Humble Warrior



You stand with one leg in front, bent; the other stretched behind you. A deep bow at the waist, head down, with hands interlocked and arms stretched high behind and above you. It takes enormous strength and balance, put in the service of humility, devotion, receiving. It’s a yoga pose called humble warrior.

It’s also an attitude.

In Living in the Light, Shakti Gawain explains how we all have male and female energy within us. The “male” energy is our ego: our ability to take action in this world. The “female” energy is our intuition: our inner guidance that feels like it comes from some higher power; it certainly knows way more than our ego does, and often we don’t know how it knows what it knows. But it’s always right.

To understand this, you have to put aside your socialized views of men and women, of GI Joe and Barbie, and however you feel about that. This is about energy, not gender.

The proper synergistic relationship between our inner male and female, Shakti says, is when our inner female says “I want that” and our inner male says “Great! I’ll get it for you.”

In so many people, what you see is the ego running wild and deciding everything, with the intuition a lonely, unheard voice in the background. An inner male dominating and subjugating, or simply ignoring, an inner female. And of course, there are plenty of demonstrations of this in the physical world: men or women who are aggressive, pushy, narcissistic, domineering, etc.

Or the reverse: often you see people with a strong inner sense but limited ability to take action. The sweet, kind people who can never seem to get their career going, to get over their illnesses, to make any money, or get ahead with their lives. The beautiful losers. And while often they’re superficially attractive people, they do a lot of damage through their inability to take a stand, draw clear boundaries, fend for themselves, or manifest their actual agenda in the world. Often these spiritual people turn away from the world entirely, which is emphatically not what the world needs. Often they tell themselves they’re taking the high road by not taking the action they know they should be taking, when really it’s helplessness. Turning away from a fight isn’t a moral decision if you’re actually unable to fight. People like this are manifesting a strong inner female but a weak inner male.

You can see this playing out in relationships: one partner sets the agenda, makes the decisions, “wears the pants” so to speak. The other is the supportive homemaker, the nurturer. At worst, these relationships can become abusive and toxic; think about the Me Too movement. But even when the partners stay relatively balanced and harmonious, sooner or later the moment comes when one gets fed up and says: “why can’t you ever…?” because conflict arises over this fundamental difference. The problem is that in the long run you can’t simply outsource to job of your inner male or your inner female, whichever one you can’t actualize yourself, to a partner.

On a more public scale, you can see this manifesting in the Republican and Democratic parties. Republicans usually think they can “go it alone,” that they’re self-made, that people needing help are whiners, that might makes right. Often, their ignorance is shocking. They know how to use power, but their use of it is mindless at best and monstrous at worst. Ego is the whole show. Democrats are about inclusion, “fairness,” helping the needy, leveling the playing field (which often rightfully enrages Republicans who earned their money and don’t want it taken away and given to people who didn’t). Democrats’ values are great but they usually don’t know how to fight effectively and often their solutions are unrealistic and idealistic to the point of absurdity. And as often happens on the individual level with intuition and ego, they only get a chance to prevail when the other side (the ego) crashes and burns through its corruption and blindness. On the political level, ego and intuition hate each other’s guts, and yet they need each other. It’s the same as with relationships. They’re actually two critical parts of the same system… if only they knew how to work together.

So the answer starts on the personal level. What we want to have is a healthy and confident ego that knows how to make things happen in the world…  but 100% in service to, and in support of, a clear and fully realized intuition. This is the proper role of both energies, developed and encouraged to be equally strong inside of every individual. This should be the goal of real spiritual practice: not turning away from the world, but engaging with it mindfully. Fearless and focused action based on steady wisdom.

In other words, humble warrior.

Random Thoughts on Hamlet

Saturday, we went to see Hamlet at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre. Nicely staged, some good performances, but as so often with Shakespeare, I found myself listening past the actors to the words.

When you read annotations of WS, you discover that there are layers and layers of lost meaning: puns, allusions, references that are so packed into every line you get dizzy. Yet even without catching half of what he’s saying, he’s still a riveting dramatist because he gets at primal emotional dilemmas: the intersections of love, betrayal, trust, ingratitude, selfishness, idealism, ambition. Even a callow actor like the kid playing Hamlet was able to put across the character’s shrewd intelligence, his confusion and vulnerability, and his impotent rage.

Maybe it’s impossible to fully act Shakespeare, at least a whole play. When you see an actor really connect with the part and put all the meanings across, it’s a thrilling experience. Brando standing on the steps eulogizing Caesar, his passion bursting through his finely chosen ironic words… Basil Rathbone as Tybalt, sneering at Romeo as his challenges go unanswered (he practically mouthes the word “pussy”)… Olivier staring at the camera and forcing you to identify and empathize with Richard’s bitter self-justifications… Howard Keel’s strutting, vain, hilariously overconfident Petruchio realizing he isn’t nearly the badass he thinks he is.

One of the best biographies I’ve ever read is Michael Morrison’s “John Barrymore, Shakespearean Actor.” Using various sources he meticulously recreates Barrymore’s legendary 1922 performance of Hamlet, taking you through the entire play so vividly that you feel you’re sitting in the front row watching it. Miraculous writing. This was the first production to take Shakespeare out of the old declamatory tradition and ground the play in modern psychological meaning. Stylized minimal sets, simple costumes. The operating principle was that this was a brand-new play no one had ever seen.

What people loved most about the performance was that Barrymore played Hamlet as a Prince — noble, proud, charismatic. That aspect was completely missing the other night: the kid played Hamlet more like Adam Lambert having a sustained snit (maybe I’m getting more crochety as I get older).

Yet, listening through to the words, I felt in some ways I was seeing a brand new play, or at least seeing it through new eyes. For the first time, I felt intense compassion for this idealistic, smart but fatally innocent young man reacting a few beats too late to the careless treachery of the older people around him. I know this kid, I thought. I am Hamlet. But I’m also way too much like Polonius for comfort, and I discovered that I have more than a bit of Claudius in me too.

If the purpose of playing is to hold a mirror up to nature, then wow… ouch.