by Gail Allen
What the heck is a Spiritual Warrior? That’s the name of the 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training that Danielle and I are currently completing. For many people, that name conjures thoughts of religious crusades, triggers memories of self-righteous hypocrites, and perhaps just leaves a rather bad taste in their mouth. Spiritual “warrior” denotes some sort of aggression, right? When we think of warriors, someone who fights is often the thought. But historically, warriors were revered, not just for their fighting abilities, but for their dedication, self-control, and discipline.
However, could there be a difference between religious snobs and spiritual warriors? I think so anyway. All major world religions seem to have at least one thing in common...their followers get tripped up in their own egos, in the name of the religion they follow. In the U.S., we often confuse Puritanism with Christianity. I have a hard time reconciling the genocide, colonialism, and the elitist atrocities committed by many of the first generations of Europeans in this country, with the Love I worship and hope to embody.
In this country, Christianity is often the religion that many of us are most familiar with, but there are certainly plenty of examples throughout history of followers of all religions being selfish, prideful, and hurtful to others. Why is that, do you suppose? Is it because religion just brings out the worst in all of us? Or is it perhaps that we are all human, and these are struggles and challenges humans face?
At the root of all religions, in my opinion, is the desire to seek connection and experience with the Divine. All of us, including those who hold to no religious teaching or tradition or acknowledge no Divine Creator energy, seem to want to experience love. Deep, unconditional, consuming love. We long to connect to one another and find meaning to our existence.
So how can we move away from labels, rituals, dogma, and legalism often found within the confines of religions into real, authentic connection with our Source and others? I posit the answers may lie in some simple-to-say, hard-to-live concepts.
Service to others. Can you embody the teachings and traditions of the teachers, prophets, ascended masters, and saints of your chosen faith community by sharing what you have with someone who needs it? Doesn’t have to be physical possessions. Maybe it’s time. Could be wisdom. What about your gifts? Your knowledge? Can you do it in a way so the other person isn’t left owing you? I have a firm philosophy that there’s a difference between helping, serving, and fixing. Helping leaves us in a position of power and a feeling of satisfaction at what we’ve done. Fixing indicates that there’s a judgment of brokenness. Serving, however, is an act of love because life is holy. When we serve someone, there’s a sense of mystery and surrender because life itself is beyond our understanding. Service says that our souls are connected and we’re part of something larger than is either of us. Service, without ego, is not a form of escaping our own problems. The ego-trap with service is often that it distracts us from things within our own lives that need healing. We can take on a false sense of humility and martyrdom by proclaiming that everyone else is better than us and then wonder why we feel burnt out and used. True collaboration with others, however, leaves us energized and connected. We don’t see ourselves or others as weak or broken. We simply play our role of healing, first with ourselves, and then with others, in a posture of joy. I am you and you are me, so I first have to make sure I’m doing what I need to do for myself, since you are me and I am you. After all, the only person we can actually change is ourselves! When I’m the best version of myself, is when I am feeling most fully connected to a life of service.
Humility and vulnerability. Our egos tell us to stay in control. It’s far easier for most of us to give than receive. Why? I think it’s because receiving makes us vulnerable to someone else. Asking for help indicates we need to rely on someone besides ourselves. But by not, we deny others the opportunity of service and connection. Ego battles with us for recognition and validation. Spirit says, “Oh wow...I get to be part of something so amazing! I can play this tiny role and do my best at it. I’ll accept the gifts others bless me with, with a spirit of gratitude and cheerfulness. I may not be right and I don’t have all the answers, so I’ll listen to others’ with an open heart and mind and allow Spirit to move me.”
Unconditional, self-sacrificial love. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerskie explains that so often, what we think of love for others, is actually love for ourselves. If we say that we love fish, he explains, we mean that we love ourselves enough to take the life of another being and consume it. We often do that with humans, as well. We want a return on our investment of time and energy. We’ve put parts of ourselves into other people, so we begin to love those parts. Our love comes with conditions and hopes of feelings the other person can provide for us. True love takes practice, commitment to that practice, and boundaries that keep us safe. It starts with the person in the mirror and extends out. It’s, perhaps, an unwavering faith in the unknown and mystery. The Christian example of Jesus’ death on the Cross often gets lost in what people think it means, in relationship to the concepts of sin and the afterlife. What is missed is the example of non-separation from one another and the Divine. We’re no longer interested in “fish love” or worried about our own needs being met. The “you are me” part of I am you and you are me becomes our focus.
Mindfulness and Authenticity. We acknowledge that we are humans, with an ego-self that wants our heart to serve it. Spiritual Warriors fight to control that ego-self, while being honest and transparent with our struggles. We engage in practices that help to make our ego-selves serve our heart and spirit, such as meditation, reading sacred texts, and service to others. Our focus shifts to being fully present in every relationship, thought, and action. We allow ourselves healing so that we can stop operating in Survival Mode, but allow our midbrains and limbic systems to create neural paths by using spiritual practices, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, singing, and Reiki. We allow ourselves to experience true joy. We create opportunities and allow ourselves to experience states of bliss when we are focused fully on the Divine. We don’t get too caught up in rules, other than as guidelines for best loving one another. Perhaps following the spirit of the Law is more important than following the letter of it, so to speak. Afterall, following rules for the sake of following them, often leads to a sense of self-righteousness and a trip for our egos! Allowing both ourselves and others the grace to make mistakes is often far harder than just following the rules! We practice every day trying to make our thoughts, words, and actions match and align with the principles to which we hold. And we acknowledge that we will have to keep practicing every single day for the rest of our lives, perhaps getting better at it and doing it more with ease, but doubtfully ever fully and completely.
Perhaps Spiritual Warriors are fighters after all. Fighting for a better world. Fighting with their ego selves. Fighting for connection. Maybe you’ll also join the fight! Let’s create heaven on earth together.
Gail Allen and Danielle Schwartz are both 500-RYT yoga professionals trained in Hatha and Kundalini Yoga. They specialize in Chakra Healing, Curvy Yoga, 8 Limbs of Recovery (yoga for recovering addicts), Reiki Healing, Aromatherapy, and other modalities of healing.