Is it more important to be a brave warrior in life, or to be a calm monk? Both are inspiring for me in different ways. I have heroes that have walked both paths, and I’ve been contemplating this pretty deeply as I try to figure out who I am, and what I believe in. Being brave is a goal I have recently set and have been experimenting with. I have tried increasing brave behaviour by having more fun in outlandish ways, and by overcoming major obstacles to self-expression in the workplace with an uncommon directness. But, in contrast to this current goal, I also admire great spiritual leaders, and am drawn to their calm spirit as well. I wish to be peaceful, and meditative, rather than stand out and brave. So, I reflected more on the two types of heroes I have:
Warriors: These are the people who fight for a cause they believe in. We think of warriors as going out onto the battle field with their armour on. But, warriors are not just people who fight in armies, at least not in my mind. It depends on what war you were born to fight. Your fight could be to fight your way out of poverty, or to fight for change in your company, or fight for your child’s future. You might be engaged in the fight against climate change, or the fight to improve education. Whatever your war, the traits of warriors are the same.
- They fight for their values.
- They often overcome significant obstacles to get to the end goal.
- When they have a choice between fear or their cause, between comfort and their cause, they are brave enough to choose their cause.
- Their war is on the outside of themselves
Monks: These are people who are happy regardless of circumstances. We think of monks as going out to a forest to meditate for years on end. But, I am thinking of everyday monks. They are people who are at ease with themselves, and are able to keep their cool in all different circumstances. The rest of us generally have some mixture of happiness and sadness in day to day life. But, these people are able to step out of the ordinary world of reacting to different events. They actually find joy in both, as if they are watching a movie, and both the sad and happy parts are worth experiencing. Regardless of religion, the traits of monks are similar.
- They don’t let everyday happenings disturb their spirit
- Rather than react to life, they create the life/mood they want to be in
- They need very little by way of material things to be happy
- Their war is on the inside of themselves
As I contemplate this dilemma, trying to weigh the pros and cons of each, I remember some incidents where I was really in the zone. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, writes about this sensation in his book “Finding Flow” (You can find his talk online describing his findings here). He basically talks about happiness coming from the state of mind of complete immersion in a task such that your awareness of your self goes away, and all other thoughts disappear. He talks about some of the requirements to generate this state, including:
- Performing a challenging, but still achievable goal
- Strong concentration in that activity itself, not the result
- Time passing without you noticing
- Engaging in tasks that are intrinsically rewarding, and give immediate feedback
I realize that when I’m striving for a difficult personal growth goal, like being brave, I’m engaged in flow the way he describes it. My experiments require my full focus, and they are personally challenging, achievable, and enjoyable. So, I notice my day going very quickly when I play fully on the field of life, in the pursuit of my personal goal. When I’m engaged in activity related to my personal goals, I feel the flow that Csíkszentmihályi is referring to. Your personal goal may be something entirely different, like running a marathon, but the state of mind you have when you are in that zone feels the same: engaged, alert, interested, content. And my thoughts are simultaneously clear headed. In fact, I would say I have very few actual thoughts when I’m in this state, which leads me to a peaceful state of mind. Almost meditative. This is when the paradox is resolved for me. Brave warrior, calm monk? They are not opposites. They actually work together to provide “flow” that takes me closer to my happy center. Here’s what occurs to me:
So, will you be a warrior-monk today?
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