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Jinba Ittai

by on November 1, 2018

Jinba Ittai

by Marco M. Pardi

Japanese: A Zen concept meaning “Rider and horse oneness”.

All comments are welcomed and will receive a reply.

Riding my horses without tack of any kind, no halter, bit and reins, or saddle I often experienced jinba ittai. Our muscles flexed together, we shared the slight jolts of feet pounding the turf, and we turned as one. I was the rider, and was not. I was the horse, and was not. We were one. I wonder if this is where the myth of the Centaur arose.

I experienced a similar oneness while deep into sports car racing, particularly when under the terrific G forces developed in tight cornering and blasting acceleration or braking.

It is easy and pleasurable to look at those moments as utterly free of outside distracting thoughts. This is what athletes call, “Being in the zone”. The Buddhist concept of Mindfulness comes very close to this. And, in the world we currently live in this siren call beckons ever more insistently. The message of the ’60’s come back, “Tune in, drop out”. But, to borrow a lyric, Where have all the flowers gone? For example, Abbie Hoffman, the most famous member of the Chicago Eight, became a Wall Street stock broker. Oh.

Many of us think it is possible to live continuously in a state of jinba ittai, riding through life in harmony with all our surroundings. But for most it is continuously out of reach; we inadvertently kick the beach ball just as we are reaching for it. For too many the answer is to drop out, to do drugs, to turn off the news, to “not talk about ‘forbidden’ issues”. I do not personally know any drug addicts – excepting alcohol, and even those are only two or three. Sitting here now I can think of several drinkers who put themselves in the grave. In my work life I saw many hard drug addicts, and I suspect most or all are long dead.

I know a few families, most with young children, who do not allow the children to watch the broadcast news. In effect, the news simply goes unwatched in the household. I sympathize with that to a point. Our local news most often begins with today’s body count of people shot, stabbed, beaten, or car jacked in Atlanta. The national news usually starts with the daily lies, insults, and fear mongering from the uncouth oaf presently in the White House. And I can relate, albeit in a small way, to the potential damage done by undeveloped comments on the news. Around 1980 there was considerable talk of “peak oil”, the idea that we had discovered all the oil there was and, at the current usage rate, would run out in the foreseeable future. Discussing this with my daughter, who then was a few years from a driver’s license, I commented, There might be little or no gasoline by the time you get a license. I later got an earful from her mother; my casual comment had a profound and difficult effect.

I did not fully realize it then, but I was seriously ill equipped to converse with very young people. Yet, I did not dread the probability of one day having “the talk”. You know, the one about sex and sexuality. But it has only been in recent years that I have become aware of another talk: The talk Black parents have with their sons, and even their daughters, about encountering the police, especially while driving. The ongoing news coverage of such encounters prods a parent to counsel the child: Put your hands in plain sight, do not resist, do not assert your rights, say “Yes sir” and “No sir”, and go along with what is demanded. Abject surrender.

While I was able to correct and clarify my statement to my daughter, returning her to a hopeful future of driving her own car one day, I must wonder at the lasting effect “the talk” has on the Black kids as they wander into the greater social arena. Will they ever be able to drive, or even congregate where police may pass by without a deeply unsettling expectation that if they are not stopped and frisked this time they will be next time?

Years ago I interviewed a young man (White) who was a habitual shop-lifter. I asked him why he did it. “I’ll be accused of it anyway”, he replied. I had neither the time nor the inclination to delve more deeply into why he thought this, but it seemed to me he had accepted some negative labeling of himself and was living a self fulfilling prophecy. The police are viewed as our protectors, even our friends. But does having “the talk” with Black youth influence them to see themselves as somehow being irremediably at fault, predestined to live as a suspect, a potential criminal?

I sometimes get advertising literature mailed to me in Spanish. I have no problem reading Spanish, but I’m not Spanish. Apparently some people can’t distinguish an Italian name from a Spanish name. (I did once get a credit card application in Italian. I was so impressed I almost applied.)

So I’m wondering what will happen as I soon go to vote, as I have done every time for many years. Will I be scrutinized? Will I be required to “show your papers”? Will I be turned away? To make it worse, I live in Georgia where the Republican candidate for Governor also happens to be the Secretary of State – in charge of voting. He has already disenfranchised over one million primarily minority voters from the rolls. Am I his next target?

There can be no pretending that people do not become very aware of the societal presumptions held about themselves. Even something as trivial as the characteristics ascribed to people born in certain months has great influence on the self perception of many people. In fact, many sociological studies as early as the late 1950’s illuminated the internalization of these presumptions by each group studied.

Looking at more serious societal issues, a well known phenomenon of the 1950’s – 1960’s was labeled “Black Psychosis”, the internalization by Blacks of physical characteristics held in low esteem by Whites and held against fellow Blacks and even themselves. Hair straighteners, skin lightener products and other “corrective” measures were in high demand. I personally documented the destructive application of physical stereotyping of Black children by Black teachers and school administrators during a year long on-site study I conducted in inner city schools. As early as first grade, children’s academic/social success probability was ranked by their Black teachers largely on their physical characteristics such as nose width, lip eversion, skin hue, and “kinked” or straight hair. The ranking then determined the degree to which the teacher bothered to teach them and work with them in class. My publication, Academic Rank and Self-Esteem in Black Inner City Schools was only one of many books on the subject in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Although stocked in university libraries across the country, it never made it to press in the public domain. I was, however, gratified by seeing a sudden proliferation of “Black is Beautiful” posters, a powerful reaction to this judgmental trend, springing up across the Black neighborhoods I studied. (I didn’t know it then, but “Gay Pride” would not be long in following.) But this gratification did little in the face of my reality. I’ve long said that there is a fine line between Realism and Depression. That year I spent on site was excruciatingly depressing.

So, who is next? The uncouth lout currently in the Oval Office recently affirmed to us that he is a “Nationalist”. The sane media, whom he calls “the enemy of the people”, points out that this term is best known among Americans when preceded by “White”. I would go further and recall the dominant message of the German dictatorship under Hitler: Teutonic, Master Race, National Socialist Party (the use of socialist was a clever ploy which only gave the appearance of an internal egalitarianism). The shocking rise in Hate Crimes in the U.S. must certainly elucidate the true nature of the current power structure: Divide and Conquer. Create an enemy, an “other”, from whom the “good people”, the righteous nationalists, can be saved only by complete obedience to the leader. We, as a people, are strongly encouraged to fracture ourselves into diverse, and even opposing camps, accepting and enforcing qualitative differences.

Some of you readers are grandparents, some are now parents, and some have yet to take that step. In a climate wherein a child is molded into a category and formed to see “others” as superior or inferior, how do you guide the child toward Jinba Ittai? Or do you encourage the suppression of perception? Do you limit the child’s exposure to the news, or do you engage the child in discussion about the news?

Some liken these times to watching a slow motion train wreck, knowing what is coming but unable to tear one’s eyes away. I keep hearing the words of Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, “We live in the best of all possible worlds” as I observe people around me trying to ignore or rationalize the violence and chaos being used around us to weaken our solidarity. Is it true that Ignorance is Bliss? I don’t think so. My horses have gone on before me. They lived their lives of learning and teaching within the limits of their species. I find myself wondering if I am still riding, and if so, what am I riding? Is it selfish to seek the bliss of understanding in the face of chaos? Can the state of understanding be my Jinba Ittai?

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  1. Julie permalink

    Hello Marco, I have returned from my wonderful travels. After reading this a few things came to mind. Firstly, the nightly news i feel should show a lot more positive and inspiring news stories to connect people, currently it is depressing and although reporting current events – I question the effect of this on people and I don’t think it’s helpful to society. I feel the ratio of good news stories should be significantly increased and some material should not be shown on tv. In relation to your comment on communication with children (the oil willl run out) having worked in the crime section at work and being exposed daily to “the other side of life” when my children entered their teen years, I decided to equip them with information as to “what goes on out there” however i was very careful about how i relayed this information – my intention was to open their eyes and give them a “heads up” as they negotiate life. I feel this helped them have a more rounded perspective – as children that are very comfortable with little experience outside of this, i believe can be led astray. The last thing that stood out to me was in raising children with good self esteem is the number one thing (i learnt this from my welfare training) that will give them a life they can enjoy and ground them for whatever they have to deal with, because in the end we can’t control what happens “out there” but we can learn to enjoy life and be positive .


    • Thanks very much, Julie. I’m glad you are home safely. The motorcycle trip raised some concern.

      I agree that the news should devote more time to balance and not to just what draws viewers. We are becoming a blood sport society. Yet, there can be no denying the vicious interpersonal dynamics growing in America today. Your children were fortunate in having you as their parent. But I wonder, when you say we can’t control what happens out there – can’t we make the effort? I fear that if we don’t, the “out there” only grows stronger.


  2. I’m not sure if anything I have to say will be of any value, but I am determined to say it all the same. I have spent much of my life seeking what you call Jinba Ittai, and the nearest I’ve ever come was during my near death experience; I have never known such peace! I sometimes come near on the passenger seat of my husband’s motorcycle, sometimes so much so that I fall asleep. I had hoped to find that oneness with self and the universe during that pilgrimage for which I have longed for so many years; the dream is not dead, I may achieve it yet.

    If this state has an opposite, I found it during my son’s battle with drugs. He may have found oblivion, but what I found was the purest of Hells. I fear I will never return to who and what I was before this experience; he is forgiven for what he put me through, but I am not so foolish as to ever allow myself to forget.

    Nothing makes a friend like a shared enemy, and todays news seems dedicated to pointing out every way in which the “others” in our world are that enemy. We are more alike than different, but the current resident in the White House seems to feed on fear and hatred, and he would like nothing better than to see this be a steady diet for all of us. I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. I hold out hope that some day we will once again feast on serenity.


  3. Wow! Falling asleep on the passenger seat of a motorcycle WOULD be a near death experience!

    The Divide and Conquer mentality goes back far beyond Trump. It emerged strongly in reaction to Roosevelt’s New Deal and was rabidly supportive of Mussolini and later Hitler even after war was declared against the Axis. I have amazing documentation of the “guiding lights” of American society and politics who publicly supported Fascism and all it stands for. They never left. Unfortunately, they will destroy life on this planet before they are eradicated.


    • Once, while taking our motorcycle for shipment to Germany, I dozed off. My head fell forward, and my helmet knocked against my husband’s helmet, waking him up. Now THAT was a near death experience.

      As for children being exposed to reality: I have always believed that childhood should be as positive an experience as we can make it, relative to the truth in which we live. You can’t protect them forever, of course, but what and when they are allowed to see the worst of what’s going on has to be dictated by the emotional age of the child. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists, and I want my babies to be aware of the flaws of the world without being damaged by them. Is this possible? I sure hope so. Rose


      • I agree about children. In these recent years I have come to expand my concept of survival training. While traditional training focuses more on the body under stress, I feel we must enlarge our attention to the mind. But there is a fine line between being resilient and being deceptive.


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