By Ty H. Phillips
I tend to be a person of extremes.
I can’t remember a time where I felt truly balanced—a time when a middle path was truly a middle path. I am an all or nothing type and in some ways this has helped me succeed and achieve, and in others it has wreaked havoc in my life. I would put all other functions in life secondary to meeting a goal both real and imagined. I would strip away anything that wasn’t a part of my current obsession.
These obsessions were never fleeting ones though.
I would spend years and countless hours dedicating my every waking (and even sleeping) existence to them. As a child it was martial arts. I went five days a week, two classes each day and when I was not taking classes I was reading on its history, its many styles, watching movies, talking to other martial artists, drawing and writing my own ideas on them.
In 1995 it became eastern thought and religion. I renounced all things to do with martial ways. I got rid of music, movies, books, clothes and eating meat. I dove in head first. I sat formerly and informally as a disciple in several lineages of Hinduism and Buddhism. I took up yoga and practiced asana for hours each day. I fasted for days and sometimes entire weeks, collected mountains of books on the topics, and visited teachers and temples all over the country. I wrote about the practice and drew icons and effigies.
I was a man obsessed, but not balanced.
When the year 2000 came around, I started opening the windows of my mind again and began training in martial arts once more. I found a balance for a short while in the art of Aikido. The outlook, the practice and the philosophy was one of warrior priests. It balanced both sides of my personality—one aggressive, one peaceful and withdrawn.
That same year I encountered strongman and my world changed once more. I walked away from everything and started training exclusively to get bigger and stronger. I researched where I could get a personal training certification and took my NSCA that year (by the way, these are all a waste of money). I took seminars from different strength coaches, I lifted with body builders and powerlifters, and met and trained with local professional strongmen.
Much like before, my library swelled with books and training manuals, articles printed from websites and anything and everything I could get my hands on. I ate, I trained, I read and I slept everything that encompassed whatever it took to get bigger, and abandoned everything else.
Now as I progress into my 40’s, I find myself no longer obsessed as it were, but looking at each aspect of my personality and finding a way to allow them all to sit together in harmony. A true middle path. I’m beginning to understand my Jungian shadow side and my emotional and empathetic self. When I thought about writing this article, my idea was about discussing warrior priests. I read up on them and their historical settings, the cultures they thrived in and their current remnants—both real and imagined. The more I thought about the article and my interest in it, the more I realized it was about me coming of age so to speak. It became my transition from warrior mentality to priest mentality, back to warrior, back to priest. As I get older, wiser and more relaxed, I am understanding that there doesn’t need to be a personal conflict in this.
By allowing these themes to sit together like a tribe; a shaman, a warrior, a scribe and a performer, the balance comes when I am able to be all of these things without demanding of myself that I can be only one. My mindfulness has given lifting back to me after my health issues, my lifting has given my mindfulness a boost of reality and practical application. My martial side allows me to be a father and a protector for my loved ones.
I understand that accepting myself as a warrior priest is finally understanding the balance I needed. That true mindfulness isn’t about being a holy, pompous asshat, but about seeing all of who we are.
In his book, The Return: A Field Manual for Life After Combat, David Danelo explains that a soldier in war understands mindfulness more than any new age guru. Living under the real—not imagined—threat of constant death, all you have is the moment. All you have is each breath. You have no choice but to be truly and fully alive here and now.
Maybe as a priest, I have something special to learn from my years of bouncing and martial arts. It is true that I have never known battlefield combat; it is also true that I am no stranger to real violence, such as the violence that takes place with guns and knives, fists and feet. I wish ill will on no one but the wisest among us understand life not in terms of imagined utopia, but as the chaos of evolution.
When we can settle into that, peace within, even when violence is without, becomes possible.
Editor: Dana Gornall