This series of articles on sacred warriorship was inspired by a retreat I attended at Tsau, the home of the Global White Lion Protection Trust in Timbavati in the North East of South Africa. The facilitators were Linda Tucker, founder of the trust and White Lion sanctuary and Andrew Harvey, author of 39 books, former Oxford University professor and international spokesman and global activist in protection of the planet from corporate greed and governmental stupidity. Most notably, Andrew's book The Hope ignited in me the passion to explore these themes further. I thank both Andrew and Linda for their leadership, generosity and service to life. The writing draws both on my personal experiences and also the wisdom shared on the dusty plains at Tsau in the midst of the White Lions, the global totem for sacred leadership.
Last month, I introduced the topic with the example of possibly the greatest sacred warrior of the modern era, Mahatma Gandhi. This month, I will discuss the qualities embodied by someone we would come to call a sacred warrior, to inspire those qualities in each of us to rise.
You may ask isn't it a bit grand to speak of such people and feats and attempt to be like them? Yet the survival of life and decency on our planet is only possible with a grand movement of not just one or two people taking up the mantle of responsibility for a cause, but a mass global movement taking responsibility for halting the destruction we are witnessing. Yes, the planet is going through a marvellous rebirth, but the time for meditation and positive thoughts alone is behind us. We need individuals who are prepared to stand up, take action and walk their prayers into existence. Consider these facts:
* one billion birds and animals die each year from ingesting plastic bags
* 50,000 plant, insect and animal species are becoming extinct each year through deforestation
* 80% of the world's forests have already been cleared
* 75% of the world's fish stocks have been overexploited
* five million children in Iraq have become orphans through war
* Every year 15 million children die of starvation
So what is a sacred warrior? The grand sacred warriors throughout time, like Moses and Joan of Arc, have responded to an inner call from the Divine to rise up against injustice, against the tide of popular thought, rescuing their people or shifting the direction of their nation. Yet in the times we now face we can't rely upon archetypal saviours emerging from the pool of consciousness in response to a great need. We need the average person like you and me to stand up, make a cause our own and work towards change.
Gandhi wasn't struck down by the light of God at midnight; he was faced by a gut wrenching injustice that he chose to face. Steve Irwin had no epiphany; he followed his passion and protected his love. We don't all need to rise to such fame and prominence. In fact, if we don't it is a sign that the battle of sanity is being won. What we do need is to find a cause that pulsates every fibre of our heart and work towards it. It may become your life, it may take up all your time or it may be something you do alongside your job.
And even more so for a sacred warrior. The distinction I think is that a warrior seeks to liberate him/herself from limitations and reliance on society, finding the strength to stand alone free of fears and therefore free of manipulation by circumstance, opinion or force. A warrior is a sovereign being. A sacred warrior, though, I believe is one who develops self sovereignty and uses this in service of the sacred, that is life. This can be preserving and protecting the environment, creatures, other humans or emancipating peoples and nations from oppression in its many forms.
So what is the first step? Andrew Harvey in The Hope calls this the stirring of the passion. With the ingrained ancestral memories of the last few hundred years of war and torment and being numbed by the atrocities from around the world pumped into homes on a daily basis through the media and also from, for many of us, impersonal schooling which left us feeling like another product on a conveyer belt rather than an individual with the ability to transform our world for the better, we have become desensitised to our own suffering and the suffering of other people and life forms on the planet.
So the first step is the most painful and the most liberating - it is to allow yourself to feel your own pain and the pain of the world. I remember as a young boy when I first saw images of starving children in Ethiopia (who Bob Geldolf went on to help) I cried from the pits of my belly for hours into my pillow. Yet a few years on, I found myself shrugging and closing my heart to similar suffering.
The first step must be to reopen that door and allow the suppressed pain and current pain to be felt in all its horrendousness, like a mother crying for her suffering child. Only through this will strength, determination, compassion, persistence, forgiveness, humility and connection arise; the qualities required to see your mission through. For these are the qualities of a sacred warrior. As with all journeys, the qualities needed for the journey are earned throughout the journey.
For many years, I turned my back on the media, not reading papers or watching TV. Perhaps it was necessary for me to unplug from the external reality and the spin of the collective consciousness on events. Now though, having found a level of emancipation, I find myself again turning to the news (not just that delivered through the major media outlets) for I want to know the truth of the world and feel the pain of my brothers and sisters to understand and be of service.
So how can I help? How can you help? There are so many individuals doing beautiful acts of love in their communities, the unsung heroes working quietly, not for acclaim but from a place of passion, caring and love. Watching the young Iraqi singer on X-Factor, I was deeply touched by the ordinary woman with a heart filled with love who travelled to Iraq and adopted two young brothers, bringing them up as her own children, providing them with a safe haven and the love they need to flourish. She followed her passion for children and desire to help, and took action. She didn't just sit there feeling the passion and dreaming about it, she translated it into reality and made it happen.
There is a small charity in London created by a psychotherapist that provides volunteers to visit people suffering from a terminal illness and give friendship and caring. This may seem like nothing, but to someone who is alone, afraid of dying and in pain, it is a lifeline.
Our humanity, our desire to love and be loved connects us all. Your service can take so many forms; it could be gathering a group and getting sponsorship to do some replanting in a natural area; visiting sick children in hospital; volunteering at an animal sanctuary; visiting the elderly in your street; looking after someone's children to give them a break; serving meals in a soup kitchen.
But whatever you do, create time for service, find a charity or create something that inspires you and do it. It will give your life purpose and meaning and you will grow tremendously as a person. There is nothing so healing as being in service to the planet, your self esteem and happiness grow exponentially, you make new friends and have more energy. In fact, it's beneficial for health!
The beauty of following your passion and saying yes to being of service, is you galvanise your community, you bring people together, you create meaning in your own life and the lives of others. You connect people. And anyone who's done any volunteer work or acts of service will know the deep joy and fulfilment this brings.
In the words of Carlos Castaeda, "To be a warrior is not a simple matter of wishing to be one. It is rather an endless struggle that will go on to the very last moment of our lives. Nobody is born a warrior, in exactly the same way that nobody is born an average man. We make ourselves into one or the other."