire within ourselves whether our cup might be full. Are we carrying weight into our dojo that limits our experience and development? The burden we carry can take many shapes and forms; beliefs, expectations, fears, or other factors that limit us. Holding on to what we believe we know or to what is familiar or right, prevents an open attitude and can be in our way of what we are yet to learn. Remembering to actively let go of our burdens empties our cup and creates room for new insight, experience and growth. In the words of O-Sensei:
Cast off limiting thoughts and return to true emptiness. Stand in the midst of the Great Void. This is the secret of the Way of the Warrior.
Dogi & Deserts
by Amber Vriends
What does a martial art uniform have to do with over 60.000 square kilometers of desert?
This desert, only a few years ago, was one of the largest lakes on the planet. April 22 is Earth Day, a day where we humans are asked to reflect upon the relationship we have with the earth we live on. Since MISOGI DOGI is creating a sustainable cotton product (our dogi!), we would like to highlight an important example of the impact that regular cotton production has on our planet.
Not so long ago, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest lake, home to a variety of fish and surrounded by fishing communities, lush forests and wetlands. While the lake was salt water, the rivers that fed it were filled with fresh water.
In the 1950s, the Soviet Union began using the rivers to irrigate the surrounding agricultural area, a process that has been continued to this day by Uzbekistan. Water usage rose explosively, and soon the immense body of water started to shrink. Wetlands dried up and the lake bottom turned into a desert.
The cotton industry has an important role to play in this environmental disaster due to its enormous water usage. In the area around the Aral Sea, 1.47 million hectares of cotton are grown. Cotton is a hugely water intensive crop (For example, in order to make a regular cotton uniform, a staggering 30.000-50.000 liters of water are used!).
Next to this, regular cotton production relies heavily on pesticides. Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all insecticides and 6,8% of all herbicides that are globally used. These chemicals are washed out of soils, and pollute rivers and groundwater. Pests often develop resistance to the pesticides that are constantly sprayed on the cotton fields, which requires even stronger chemicals and increasing dosages. These chemicals eliminate not just the pests, but also many other species. This interference with the ecosystem considerably reduces biodiversity.
The exposure of the bottom of the lake due to the ongoing drought, has released salts and pesticides into the atmosphere. These are poisoning both farm land and people alike. Carcinogenic dust is blown into villages causing throat cancers and respiratory diseases. Many small farmers fall ill or die due to pesticide exposure.
To us, the fact that uniforms worn by aikido practitioners are linked to these and other kinds of environmental and social conditions, doesn’t fit with the aikido spirit.
Fortunately there are promising solutions 🙂
Organic cotton provides the world with an alternative. Although still needing water for production, organic farming practices focus on creating healthy soils which make better use of water inputs. In this way the fields are more resilient in drought conditions. By eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, the water pollution impact of organic has been shown to be 98% less than non-organic cotton production.
On this Earth Day we encourage you to take a moment to think about your relationship with this beautiful planet you live on. Do you feel connected to your surroundings? Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of the things you are buying? Are there better alternatives? Little increases in awareness and small lifestyle changes are all valuable and contribute to a more balanced world.
Misogi – My Quest for Purity and Balance
by Amber Vriends
It’s easy to get lost..
It’s easy to get lost in the chaos and whirring of our modern day society. For many, keeping up with all the information, choices and expectations that everyday life puts upon us can be an overwhelming task. Our minds are racing back and forth between a multitude of tasks, desires, worries and regrets. Next to this, our bodies are strained by poor lifestyle choices and anthropogenic factors in our environment. The processed foods that are readily available everywhere impede our health, and many of our waking hours are spent sedentary. We are polluting our lands, water and air and are thereby also indirectly polluting ourselves. Wherever we go, we are constantly stimulated with information from screens, billboards and telephones. In this reality that we live in today, it is easy to accumulate emotional, mental and physical burdens.
A question that I (Amber Vriends) consider to be of vital importance, is how we can prevent ourselves from getting overwhelmed or internally blocked by all these internal and external influences. How can we remain light, and flow freely like a river past whatever realities and influences present in our lives?
Although I consider my personal lifestyle to be conscious and healthy, at times I still can’t help but find myself out of balance, whether emotionally or physically. Clearly then, there still is a lot of room for growth. How to be more like that river?
In Aikido, the concept of misogi takes up a central role. As part of my personal quest for more balance, I’ve been exploring how the application of this concept can serve as a way to create more lightness and balance in my life.
Misogi is an ancient Japanese practice that is focused on purification. Its purpose is to cleanse you of all accumulated defilements. By doing so, you can reestablish a harmonious relationship with yourself and everything around you.
A misogi ritual can be performed in different ways. The approach that is probably best known, is the practice of rinsing off defilements with ice cold water. A person typically immerses him- or herself in a lake, waterfall or the sea. In Japan every year many people take pilgrimages to sacred bodies of water to perform misogi in this way. For other practical applications of misogi, the inner organs and mind are cleaned through chanting or through taking deep, regenerating breaths.
After performing misogi successfully, you enter Sumikiri – a state of pure clarity of body and mind. It is said that in this condition your heart is as bright and clear as a cloudless sky, untainted by obstructive thoughts or worldly concerns.
Misogi and Aikido
To Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, misogi was at the heart of the aikido practice. To him, purifying body and spirit is part of the Way of Harmony and helps aikido students to establish harmonious ways of being. It guides them in preparing their mind for training, in accessing and developing their Ki, as well as in achieving peace and calmness within. He put it this way:
Misogi is a washing away of all defilements, a removal of all obstacles, a separation from disorder, an abstention from negative thought, a radiant state of unadorned purity, the accomplishment of all things, a condition of lofty virtue, and a spotless environment. In misogi one returns to the very beginning, where there is no differentiation between oneself and the universe.
In aikido there are also misogi rituals that are practiced using weapons. These are Misogi no Ken (cleansing or purification with the sword) and Misogi no Jo (cleansing or purification with a wooden staff). These practices are described by some as a ‘divine dance’. These routines serve as an instrument for purification of the dojo before practice, and as nourishment for the body, mind and energy flow.
As an ardent aikido practitioner I’ve been experiencing an increasing drive to incorporate misogi more actively and into more areas in my life. In the first period of my practice, for me, misogi had only been a concept I had read about in books and had sporadically touched upon on the tatami. Joining MISOGI DOGI was my first deep dive into the practical application of it. I started to understand better what it means to apply misogi to a wide range of areas in life. Since then, I’ve been learning about the significance of taking misogi beyond the mat and the personal sphere, and how we can apply it to all human relationships and the environment. Every day we are exploring ways for our practical application of misogi to the development of pure aikido uniforms. It’s a tremendous journey. But I didn’t want to stop there. I also grew increasingly curious about the traditional ceremonial ways of misogi; rinsing the body with ice cold water. In the early winter of this year, I decided it was time.
In early January I was visiting the Bodensee with a friend. The Bodensee is a large inland lake at the borders of Austria, Switzerland and Germany. The setting was perfect. A beautiful cold winter landscape, with about 25 centimeters of snow covering the ground surrounding the lake.
That early morning I decided to improvise my first personal misogi ritual to celebrate the new year. My friend and I found a nice and quiet spot at the lake where entering the water was relatively easy. Before we started, I took some time to really connect with myself. With my body and breath, but also with my intentions for this exercise. My main aim was to consciously wash away and take distance from some experiences and emotions that had been part of my reality the year before, and that I now wanted to let go of for the new year. I wanted to make a fresh start. And fresh it was!
Since the temperature outside was below freezing, just getting undressed was already an experience in itself! Now in our bathing suits, we still had a 50 meter barefoot walk through the thick layer of snow ahead of us to get to the shoreline. After a few steps my feet started to get really painful, as if a thousand needles were pricking them. We continued.
When I reached the shore I took a short moment to again connect with my intention for performing this ritual. Then it was time to get into the water. Initially the cold felt quite overwhelming. My heartbeat and breathing quickened. My body’s initial response was to tense up. However, a bit to my own surprise, being immersed in this water that was just above freezing wasn’t painful. After some moments I was actually able to relax. My breath became more calm and staying in the water wasn’t very uncomfortable anymore. While being immersed in the water and pouring water over myself, I focused on my intention of washing away some things that no longer served me with it.
When I felt ready and got out of the water, my whole body started tingling. I felt renewed and invigorated. My mind felt sharp and clear. I can’t say that I entered a pure state of Sumikiri, but I definitely felt like something had shifted in my body and mind. A freshness or renewal, as if there there was more space now.
The cold water immersion was an experience I will definitely have again in the future, and I think is worthwhile to explore for anyone interested, whether you are an aikidoka or not.
I personally think there isn’t just one practice of misogi, or one that is the best. I think in general it is very valuable for people to develop a personal routine for letting go of things that are no longer needed. In this way we can remain fresh and open. We prevent stagnation and our energy can keep flowing freely. I hope sharing my experience will maybe inspire you to think about your own misogi, and what it means or could mean in your life. Have fun exploring 🙂