Many people in business will have read The Art of the Warrior, Il Principe, or Power – books that instruct how to ‘win’ based on tactics from past conflicts and wars. They teach how to be sly, cunning and always one step ahead of the ‘enemy’.
For the majority of those in business reading these books, the ‘enemy’ is a vastly hyperbolic way of saying colleague, manager or depending upon how high you are aiming – CEO.
But a recent experience made me stop and think – why do we so eagerly take lessons from books that instruct us in warfare? To be in war means we have not yet been successful at winning. To learn the art of war, is not to learn from a victor, but a warmonger.
But let me start from the beginning. It was a different quest that sent me to arrive at these conclusions. Lets switch back a few weeks and start outside a small white building in Clapham Old Town, with a little red door.
My literary knowledge extends past books like The Power and Il Principe (luckily!), to books I enjoy far more such as those written by Paolo Coelho, Khalil Gibran and Hermes Trismegistus. If I admire someone I want to learn how they achieved their perspective. On re-reading The Alchemist by Coelho I read for the first time the foreword to the book, and I learnt that he practised Shambhala. So deciding that it could potentially develop me – I found a beginners course and booked myself on.
At first when I read properly about what I had subscribed for I was a little perturbed by the phrasing ‘The Sacred Path of the Warrior’. For some reason inner peace and warfare seemed to me to have very little to do with each other. But what I took away however was that daily life and – not literally warfare for the lucky among us – but conflict, be that at work or in our personal life are inextricably linked.
Sat in this high ceilinged old building on crimson coloured meditation mats with blankets protecting our crossed legs from the cold the lesson on ‘The Art of Being Human’ began:
“Your spine must be straight, not uncomfortably, our spine naturally curves, but just imagine someone is pulling a piece of string attached to the top of your head.” Everyone in the class ‘grew’ noticeably taller as they corrected their positions. And their chests opened up in doing so.
Our teacher went on to talk about what I, and I imagine the majority of us do practically every day – slumping. I slump over my keyboard as I write, I slump as I text on my phone, I slump in meetings, I slump when I take notes and even find myself slumping when I walk.
It is a less obvious way of crossing your arms across your chest. It is, as our teacher explained, a learnt form of self-protection. We are protecting our vital organs – our hearts – our most sensitive parts – trying to minimise their exposure to the world. Our society has taught us that to be strong, you don’t show emotion – you don’t allow yourself to be hurt. I quickly learnt that this perspective was as incorrect as my posture.
“A true warrior is not strong like a brick, that if it drops from a height will smash. She or he is should develop strength, like the antlers of a young stag – soft and flexible at first, that become strong with time. Be open to the world with your heart, allow yourself to be sensitive and vulnerable to the world around you. Strength does not mean removing the heart from what you do.” and our teacher gestured to our straightened and strong spines. “Your strength is always there, it comes not from closing off your emotion, but from opening it. Can you feel the strength in your spine now it is straighter?”
I listened, at first I have to admit a little sceptically, then after we began to meditate, through the sporadic pins and needles in my leg and the need to fidget, I found something. It was not only peace and openness, it was also strength.
A warrior fights, but a successful warrior no longer needs to.
I learnt in those two days of silence, broken only by group talks, that we can conduct our lives fearlessly without destroying each other.
Opening ourselves up allows for the humanity in each of us to come through, beyond the temporary power struggles and ego issues, it allows us to connect. There is enough suffering and conflict in this world already, without the petty power struggles in jobs or relationships.
Perhaps if we all could just learn to lead with the heart in life, we could at least cause a few ripples upon the fabric of humanity for the better.