The transformation of the Hero’s Journey

Growth and change grows from adversity

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #122


It isn’t every day that you hear of ordinary people who go on to do extraordinary things.

The story of Joe Medicine Crow and his incredible transformation from just some guy working in the shipyards to answering the call and not just going to war but knowingly offering himself up complete with war paint and eagle feather beneath his uniform to achieve the requirements of the Crow War Chief are nothing short of the Hero’s Journey.

And while Joe Medicine Crow I personally think should be a household name and I can’t honestly understand for the life of me how there isn’t some blockbuster Hollywood movie about him, the Hero’s Journey is something of importance for anyone who is serious about transforming their lives or training in a way that is unlike the depths that most dive down to.

From my own view, I see the Hero’s Journey as an inner alchemical process where a person feels or is given what is called the ‘call’ then through what most people who write on this sort of thing they receive or find supernatural aid, break through a threshold which starts the transformation process. Here is where the waters get choppy, the person on the Hero’s Journey is generally challenged, tempted, often fails and hits rock bottom where they enter the abyss. The abyss is the place of pass or fail, they suffer and push through death to rebirth and then transform. After the transformation that can be radical as in the case of Joe Medicine Crow, there is atonement and the return from the unknown back to the world. The person who takes part in the Hero’s Journey, whether in myth or in real life is never the same – they are different. They are like the Padawan who undergoes the trials to become a full Jedi Knight. They are the young private who becomes the Crow War Chief.

It is possible for you listening to this to go through your own Hero’s Journey. I’ll caution you though, you might not like it.

Walking a certain path and dedicating yourself to it means that you are telling the universe you not only want to be different but you are up to the task. I myself have found that the when you do this the powers that be are going to help you get there but it will be through exactly this process. What you get on the other side of it is a completely different you. This in itself isn’t so special, every moment that passes changes us but sometimes these trials of death and rebirth are radical and you are left, through this alchemical process with something that no longer seems like what there was before it.

This is what growth and change is all about.

Most people these days don’t understand the true power of training. They don’t listen to the words of the old masters. They don’t believe in what our ancestors knew as fact.

Transformation is there for all of us. We just have to open ourselves to it, do the work, fail, learn and continue on.

Most of you listening to this are already on this path, especially if you are serious about your training.

This doesn’t mean that your own Hero’s Journey is going to be anything like the amazing story of Joe Medicine Crow – it doesn’t have to be, it will be your own. What you need to do though is listen to his story and dig into it and truly understand it and what it means.

The thing about Zen or martial arts or any worthwhile path is realizing that you yourself need to open yourself up to change, you yourself need to do the work that is required and you yourself are faced with decisions in your life that will make all the difference and whether you pass or fail the tests and trials that come your way you will be given the change to stand back up, dust yourself off and continue on, do better, be stronger and become someone far greater than you even realized that you could become.

It starts right now. It is fueled with bravery, courage, stillness and calm.

Treat yourself and all others with kindness and compassion.

And just imagine all the amazing things you can do. You just have to take this one step and then continue along the path.

It is a path that will change everything. But only you have the choice. Joe Medicine Crow didn’t have to do any of the things that he did. He could have just been the greyman as a private in the war – but imagine a world without people like him. Imagine a life without the inspiration of others who are lights in the darkness.

We don’t need to do things in the level of some epic Hero, our transformative process can be much smaller and more personal. What it will be though, and this I can guarantee will be something that at the other end you will look back on and say, well, that was tough at times but I am so glad it happened and I am not the same as where I was when this all started.

That is the amazing thing about both life and training in a real way with a conscious understanding at breaking through the chains that would otherwise bind us, training in a way that pushes us through delusion, training in a way that is about everything that our ancestors knew well and understood. It makes it all worthwhile.

It isn’t for the faint hearted though. It probably isn’t for everyone. But then again there is a reason there are heroes and all the rest of us mortals who look at their examples and strive simply to do them proud.

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST EPISODE AT WARRIOR’S WAY PODCAST

The True Meaning Of Discipline

Ways We Can Bring Discipline Into Every Moment And Transform Our Lives

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #120

Discipline can mean different things to different people.

Some people think that everyone needs to be like they were trained in the military, up before most people would ever want to be awake, workout, have a fierce look on their face, and treat everything like you are going into battle.

Others look at discipline as being a detached stoic, treating everything in a hands off way.

Some think of disciple as best dealt with through almost obsessive control, monitoring every small detail so that everything fits nicely, monitored and recorded.

None of this is necessarily wrong. Life though, doesn’t always fit into our framework, follow our plans, or listen to us when we tell it how it should be.

Life is messy sometimes.

Discipline for someone who trains the mind, who trains the body and who strives to put the two together in understanding and living within what is ultimate reality means that we stick to training in a way that understands that attachment to our own delusion and BS and attachment to beliefs, ignorance and aversion is the opposite of what we need to do.

Discipline is all about cutting through all delusion. It is about being the calm in the storm. It is about understanding what we are told by society, by selfish desires, by things we cling to lead us down a road that takes us away from what is true.

So what is true then and what is discipline?

Well, there are a ton of people who are going to lead you down a road of their own explanation of discipline that is actually about ego, things that are fueled by selfishness, by want. They will make you buy into this idea that we have to be hard with ourselves so that we can get stuff done. The truth is that this is, from a training perspective and especially from a Zen sort of viewpoint to be just a delusional view of reality that so many of us are constantly told we need to buy into. It is as if the only way you can live a real life is by doing things, by getting after it, by accumulating.

Look at the world around us and ask yourself what kind of damage has been done by this societal view of needing, of wanting, of taking. It is a me, me, me perspective. It isn’t discipline. It is delusion and has consequences not just with ourselves but with the world around us.

What we and the world needs most is for us to all be less delusional. To see what life actually is. You aren’t going to get there by running yourself ragged, by getting no sleep, by trying to control everything and everyone. That isn’t freedom, that isn’t peace and is nothing more than a tyrannical capitalist view that you are trying to enforce on yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you should do things or have some level of control in your life. You definitely should but discipline doesn’t mean to become an obsessed person fostering ulcers because you are trying to live like some young kid learning to be a soldier in basic training.

I don’t love the term mindfulness these days. It has become just as clichéd as some have twisted what Zen means to fit a whole host of ideas that don’t really mean what it actually means. However, mindfulness in its true sense is the most important aspect of what discipline needs to mean. In other words, we need to learn to think with a big, huge, open mind that is also able to discriminate between what is real and what is fake, what is important and what is not, what is life and what is delusion.

I remember when I was in basic training myself and a Sgt who was putting us through the game that was the training told me that the reason they do room and uniform inspections that you can never really pass is that they are trying to get people who let their minds do whatever they want to do, to instead retrain them to focus, to concentrate on small things like making a bed or polishing boots and doing these things to a high degree and an even higher standard. He said that when you can force the mind to concentrate and gain discipline it changes everything about that person.

I remember thinking that this was like the kind of thing my first Sensei taught us when we were kids and what my first Zen master taught me when we would do working meditation or eat in meditative silence in the Zendo.

Discipline. True discipline has to start with the mind. It has to start with the way we view ourselves and what reality actually may be. True discipline means cultivation of true stillness and what that not only means but what we begin to see when we knock on that door.

Unfortunately this understanding is something that is lacking these days when it comes to training and people look at discipline as more of a physical thing, something that we have to push ourselves to do. It is true we need to be disciplined as in our stick-to-it-ness but derived from compassion and our understanding of impermanence and our desire to be free of delusion. In this way discipline also means being understanding of our failings, it means being compassionate to ourselves and others, it means being in a state of constant questioning of what it is that we are being motivated by and through training to mind to focus, to concentrate and to try our best not to be controlled by a mind that is like a crazed monkey jumping and leaping from tree to tree throwing fruit at everything around it.

Think of discipline as stability. When we are able to live a life without our mind being like that monkey, without the mind leaping around, fixating, dealing out whatever its impulses want then we are able to begin to see the truth with a capital T. We are able to focus. We are able to live a life far more free from the suffering that a crazed monkey mind creates and dishes out.

When we do this a whole new world opens up for us.

The best thing is that you can start right now. Take a look what is going on between those two ears of yours.

Is there are monkey there?

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

In this episode we discuss the book In The Footsteps of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings On The Essence Of Meditation, by Phakchok Rinpoche, pick up a copy of the book here.

Respond To Life, Don’t React To It

How Cultivation Of Stillness Enables Us To Respond Wisely To What Life Throws Our Way

Photo by Prasanth Inturi on Pexels.com

by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #119


We all need to understand that not one single one of us is perfect. This is something that we should all be learning from the moment we are old enough to understand words. We are all a work-in-progress. We are all trying our best and need to push forward, take risks, fail lots and understand that we are simple flawed but awesome beings living and learning.

Too often we expect too much from others but not ourselves. That is why so many of us are critical and so judgemental these days. We expect more from other people than we expect from ourselves to such a degree that actually set people on a pedestal and then pretty much look for ways to knock them off.

Think about how often we are quick to judge. Think about the stones we have thrown at others either in judgement or anger. Think about the gossip and the back stabbing.

Most people engage in this to some degree but why? When we stop and think of the fact that we are all just trying to figure this life thing out as we go through it and hopefully learn as we go it seems from that perspective ridiculous to get on any sort of high horse.

From a training perspective – if not a life-lesson one – the greatest things that can actually happen in our lives is making mistakes, especially when we learn from them.

When I think of all the things I have learned by falling flat on my face it is almost ridiculous. You live long enough and get to certain perspective and you will undoubtedly look back on your life and wonder how on earth you ever did so many dumb things and wonder who that person actually was and what was going through their head at that time period but more importantly, you’ll feel almost grateful for that fall that landed you flat on your face because of what you learned from it.

This learning comes in big ways and small ways.

When we are serious about this training thing and living and breathing it, we let it swirl around and grab onto all the different aspects of our life.

What maybe first started with learning to kick and punch turns into how to breathe and that in turn leads to learning how to be more aware of the moment, then maybe how to practice stillness and reflection whether that is full-on Zen meditation or something similar.

In time this practice of stillness changes too. At least if you are diligent and train properly.

What you find is that the practice of stillness leads you to understand more and more about yourself as you stumble around in this life figuring things out, making tons of mistakes along the way.

More and more, this practice will lead you to finding yourself less reactive to the events of the world around you. You will find yourself realizing that you have become, at least at times, the calm centre of the storm.

Of course this doesn’t mean that things won’t happen that will make you sad, angry, upset or any other human emotion.

For instance, someone the other day surprised me with instead of a normal friendly greeting, decided to, as we describe it in the Army, to jack me up, to freak out on me and try at least to put me in my place. Now once upon a time that sort of thing would have really upset me, I might even have responded with an equal dose of ill-founded anger. Instead, I looked at them, wondered what the heck set them off, smiled and just kept truckin.

Was I upset, well of course I felt less than great, especially given that this person’s outburst came in front of a room of others. Who wants to be treated like garbage? Not me, not anyone.

The thing is, who knows what they were going through? Why were they upset? Nothing usually happens in isolation.

What we have though, through our training is an understanding that what we put out into the universe has a way of coming back to us. You slap someone, you generally are going to get hit back harder. That is, unless we actively work to let that go – to defuse it.

Another way of looking at it is to view it from a training perspective. I keep a bit of a slogan constantly rolling around as a focus point in my training of simply, be calm, let it go. This goes for my martial arts, say when I’m doing rolling in jiu-jitsu; be calm, let it go. This goes for my meditation when the inner dialogue starts up; be calm, let it go.  This goes for my walking around, day to day life and whatever comes my way; be calm, let it go.

There is a lot that we can react to and get overly involved with these days, whether it is some social issue, climate issue, political issue or whatever else. We can be in a constant state of reactivity if we let all of this and more run the show. But there is a better way.

Kindness, compassion and understanding are far greater especially when applied. These are life-changing things to foster as the key elements of our training and our life.

It is possible to make no mistakes in this life and still fail. However, when we live a life that is about training and train to be less reactive, to let go, to be compassionate, to be kind and understanding and to learn from it all, we go from being people stumbling in the dark and into a world where we are actually learning how to turn on the lights.

Recently in an MMA competition a competitor I choose not to name but I’m sure you know who I’m talking about snapped his leg. Sitting on the mats with his ankle and foot flopping around like it was made of rubber he chose to continue the trash talk of his opponent and even the guy’s wife. This is where the martial arts and humanity is headed if we don’t choose now to live a better life, to strive to be better people, to make humility, kindness, compassion and living in the light our whole focus.

Sure, we are going to fail. We are going to fail a lot. Like I said, sometimes you are going to do everything right and still fail. The thing is, you have been given this amazing opportunity to do something with this gift you have been given, beating literally all the odds possible and being born. You can waste that gift. You can live a small, mean, petty life or being reactive or you can choose a better path.

It won’t be easy. Nobody said it would be.

The Way is not for the faint hearted. It is like walking through life carrying a mirror and truly seeing every single thing you have done, seeing who you truly are, seeing what people see you as – and then trying to make something better from all of that.

Be calm, let go.

Simple words but ones that can not just change our training but that can change our life.

How are you going to train?

What are you going to do?

When are you going to start?

All you have is right now – so you are best to get going. The time is ticking.

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

In this episode we mention Stephen Batchelor’s latest book, pick it up here.

How To Find True Freedom

…And How Not To Be Like A Dog Chasing Hornets, Getting Stung And Then Chasing More Hornets

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #118


We are creatures of choice. Perhaps that is one of our defining features. Humans make choices. Of course just as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve and the apple, sometimes we make good ones and sometimes the choices we make are less so – all choices have consequences though.

This seems like common-sense but how many of you have made a decision to do something, or not do something, and then afterwards you felt like kicking your own butt around the block a few times – or more than a few times.

We all make choices — every moment actually. Some choices you are going to decide are good. Some you will decide were stupid. Some you’ll not even think about.

Regardless of the fact that I have been training for decades, I can honestly say that it has taken me all this time – now in my 50s – to truly see how the decisions we make or fail to, each and every single thing we do actually, has consequences.

In Buddhism we call this Karma. What it is though is cause and effect. Every breath you take causes an effect, every action you make causes an effect. Think about that for a second or two – everything you do as a living and breathing thing sends out ripples that change everything.

It isn’t just the so called bad choices — everything we do sends out ripples. Everything changes everything. Forever.

I am first to admit I have made a lot of ridiculous choices in this life. And I’m not naïve – so have you, so has everyone, so has my dog for that matter. My dog loves chasing hornets, she will leap and bite at them in the backyard for hours if I let her and yes, those same hornets will sometimes sting her and in pure dog form, a few seconds later she will be right back at it, snapping and jumping and running.

How often are you and I like that? Virtually mindlessly doing things that make no sense to anyone watching?

Maybe you engage in gossip without thinking about it.

Maybe you drink too much.

Maybe you do any other shopping list of things that someday you are going to look back on and be like, ‘hmm, interesting, why on Earth didn’t I know better?’

I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much about any of it.

For one, what is in the past is in the past. Learn from it and move on. The second is that we are all just simple and flawed human beings doing are best to get by. Sometimes we are like my dog chasing hornets not realizing what is going to happen next – the thing is though, we need to train ourselves to be better, and most importantly, to learn from our mistakes.

This goes for everything we do.

I’ve been involved in the martial arts for about 40 years and in that time I’ve met so many people who want to believe their own hype and act like training in the martial arts makes them into some sort of big screen superhero. They walk around like they are imbued with super powers; invincible, better than anyone else. Of course this is ridiculous. Actually beyond ridiculous.

Do you think that the belt that someone has given to you makes you any different than anyone else? It is ludicrous. Does the fact that you train in whatever martial art make you unbeatable – they also thought the Titanic was unsinkable.

I’ve known people who are stellar martial artists who have been killed. I’ve known people who were certain they were a cut above everyone else brought to their knees by life. I’ve known people who you’d think were ok thanks to their training who took their own lives.

I myself have been through my own share of usually naively self-created life drama.

These days though, I have taken a different path.

I first off try to do as little harm as possible. This means a lot of different things. I am a vegetarian, I try my hardest not to speak against others or gossip, I make cultivation of compassion my central training, I try my best to think first and act second, I remind myself about a thousand times a day that right now is all I have so don’t fear the future and don’t live in the past, I remind myself as well throughout my day that everything is impermanent and try to grasp what that means. Added to this I aim myself down a road where I try very hard to not be angry, not be selfish, not be cruel, not be critical.

Of course this is all very, very, very difficult.

The difference though is that if I don’t try to steer myself down this path. To understand that this is the Way. That I will realize I’m just like baby shark-dog snapping at hornets that bite back and then bite back at them because they are biting at me.

Nobody said training is easy.

To be honest, the world is full of people who give it all half an effort. And by that, I’m not talking about just training, I’m talking about life.

When all is said and done though, I think most of us want to leave this world a better place for having been in it. We can be mindless or we can be mindful.

We can be unkind or we can be kind. We can be uncompassionate or we can be compassionate.

I know the choice I’m making.

I pass and I fail all the time. The thing is, I learn from it now like never before.

My aim in this life is to be, as I’ve said before, a light in the darkness. Sometimes that light will hopefully be blazing bright and sometimes a subtle glow but light in the darkness is far better than simply bringing more darkness.

What are you going to do?

What are you doing today?

You can sit and meditate. You can kick and punch and choke people out. This is all well and good but ask yourself, what use is any of it if you are mean, cruel, angry, judgemental, selfish and cold?

Instead, how about you make your central aspect of training to be about more than something superficial. How about you make your training about being a light in the darkness.

Imagine if everyone decided today to leave the past and all those dumb choices behind them and made the present something far greater?

What are you going to do?

Listen to the full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast

This week we talk about author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. Pick up her book Real Change here.