Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Peaceful, Easy Feeling: Why I am Not a Warrior

Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors-not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering.  It also refers to their willingness to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception, to their dedication to uncovering the basic undistorted energy of bodhichitta. (Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You

This quote popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. I've read much of Pema Chodron's work; I found The Places That Scare You a most difficult challenge because I read it during a time of great personal struggle.  It's been a while since I've revisited Ms. Chodron, but her words carry over to much of my life. The quote was timely because I've been thinking a lot lately, about warriors and the healing process.

One of the most difficult things to teach beginning fibre artists is to let go, not to fight and wrestle with the wool, not to pick the stitches so fiercely that arms and fingers ache with effort, not to beat the weft into submission to the point where warp threads snap and fabric buckles.  We want things to behave, to be the way we want them to be, so despite all encouragement and evidence, we take up battle with our fibres.  We become fibre warriors.

It never works.  As we continue to struggle and struggle and struggle, everything-our string, our cloth and our bodies-tighten.  Our work doesn't improve; it gets worse. Those who refuse to trust the process, who can not be convinced that a lighter touch is required, are never quite satisfied with the work they do.  Sometimes, they give up altogether. Those who learn to let go, to bring trust and love to the yarn and string move on to discovering the yarns and fabrics they desire.

The same process applies to yoga.  While we may struggle in a pose, it is only the yielding which brings us to the point where we find stillness and a measure of grace. Students who are determined to subdue asana, to make them fit their own images of how poses should be are often frustrated.  They risk emotional and physical injury.

When you are introduced to cancer, when you are on that journey, whatever image or process works to get you through your adventures is the process you must follow. There is no right way to get through things, just as there is no one method of treatment.  Cancer is individual, so dealing with it must also be.

One of the most popular images about cancer is "The Fight Against."  Patients are encouraged to fight cancer, to wage war against cells recklessly dividing in the body, to take up the Battle Cry against cancer and all it entails.  Cancer means War.  Those going through it are presented as Great Warriors. That image has never worked for me. Practically speaking, if you are waging war against cancer, you are fighting your own body. Cancer cells represent your house, divided.  Cancer cells, your own cells, refuse to stop growing; they divide and continue to do so until the body, You, runs out of resources.  It seems to me that fighting your own body is not necessarily a productive approach because it leaves a sense of The Body being The Other.

And what if you do not Win the War on Cancer?  Nearly every day, we see obituaries stating that this person and that "lost her/his brave battle with cancer."  For me, having what may be the last record of your life speak of defeat is depressing.  After all, who among us gets out of Life alive?  Are we all to be thought of as fallen soldiers who lost a war?  Or is it only cancer which wins every time?

Last week, I spoke to the students in the Renew Yoga for Cancer class about the healing process. Although I recognized the struggles which cancer entails, I suggested that we turn our attention in class to another way of seeing cancer and its treatment.  Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about learning to heal, despite knowing that some of us may never be cured of what ails us.  He tells us that, "As long as you're breathing, there's more right than wrong with you."  He works to integrate body and breath, mind and body, to bring strength and determination into a time when we need it most.  In doing so, we may be able to view our bodies in a different light-not as something which has betrayed us, or the cells within it as something which need to be destroyed in battle, but rather as a vessel which can guide us through a journey which scares us, but through which we can pass, healed, if not cured, alive, even if the body might decide it must part from the spirit.

And so, in Renew, we laugh and we chat.  We breathe and we practice.  Sometimes, we get angry. Sometimes, we cry. We struggle, but we are not at war.  If we do see ourselves as warriors (and many do not), it is not as warriors against anything. Rather, we are healers, looking for and often finding, peace in times of anger and struggle.  We speak softly to ourselves, and to others. "Breathe Now.  Be gentle.  Give yourself time to heal." It's not easy. In some ways, it's likely harder than taking the Warrior Perspective, for that view of dealing with struggle is the prevailing perspective in the popular culture.  We fight against what we don't like.  We war against what is wrong.  But, what and who is Wrong, exactly?

In learning to become healers, we can soothe the Warrior whose instinct is to fight.  Think of what such an approach might mean for our Selves.  Think of what that same approach might mean Now, as we watch what is happening in the World which insists on War and Warriors. The world needs more Healers, not Warriors.  Or so it seems to me.

We can be like the mountains, strong, full of energy, sometimes destructive, but above all, healing places for the Earth.




  1. I hear you! Resistance and fighting use up a lot of energy but usually leave us right where we started (if we are lucky!). Healing - yes. I love that we chant a list of names of people who are very sick at my Temple - ending with "may they heal all their ills and may we realize the Buddha Way together." Healing ills isn't the same as being cured or staying alive or any of those things. It might be more important! At the same time, it takes a warrior spirit to stand in the middle of illness and NOT fight - to trust healing, trust the body, even to trust dying. I don't know if I will be brave enough! I think that is the warrior Pema is talking about....not the one who is gritting their teeth to get their legs behind their head. (she says from bitter experience!) : )

  2. Lovely post. I just downloaded the book...thanks for pointing me in that direction.