Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
I don’t believe in any philosophy that doesn’t help raise corn!
What can the martial arts of Jujitsu and Aikido along with the ancient study of Alchemy have to offer us in the quality of our psychological lives? Actually these ancient studies and practices have a great deal to contribute to the quality of our relationships with others and in adapting these skillful approaches to see, witness and surrender being an accomplice to the defeating hi-jinks of our ego-mind.
The core principle in the Japanese martial art of Jujitsu, literally meaning the “way of yielding” or the “art of softness”, is to use and redirect an attacker’s energy back to him, instead of directly opposing it. Similarly, the fundamental principle behind the Japanese martial art of Aikido, meaning “the Way of unifying (with) life energy” or “the Way of harmonious spirit”, is to blend with the motions of the attacker and thereby turn the force of the attack back to its source by using very little physical energy. Thus, one “leads” the attacker’s momentum using various movements, rather than opposing it head-on. The commonality of these two martial arts is an enacting of an effective way to defend oneself while often protecting the attacker from injury as well. Both aim at deflecting an attacker’s energy and actions by yielding and blending with the attacker instead of directly opposing, resisting or attacking.
The fine art of what has been called psychological Jujitsu or psychological Aikido are high-level approaches to self-defense using these core principles to turn and lead, deflect and redirect, another’s critical, negative, manipulative and emotionally aggressive behavior back to the one who is enacting it. Psychological Jujitsu aims to maneuver in such a fashion that all the destructive energies of those who believe they can attack you with impunity, are reversed, turned and redirected back to its source, disabling them and their destructive behaviors. Buddhists in uncovering their “Buddha nature” suggest using “skillful means” to help facilitate inner peace, reflect outer equanimity and all have a ring of authenticity. Little understood and less practiced, psychological Jujitsu/Aikido is ever available as it is seen, understood, practiced and installed through repeated behavior that produces greater effectiveness.
Related to these martial arts practices of Jujitsu and Aikido and predating all sciences, including chemistry, physics, and the behavioral sciences, there was Alchemy. Alchemy’s fundamental principles are reportedly rooted in the ancient Persian Empire, now called the Middle East, and the practice has spread to the Far East and then Europe spanning at least 2500 years. Alchemy means the art of transformation or change. The best known goals of alchemists were the transmutation of common metals like lead into precious metals like gold and silver.
Perhaps the ultimate quest of alchemy is to transmute lead into gold. Lead (atomic number 82) and gold (atomic number 79) are defined as elements given the number of protons each possesses. Of course, changing the element does require changing the atomic (proton) number. Chemical means cannot alter the number of protons. At the same time, physics may be employed to add or remove protons, thereby change one element into another. According to chemist Anne Marie Helmenstine, “Because lead is stable, forcing it to release three protons requires a vast input of energy, such that the cost of transmuting it greatly surpasses the value of the resulting gold.”
Surprisingly, Helmenstine also declares that the transmutation of lead into gold isn’t just theoretically possible—it’s already been achieved! Glenn Seaborg, 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, reportedly succeeded in transmuting a minute quantity of lead into gold. There is an even earlier report in which Soviet physicists at a nuclear research facility near Lake Baikal in Siberia accidentally discovered a reaction for turning lead into gold when they found the lead shielding of an experimental reactor had changed to gold.1
In the field of Psychology Carl G. Jung wrote of alchemical symbolism and individuation, viewing alchemy as comparable to a Yoga of the East adaptable to the Western mind in changing the mind and spirit. What is termed Internal alchemy or Spiritual alchemy is used in various esoteric disciplines that focus on balancing internal and spiritual energies, such as in the practice of Taoism in China, mystical practice of Rosicrucianism and Hermeticism, and Buddhist practices.
So how can we use the principles of Alchemy, Jujitsu and Aikido for our transformation and our unworkable patterns of unassertive or passive acquiescence of displacing and dumping anger, bullying, intimidating, and nasty behavior? Every approach below has as its keystone, that is, the critical middle block that holds up a bridge, of first building bedrock sanity, that is, taking a few moments to awaken and be present as well as witness the ego with its need to control and fear-mongering tactics, idiocies and shenanigans. Attuning to this now moment and witnessing the imaginary ego-mind are the essential precursors for all these approaches to have every opportunity to beautifully work for anyone.
One approach is the fine art and practice of what I call “conversation stoppers,” that is, literally stopping conversations you have no interest or want to be in. Most of us, especially women in the female socialization process, learn the art of opening conversations using “small talk” with possible friends. These conversation openers or starters can be useful in greasing the social machinery and helping there be a natural flow of slowing disclosing yourself to another and vice versa. Men would seem to take little note and less interest in such matters, opting for letting mutual interests, opinions and “opening lines” attract new friends, especially the opposite sex. What neither females nor males seem to realize is the remarkable skillful means of using “conversation stoppers” when you no longer want to continue a conversation or even continue associating with another. Using them can stop conversations from hell.
Quite regularly words are not even what practically works in life, yet when coupled with actions, they’re the best tools we have to use. A pair of “conversation stoppers” demonstrates their power. One that can end a blaming exchange on a dime is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.” A similar one comes from Sun Bear, a native American Chippewa Indian, who questioned the “philosophy” of national governmental agencies, specifically the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management, in sending representatives to Indian reservations to “teach” this highly practical and spiritually imbued culture to do the simplest activities like irrigation, growing crops and so on. American Indian tribes often have a staple crop that is central to their culture. Sun Bear effectively puts a “full stop” and end to this idiotic conversation by declaring, “I don’t believe in any philosophy that doesn’t help raise corn!” Obviously raising corn takes more than just a bunch of fancy words.
When psychological jujitsu, aikido and alchemy are applied to interacting with others who act in ways that are less than respectful, it is deftly swift and effective. What do you do when someone makes an outlandish request, asks an outrageous question, or voices an insulting remark? Knowing you need not answer such vocalizations and you also do not have to take insult in the face of insulting behavior or be in outrage when affronted with outrageous scenes, you can remain cool as a long drink of iced tea. You might ask, “What was that you said?”, have the remark repeated, and then reply, “That’s what I thought you said!” and simply without any reactivity walk away. You might pause, take a slow deep breath and let it out between your teeth with a lightly audible sigh. You might look in astonishment, smile broadly and gently shake your head a little. Each of these responses signals the so-called attacker that it’s not getting to you. I’m reminded of a favorite Gary Larson Far Side cartoon from the early 1980’s that depicts a man pushing a filled wheelbarrow while smiling and whistling in the burning flames of hell, and one devil remarks to another, “You know, we’re just not reaching that guy.”
Take the classic situation of anyone calling you some derogatory name or falsely accusing you of some misbehavior. Using humor you can brashly say, “That’s right—why wouldn’t I accept that you’re innocent when you’re screaming the loudest?” Or, “How do you figure I’m at fault when I can’t help but notice someone acting out and pointing the finger at me?-Gee I just don’t get it!” Or possibly, “I figure it’s the outraged accuser that’s actually orchestrating all of this like a distraction, don’t you?” Or consider, “Well who exactly is stirring the pot and acting outlandishly? Any guesses?” A very brief or pithy approach that joins in the movement and turns it back to whom dealt it leaves you quite clean and the other party quickly regrouping, counterpunching or simply leaving in seeing he or she has nothing.
Take a situation in which someone is misdirecting and projecting their anger at you for something you should have done or didn’t do, a common enough situation. Using the principles of psychological jujitsu you softly blend, harmonize and redirect these energies back to the one who sent them in your direction. You can simply remain poised, unemotional and non-reactively present in silence, with neither a smile nor a frown on your face. You can take a deep breath and quietly release it. Feeling and resonating with their suffering, you can show your compassionate concern for them by asking, “What is this anger really about? What’s happened in your life?” and be quietly caring.
When asked from the heart and not the head, such questions are disarming and open space for truth telling. Sometimes people begin to cry, turn inward and get in touch with what their angry upset is really about, and even begin to tell some slice from the tragedy or unimaginable horror of their life. So long as you remain open, caring and kind, everything changes in an instant. Now you both have some idea what all that anger really concerned, which then can serve as a common ground for a shared humanity.
If the accusation is wrapped in a false premise, like “How long have you been beating up your spouse?”, then you can answer that you cannot answer since the premise inside the question is false, and ask for a question that shows mutual respect. In the legal realm such a question is often objected to on the basis of “assuming facts not in evidence”, that is, the other party hasn’t established the premise that I beat up my wife in the first place! A classic humorous reply that simultaneously sets a clear limit is to quickly shoot back with a sly smile, “Not as long as you have!” or “I don’t think I hold a candle to you, you brute!” Of course, as the other party is totally outflanked and defenseless, you can simply point out the ludicrousness of the original question. You also can set a necessary limit by firmly saying, “If you cannot be respectful to us both, we have no point in continuing this interaction.” Each response stops the “beat up” and leaves the other party with nothing to ponder other than their own behavior and attitude.
Take the more extreme circumstances of a fun-loving but despondent friend insisting upon driving home drunk. Using the principles of psychological aikido in joining or unifying with the attacker’s energies you might say, “Sure, you drive home drunk with me in the car so we both can die together as good buddies? That’s a swell idea, isn’t it?” Or you make a game out of it by taking his keys and having him catch you and, when he’s worn out enough, you park him in the passenger seat and drive him home safely. Alternatively, you say, “Well you can do that, but I’ll just safeguard your ride home by calling the police to accompany you. That’s alright with you, isn’t it?” It’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.
Feature being with your family that is known to treat you like a child, tell you what to do, or just periodically get angry and insulting with you. Using the principles of psychological alchemy to turn this base metal like lead into a precious metal like gold, you stay surprisingly present, grounded and witnessing it all, including your ego’s urges to jump into feeling deep hurt, whiplash anger back or use a variety of snide passive-aggressive strategies. Keeping your inner calm and equanimity, that is, keeping your feeling/emotional balance without almost any reactivity, you show concern for the other party’s health and well-being since such negative accusations and resentful hostility cannot be good for anyone’s health, along with mentioning that you know that what is being said has nothing to do with you. Then again if the verbal abuse does not stop even after you’ve said to stop and set necessary limits, you might say their acting performance was “Pretty good,” but really not quite up the standards they’ve set in the past. You lightly and briefly clap and somewhat smile, letting them know that none of it got to you. Further, you let them know that if they insist on continuing the drama, you’ll call it an early evening and bid everyone a lovely evening and a fond adieu, and then do just this, feeling great in going.
Interactions with family members are particularly challenging since almost everyone seems to be jettisoned back into early childhood or adolescence once again, almost like a strange time warp or state-specific learning, and have a strong pull to react from this primitive ego stage. Wouldn’t it be smashing to say, “That might have worked when I was twelve, and I’ve learned a thing or two since then and I’m not going there with you”, or “Count me out, what else do you know?”, or “You really must be joking?!” How about simply acknowledging, “Are there really any sides to a family? There are no sides to a family—only the good of the family, and ALL the members of our family. Please join me in this.”
What each of these very similar approaches and situations has in common is as simple as how you contain a fire that just starting to look, sound and act like a runaway blaze. Starve the fire of all fuel, kindling and wood while taking away all oxygen, and the fire has no choice but to go out. The policy is a favorite one: feed no fires that end up burning you. You’ll stay cooler, the fire ends, and sanity reigns, period. What unveils the power you already have is staying calmly present in mindful awareness, refusing to hand your life over to the ego and all it’s past conditioning in taking everything personally, and having the presence of mind purely as a tool to deflect and redirect the apparent attacker’s energy back to them by asking questions and making statements that serve as conversation stoppers, and at the same time place the legitimate responsibility where it belongs for the misdirected, projected behavior. Founding father Thomas Jefferson knew that what is real is “self-evident” and needs nothing besides the simple truth so stated to be enough. He deftly and eloquently expressed this in essentially drafting the Declaration of Independence that begins with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
Not so surprisingly, possibly the primary usage of conversation stoppers is with one’s self, that is, who you think you are or the imaginary sense of self, mind and ego. When you let your mind or ego go on and on and on thinking the same thoughts over and over and over again, it’s not only not good, it’s plain unworkable drudgery and often torture. How does anyone take the principles of Jujitsu, Aikido and Alchemy and apply them psychologically to one’s fictive self or ego-mind? An apt reply is to release all resistance to “what is” first and foremost, since the driving core idea inside of all stress is resistance in the face of stressors that demand a change from us. No resistance, little stress. Once again, all the means and approaches below draw upon first establishing a bedrock of sanity, that is, taking a few moments to awaken to presence and witness the ego-mind with all its fear and control driven shenanigans, idiocies and machinations. Attuning to this now moment and witnessing the optical illusion of our ego-mind are the critical door openers for all approaches to have every opportunity to wonderfully work for anyone.
One approach is to literally call the ego’s bluff, like someone who has no business playing poker since he or she unrelentingly signals or gives a “tell” to what type of hand they’ve got. You may say, “I get you’re bluffing and I don’t believe you.” Or, “I don’t buy it”, “I don’t get it”, “I don’t see it”, and “I have no interest in that.” Or simply say, “I’m done—you’ve got nothing” and “Let me give you all you deserve—absolutely nothing.” A favorite of mine is, “I won’t let you take up space in my head rent free! You are officially evicted! So there.” You could always enact the Robot flaying its arms back and forth saying “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!”, a catch phrase from the 1960’s American television series Lost in Space. While everyone is cracking up, the parody gives welcome comic relief and leaves the apparent attacker without any wind in his or her sails. As has been said in many different ways: tilt, the game is over; break it up, the action’s all over; and, you all can go home now, so let’s move along.
An intriguing angle is to join with the ego-mind by giving it a task that actually sidelines, dissolves and disappears it. Since the ego wants to please you so it can stay in business till the moment you drop dead, it has a heavily staked interest and huge investment in you. Knowing this, you can give it a really cool task that sends it packing, at least for a while. For example, ask it to spot worry, fear and catastrophic thoughts, and once it does, release it to freely roam in it’s dreamlike imaginary pasture.
You may prefer to have the ego bring to your direct attention negative judgments, beliefs and ideas that have been terrorizing you. When it does, you profusely thank it for doing its job so well and again dismiss it with good cheer to take a long vacation and holiday anywhere in the world or universe. You might give it the task of identifying all the “pressure words” that prescribe action, such as using should, must, ought, gotta, have to, need to, and so on. Once it signs up and identifies one for you, you gratefully acknowledge it, and again send it packing to play on its own on the playground. After each of these interventions, you can take a few deep breaths, go on an very brief visualized vacation yourself and completely take all the pressure off yourself, let go, allow, release, permit, yield and surrender everything in peace, and once again return to being yourself, who you truly are.
Still another strategy using psychological jujitsu, aikido and alchemy is “stopping the world” of the ego and returning to sanity though the use of inquiry or asking a poignant question that exposes the charade and game for just what it is. Here are seven of the most powerful inquiries that accomplish this:
1. Are you being reactive or responsive?
2. Would you rather be right or be happy?
3. Is this wrong like murder?
4. Do you want your life or your ego’s version, imitation and simulation of your life?
5. Is what the ego wants and desires more important than what draws the True Self?
6. Need life be different than it is in this moment or can you accept exactly “what is” now?
7. How much longer do you want to continue your drama and argument with life?
May this highly practical journey, slip-sliding through the thick jungle thicket of humans behaving badly using the powerful skillful means of psychological Jujitsu, Aikido and Alchemy, provide you a powerful toolbox, forum and context to deflect and redirect, blend and harmonize, mirror and send back all that is not yours, and remain exactly as you are—the True Self, your Original Nature and who you truly are. Remarkably, when these means are most infused with compassionate love coming through the heart, the gift offered evokes a mutually healing with truth, wholeness and sanity present once again.
1. Scientific research cited in article by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. “Turning Lead into Gold: Is Alchemy Real?” found at chemistry.about.com/cs/generalchemistry/a/aa050601a.htm.