Photo of toy martial arts warrior

Images of mindfulness: the Warrior

In All articles, Making sense of mindfulness by Norman Lamont0 Comments

About the images

In the last couple of posts we’ve looked at images coined by Chris Goto-Jones which capture some of the preconceptions people have about mindfulness.  It’s important to say that these are not always ideas that attract. They can equally put people off approaching mindfulness. Someone with a ‘scientist’ view of mindfulness may be put off by a mindfulness course whose advertising focuses on Buddha and lotus images, because they see it as ‘oriental’.  Equally someone whose preconception of mindfulness as a spiritual path may find the emphasis on therapeutic studies and research too narrow, missing the point of the transcendence of the self. The value of looking at these bundles of preconceptions as characters is that they may help to show us where our preconceptions lie. After all, a preconception is something we’re not aware of until it’s pointed out. If you become aware of a strong feeling towards – or away from – one of these characters, you may understand why you’re attracted to one form of mindfulness practice, or one teacher, rather than another.  They might also help you understand, and talk to,  those friends of yours who don’t share your interest in mindfulness.


Photo of toy martial arts warriorWe’ve looked at the scientist and the monk. Another popular bundle of ideas around mindfulness can be summarised with the image of the Warrior or Ninja.  The obvious association is with martial arts, but we’re not talking about actual martial arts practitioners here. The number of people who actively practice a martial art is miniscule compared with the number of people directly or indirectly influenced by the idea. The most famous nowadays is probably the Jedi – the spiritual warrior with a mystical sensitivity to The Force, who jumps from stillness to action and back as needed, and who has attained superhuman powers by years of discipline and self-sacrifice. In Star WarsThe Matrix and The Karate Kid, there’s a strong  master-pupil relationship to throw into the mix, where the headstrong student gains control over his wandering thoughts and emotions to learn self-discipline, which is then tested in the most severe way in mortal combat.

Bringing out the iron in your soul

We may not feel we aspire to these superhuman powers but a dead giveaway to the ‘warrior’ view is that the warrior’s disciple is contrasted with that of a society grown lazy, self-indulgent and frivolous. If your attraction to mindfulness contains any of that feeling, along with an attraction to austerity and discipline, longing for some teacher to bring out the iron in your character, the warrior might be part of your view of mindfulness.

Productivity Ninjas

We see glimpses of the warrior in the business culture of productivity and life-hacks. Writers make millions selling techniques – disciplines  – that promise to help you master your time, tame your email,  set powerful goals and supercharge your communication style. Despite growing evidence that productivity techniques can bring about just as much stress as living without them, mindfulness is often brought into play either as a ‘life-hack’ itself or as a supporting practice. ‘Sit still for ten minutes a day to totally CRUSH your goals.’  That sort of thing. The productivity cult holds up as a hero the man or woman who manages their life goals, daily tasks, relationships and health from a serene, sure-footed vantage point somewhere above the melee in which most of us scramble. David Allen’s Getting Things Done, one of the most famous methodologies in this field promises a ‘mind like water’ reminiscent of the poetic language of Japanese martial arts (no coincidence, as Allen was a martial arts student).

Downsides of the Warrior view

One of the prime risks of approaching mindfulness with an attraction to the warrior idea is that of disappointment.  Ten minutes meditation a day is not going to transform you into Bruce Lee, still less Obi Wan Kenobe. Some of the claims of martial arts, particularly those concerned with chi, can closely resemble magic, and over-expectation of this type is likely to lead to frustration and disappointment.
Equally, you might be repulsed by the image of an austere, unforgiving practice in which the slightest movement of your body in meditation is an offence, and which might seem less like a cosy relaxation indulgence and more like an endurance course. The image of the warrior works both ways. I’ve seen this in my own younger days. Fresh from training in the austere practices of the Japanese Zen style, I encountered for the first time Thai monks in a meditation hall. While the would-be Zen practitioners sat perfectly still in identical neat rows to meditate, the Thai monks would yawn, blow their noses, stretch and look at their watches, unselfconsciously and unconcerned with how they looked. That was when I discovered my ‘Warrior’ stereotype!

What about you?

Are you put off mindfulness by the threat of a harsh discipline and an unforgiving teacher’s expectations of long hours of meditation? Or does that idea attract you? Do you hope for abilities beyond the everyday? You may be operating under the ‘Warrior’ image.

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