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.

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.

Defusing The Worst Evil There Is: Anger

How learning some simple things can help us deal with the anger we all carry around

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by James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast Episode 116

I think of anger as a dark, black and massive octopus-like thing that has an ability to reach out with its sinewy limbs and tentacles and make their way into parts of you that you don’t expect, slowly drawing you in, often unaware, until all there is left is its darkness.

Maybe you haven’t experienced it. Maybe you haven’t been aware of it. I expect however that you, like all of us, have more anger hiding in the dimly lit places inside of you than you realize.

You may think right now that this doesn’t apply to you but unless you are some kind of next level being, that kind of delusional thinking is only going to cause you problems.

Looking back over my life I can now see, thanks to a lot of training on this aspect of the human condition, that I have had whole periods of my life that were controlled to varying degrees by anger.

Of course at the time I didn’t realize it.

I’m sure that on the outside, people would have thought I was a pretty happy, go-lucky guy.

It is only when we start to really look for this sneaky thing lurking, wanting to grab a hold of us, wanting to dominate us from the inside that we can see the power it had and has. And here is the thing, anger is always going to be an aspect of human life. This is part of the reason why it is so important that we recognize it and root it out when we find it. Anger has a way of festering and growing and forming a whole different reality – it makes you see things in a different way than you would normally if anger wasn’t ruling the roost.

When it comes to training, one of the most important things any of us can do is come face to face with this, learn to see the root of it, recognize the power it has over you, and understand how it feels, where it came from and how you deal with it.

I’ve trained in martial arts that try to get people to tap into their anger to channel it into aggression so that they can release more power. This is the wrong way to do things. We don’t want to learn to use anger and be powered by it. What we need to do is actually the opposite.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hit the pads. This doesn’t mean either that there aren’t times that we need to let go and give it. What we have to avoid simply is the fueling of that with anger. Walking this path just lets that dark octopus grab hold of more of us and eventually steer us around without us realizing it.

So what do we do when we believe someone has wronged us?

What do we do when someone hurts us?

What do we do when something really makes us angry?

I’ll tell you what I’ve learned to do. I shine a light on it as soon as I’m able to recognize it. I force myself to breathe. I recognize the anger for what it is, find its root and then acknowledge it and let it go.

Does this mean I never get angry? Of course not. This upset me. People upset me. Things get my gears going. What I do though is take these moments as opportunities to train myself to let the anger go and not let it fester within. I take it as a chance to really see things as impermanent and potentially bound to suffering – and let’s face it, anger leads to suffering, anger is suffering.

A Zen master I train with told me recently that to train against killing and to train against anger also means to train not to gossip, not to criticize and not to spread fake news or conspiracy theories. He pointed out that all the negative and mean things we say – even if we think we are doing right by saying them or posting them actually do us more harm than we realize and have the potential to harm others without us knowing it. He noted that we all have a choice to spread goodness that is really good or what we think is goodness that is actually bad, unfortunately most people aren’t able to see these realities in a time of social media where everyone publicly airs their dirty laundry and thinks that their opinions – whether right or wrong are somehow important to tell people about.

Think of how many people who have ended up in hospital from COVID due to all of the misinformation that has been spread around. People have died in hospital fighting to the end with their doctor and nurses that they couldn’t possibly have COVID because they read on social media that it doesn’t exist. You think what you spread in anger and delusion doesn’t matter but it can be just as dangerous as physical violence.

My view on this is to not criticize, not to spread foolishness, not to judge. Of course I’m human. I will get a bee in my bonnet just like anyone, but there is no reason to get into it with others, especially not in a way that can cause harm.

Most of our anger is based on fear and seasoned with ego. We want to believe that we are right and special and important and when something happens that makes us angry that thing is usually our deluded view of that thing somehow threatening our self-view. How dare that person do that to me? How dare that person be like that? How dare that thing think it can do that? Me, me, me.

To learn to train against letting anger take-over is to learn to let go of our clinging to this illusion of who we think we are, learning to see us all as flawed humans trying to do their best and failing, learning to see all life as a chance to train compassion, kindness and understanding.

Now you might think this is all wishy-washy rainbows and butterflies but it is actually what living an engaged and enlightened life is all about.

Learning to breathe and let go should be the core aspect of our training. It should be what we do when we train physically. It should be what we do while we are at work. It should be what we do when we are in school. Without it we are simply not finding out who we truly are and who we truly can be.

It isn’t going to be easy but I can tell you that training this way will change your life. Letting go of anger, not being controlled by it, lashing out, holding it in, being small – it is the difference between living in the darkness and living in the light.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather train and try, every day, to live in the light.

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

The Quest For Freedom Of The Spirit

How finding stillness in everyday life can show us the true magic of reality

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

By James Eke

From Warrior’s Way Podcast episode 115


One of the most important things we can learn through training is how to be still – how to actually understand and apply stillness. Stillness that isn’t just mimicking stillness.

Through stillness we start to see what is actually there.

This is one of the most important aspects of training and life that most people don’t even understand is there, have never been taught about and have no idea how to go about.

I’ve been training in martial arts alone for 40 years now – not that there is anything inherently special about that but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard comments from both students and teachers that stress that all that matters is fighting, learning new techniques, getting promoted, competing, winning, being a champion and any other multitude of things that are just external trappings. The reality though is none of that matters all that much or at least not as much as coming to an understanding of who you are – who you really are.

If being a champion matters the most what are you going to do with the rest of your life and the rest of your training when those days are well behind you?

If all that matters is learning to become the most devastating fighter who ever walked, how are you going to reconcile with the fact that all that you’ve lived in fantasy-land all your life and have actually no idea what a real fight is like?

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t train hard and strive to be the very best you can, however that rolls out for you. I spent years in my youth competing and loved the fun and competition. I always have trained for realism. The thing is, I also have been training in Zen just as much as the martial arts and especially when I hit 50 I have started to see the true potential and true need to take the most important aspects of training to their fullest.

Here is the thing. You can go to the gym. You can stand in front of the mirror in your expensive workout gear and do bicep curls and truly believe that you are getting into shape – and God bless you for it but those bicep curls alone are not doing you any good. In fact, just doing bicep curls without working all the rest of the arm – and the rest of your body even more just leads to imbalance and potential injury.

The way we spend our time training and our mindset for it is exactly the same.

If we believe ourselves to be serious about training and only focus on one aspect it leads to imbalance.

So what do we do then?

We need to train the physical body for sure. We are physical beings at the ground floor. We need to move. Through movement, through pushing ourselves we can start to find stillness.

I’m grateful for the hard Army training and tough old school martial arts I’ve had to endure. It sharpens the mind and puts you into a place where you can start to learn to quiet things down. This isn’t enough though.

What we need to do is also learn to unite the quieting of the mind with the movement of the body. This will lead to more stillness. Slow movement of martial arts, physical training, yoga and other disciplines help.

This is still not enough.

If you truly want to do the work – and I’ll be honest, it isn’t for everyone – you have to be prepared to see for the first time in your life what life actually is. Most people want to live in a world of delusion. They want to see themselves as sparkling crystals in the sunlight. They want to believe what television and social media tells them. They want to occupy themselves and mask the truth of reality. They don’t want to see what life is actually about. They don’t want to know who they really and truly are.

If you want to truly train, and I mean train in the way that wise people and sages and mystics and prophets have whispered to us, you have to sit, breathe, be truly still and let go. You need to let go of everything you cling to and listen with new ears, see with new eyes. You need to quiet the mind and let go of the thoughts rolling around in your head. You need to witness – probably for the first time since birth that you have been lead around by a storm of senses and perceptions and then something will shift. Something will change.

Stillness can lead to understanding that our senses, our perceptions and our thoughts are actually just us perceiving that we are perceiving, perceiving that we are thinking.

Behind that, if you let it, a door opens to a whole different understanding.

But like I said, most people won’t do it. Will you?

Let go and truly experience what you are and what you always have been and always will be. This is what real training is about.

It isn’t about building yourself up as something special. It isn’t about gossip or status. It isn’t about looking good in the mirror. It isn’t about anything other than finding out true limitless potential that is found in stillness.

You are not small – you are boundless.

You aren’t going to find that anywhere other than within yourself. Some of you will start today, some will forget all about this.

That’s ok – it is still there waiting inside of you, you just need to be quiet. You just need to be still. You just need to experience exactly what is really going on and then make this the central part of your training that all the rest will orbit around.

This is the path that makes all the difference. This is the Way.

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