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Heijoshin: A mind at constant peace


Photo by Manuel de Joya

...heijoshin does not mean without emotion, but a state of normal emotion, how you are usually and naturally feeling. We are sentient beings, not robots. We need to simply be in our ordinariness.

 - Akira Tohei Shihan, Founder of the Midwest Aikido Center in Chicago

During a more introspective interlude in his life, the great Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, was communing in the mountains with his friend, the legendary Zen priest Takuan Soho.

As they were meditating by a mountain stream, a poisonous viper happened upon them.  The viper, calmly accepting Takuan as part of the natural surroundings, slithered across his lap and moved on.  When it encountered Musashi, the snake felt the power of Musashi's fearsome character, and fled into the bushes. 

Musashi was greatly troubled by this encounter.  Takuan, sensing something amiss, questioned Musashi about his feelings.  Musashi confessed that the fear he evoked in others disturbed him.  He was feared, yes, but the menace he exuded also made him stick out like a sore thumb. 

He aspired to be like Takuan, whose ordinary calmness allowed him to blend into his surroundings. Takuan did not fear, nor was he feared.  He existed in a state of extraordinary ordinariness known as heijoshin. It was heijoshin that Musashi aspired to, and focused his future training on achieving this state of constant calm.

Hei jo shin consists of three kanji charactersHei means calm or peace.  Jo means constant or steady, and shin means mind.  Put together, heijoshin refers to a mind in its normal, peaceful state.  The peaceful, undisturbed mind provides the proper medium for clarity in thought:

The undisturbed mind is like a calm body of water reflecting the brilliance of the moon. - Yagyu Jubei.

Whereas zanshin refers to awareness, and mushin is a mind free of thoughts and preconceptions, heijoshin provides the stable vessel in which all these other states can co-exist.  These states are complementary, and refer to different facets of the same stone.  Heijoshin, through calmness, enables the other states of mind.

Anger and excitement are states that are not normal to everyday life.  Heijoshin maintains that the mind be free of these feelings in order to be truly effective.  All those whose livelihoods put them in situations of duress train to be in a state of heijoshin.  Whether it is a paramedic treating an accident victim or Captain Chesley Sullenberger calmly nursing his stricken plane down to a safe landing on the Hudson River, heijoshin was achieved through countless hours of training.

It is with this intent that martial atists need to approach their training.  Like many things in life, training for heijoshin is a circular process that needs to be joined in mid-cycle.  Heijoshin leads to better training, and better training leads to heijoshin.     And when the moment of truth arrives, the martial artist can meet it with a mind at peace.

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