It has become common today to use the term warrior to describe anyone with an illness. The terms that accompany this description most often borrows from the soldier and battle metaphors and supports the military industrial pharmaceutical worldview that has come to dominate our world. This sees as a basic human right the permission to kill, dominate, and win at any cost to ensure a perfectly healthy, affluent, and painless life.
But illness, disability, pain and struggle is part of the very fabric of life, making those of us experiencing it no more special than the wild baboon comforting her baby with her withered arm, or the large King Protea bush that was badly singed from the heat of the last mountain fire bursting out in a magnificence of tiny pink buds on burnt brown branches, or the rock pigeon dying slowly of bird flu fluffing its feathers that flame up with the colours of the morning sun. And so I prefer to see the warrior metaphor through other lenses, lenses more encompassing of all life.
Hafez sees the warrior as one who has tamed the beasts of the past and does not allow the anxieties of the future to intrude on the present. People living with an illness often have terrifying beasts to tame, the grief and shock of being ill, the anger that this could happen to me, the letting go of addictions whether to activities such as work, substances or thoughts such as always being right, or discarding a past lifestyle ruthlessly so as to align to an inner balance that better supports the body. But no matter how loud the roar of the beast the challenge must be met.
Equally our fears of what may come to pass must be held at bay, the gremlins that come out to play in the early hours of the night firmly banished. So must our demands that we be returned to the state we see as full health be given up. This rigidity of our insistence on wellbeing only fitting a certain picture we have in our mind is often the biggest stumbling block of all. No matter the illness we cannot return to what we were. Life, after all, does not run backwards. Looking backwards turns us into a pillar of salt, the bitterness eroding and imprisoning us in the sterility and desperateness of life as battle.
There is a Celtic saying ‘Do not give a man a weapon until he has learned to dance”. To dance you step out of yourself and fall in love with the music, the rhythms of what you value in your life, the light of the people dearest to you, and so you pray with your body and heart in intricate patterns of movement and celebration. Now you know what to protect and guard!
The warrior skills are the deep skills of the heart that opens us up to being the instrument through which life flows through. In this vulnerability of being we can respond sensitively to the moment and make choices that feel right for us. For one person it may be to find the courage to enter a high risk, cutting edge medical programme and risk all in a chance for complete remission. For another it may be an acceptance of the disease progression, but this acceptance is never a resignation for the warrior. After all, the choices of the warrior are made with an ear focusing on the subtle melody within the heart.
A warrior understands that all warriors are engaging with life differently, making different choices, but holding in common the belief in the very sacredness of life in all its many forms, knowing that the jagged, broken light flowing over a wound is as beautiful as the dawn light cupping the pink perfection of a baby’s cheek.