Hi! Mark here. I’m excited to post this interview with Michael Gordon.
Michael is a classmate of mine in the Philosophy of Education doctoral program and someone I wanted to have interviewed on the blog for a long time.
He teaches part-time at the university, runs an Aikido school, and has a private psychotherapy practice.
Michael’s Aikido practice really interests me. I love what he says about his a-ha moment in life and about how the Star Wars legacy was part of what helped guide him to his Aikido practice.
Enjoy the interview!
Learn more about Michael’s Aikido school and psychotherapy practice by clicking the links below.
SO MICHAEL, TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
I was born and raised in Vancouver BC. The west coast geography, wildlife and first nations cultures form my strongest sense of place and belonging, though I grew up in a liberal urbane Jewish family.
I have been a creative person (musician, artist, poet, photographer, actor) since I can remember.
I have lived and studied across Canada, the US and the UK.
My spiritual and political interests converge around social and ecological justice, healing and spiritual consciousness.
Currently I teach part-time at SFU, run an Aikido school, a private psychotherapy practice, occasionally perform music (though I have several full-length recordings).
WHAT ARE SOME PERSONAL PHILOSOPHIES THAT YOU LIVE BY?
‘Do no harm.’
‘Be a mensch.’
‘Consider all beings as having been your mother in one lifetime or another.’
‘Live your authentic self to the fullest.’ ‘Engage in healing work to heal yourself and the world.’
‘Live in wonder through creative engagement.’
‘Be bold. Have the courage to be your biggest self to help others do the same.’
‘Your greatest power comes from serving others.’
HOW DO YOU VIEW SPIRITUALITY?
Spirituality is about engagement with all natural, supernatural and phenomenal experiences of life.
Connecting with that constant stream of creative energy leads us to experience the universe as interdependent, and all consciousness as the unified yet unique expression of an animating force that has no beginning and no end.
We all connect that in our own ways, and finding our own voice and mission in life is to be in harmony and coherence with that great flow, to not resist or second-guess its unique manifestation through us.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT AN A-HA MOMENT THAT GAVE YOU INSIGHT ABOUT LIFE?
I was exposed to music early on, as early as I can remember.
But it wasn’t until deep into my own therapy process in my early 30s that I realized my purpose wasn’t music itself,
or any other of my passionate activities, but the aspect of connection, teaching, healing and performance that coalesce in those areas,
which call me to purpose.
WHAT ASPECT OF YOUR SELF-DISCOVERY ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
As a writer and thinker, like most, I yearn to ‘get out of my own way’ to let my natural and unique voice emerge unfettered.
The goal then is see that flow synchronize in all aspects of my living, how I spend my time and arrange the energy of my precious life.
For a long time, that vision has drawn me towards a rural life, in continued service to healing and creativity,
while living in more quiet harmony with the earth.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT ARE HELPING YOU WITH THIS LEARNING?
I didn’t expect that I would end up in an education PhD program.
However, I was mentored in this direction, and as I have learned, allowing others to see you, guide you and effectively love you,
teaches you your true value to the world—beyond the complications of the Jungian shadow which drives us to heal from the confusions we carry about our true identity and purpose.
Aikido, therapy, and teaching all collaborate in this dance to help me learn through service and connection with others, to be more free and authentic and alive.
Philosophy as the ‘love of wisdom’ and epistemology as the ‘love of knowing/knowledge’ guide the cerebral part of my curiosity.
Relationship, as always, is the crucible where the alchemy unfolds; that is, relationships close and around.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU TOLD YOURSELF TO GET YOURSELF THROUGH YOUR DARKEST HOUR?
Exactly what the mentors and protectors in my life told me:
You were born from, to and for love, not suffering.
I’M REALLY INTERESTED IN YOUR AIKIDO PRACTICE. HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN THAT?
I suppose in hindsight it was the slow evolution of something coming through me from early in my life.
I have always been physically active, and I have always enjoyed play, athletics, movement, and in the way Joseph Campbell or Jung would invoke it: myth.
Storytelling and enactment always held me in sway, from play-acting as a kid, to actual theatre, to becoming deeply involved in the ‘play’ of the larger social order through work, creative life, and activism.
As with mythic stories, a strong moral question always shot through (no surprise I’m an ENFJ in the Myers-Briggs taxonomy. The ‘J’ standing for ‘justice’.)
A brief time doing judo as a boy, coupled with years of being bullied, eventually led me to move from vicarious revenge fantasy through action movies and stories, to something I could embrace and empower as my own strength.
The Star Wars legacy had a huge impact on me, mostly the Jedi spiritual narrative, value and structure rather than the swashbuckling male hero trope.
By the time I actively sought something beyond psychotherapy and music to save me from my own psychological and spiritual struggles in my early 20s, I had read about the recently deceased American Aikido teacher Terry Dobson in an obituary from Esquire magazine around 1992.
The image of him teaching to control an attacker effectively, while holding onto a rag doll protectively, struck me deeply as a embodied and powerful practice of balancing the yin/yang, masculine/feminine energies I was seeking to harmonize in myself and my relationships.
I went to my first class, which was Ki Aikido, allowing me to see how relaxation and ‘extending my mind’ made me stable and ‘immovable.’
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU APPROACH THERAPY IN YOUR PSYCHOTHERAPY PRACTICE?
Broadly speaking, my approach is informed by analytic/depth psychology, humanistic, psychodynamic, and attachment theory.
I am fortunate in that I came to therapy as a professional having done 20 years of my own inner work.
That, and the orientation of not seeing a natural dichotomy between inner/outer, and spiritual/psychological, grounded my approach early on.
I didn’t come through conventional clinical training, though as I see now through a critical pedagogy lens, ‘education’ and ’schooling’ can be very divergent and at odds with one another in terms of the outcome on a person’s development, and indeed society at large.
As John Taylor Gatto writes, many individuals have received an education outside of schooling, the latter which has been shaped historically by ideological aims to promote compliance and conformity from individuals in the school system, rather than uniqueness and individuation.
Seen that way, coming into my own healing out of necessity or even desperation, which later transformed my life through Aikido, shaped a path that aligns with a more traditional, classical Western approach to education as an ‘enlightened subject’, and certainly a more eastern one:
cultivation of self through self-mastery, spiritual practice, towards more compassionate and connected living.
A background of social activism, teaching and writing led me to pursue a Masters Degree in transpersonal psychology in 2006, a now-defunct program which brought the scientific and metaphysical or spiritual studies of consciousness into a comparative approach to psychology.
As part of that degree, I undertook clinical training in Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy,
which was developed in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro as a kind of mimic of the natural psycho-biological process of REM sleep in processing traumatic experience.
I was absolutely amazed at the capacity through EMDR, given the right therapeutic setting and clinical approach, of the human mind and body to release deep disturbances otherwise impervious to conventional (verbal) psychotherapy or even pharmacological intervention.
The ‘witnessing’ and ’self-healing’ aspects of EMDR convinced me of it’s distinction as a transpersonal form of therapy that I hold akin to ‘co-meditation’.
That is, that our innate psycho-biological structures have the capacity to reorganize themselves therapeutically within a setting of compassion and safety.
This certainly aligns with Aikido as a daily ‘way’ of life, in that its underlying aim is guided by the budo principle of ‘loving protection of all living beings.’
Whether through ‘meta-cognition’ of meditation, releasing metabolized trauma through EMDR, or ’neutralizing’ a partner’s attack by ‘blending’ with it in Aikido,
all of these processes align via the same function.
My PhD research aims to explore how these similarities overlap as a praxis of ‘healing through relationship and dialogic engagement.’
ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO OUR READERS?
We are all relational beings.
That means we are never truly alone.
Connecting with the suffering of others (compassion) and recognizing the suffering of all beings from impermanence (equanimity) are not only Buddhist teachings.
Indigenous knowing and practice is embodied in the phrase “all my relations,” which signifies not only inter-subjectivity, but interdependence.
Through relationship and being of service, we find ourselves and create a flow of healing.
Our planet needs this more than ever, and it is there in ever replenishable supply whenever we need it.
The heart is the source of all connection to life. Even in our darkest moments, it can create a spark through compassionate awareness.