Michele Benzamin Miki in Conversation with Dr. Scott Mills
Step Aside and Allow others to Have Their Experience
From her beautiful home at Manzanita Village, a spiritual retreat center in Southern California, Michelle Benzamin-Miki joined me for an inspiring conversation about the crossing the boundaries into a world that no longer remembers what it is to be at war — at war with ourselves, with each other and with the planet. And as soon as she began to imagine this world with me, she also provided guidance on how to begin this journey, right now, and live a life that you love.
She explains that what she’s really about is “loving life — feeling like is a gift — and staying interested in it no matter what.” Considering how many people I come across who have gotten bored with themselves and the world, I’m excited to hear how she gets there day after day.
Michele is an Aikido master as well as a gifted artist whose work has won many awards. She has taught Buddhism, meditation and deep ecology around the world with luminaries like Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Thich Nhat Hahn. And her experience as a biracial woman with a foot in Japan and a foot in the U.S. has also informed her. This has allowed her to walk between many differing worlds, mediating between what can seem like opposing forces. .
Our conversation was so rich but I want to highlight five of the life lessons that I will be reminding myself of this week.
1 Release the need to take things personally. It’s so easy to make it all about me. Of course, you are the center of your universe. I am the center of mine. But once we step out of the house in the morning our universes begin to collide. We get ourselves into trouble when we think that the person who bumped us on the street or was grumpy in the elevator is a bit player in our life rather than the center of their own universe. When we release into this truth, we gain a better perspective on life.
2 Get into agreement with yourself. What a beautiful way to remind us that all of us is okay. Many of us spend so much of our time beating ourselves up for having an errant emotion or thought. But Michelle starts from this place of self-compassion that allows us to be okay and present to whatever emotion you may be feeling. Receive it like a welcome guest rather than turning it away at the door. This allows it to complete and creates a space for something new to emerge.
3 Step aside and allow others to have their experience. This deep insight from the world of Aikido makes me want to spend my life in Michelle’s dojo. I think of all the times that I want people to act the way I would like. (It’s hard sometimes to remember that their universe is more relevant to them than mine, especially in moments of pain.) We can choose to allow for others to complete or to block the flow of their emotions most often creating escalation. Most of the time it’s not about you. It’s about them. Just as you allow your own emotions to complete, allow those of others so that something new can emerge.
4 Invite your active, fierce compassion. The notion of fierce compassion couples with allowing others to complete. It allows you to also have fierce compassion for yourself. It is about being “able to engage fully and say yes to the moment and the love you feel.” At the end of the day, fierce compassion is about being able to stand with someone in the fire of their experience, perhaps a little singed but expanded. (Of course, nowhere is Michele suggesting that someone should allow themselves to be injured or abused. As a matter of fierce compassion for yourself, if you are in danger get to safety.)
5 Unleash your inner Obasan. When I asked Michelle about how art informs her teaching she tells me a story about her grandmother (Obasan in Japanese). When she was three years old the artist impulse that every child possesses had already invited Michelle to color outside the lines. Rather than limit her, Michelle’s Obasan covered the walls with paper and encouraged her to color wherever her imagination led her. This was first time she felt “the freedom and the liberation of the line.” And this permission to fully express has travelled with her to this day. If you did not receive this permission, it’s not too late. You can give it to yourself right now!
When I asked her what is the biggest change she wants to see in the world she laughed and said, “I want a lot.” (How can you not love her?) But at the core of her wanting is a world where children don’t know what war is. Where “this notion of war becomes an old thing of the past, an old story, maybe a metaphor of how we used to deal with things.” She dreams of a day when we can be more creative in our solutions with each other and release the violence that has become an easy solution to far too many problems.
I’m excited to live in this world with Michelle! The work she does is helping to make that dream a reality. Scott Mills
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