FROM TOUGH GUY TO WARRIOR
You are angry. But you haven’t practiced deeply enough yet to realize that you’re actually terrified.
You are suffering from sadness. But you’ve never been courageous enough to admit that to anyone.
This deep fear and old sadness drive your posturing and create that snarl in your lip. The fear and sadness are the real reasons people tell you that you look scary, something you secretly enjoy hearing. At some level you understand, if they’re afraid of you they won’t come close enough to hurt you.
You’re a confused young man carrying deep pain. You haven’t begun to see things clearly yet. You think you are tough, but the truth is you are afraid.
Alcohol helps you cope, at least in the short term. But it seems to intensify the anger. Regulating emotions with alcohol, you find yourself in less than ideal situations. You have more than a few run-ins with the cops.
A pattern emerges.
Ultimately, you are not unique. Therefore, you inevitably encounter other young men with that same snarl in their lip, holding a similar posture; other men hiding the same fear and sadness beneath the façade of machismo.
In reality, you are exactly the same as them, but neither party is conscious enough to see their reflection in the other…
When your paths cross, hostility colors the moment you meet one another’s gaze. Fear is the driving force of this encounter – a deep, old fear that has nothing to do with the present moment.
But that doesn’t matter.
Neither one of you is willing to look away or give any ground; both of you are willing to start the fight before the other has a chance to do harm.
Habitual patterns born of a lifetime of conditioning and emotional disturbance predetermine exactly how these encounters play out.
Two men, barely present, inebriated, and reliving the wounding of a young boy, turn to violence as the proper course of action here.
So, you find yourself fighting a complete stranger for no good reason. How insane!
You don’t really know why you’re fighting, and neither does he. But none of that matters.
What matters is a deep unfelt part of you needs to rage against your own suffering, a deep part of you is fighting itself. And you’ve encountered someone else who carries the same internal burden.
Unconsciously, you mutually agree to fight your own pain through each other.
Encounters like these seem to play out with some frequency.
A preoccupation with self-defense and violence emerges. You’re always thinking about posturing and being attacked, so you want to get better at fighting.
You find formal martial art training to be a healthy outlet for the rage in your spirit. You still don’t know it’s the deep, old fear that is motivating all of your training. But fear is a great motivator; it drives you to train hard.
As time passes, the medicine of martial art softens your spirit. Hard training and sparring help to diffuse the anger. Paradoxically, you are becoming gentler as you gain more skill in violence.
You’re still afraid, but by now your path has led you toward meditation practice. Through this practice of stillness, a coherent perspective about yourself is emerging; you’re beginning to see yourself through the clear eyes of truth.
In the stillness, you’re finally becoming viscerally aware of that old fear. You can feel it deep in your belly. You’re summoning the courage to invite it further into awareness so you can make sense of it, understand its source, and hear its message.
Through cultivating mindful awareness, you notice the constant tension in your body, the stiffness, the hyper-vigilance. Checking exits, sizing people up, shadow boxing in the mirror – you’re finally starting to wonder, what is all this really about? Why can’t I just relax and be at ease like everyone else?
These questions are important.
Time passes, your meditation practice deepens. Long clenched emotions that were playing out beneath the surface of awareness, and dictating unconscious behavior, are now given permission to unwind in the stillness, to be felt fully, and released.
You are becoming unburdened.
By now you’ve sat in silent practice for weeks on end at the feet of great teachers, learning to quiet the mind and practice the sensitivity required to know yourself deeply.
You’re learning how to feel.
While being in community with solid brothers and mentors on this path of healing, you’re finally able to summon the strength to admit how badly you’ve struggled in life. You taste the liberation born of sharing the authentic truth of your experience.
You’re beginning to understand what courage really is. You’re starting to understand courage has nothing at all to do with fighting.
Over time, your posture changes. Your gaze softens, your shoulders pull back to reveal your heart. Fluidity emerges in your movements. You notice it feels better to be alive. You couldn’t imagine fighting a stranger.
You are kind to yourself. You’re no longer afraid of people; you’re not angry. You don’t need people to be afraid of you, so you take measures to make sure they aren’t. You recognize it is within your power to soothe a stranger just by the way you stand and breathe. You practice putting people at ease with your presence.
You see it all so clearly – how and why you came to be the way that you’ve been. It’s sad, and it’s beautiful. You offer forgiveness for all the ways you’ve hurt yourself and others. You forgive everyone for all the ways you’ve been hurt.
You’ve made peace with the man in the glass and the fight in his heart.
You’ve found the way home to love.
You put down the bottle a long time ago. But some friends ask you to join them one afternoon while they have some drinks at the lounge. You go along. Life is good. You drink your lemon water and watch the people coming and going.
A man bumps into you. You’re not upset. You turn to make peace and apologize but this man immediately begins threatening you.
He is drunk and hostile.
Instantly, you see him. You really see him. You recognize the posture. You recognize that snarl in his lip. You recognize the deep pain in his soul.
You recognize yourself. You know this man well, you were this man.
He’s big. But he’s not trained. He’s just a confused man who had too much to drink in an effort to cope with his own suffering. At the center of his confusion is deep sadness. On top of the sadness is his fear. Covering his fear is this surface level anger and aggression which have been intensified by the alcohol.
You see him exactly as he is – a harmless wounded boy in the body of an adult male. While it’s true that you’ve cultivated the skills to put him down effectively and efficiently, you know in your heart, you simply cannot harm him further than he’s previously been harmed.
He’s suffered so much, in ways you can’t even imagine. His suffering is why he’s behaving this
He’s just a person, with his own pain. He wants to be happy, just like you.
This whole intricate tapestry is seen from the bird’s eye and intimately understood within the few seconds from when he bumped into you, then stepped back, opened his arms and yelled “Watch where the f*ck you’re going! I’ll f*cking kill you.”
You take a deep breath. You apologize. You walk away.
You notice the arising of a less evolved, self-righteous part of you that still needs him to be aware of how close he came, but you let that thought come and go. Walking this path of peace dictates that you no longer take action from that voice.
As you walk outside, alone to collect yourself, you observe the old need for people to know how tough you are fade away until it’s gone completely. It doesn’t take very long.
You recognize the profundity of this moment.
A circle has been definitively closed.
You give thanks for the blessing of your life and step powerfully into this new chapter of being a man.
You commit to spreading love. But you recognize spreading love does not require you become harmless.
You see the clear opportunity before you to offer this strength you’ve cultivated in service of healing men like you – tough guys with deep wounds.
Because of your strength, you are able to reach them. Because of your pain, you are able to see them.
You recognize your whole life experience has prepared you for this path – the path from machismo to medicine. With sensitivity, self-awareness, and love, you walk through the threshold, shedding the facade of a tough guy to reveal the open heart of the warrior.
You call that fearful man to mind, the man you once were. You thank Spirit for sending him to teach you this lesson. You let him go.
May he be peaceful.
May you be peaceful.
May all beings be peaceful.