Meditation for the Modern Warrior Article by: Dean Sluyter
Jim is a modern-day warrior â€” a twenty-first century samurai. His weapons aren’t a sword or musket but a computer and a telephone, yet he needs essentially the same skills as the warriors of old.
As an oil trader for a large midwestern company, Jim has to maintain a panoramic perspective to take in all the constantly changing economic and political factors that can push prices up or down, just as a warrior needs wide-angled vision of the entire battlefield. He also needs a clear mind, undisturbed by background noise, to put those factors together and logically predict which way prices will go; the intuition to know when to ignore his own logic; steely nerves to hold a contrarian position when millions of dollars are riding on his judgment; the quick decisiveness to call in his order before he’s beaten to it by his enemies (the hundreds of other traders in the market); and the physical stamina to keep at it, year after year, without burning out.
But Jim has a secret. Each morning before leaving home, he takes half an hour to cultivate these qualities, preparing himself for battle as did the samurai of bygone days â€” by practicing meditation.
Meditation is not just for shrinking violets, passive tranquility seekers with no appetite for the rough-andtumble of the real world. I’ve been teaching meditation to high-achieving people like Jim throughout the U.S. since 1970. As acceptance of its value has grown, I no longer have to start every workshop by reassuring people that there won’t be crystal balls or beds of nails involved, but for some reason the tough-folks-need-not-apply prejudice keeps hanging on.
There’s no good reason why it should have lasted this long. By the early 1970s, teachers from the East had set up shop in America and made meditation a household word. True, their high-profile students included such flower-generation icons as the Beatles and beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg, but macho athletes like the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Willie Stargell and most of the bruisers on the New York Islanders had also gone public with their praise of the competitive edge meditation gave them. At the same time, research was demonstrating that this advantage was not just in their heads. Medical studies showed that meditators had lower heart rates and blood pressure, quicker reaction time, sharper memory and concentration, better coordination, and lower levels of fatigue-causing arterial lactate. Other studies showed improvements in such EQ factors as self-confidence, psychological flexibility, and sense of humor, which can play a crucial role in determining which players go the distance in a long, grueling game â€” or in the game of life.
So if you haven’t adopted meditation as one of your power tools, perhaps you should ask why not. With the hundreds of books, programs, and websites offering a wide range of methods nowadays, there’s no shortage of resources. Rather, the critical missing element is simply the understanding that, with a small investment of time â€” even fifteen or twenty minutes a day â€” busy people can become far more effective at everything that keeps them busy. It’s an exercise for multiplying strength, not wallowing in weakness.
I’ve seen this demonstrated vividly in my travels through Tibet. With the world’s most meditation-drenched culture, the Tibetans are a tough people, descended from nomads, cowboys, and bandits. Trekking to remote mountaintop monasteries above 14,000 feet with a small group of westerners, I often found myself stopping every few paces to catch my breath. Sooner or later one of our Tibetan porters would come up from behind to relieve me of my backpack, go around the bend to take up a second one, scramble up to the top to drop them off, and then come back for two more. By the time we westerners reached the top, huffing and puffing all the way, there would be our porters, relaxing in a little circle, smoking cigarettes.
One of Tibet’s greatest cultural heroes, the nineteenth-century lama Dza Patrul Rinpoche, took a vow never to sleep indoors â€” serious business in the Land of Snows, and impossible without the inner strength developed in meditation. This toughness became a tragic necessity when the Chinese communists invaded Tibet in 1959. Thousands of monks and nuns were subjected to torture, which they endured with the help of meditation, including tonglen, a special technique for shifting one’s focus from one’s own suffering to compassion for others â€” in this case, the torturers.
The connection between meditation and toughness has a long tradition. In the Bhagavad Gita (India’s most popular scripture), the supreme wisdom is given to the great warrior Arjuna just before a crucial battle. In what we might call a failure of nerve, he throws down his bow and declares that he will not fight. Fortunately his charioteer is the god Krishna, who lectures him on the relationship between the inner and the outer, meditation and action, with the key instruction Yogastah kuru karmani: “Established in the infinite, act within the finite.”
That is, the world of objects and events in which we must act is like the turbulent, ever-changing waves on the surface of an ocean. Beneath the waves is the ocean itself, vast, unchanging, and silent â€” the dimension of vast, unchanging silence that is experienced in meditation. By alternating meditation and action, we gradually become established in that inner silence, anchored to it at the depths, no matter what kind of tempests we have to ride out on the surface. Armed with this wisdom, Arjuna takes up his bow and vanquishes his enemies.
The same pattern persists today. Because I’ve been fortunate enough to study with lamas and yogis who emphasized the ease and simplicity of meditation, I’ve had a lot of success teaching it to high school students as well as adults. Although anyone can meditate, I’ve found that the ones who take to it the fastest are not the valedic- torians but the jocks, who are used to experiencing things directly, through their bodies, rather than abstractly in their heads. (Jim, the oil trader, once worked for the billionaire investor George Soros. Soros always knew his market position was wrong when his back started to twinge.)
One of my favorite meditating jocks was Eddie, a kid I instructed some fifteen years ago, a blond, crewcut, 6’3″ linebacker for the football team. Eddie, to put it mildly, had anger management issues: He once took apart a boys’ bathroom with his bare hands. Fortunately, the school saw something worthwhile beneath that anger, and, instead of kicking him out, they got him involved in a meditation program I was running.
As Eddie became cooler and more centered, he learned how to use his fiery energy in more productive ways. Today he’s a manager for a major telecommunications company, where, to get projects done under pressure, he’s as gentle as he can be but as tough as he has to be. He’s also the doting father of two young children and is working with me on a project to teach meditation inside prisons. (As sweet as he’s become, he’s still the guy I want by my side in the cell block.)
In our culture, when we seek icons of the qualities we’d like to emulate, we often look to the movies. Of all the movie tough guys, who’s the toughest? For my money, it’s not the ones who show off their superhuman physical prowess with the help of bulked-up muscles, hyped-up sound effects, and computer-enhanced deeds. That’s clearly just a fantasy, not something we can use in our lives.
I vote for the guy who oozes strength and composure just by walking into the frame and standing there, taking in the scene through narrowed eyes as those less centered start to squirm. That’s right, Clint Eastwood. And the quality he exudes on the screen can’t be faked â€” he’s practiced meditation for over thirty years.
So the next time you find yourself thinking, “Meditation? I’m not the type. I’m a person of action,” think again. Real outer strength comes from inner strength, and inner strength is a well that has no bottom â€” but you have to lower the bucket. Meditation is the bucket.