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Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor


Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor


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Using Aikido as an Effective Coping Mechanism
by James Loeser

  Page Two


In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychologist, identified five stages that people go through when told they have a terminal illness: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the following explanations, I interpret Kübler-Ross’ five stages into a typical coping mechanism, and explain how Aikido can be used to forgo the typical coping mechanism and serves as an effective coping mechanism.

The first stage, denial, is most immediate reaction; it is an attempt to preserve the status quo, and thus to preserve one’s worldview: a unique perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. A common response might be, "You’ve got to be joking," or "No, that’s impossible. I don’t feel sick." When an experience or specific information does not fit our cognitive structures or our worldview, we either ignore the experience or dismiss the information. We might explain an event as a figment of our imagination, or we might convince ourselves that the valid information is erroneous, for example, a person might repeatedly check the status of locked car door, even after he inserted the key and heard the lock click and saw the lock plunger depress, because the thought of having his car stolen disturbs him. Even so, when we acknowledge the reality of the situation, we become angry.

Anger, the second stage, is resentment from being singled out as the recipient of an unpleasant event or circumstance. The ensuing bitterness leads to statements like, "Why did that have to happen to me. Ken is the one smokes two packs of cigarettes a day." In addition, we may ameliorate our pain or derive offsetting pleasure by envisioning the traumatic event happening to an acquaintance, or we may indulge ourselves in one or more pleasures or deleterious activities in an effort to bury our anger.

When the anger subsides, we begin to reflect upon the events or circumstances that lead to the crisis, and the third stage, bargaining, begins. By appealing to some form of higher power or god, we may make promises to "do better" or "really try next time" if we can only have "another chance" or "just a little more time." However, when we realize the futility of bargaining with a higher power, we may begin the process of dismantling our worldview, and thus, we enter a state of depression.

Depression, the systematic deconstruction (as in the philosophical doctrine) of our worldview, is the forth stage of accepting our death. We spend a significant amount of time contemplating our fate, mostly in a state of physical inactivity and emotional despair; however, the mind is busy: it razes definitions, labels, and justifications it has attached to previous experiences. Using the core of our being, i.e., the sum of our experiences, the mind begins to refit our being with the totality of the present, the immediate here and now.

Acceptance, fifth and final stage, happens instantaneously, spontaneously, and effortlessly. Acceptance, i.e., reconstructing a new worldview, does not happen by way of logical, discursive thought; rather, it happens in the mind by a non-relational assemblage of our life experiences. The mind takes an objective view of life experiences; acceptance is emotionless, and a moment of great peace and tranquility. We no longer fears our situation. After the mind has reconstituted itself into a nonlinear paradigm where it can center itself, a new worldview takes shape. The mind now revamps its system of categorizing experiences. The mind can begin reclassifying events in linear fashion –at which point another crisis could restart the entire process. In addition, as a result of acceptance, we sometimes discover a personal truth or maxim such as, "Everything happens for a reason," or "What goes around comes around." When we reach the acceptance stage, we receive a revivifying charge of confidence and equanimity –even in terminal cases– and we courageously carry on with the positive aspects of our lives.

Upon analyzing the entire process, there seems to be a kind of spontaneous vacillation between logical and emotional thought. At the termination of each stage, logical, discursive thought surfaces, but immediately an emotional response kicks in, leading to a sequent, but not necessarily successive, stage. In addition, once one stage is begun, the following stage is not inevitable, so we can advance or regress through the various stages. Most importantly, progression through these stages is not invariant, and we can skip stages in the typical coping mechanism. It follows that one can skip directly to the last and most salubrious stage, acceptance. Equally important, with more minor crises our entire worldview is not affected; rather we go through the coping mechanism with the effected portions –keeping in mind the contingency that we can skip stages. Furthermore, the stages can involve different portions of a worldview at different rates; thus, some stages may overlap with different portions of our worldview being affected.

Given that we can experience a minor crisis and immediately accept the circumstances while modifying our entire worldview by revamping effected portions, we can avoid four destructive phases in the acceptance process. Knowing that the jump to acceptance is possible is the first step to acceptance. The rest depends on a retraining of the mind: we must unlearn the programmed reactions instilled by culture, abandon our preconceptions, denounce our emotionally based expectations, and breach our personal customs and habits. Aikido training proves an effective "way" to retrain our mind.

(Continued on Next Page)

© 1999, James Loeser.  All rights reserved

James Loeser has his M.S.from Northwestern University, in Biotechnology - Specializing in Medicinal Chemistry /
Bioinformatics. He is a student of Aikido and a dental student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


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