About 15 years ago I was invited by a good friend to take part in something called “The New Warrior Training Adventure.” I had already begun doing some personal growth work, so what I heard about this weekend sounded intriguing. However, I was put off by the term “New Warrior”. It conjured up dominating macho images that I wanted no part of. After all I was sympathetic to the feminist movement and believed then, as I still do, that a lot of harm and suffering has been caused by the desire to dominate others as is evident in many patriarchal societies. I even had this nagging feeling that I might be at least partly to blame for this simply because I was born with a Y chromosome. To a certain extent I felt guilt and shame about being a male in our society; I was, what I now call, an “apologetic male”. Given that, how could I possibly participate in something called “New Warriors”?
But despite my hesitation, certain aspects that I had learned about the training resonated with something deep inside, and decided to sign up anyway. That experience changed my life … and my understanding of who I am. My involvement with this organization, now known as the Mankind Project, caused me to look at my life honestly and when I did, I saw that in my own way I had taken on many of the attributes of a warrior, just without the violent overtones. I had accepted without hesitation the responsibility to do whatever it took to provide for my family. One result was that I spent long hours away from home working at a job that often provided little personal satisfaction. Looking back I see that this created lots of emotional turmoil inside…variously stirring up anger, resentment, sadness, and fear. However, like a good warrior I crafted a tough emotional shield to protect myself and I kept my pain well hidden…most of the time even from myself. I became emotionally shut down. I went from planning and completing one task on to the next, and the next, with little questioning or reflection. Except for my wife, Donna, I didn’t feel close to anyone. Although I had many acquaintances, I had very few close friends. My sense of passion and spirituality were non-existent. I was tolerating and enduring life, but not really enjoying it or living it fully.
Through my work with the Mankind Project, I learned about what is known as the Warrior Archetype. It seems to exist in all men and it’s that part of us which is hardwired into our DNA and our cultural histories. It comes from eons of evolutionary pressure to protect, defend, and provide for other members of the clan. The survival of the tribe at one time depended on it. Being a Warrior was once a noble societal role, demanding strength, courage and appropriate uses of force in service to the community within a vast and sometimes dangerous world.
I found that I did possess many of the attributes of a Warrior, however I learned that I could choose to express them in different ways. For example, I discovered that I possessed courage. It might not be exactly the same kind of courage that it must have taken to storm the beaches at Normandy, but courage none-the-less. It is the kind of courage that it would take to begin to let down the impenetrable armor that had protected me from experiencing my emotional pain. Although that armor had done its job extremely well, it had cost me a hefty personal price. Letting it down, though, was not an easy decision to make — or action to take. To actually go inside and to find out who I really was … to confront my fears, to experience my grief, to acknowledge my regrets, and to allow myself to be truly vulnerable with other people was extremely scary. It went totally against how I had lived my life for the previous 45 years.
But I did so anyway. It has been difficult and many times I have been reluctant, often held back by fear and apprehension. Those old mental tapes would say, “Don’t do it! Don’t let your guard down! Be safe!” However, not once have I looked back with regret for taking the risk to do the work needed to discover and to heal old wounds. For me, having the courage to look deep inside and then having the discipline and resolve to stick with it, no matter what I found, defines the task of a Spiritual Warrior. The benefits of walking this path, for me, have been many.
First, I’ve learned to truly appreciate and to love the person I am, even those parts of me that I’m not always proud of. Because of this I find that I less often feel the need to seek approval from others. Not that I don’t enjoy receiving it, but I am no longer dependent on it. I am satisfied and happy being who I am.
Secondly, I’ve learned to be more patient and compassionate, not just toward others, but also toward myself. My inner critic has become much less judgmental, even though he refuses to give up his job completely. As a result I find myself seeking out opportunities to pursue passions and activities that bring me joy. This might includes, at times, setting aside tasks on my “to do” list, and instead, choosing to do things like spending 35 days snowboarding in the mountains this past winter, or sitting for 30-60 minutes most mornings in quiet meditation. These and similar experiences have become “sacred spaces” for me. They feed my soul. And because I am more compassionate with myself I am generally no longer plagued by the guilt that I previously experienced when deciding to take time for myself. This “self time” no longer feels “selfish”, but rather “self-nurturing”, and is rich and satisfying.
Third, I’ve developed a personal life mission that helps to guide me and keep me on track. In its current form it is expressed simply as: “I co-create loving community by opening my compassionate heart.” When I keep this intention in my consciousness I find that my life tends to run smoothly and is more fulfilling. An example of this has been my participation in the vibrant Men’s Group here at our Unitarian Fellowship. I experience a lot of joy in being with other men who are willing to share from their hearts. Finally, I also have deepened my relationships with family and friends. I find I am more patient, a more active listener, and also a person who can support and challenge others to strive for what’s right for them, by setting aside my own agenda of “my way is the right way”.
My journey as a Spiritual “New” Warrior, although long, is by no means complete. I don’t believe it ever will be, at least not in this lifetime. I will continue to travel along my path, and I expect that from time to time I may temporarily stray from it. However, I trust that I will be guided back to it as long as I travel with an open heart and choose to listen to what it has to say.
Jonathan Witte July 22, 2016