September 28, 2011

My Inherited Archetype: The Warrior.

What fundamental archetype half-subconsciously defines your life?

The path means getting over myself: even getting over how worthwhile it is to get over myself.

Let’s start with a few relephant videos:

(start at 8:10 in for the Barbarian Warrior Martyr archetype)

Ideally you could watch these videos before reading the below.


Strength and Honour!

…and Cooperation, and Peace.

Growing up—perhaps it was a side effect of reading Tolkein at the early age of eight—certainly it was being raised in a Buddhist community in Boulder, Coloradah, where the notion of gentle, non-aggressive warriorship is important —probably practicing kyudo and ikebana didn’t hurt—maybe it was just being a boy.

…but the notion of “The Warrior” was fundamental to my life.

“Strongbow,” a character in a graphic novel called Elfquest, was an early idol. Why? He was silent, certain. Reserved, bold, decisive, precise, talented, fierce, tireless, loyal, inspired by a mission, by honour (I spelled it, romantically, with a “u”)…

And though I’m far from eight now, and have been for many years, and I don’t think about the archetype of “the Warrior” so consciously—you know, these days I’m pretty ordinary: I’m just a human being. A citizen, a cyclist, an entrepreneur, a dog owner, and mortgage payer, a son. I’m many things—but not a warrior, at least not in the romantic way I used to think of it.

But warriorship—the path of meditation, of fearlessness through fear and dedicating my service, my every action to “my only father guru” and all others—is the pilot light of my life, the reason I wake up in the morning energetically, no matter how tired I am.

There’s a scene in Gladiator [see above videos] that, for whatever reason, has always come to my mind when things are hard. There’s a huge noble yet savage leader of the barbarians, giant, overcome by little Romans on every side, who’s taken down. There’s a similar scene in a samurai movie…where the hero, Toshiro Mifune, is shot repeatedly in a rice field until he finally falls and stays down.

Today, climbing at the gym, I wondered why I thought, almost subliminally, so often of that Gladiator scene of the fallen warrior. Of course, I identify with that barbarian—I often feel beset on all sides—by lack of money, lack of staff, too many emails, to-do lists, troubles, yadyadayada. I feel unhappily selfless—literally, viscerally, in that I put my service before what I’d like to do—going to weddings, bbqs, wining, dining, traveling, making a easier living, or watching a movie instead of (again) working allll night.

Today, sitting in the gym (where I love to work out, ’cause there’s wifi, and I can laptopitup between climbs) it bothered me that this reflexive archetype is that of a martyr. Buddhism doesn’t dig martyrdom: as Trungpa Rinpoche said,

it’s not enough to be a martyr: we have to win—the forces of compassion have to win out.

The nobility inherent in thinking of oneself as a martyr, is too full of self-pity and self-regard. It’s…immature. Say, eight years old…

It’s better to just suck it up, again and again, stop talking about myself, thinking about myself, make smart decisions, and learn how to grow my business and walk my life forward step by mindful step so that I win, so that I can overcome elephant’s countless obstacles.

Even better, I thought, today…wouldn’t it be great if I reexamined that archetype? Do I regard myself as a warrior beset by enemies? Competitors? Haters? Problems that I have to fight, or that will kill me?


No, I don’t, really. I’d rather cooperate with a rival web site or business than fight them. There’s plenty of room for all and we all expand each other’s missions or markets, however you want to talk about it. More to the point…elephant is about creating peace, in and out—so I have to learn to transform obstacles into allies.

As the Lincoln quote goes,

I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.

As the Tibetan Buddhist archetype of the dharmapala or mahakala goes, Fudo (etc) in Japanese Buddhism, we can transform our neurosis into what it is, fundamentally: display, humor, wisdom. We can do that on the outside, too. Someone doesn’t like me? Reach out to them. They don’t respond? That’s up to them. But I can try. I can live my life genuinely, with joy and sadness borne of sucking it up.

And that’s my archetype: the joyful, sad, loyal, troublemaking, fierce dharmapala. Sorry, noble German barbarian—you’re cool, but you should have either negotiated with your enemies, or retreated and saved your men, women, children. Because dying in battle might look good in a movie, but as Sherman said, in reality, War is Hell.

And life’s too short for War, or Hell.

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