A Warrior, she’s often been,
Obsessed with other lands.
Intending to her freedom, so
Content to raise her hand.
Yet, even in the midst of war,
Surrounded by alone
She knew t’was might that brought her here,
And sliced her to the bone.
This Warrior has sheathed her sword.
Its glint may dull, at will.
Her wounds, now tender’d, body bathed.
Her feet now soft and still.
All wagers off, she’s settled in,
Sworn enemies released and whole.
Old Warrior, the time is nigh
To find yourself at home.
The spirit of the warrior…
At one point in my life, I felt like I had been fighting all my life. I felt old and tired.
Time passed. I relaxed. I opened my mind to new possibilities. I began to see the light in darkness and the darkness in light.
As symbolized by the Taijitu, I realized that nothing is black and white – life offers a person a wide array of colors, shadows, and light.
For many years after that, I resisted defining myself as a warrior because I equated it with combat.
However, time and wisdom have gifted me with a revelation. A warrior I’ve always been and always will be.
You see, there are many ways to define a warrior.
Growing up, no adult female in my family was lean. Every person, from my grandmothers to my mother to every one of my aunts struggled with their weight. To this day, I have one uncle who is healthy-lean. In those days, no one in my family would have ever seen the inside of a gym or knew what healthy eating looked like.
As the ’80s wore on, my family’s legacy of heart disease, arthritis, and cancer began to manifest in the generations before me, with swift and lethal results.
I was on my own searching for a healthy lifestyle.
As a teenager, I was energetic and enjoyed sports. However, as a young person, I was slow to physically develop. In school, I was small and wiry, better suited for distance running than for participating in volleyball or basketball – the only sports that truly mattered in our school. As a result, I did not appreciate my high metabolism and wore bulky sweaters (even in the heat of June classes) to hide my super lean, celery-shaped body.
As a young adult, I became interested in nutrition and exercise. Cutting edge diets in the ’80s advocated for a low-carb or low-fat or high protein or vegetarian (or any amount of confusing combos). Even though it seemed that I could eat (and drink) what I wanted whenever I wanted and not gain weight, by the time the ’80s rolled around I was totally confused as to the proper way to eat.
I became a mom for the first time in 1985 and had my 2nd child in 1989. During my pregnancies, I ate what I wanted in whatever quantities I wanted. My blood pressure remained in the “very fit” range, so my doctor didn’t say anything when I gained at least 50 lbs. with each child.
A lot of the weight was due to fluid retention. I lost my “baby weight” by the time the children were 6 weeks old.
My kids have been two of my greatest teachers, as it was after they were born that I began to research healthy eating and lifestyle practices with greater intent.
This is the first time that I remember feeling the spirit of the warrior emerge, in the protection of my children.
When my son was nine, we enrolled him in Taekwondo. I had always been interested in taking a martial art and after 6 months of watching him from the sidelines as he learned to kick targets, memorized martial art forms, and achieved belt levels – from white to orange to yellow…I realized that Taekwondo was not to be a spectator sport for me.
I joined the class. At 39, I became our instructor’s oldest beginner.
It was during this period in my life that my true warrior spirit emerged. I became determined, focused, and fierce.
But that didn’t mean I looked cool…
At first, I landed on my butt more than I hit the target when kicking. “Are you alright?” became my personal catchphrase around the ole dojang…
I would go to work with my arms and legs covered with bruises from sparring, but at that point, I didn’t care. A certain amount of discomfort was part of the sport.
I believe that an honorable warrior is inspired by something much bigger than herself. I began my training as a total beginner, but slowly became an example for my young son. In 2002 I achieved a Black Belt in Taekwondo, at age 42.
I truly believe that there is a yin for every yang. During this time I began exploring the practice of yoga as a calming, introspective compliment to the dynamic, extrospective activity of Taekwondo. Yoga helped me to recover from my target work and sparring activities and improved my strength and flexibility in a totally new manner.
I find it useful to utilize the Yogic concept of the warrior as a metaphor for battling our weaknesses. It is also symbolic of our struggles to overcome a sedentary lifestyle, to mitigate the effects of aging, and live a life designed to thrive.
I am considering each warrior level outlined below as a progression towards greater and greater mastery of the physical form.
Novice – the novice acts on his/her potential with the emergent energy of the warrior. As it relates physically, it can be our hunger for life. Nourishment and exercise satisfy our daily requirements and satiates our physical hunger as well as our hunger for life on a basic level. At this stage, we live to eat.
Student – the warrior embraces the energy of the student – to act – to pursue, explore, resource gather, apply, assimilate, and recover personal energy and promote vital life force. In martial arts, it is only when we achieve the level of Black Belt that we have become a true student of the art. We know just enough to know that our journey has just begun. We live in a state of habitual growth and healing. Our ability to learn, recover, and persevere satiates our hunger for life. At this stage, we eat to live.
Master – the warrior embodies all aspects of warriorhood. This is characterized by the circle of the Taijitu – it is wholeness. The hunger for life is satiated by embracing what I understand to be our 1st Nature. In wisdom, stillness, and total immersion in the wellspring of inspiration, the master embraces the true beauty of the human spirit, and recognizes the spirit of others, as one effervescent spirit. Following our 1st Nature, that of a free human being, we follow an instinctive and entirely natural way of eating in order to nourish the physical vehicle that allows us to live and love, teach and inspire.
This is the level of sages, not stages.
I believe that eating can and should be instinctive. We innately know when we are hungry. A human infant does not eat to gorge, it eats to fulfill its basic instinct to survive and thrive. As we grow and become more conditioned to our family’s and culture’s way of dining, as well as become deeply influenced by capitalism and the media, our natural instinctive way of listening to our bodies becomes corrupted.
The mindless stuffing our faces with items marketed as food has morphed into a modern crisis of disease. We eat for many reasons, very few of which are to nourish our bodies. For reasons deeply personal to us, we eat to distract, to comfort, to shield, to experience some kind of physical pleasure. Conversely, we may limit our intake of food for specific reasons, as a means of control, as a definition of beauty, or as a means of religious sacrifice. Very seldom is it because we consciously choose to promote and maintain vitality and health.
In this crisis of disease and while being bombarded with media nonsense and junk food, the spirit of the warrior is needed more than ever. We need this spirit to help us discern what is good for us and for our families. We need this energy to protect our personal health and that of our loved ones.
We use it to stand up for ourselves when the world says we’re too fat, too young, too old, or too slow…when the world says, No!
We need to summon the warrior within to say No! to that piece of cheesecake, that bag of chips…to say No! to the snooze button…but Yes! to the sneakers waiting for us beside the door, and Yes! to lowering that pin and increasing the weight we lift at the gym.
We deeply need this discerning force as we run the gauntlet that is waiting for us every time we turn on the TV or the radio or pick up a magazine, or book. And especially when we enter the grocery store – to remind us that an investment in good groceries is an investment in vibrant health!
We desperately require the resolve of the warrior to give us the strength to drive by the drive-throughs. To find the resolve to do the research, walk the walk…to make up our own darn mind!
Buck Brannaman, The Horse Whisperer teaches, we need to be Gentle in what we do, but firm in how we do it. On the challenging road ahead, we need the wisdom of the master to lead the way.
Let’s live, learn, and grow wise together.
Old Warrior, the time is nigh
To find yourself at home.