We begin our journey by defining the nature of the Spiritual Warrior path. Most of us start down this road due to a driving need for love and peace – and with the sense that meaning will lessen our suffering. There are several theories about the purpose of life from the West and the East to consider. But in addition to studying ideas, Spiritual Warriors obtain knowledge from within through experiential practices such as meditation and kirtan…
What exactly is a Spiritual Warrior? Close your eyes and let the term float in your mind. What does the term conjure for you?
The phrase confused me when I first set upon the path several years ago. After all, wasn’t gentleness a cornerstone of spirituality in direct contrast to the violence inherent in the military? How was I, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance principles, supposed to become a soldier? I meditated on this conundrum, and the truth eventually emerged – I had become a Spiritual Warrior just by looking for answers.
We come to this journey from all kinds of backgrounds, many forged in the fires of trauma. When we do not feel loved, whether it exists in reality, we experience an internal vacuum that causes tremendous pain. We look for something to give us a moment’s respite with unhealthy coping mechanisms ranging from alcoholism and drug dependency to food addiction and panic disorders like agoraphobia. Too many people suffer in silence as a consequence of fear, self-medicating in the absence of understanding and awareness. Because addictions treatment still focuses on the symptoms and not the underlying causes of emotional pain, the scene is set for recidivism. This doesn’t even consider those who blend into the woodwork by developing addictions out of common behavior. The disastrous consequences of addiction further cloud the real issue of why we self-medicate in the first place.
The real work of healing is to acknowledge the root cause of our pain so that we can let it go to make room for love and fulfilling experiences. We can move on with greater understanding and compassion for what it means to be human. However we got here, those of us on this path share a common bond – a drive toward the truth about ourselves.
The Random House dictionary gives two meanings for the word “warrior:” someone engaged or experienced in warfare; or someone who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness. What could be braver than revealing one’s own soul? To peel back the layers to examine the shadow self, the dark corners we’d prefer to believe didn’t exist?
Revered Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says: “A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure.”
A Spiritual Warrior is one who takes on the battle of walking through the darkness to find the light.
To Be Or Not To Be
The Seeker’s adventure starts at the very beginning with the study of why we are here. As Socrates, the Classical Greek philosopher, said, the goal of life is to know oneself through personal and spiritual growth: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
But why is this so? What benefit do we gain by questing after seemingly unknowable truths? My cat, Madison, loves to dunk anything – and I do mean anything – she can get her paws around into her water dish. Do we honestly need to spend time wondering at the reason for her behavior?
Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century psychologist and the Father of Existentialism, said we have a choice: “If I do not know who I am then I am living a lie, and living a lie, for most people is wrong.”
Some people can live without becoming aware of their true selves, living for immediate pleasure and distractions without a guiding directive. But Warriors consciously make the choice to seek wisdom and a personal reason for existence in the fight against fear and pain whether caused by trauma or by expectation and attachment. Without a mission, we cannot develop an effective plan of action so we proceed blindly. Cultivating a reason for being not only informs how we live and what actions we take, it also gives our experiences meaning and context.
Western psychology calls the process of finding our true selves individuation, when our innate personality, life experiences and psyche integrate into a stable, healing force. Understanding the personal unconscious mind and the collective unconscious of society was a bedrock concept of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that experiences were an expression of a deeper meaning that could lead to spiritual awakening. He was, in fact, talking about the Kundalini, the serpent of power coiled at the base of our spine that, when awakened and unfurled through the chakras, gives rise to self-realization and enlightenment.
Jung also proliferated the theory of synchronicity, in which seemingly diverse events are linked by concentric meaning. Even to a deep believer, this principle can be startling to see manifested in reality as signals from the Universe to pay attention to something. But that doesn’t mean that we need to spend countless hours analyzing everything to death or attaching deep philosophical meaning to all actions. Rather, we need to let the world inspire us to fully feel our emotions and live in the present moment. Perhaps the only reason that Madison the cat fishes tampons out of my purse and plunges them into her water bowl is because she considers it fun.
Freedom From the Iron Cage
So the Spiritual Warrior’s quest for meaning and purpose begins with the fundamental question of why we exist. This issue has riveted humankind since the dawn of our intellectual capabilities, and we have several theories to consider.
Arthur Schopenhauer, an early 19th century German philosopher, believed that the Universe and all of its creatures are motivated solely by the will to live and that this results in a mindless drive to procreate and to fruitlessly avoid death. A generation later, Friedrich Nietzsche explained human behavior by theorizing that the will to power was stronger than Schopenhauer’s premise because people actually risk their lives for achievement and ambition. He believed that life was worth living only if you had goals inspiring you. This would eventually influence Alfred Adler into creating the concept of individual psychology in direct odds with his former mentor, Sigmund Freud.
Freud, the esteemed yet much maligned founder of psychoanalysis, conjectured in the 20th century that we operate out of a will to pleasure, seeking to satisfy our biological and psychological needs until we mature and learn to tolerate pain as well as to defer gratification in the face of reality.
Yet another hypothesis comes from Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl. After his experiences in German concentration camps during World War II, he posited that we are driven by the will to meaning – that our primary motivation is to find a reason for our lives. We can discover meaning by our deeds; through connection to another person, nature or art; or by unavoidable suffering.
In the East, the philosophy of life is somewhat broader and interlaced with spirituality rather than psychology. In the Hindu scriptures The Upanishads, it states that life has been created because it’s in the Supreme Deity’s nature to do so. The never-ending cycle of life, death and rebirth is the Universe’s natural state. For Hindus, there is meaning in everything because rather than the material world, life is rooted in our collective consciousness. God exists as a duality – both within us and as an external entity. Our purpose through the cycle of births and everyday challenges is to connect our internal life force back to the divine source. Moksha, spiritual liberation, is achieved by overcoming ignorance, but there as many roads to this as there are human beings. We each experience our connection with the Universe and each other in our own unique ways with Karmic lessons unfolding like lanterns on a dimly lit road.
Major Hindu father figure Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent methods were influenced by the Jain religion, which was created in India around 500 BC as a way to break the cycle of reincarnation and achieve peace. There is no God, but teachers who have reached enlightenment and have disentangled themselves from the material nature of the universe. Ascetic Jains believe we can reach spiritual freedom by: not harming any living thing for any reason, speaking the truth, not stealing, abstaining from sex, and not becoming attached to people, places or things. Laypeople have a less strict set of rules by which they can advance along this pathway during their lifetime.
Siddhartha Gautama’s search for the meaning of life led to the development of Buddhism. This religion has Four Noble Truths: suffering is inherent in existence; the search for permanence leads to suffering; suffering can cease; the way to end suffering is by following an Eightfold Path of right living. In Buddhism, the goal of life isn’t union with God, but the termination of longing and attachment.
These are mere samplings of Western and Eastern thought on finding our life’s true purpose. All concepts about the meaning of life are worth examining and appreciating before we move our search beyond them.
Whatever our motivating force may be, a Spiritual Warrior’s primary goal is to pierce through the illusions of life and to gain distance from limited perspectives. Arming yourself with knowledge is the key to beginning the seeker’s quest.
There are a few ways to develop the insight and clarity we need to form our unique pathway. Next we’ll delve into two such practices: meditation and Bhakti Yoga.