Musings on Japanese Concept of "Ba" - the Arrow of Circumstance

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Whether we sit alone or sit together, we sit in the ba. “Ba” is Japanese for a circumstance of a shared space: “what I feel now is not in me, but in the ba” (1).

Life is movement. There is no movement without friction. This friction you feel when you sit (meditatively) alone is the feel of the internal circumstance that is moving through you. This friction you feel when you sit (socially) together with another is the feel of the external circumstance that is moving past you. It’s the feel of the ba – feel it and put it back, back into the River of Circumstance.

Life is participation. Participation is the process of becoming a part, a part of a larger whole. Becoming a part of a larger whole is a process of losing a sense of self: “to participate in a ba means to get involved and transcend one's own limited perspective or boundary” (2).

Life is a relationship, whether you sit alone or together, meditatively or socially, - a relationship between you and ba, an encounter between the part and the whole, between you and life. And the feeling you feel, it isn’t yours – it belongs to the intra-play of the ba. To the Intra-play of the whole Circumstance – not to the inter-play of its components!

“In Western thought in general, and in the English language, one often starts from separate and independent entities. For example, in the English language, we say that there is you and me, as separate beings, and that we “relate” to one other, or that there is an “inter” personal relationship between us. However <…> the ba includes you and me and others as well. What I feel is not in me, but in the ba” (1)

In and out of therapy, in and out of self-therapy, we seek therapy in therapy, but therapy isn’t in therapy but in our relationship with ourselves – “in a mode of relating to what one feels” (1) – i.e. in a mode of relating to ba.

Even when alone, we really aren’t. Any “you” that’s reading this is a dyad of a Subject and an Object, the Thinker and the Thought, the Feeler and the Feeling, the Sensor and the Sensation, and “I” and a “me.” When I have a feeling – I am feeling a feeling; and this feeling I feel in me… is me. And this “me” is ba. This feeling I feel, this part of me is the friction between me-as-the-part-of-the-overall-circumstance-of-life and the overall circumstance of life. This feeling I feel is the friction between me as a part of a whole and the whole itself – and since the ba includes me “what I feel is not in me, but in the ba” (1).

So, whether we sit alone (in contemplation), or informally with another (socially), or formally with another (in therapy) – we sit in ba, in a “shared space for emerging relationships” (2) with the Reality of Circumstance, amidst an intra-play of what is.

So, what you feel when you feel is the tip of the Arrowhead of Circumstance – piercing through… Let it. Feel the pain of this friction and put the feeling back in the ba. And as you release your breath, feel the caress of the feathered Fletching as this Arrow of Time keeps flying through you. Why hold on to the arrow?


1: Akira Ikemi (2006). The Psychological Significance and Extensions of Autogenic Training, p. 228, in Psychomatic Medicine, Proceedings of the 18th World Congress on Psychomatic Medicine, held in Kobe, Japan, between 21st and 26th of August 2005, editors: Chiharu Kobo, Tomifusa Kubold, Elsevier, 2006

2: Nonaka, I. , Konno, N. (1998). The concept of ba: Building a foundation for knowledge creation. California Management Review, 40(3):40-55.