I’ve been thinking a lot about the quote that started my last post about seeing everyone as your Buddha. I loved it so much I wanted to talk about it again here:
“Only as a [spiritual] warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge. A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges. The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.” -Don Juan, as quoted by Jack Kornfield in A Path With Heart
A spiritual warrior is someone who goes through life aggressively and purposefully, whether climbing mountains or wallowing through swamps. He takes the natural ups and downs in stride, and sees painful circumstances as challenges work through, not as bad luck to lament. It’s the type of person I aspire to be, and one of the reasons I find Eastern wisdom so useful and applicable to Western life.
The following are a few of the core principles of being a spiritual warrior.
1. Integrate mindfulness into your daily life. Being mindful doesn’t mean you need to spend hours a day meditating – you just need to pay attention. We think we don’t have the time, but it doesn’t need to take any extra time. Practice paying attention when you’re engaged in daily activities. When you’re washing the dishes, wash the dishes, and try not to let your mind wander to the past or future. When you’re eating, eat. When you’re walking, walk, and pay attention to the ground under each step.
2. Turn straw into gold. Our deepest suffering is our greatest opportunity to learn about ourselves and take action to be better people. Working through suffering is how you learn to be patient, humble and grateful. And developing strength in the face of painful circumstances teaches you that you don’t need to fear the natural ups and downs of life, and instead can face anything with inner calm and peace.
3. See everyone as your Buddha. Just as difficult circumstances can be an opportunity for growth, so can interactions with difficult people. Imagine that any difficult person you encounter is actually the Buddha in disguise, put there to teach you a specific lesson about life or about yourself. What do you think the universe is trying to teach you?
4. Recognize the difference between pain and suffering. In Eastern philosophy, pain and suffering are two very different things. Pain is the inevitable hardships of life, and suffering is the avoidable negative narrative you add on top of that. Losing your job is pain – telling yourself that this means you’re a failure is suffering. Ending a relationship is pain – interpreting this to mean that you’ll never meet anyone again is suffering. You can’t eliminate pain, but you can end suffering.
5. Set a daily intention. In most yoga classes the teacher will ask the students at the beginning to set an intention for their practice. The same exercise can be useful in your day-to-day life. Try asking yourself every morning, “What emotion or feeling do I want to cultivate today?” Maybe it’s to be patient, nonjudgmental, self-assured, happy, or open-minded. Whatever that is, set an intention to foster that quality throughout your day.
6. Create space for negative emotions. A common reaction to painful emotions like doubt, fear, or anger is to squash them down and pretend they’re not there. You’ll actually find it a lot more tolerable if you create space for them, instead. Imagine whatever painful emotion you’re feeling as a compact ball of energy at your heart. Now expand that ball of energy to take up the whole room, the whole street, the whole planet, the whole universe. As it diffuses outward, the strength of the emotion wanes.
7. Cultivate wise thoughts. So little of how we see the world and ourselves is based on fact and reality, and so much is based on our perceptions and interpretations. This is why unwise thoughts can be so destructive and wise thoughts can be so empowering. Choose to cultivate wise thoughts. We can’t always choose how we feel, but we can choose what thoughts patterns and narratives we want to nurture.
8. Do something you’re afraid of everyday. In order to be able to do anything really amazing or courageous, you need to be able to act in spite of fear. Acting even when you’re afraid is learned skill. The more you do it, the better you get out of it. Everyday you can find small ways to practice that can help you build up the momentum for something bigger. Maybe it’s asking that cute girl out at the grocery store, or negotiating a price when you don’t feel comfortable haggling, or speaking up at work when normally you keep quiet. Whatever you’re afraid of, practice doing it.
9. Act out of love, not fear. Many people think the opposite of love is hate, but I would actually say it’s fear. While fear is a closing and contraction of the heart, love is a warmness and openness to yourself, the people around you, and whatever circumstance comes your way. If you’re ever confused and unsure of how to act, ask yourself one question. Does the action you’re considering spring from love or from fear? Always choose love.