In today’s world, many aspects of masculinity have been called into question. I think we can all agree that masculine drives to dominance and force have led to much violence, corruption, trauma, and suffering in the world. I see these manifestations as unhealthy aspects of the Warrior spirit, which is inherent in all men.
Healthy Warrior spirit is positive and necessary for men—a heroic striving to become more, slay one’s own demons, protect others, speak truth the to power, and stand up for what’s right in the world. I believe one of the most important challenges for men today is learning to cultivate and harness their Warrior spirit as a force for good, for change, and for supporting the best in themselves and others.
So how do we find our Warrior nature? And how can we distinguish between our healthy and our destructive Warrior instincts?
The Warrior and the Man of Wisdom are at the heart of the Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is omnipresent in the genetically driven archetypal forms that arise from all cultures. For men, embracing his Warrior nature and transforming through quests into the Man of Wisdom is at the heart of the masculine Journey.
The Hero, when he finally heeds an authentic call to action and embraces his Warrior self, develops, strengthens, and clarifies through ordeal and struggle on the road to becoming a Man of Wisdom.
We become the Warrior when we are willing to endure discomfort and put ourselves at risk for our principles. 17th Century “Sword Saint” Miamoto Musashi maintained that resolute acceptance of death in serving your purpose—your current mission—is the signature hallmark of the Warrior. Principle over comfort and safety seems to be a central organizing principle in most teachings about the Warrior and Man of Wisdom, and is consistent with the evolutionary roots of the archetypes. I’ve also found it to be true for my clients and me over the last forty-three years and fifty-five thousand therapy sessions.
When a man becomes stable in his Warrior consciousness, discerning what’s true or false, and feels more moved to serve others’ development and less absorbed with testing himself, he’s often transitioning into Man of Wisdom.
Why is the Warrior archetype so necessary for men? Male competition and dominance are built into the human genome just as it is in chimpanzees, walruses, wolves and countless other species. This instinct is met putting purpose ahead of personal comfort or safety in critical situations.
The Hero’s journey—the universal human attraction to being on a mission—often involves an initial transition into the Warrior who, through traveling the road of trials, transforms into the Man of Wisdom.
The hero in the hero’s journey by definition expands his Warrior nature. He hears a call to action, says “Yes!” faces and defeats the threshold guardian, and crosses the threshold onto the road of trials and ordeals. The Warrior, receiving transformational spiritual guidance, feels in his heart when he’s on or off his mission and adjusts back to his mission, even under extreme duress.
Ordeals lead to the Well of the World—the Belly of the Whale—where he must reconcile Masculine and Feminine, Father and Mother, Light and Shadow.
As he does, his identity is progressing towards Man of Wisdom who returns through the threshold, a living bridge to the Other World. Great examples?
• Luke embodying the Jedi Knight into defeating and then reconciling with the wounded father–Darth Vader.
• Harry Potter finding deep compassion even as he destroys Voldemort.
• Bill Clinton facing the humiliations of his impeachment and wounded sexuality and continuing on to serve the world in multiple ways.
• Einstein first surrendering to his calling to more deeply understand the cosmos–in the face of much adversity–and going on to be a powerful philosophical voice for unity.
The core of the Hero’s Journey is the challenge to grow or collapse under stress. We are called, we resist the call, we finally accept the call, and embark on our personal Odyssey—choosing the adventure and coming home transformed. The monsters arise from within and without, seeking to consume us, craving violence. Attack! Flee! Attack you! Run from you! Attack me! Run from me! A man discovers his Warrior nature facing such monsters guided by his principles and strengthened by his resolve.
How do we develop our Warrior?
In mythic terms, each time we slay the monster, face the ordeal, or choose principle over comfort, we discover and deepen our Warrior self. This dynamic is at the core of the Warrior’s journey.
I was a high school athlete who wrestled, practiced Shotokan Karate, played tennis, and ran cross country. My fears of pain, opponents, injury, and failure were the monsters who said, “Don’t risk that try-out, don’t get on the mat with that opponent, don’t take that ten-mile run, you will never do well in that race.” I had to meet those monsters and consume them, absorb their energy and step through the resistance thresholds into the training and contests, the victories and defeats. Each time I faced them and stepped towards them, I found my Warrior self just a little bit—I absorbed some of the resistance power and alchemically transformed it into a little more courage to step forward the next time in service of my principles.
This is the beauty of merit-based hierarchies likes sports, dance, theater, and heartfelt projects, especially for adolescents who are discovering their adult identities through success and failures, temptations and ordeals.
This is also consistent with modern research on willpower. As Roy Baumeister details in his Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, willpower is resisting a lesser impulse (like procrastination) in service of a deeper, more meaningful impulse, and is associated with increased happiness, success, health, and love. Of three dozen personality characteristics, willpower was the only one that, at four-years-old, could predict future college GPA.
Also, whether we naturally have more or less willpower as children, we can develop willpower with practice. We all have the human superpowers of focused intent and action, in service of principle, and driven by resolve. Consciously choosing goals/principles and utilizing our superpowers to pursue them increases willpower and develops our Warrior selves.
Most guys are lit up by the Warrior archetype. The Warrior is someone willing to sacrifice comfort or safety for his principles. Every single time a guy endures risk or discomfort, or sacrifices in service of principle, he nourishes his Warrior nature. The desire to do this rises up in men. If you’re not true to your principles, you suffer. If you are true to your principles, you find your Warrior self each time you hold your ground, face your fear, or embody your purpose.
We want to find ourselves as Warriors. Many men I’ve discussed this with craved this from earliest memories. I personally wanted to find myself as a warrior when I was three, five, eleven, fifteen, and thirty—the hunger was always there. I didn’t know exactly what I was reaching for, but I yearned for power and purpose, like my favorite characters in books and movies. Looking back I can see them clearly—Mighty Mouse, Mowgli (from Kipling’s The Jungle Book), Super Man, Bilbo Baggins, and The Man from UNCLE. All were Warriors serving the higher good.
As a boy grows from child to teen, to man, he expands into the Warrior. He finds meaning at the edge of death—either actually or symbolically by risking injury, failure, or defeat. He takes the Hero’s Journey—sometimes again and again. When we’re tested and rise to the task, we find our Warrior selves—a blissful experience to the masculine. And life tests us again and again, leading to successes and failures, both potentially supporting our Warrior selves.
At a particular point in adult development, something changes–we no longer need to find our best selves as much as to consistently embody our best selves. This marks the transition in Man of Wisdom. As we shift into Man of Wisdom we’re less drawn to the ordeal and more to service. I suspect this archetype arose in our misty genetic past when age diminished men’s physical capacities, but experience expanded their judgment and discernment. Tribes who accessed this wisdom had distinct evolutionary advantages.
The Man of Wisdom naturally embodies his principles. He transmits compassion and wisdom into the world and is moved to care. Man of Wisdom is often less drawn to competition and trials for himself, but loves to help others, especially the young Warriors.
Both these archetypes, Warrior and Man of Wisdom, arise in all cultures and are centrally important to most men.
What are your relationships with your Warrior nature? When have you embodied your Man of Wisdom? If you can’t answer these questions, ask someone you love about when they’ve observed these archetypes in you, and use all the information you gather to clarify your own masculine journey into Warrior and beyond into Man of Wisdom.
See Also: Two Rules for Guys
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Author: Dr. Keith Witt
Licensed clinical psychologist, lecturer, and author - My new books are available NOW! • Integral Mindfulness: From Clueless to Dialed-In. • Shadow Light: Illuminations at the Edge of Darkness.