I practice Aikido at Aikido of Hilo. The dojo is on the second floor of an older building on a back street in Downtown Hilo. The floors creak a bit and in the corners of the hallways you can see little bits of termite droppings here and there. But once you take off your shoes, stand in front of the double doors that lead into the dojo and stare across the expanse of white canvas mat, seeing the rich, dark koa wood paneling at the front of the practice area, you can sense that Aikido of Hilo instructors, Barbara and Bob Klein, have really created a special place to practice the Japanese martial art of peace and reconciliation.
Before stepping on the practice mat we always clean the bottoms of our feet with wet wipes. This act has the practical function of making sure the white canvas stays clean, but for me it also serves as means to gain a deeper awareness of what's about to take place. The simple act of sitting and wiping helps to shift my consciousness to a place where I understand that where I am about to enter is a sacred space and what I am about to do is a sacred act. It echoes the story of Moses in the desert being asked to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground and in the presence of something divine; a simple everyday act transformed to something venerated.
In traditional hula, dancers, whether it's at a beach park or on the grand performance stage at the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, will do a processional oli or chant called a ka'i as they enter, acknowledging the significance of what is about to take place; transforming something ordinary into a sanctified space.
There is a very thin and blurred line that separates the sacred from the profane. An amazing array of phenomena are constantly going on around us and in us all the time; the breeze blowing through trees, birds singing, the tide flowing in and out, sun shining, human interactions, and the steady beating of our hearts to name just a few. And yet in all the myriad of activities we find ourselves in, we tend to miss the awareness that there is something truly amazing in all of it.
Being more aware is, I believe, about gaining a sense of mindfulness in all the mundane things we do in our daily lives. According to Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh, "Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it's wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy."
So what can we do to get to this place of mindfulness? How can we figuratively or literally take off our sandals so that we can have awareness that, right here and right now, we are standing on holy ground?
There's an interesting hand made sign in front of a house in Volcano Village with a simple yet poignant message, it says, "Wait 5 Seconds." On one level this sign speaks of the weather patterns here on Hawai'i Island. Just give it some time and the weather will shift, sometimes in as little as five seconds it'll go from rainy to sunny, then just as quickly shift back to rainy. But five seconds is also the little time needed to gain or regain a sense of mindfulness. It is the time needed, for example, when we are washing our hands before preparing a meal to have the knowingness that what we are about to do is a sacred act for people we care about. Or the time it takes to button down our shirt or blouse as we get dressed in the morning before we head out and do the work that uplifts the lives of others and the community. It is also the time needed to take a deep breath before heading into a meeting, knowing that all human interactions are sacred.
I'm nowhere near being mindful in all of my daily activities. Many times when I sit and wipe my feet at the dojo my mind travels elsewhere to places like, what I have to do after practice or what are we packing for Bodhi's school lunch; mundane things that hopefully, when I get to them, will get transformed in my consciousness to something sanctified.
Again from Thich Naht Hanh, "People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle."
Five seconds, sometimes even shorter, is all it takes for something miraculous to appear before our eyes.