Mushin

Coordination is a central idea in my training right now. Body coordination. Mind and body coordinating together.
Right now I am thinking a lot about mental coordination within myself. We talk about being “single minded,” usually in our focus on some activity. But all too often my mind bifurcates into conflicting thoughts.
Some of the central concepts of aikido are mental principles. I’ve mentioned shoshin (Beginner’s Mind). The other mental principles are zanshin (Remaining Mind), mushin (Mind-without-Mind), and fudoshin (Immovable Mind).
Mushin, No-mind or mind-without-mind, is odd to the Western mind. It is paradoxical to think about no-mindedness. But a curious beginner’s mind allows a person to experience it.
Every practice we begin with breathing. We settle into position, being aware of our posture, our bodies, our surroundings. Sensei says “Mokuso,” and we breathe. When thoughts enter our head, we acknowledge them and let them go. Worries from the day pop into our awareness and we let them go.
 
Mokuso means stilling or silencing thinking. We breath to focus on breathing. Thoughts settle and still. Before aikido I was aware of my endless cycle of thought, analysis, worry, looking forward, looking back. But I struggled to interrupt the cycle. Until breathing trained me to create room for the cycle to get disrupted.
For me, letting go of thought is analogous to physically relaxing. Thoughts are like little bits of mental tension in mental posture. Thoughts cramp mental movement. Thoughts create resistance and bumps.
When I physically relax during practice, I become more perceptive of the physical interaction with my partner. The more perceptive I become, the more I become aware of the nuance of the physical dynamics.
Mokuso stills my body and mind, releasing unconscious mental and physical tension. The more I approach mushin, the more perceptive my mind becomes and the more aware I become of my surroundings. The more I become part of my surroundings.
One of my most vivid aikido memories is from my first year of practice. We were breathing before practice and, like a switch flipped, I became aware of sounds several rooms away. I could hear the clock on the wall.
It wasn’t ESP or enlightenment. It was my own barriers falling away. The mental effort of thinking suddenly stopped. And then my mind had the capacity to wake up to what was already happening.
This is a very beginner understanding, and maybe mistaken, but as Mind has less-mind, it becomes more present, relaxed and perceptive. Mushin, like relaxing completely, is not floppiness or lethargy. It is freedom to move with what is without timing or response.
Image: “Blue Bowl” by Pat Joyce is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

About NateB

Nate has been training in aikido since 2013 and is currently ranked 1st kyu.