Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Aikido of Mindful Communication

How do you usually handle conflict?

Do you avoid?
Do you become passive-aggressive?
Do you play the victim?
Do you confront?


Do you blend?

I learned about the aikido concept of entering and blending during my MBSR teacher training:

Entering and blending is an aspect of mindful communication that is designed to help people break out of habitual reactions to threatening, emotional, or stressful interaction and instead blend with the other's energy in a way that reduces the conflict and does no harm to you or the other. 

Entering and blending involves four  steps:

Align- Put yourself in the other person's shoes, practicing mindful listening and asking for clarification if necessary,  as in "I want to understand your point of view better. Tell me more about what's going on." 
Agree- Find areas you can agree on , as you begin to look in same direction, as in "If I were treated that way, I'd be angry to", or "I am also disappointed about this situation", speaking only for yourself.
Redirect- Team up with the other person and work together to find a way to resolve the situation, as in "We're both disappointed about the situation. What can we do to make it better?"
Resolve- Explore what might be a mutually agreeable compromise, or just agreeing to disagree, as for example, "If I ate out less, could we get a housekeeper so we could spend more time together?"

Entering and blending also presupposes that you are mindful of your own internal state, to begin with. Giving yourself the space to notice first, rather than reacting immediately. This requires practice, and compassion for oneself:
One way to notice if you're reacting is by paying attention to your body. If anything is stiff or tense, you're probably reacting to your own discomfort and trying to avoid or ignore it. Use these physical sensations as a cue to acknowledge whatever thoughts and feelings are there, and bring yourself to the present by tuning in to the breath as it rises and falls. As you become centered and present, you make space to respond mindfully and with greater flexibility and creativity, rather than mindlessly reacting. As always, be patient and compassionate with yourself. 
Entering and blending, the high road to conflict resolution. 

(All quotes from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction WorkbookBob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein's new book))


  1. This is an outstanding post - and it really reminds me of my journey - starting out training Aikido in the 90's and then discovering Imago Dialogue with my wife Amy, which resonated so deeply with me becomes it truly embodies the ideas of aligning, agreeing, redirecting and resolving. Aikido works as much with our words as it does with our bodies.
    michael sherman - www.courageouslovingnation.com

  2. Thank you Michael. One of the great contributions of MBSR is the integration of mindful movement - besides walking - into mindfulness meditation practice. I certainly would not have integrated the blending practice, had we not role played it with our whole bodies in action.

  3. Hi Marguerite,
    One thing the comparison with Aikido makes me think of is the aspect of training the muscle memory, versus role playing and visualizations. That is, you've already done it before, so doing it now isn't a big deal, it's aready almost a reflex.

  4. lovely, practical post. I really like the idea of blending. For me, if I think in terms of "energy", opposing forces never seem to result in any harmonious outcome.

  5. Chong Go, you are right! It is about planting the memory in the body, in terms of physically felt sense.

  6. Zendot, yes, and yet so not what we tend to do instinctively, at least most of us . . . The fight of flight response is so much a part of our cultural imprint at this point. A legacy from times when we did not have the tools to be more conscious.

  7. Hi Marguerite,
    The idea of blending energy has been itching in the back of my brain because in Aikido, it's always about controling the other person. What finally arose was the idea of improv comedy. I once heard Drew Carey say something to the effect that the rule is you never say no to what's offered to you. You have to take that and then build upon it. There's something about that I like, that seems to respect the digity of what's being offered up.

  8. I have a slight niggle regarding the method, somehow the word manipulation kept coming up for me. Is that what we want to be, cleverer and controlling? Even with a stated altruistic purpose something seems a little off.
    Sorry, I'm sure I'm just too cynical, but as I said, that's what came up for me.

  9. Sunim, that's a great analogy. I remember taking improv classes at Chicago Second City School of Improv many years ago, and it is exactly as you describe, and quite difficult. As with mindfulness it requires being nonjudgmental, and completely present and open to the reality of the moment, including material brought by others in he play. That means having the ego step aside.

    Isn't life all a big improv? the more fluid we are with it, the more pleasing the outcome.

  10. Helmut, I can see where you get that idea. However, to me, it does not feel much different than formal practice techniques, as in sitting, walking, loving kindness meditations. These are all tools to help us become more mindful, as in aware, and also loving. I do not see it as trying to control, as much as disciplining one's mind and heart. The same way one is to replace unwholesome thoughts with wholesome ones - that is just one example.

  11. Thank you Marguerite for this helpful offering on the verbal applications of aikido's entering and blending principles. I hope you won't mind that I refer to it in my coop blog with two other aiki gals, Judy Warner and Ellen Stapenhorst. You can view the reference at:
    http://www.journeytocenter.net/2010/06/aikido-and-mindfulness.html. Good ki to you!

  12. Thank you Judy. I am glad you were able to use this info in your blog. So much potential lies in the cross-fertilizing of various body and mind disciplines!