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The Only Solid Foundation for Personal Development

Before we embark on any sort of endeavor in personal development, from physical fitness through spiritual life, there is one foundational concept we must assimilate.  Authentic ancient traditions know it as warriorship, although its application to war is quite secondary to its application to lifeIt was realized long ago that the qualities that make warriors most successful in conflict have a surprisingly broad application to the rest of life.

A warrior in the sense we’re talking about is not a tough guy, not anger-prone or violent or selfish, nor is he a soldier following orders without question.  Rather, true warriors live  life according to principles greater than themselves, and for that reason are resilient in every situation.  Real warriors leave aside identification with the ego, and yet stand up unwaveringly for their core principles.  Warriors improve themselves through focus, clarity and concentration upon principled goals, and improve society with the same qualities.  Here are a few of the basic tools of warriorship that can help you in any area of your life where you choose to apply them.



The Samurai were famous for using the principles of Buddhist meditation, and the single-pointed mental focus it cultivates, to improve their ability to do everything, from flower arranging and poetry to combat.  This same single-pointed focus, this ability to marshal all your attention in the present moment without unnecessary conscious thought, is exactly the warrior’s approach to every task in life.  You will find that gathered attention in the present moment moves you forward more incisively than hours of scattered thought.


Principled Life

Unlike many moral codes you may be familiar with, the code of the warrior is not a legal one, but an existential one.  The core values of a spiritual warrior- love, compassion, courage, hope, integrity, truth-seeking, simplicity, and everything that follows from them- are universal values by which everything else has to be measured.  An action is not good or bad because someone says so, but because it advances or inhibits these core values.  By evaluating things in this way, a warrior not only develops independent moral insight and imagination, but the vision to value people and their actions independently of any institutional structure or goal.  What’s more, the warrior begins to value substance over appearance, to demand that everything in his own life be real and solid.

Personal integrity

Personal integrity means everything to the warrior.  Integrity means, above all, being true to your own being.  Of course, this is meaningless if you have no idea of what you want to be, if you have no trajectory for self-cultivation.  Integrity does not mean simply following the rules.  It implies a deep moral center, a willingness to stand by your principles, even in the face of opposition from people in authority.  It means that you avoid abusing whatever power and authority you have, and point out such behavior when you see it.  It means keeping faith with everyone who depends on you, being open in your dealings with them and not participating in secret, underhanded or manipulative behavior.  Integrity implies impartiality and honesty in all your dealings, a refusal to mislead or misrepresent, a refusal to stand for favoritism or nepotism.  It also means refusing to condone or collaborate with any undertaking that will damage the community in which you live or cause undue hardship to any group.  It is impossible to have integrity without embracing the logic of courage.  Integrity also requires judgment, however, in knowing when to keep confidences and avoid unnecessary friction.

Warriorship requires a conscious process of personal development in accordance with these principles, and as a result, on a day-to-day basis, purposeful living, purposeful actions, purposeful thinking.  Have you ever been in the middle of some task and asked yourself why in the world you’re doing it?  The warrior asks that question before every task, and thus builds step by step a purposeful direction in life.  If he can’t think of a good reason to do something, he knows that it is time to change course.


We have talked about the power of belief, and that is exactly why it is so critical to have the power of an integral and beneficial set of beliefs and principles to guide you.


The ideal set of such principles will:

  •  Help you to organize your thoughts and create feeling states in a way that will be helpful to your process of self-realization
  •  Mediate your relationship with the world in such a way that you will always feel that you are contributing to it
  •  Provide reliable and strong guidance regarding what endeavors you will, and will not, undertake

Notice that one of the roles of principle is to maintain a right relationship with other people and with the world.  Napoleon Hill’s self-confidence formula stipulates, “I will engage in no transaction that does not benefit all whom it affects,” “I will induce others to serve me because I will first serve them,” and, “I will eliminate hatred, envy, jealousy, selfishness and cynicism by developing love for all humanity, because I know that a negative attitude toward others can never bring me success.”

This is a key starting point for a principled, resilient life.


An Open Mind

Cultivate an open mind.  An open mind is not bound to any ideology, but seeks that which is true and that which works.  Ideology is about imposing a set of rules and limits which alone have dominion and alone designate truth in a given area.  Idealism is about who we are, who we want to become, the impact we wish to have on the world, one choice at a time.


The Logic of Courage

Consciously discard the logic of fear in favor of the logic of courage, and learn to distinguish between them in every area of life.  Fear has the property of bypassing reason and provoking action – after all, the fight-or-flight response exists for situations in which there is no time to think.  The logic of fear promotes an existence in adrenaline-fueled survival mode, an existence of reaction and malice.  The logic of courage moves forward without wasting energy on the fear of anything that is not at hand, and actually relishes uncertainty, knowing that it will be victorious.


Love and Compassion

Cultivate compassion for the people around you and for humanity at large through specific actions, and preferably through prayer as well.  There is no higher calling or principle for a warrior than to serve love.  As you fall in love with love, you will begin to measure everything else by the criterion of love, since everything good and beneficial comes from and returns to love.


Straightforward Courtesy

Cultivate courtesy and personal straightforwardness.  These two may seem opposite, but as your vibrational level rises, you will find that this is not so.  Courtesy means responding to other people with respect for the divine spark that is within them and not according to our own external preconceptions or momentary feelings.  It means communicating encouragement, gratitude and respect whenever possible.  Straightforwardness means being honest and open about our feelings and intentions, as far as possible, and the reasons for our actions and decisions.  It is the property of a trustworthy person.



Have an idea of the person you want to become, the core values you wish to stand for, and how the two are related.  The difference between a true seeker living out an Authentic Ancient Tradition and everyone else is that the seeker knows that there are greater possibilities for realizing the divine potential of humanity than he or she has yet attained, and is moving toward attaining them.  Unless we are striving to grow in this sense, the rest of what we have said here is fundamentally meaningless.


A Call to Alignment

Warriorship is the art of aligning your whole being.  Just as the infantry phalanx of the ancient Greeks derived its power from having every man within it aligned with all the others so that it could move forward as a solid block, you can bring more of your personal power to, and derive more benefit from, any task or area of life when all your beliefs, mental, physical and spiritual powers are in alignment behind that effort.


As you focus on applying these principles to your own life, here’s a quick glimpse into the spirit of a true warrior.  Keep in mind that, although this particular warrior was also a martial artist, you can become a true warrior yourself even if you have no interest in anything combative:

 ~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Resilience Secrets from a War Zone: Casting Out Fear

There are basically two ways in which we can choose to live our lives: in courage or in fear.  We can either create our own lives or be victims trapped within them.  I’ve written previously about the importance of cultivating courage in a deliberate way.  Today we’ll look at one of the truly outstanding examples of courage in our time.  Malalai Joya has spent her life in the most apparently hopeless set of circumstances, yet through courage, she has managed to create a better reality not just for herself, but for hundreds of thousands of other people.

Malalai was born in a village in western Afghanistan in 1978.  Less than a year later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  As a student, her father had been an activist arrested for participation in pro-democracy demonstrations, and would lose a leg fighting with the resistance against the Soviets.  After the Soviet withdrawal and ensuing civil war, the fundamentalist Taliban took control of the country, outlawing the education of women and preventing them from taking on any meaningful public role.  And then came 9/11 and the invasion by the United States, who turned for help to the criminal warlords whom the Taliban, if nothing else, had kept in check.  It may seem that there could be no more hopeless situation into which one could be born, particularly as a woman.  Most of us in that situation, if we were fortunate enough to be educated, would probably try to get out as fast as possible.

As a teenager living in a refugee camp in Pakistan, Malalai took a job instructing older refugee women in basic reading and writing.  Her father had always encouraged her to read and attend school, and thus she was more literate than many of her elders.  From this experience, she began to understand the power of education to change people’s lives.  Malalai also began reading biographies of resistance leaders, including Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.  They impressed her with their steadfast approach to dealing with injustice, and her reading list during this time suggests that she was deliberately cultivating the same quality of resilience.

When the Taliban took power, Malalai joined an organization dedicated to the advancement of women, and returned to Afghanistan, to Herat province, to teach in underground schools for women.  Despite the probability that she would be killed or imprisoned if she was found out, her family supported her decision and resolved to move back with her.  Teaching girls in basements, concealing forbidden books under her burqa and recruiting pupils by word-of-mouth, Malalai rose to become regional director of her organization just before the Taliban fled the American invasion.

With the Taliban gone, all the warlords came back to their fiefdoms and the weak central government not only did nothing about it, but allied with them.  At this time, Malalai became a public figure, spearheading clinics, orphanages and other important humanitarian measures in the region, getting things done despite the novelty of being a woman in such a position.  Seeing the direction her country was headed thanks to the fundamentalist warlords and the willful blindness of the Americans, Malalai decided to put herself up as a candidate for the Loya Jirga, the constitutional assembly.  She had no illusions that she could cause it to change course- she went only so that one person would speak the truth.

Of all of her district’s candidates, only Malalai spoke about the need to deal with corruption and to give women equal rights.  She won by a considerable margin.  Even then, the UN workers organizing the election warned her to be more circumspect in Kabul for her own safety.  In Kabul, she saw an assembly stacked with warlords whose ongoing abuses of human rights she knew all too well.  When it was clear that only the warlords and their supporters were being given a chance to speak, she approached the Chairman and argued guilefully that the younger delegates hadn’t had a chance to speak.  Once she had the microphone, Malalai denounced the corruption of the assembly in stark terms:

“Why are you allowing the legitimacy and legality of this Loya Jirga to come into question due to the presence of those criminals who have brought our country to this state?”


When her microphone was cut off prematurely, pandemonium was unleashed, but other delegates came forward to shield her physically from the angry mob.  She was ejected from the assembly, and that night there was an attempt on her life.  But her words were heard around the world, and more importantly, by ordinary people around Afghanistan.  Thousands of people, men and women, from fellow delegates to taxi drivers to old mujahedeen, found ways to express their support.  Wherever she went, huge crowds were there to greet her.

There has been much more to her journey in the years since that time- Malalai sat for a term in Parliament and has been finding new ways to help her people and to challenge the status quo.  She has become a unifying voice for those Afghans who want to change their reality, and a key facilitator for that change.  We in the West who have been watching Afghanistan for the past ten years must admit that it cannot be saved by any government or constitution or force of arms.  But every nation can be saved from within, if the people themselves become willing to strive for something better.  The courage of people like Malalai Joya brings that day closer.

The key is personal courage and overcoming the rule of fear.  When asked about how women can best defend their rights, Malalai said, “Once women understand that the key to freedom is in their own hands, they will dare to be brave, remove obstacles from their path, and be prepared to make sacrifices.”

We may not have warlords to fight, but fear has its claws in every human mind, preventing us from reaching our potential through internal threats just as they used external ones.  To refuse that oppression really is the first step to resilience and personal fulfillment for every person, everywhere.

Remember, courage (an essential ingredient of human resilience) is only a DECISION away.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Spiritual Life: Reality or Delusion? (Part 1)

“All fantasies, especially that of religion, are caused by a short-circuit at the centre of the human personality.  This short-circuit, which exists between the heart which pumps blood (the circulatory system) and the spinal cord which circulates spinal fluid (the nervous system) is only repaired by ceaseless prayer in the heart.  It is only when the short-circuit is repaired that you begin to be liberated from the realm of fantasy.”

– Rev. Dr. John Romanides in “Religion as a Neurobiological Illness”

Startling, isn’t it?  – A world-renowned Orthodox Christian priest and theologian calling religion a “neurobiological illness” and a “fantasy”!    You may remember that quotation from chapter one of The 5 Pillars of Life.  I’m bringing it up here because one question I get asked frequently is:

“How do you tell which spiritual paths will transform you life and which ones will wreck your life?” 

A month from now I’ll have a whole new class of university students to explore that question with, as we take a really hard, analytical look at not only the world’s major “religions”, but contemporary spiritual trends as well.

So why is spirituality important at all?  Who needs it?  Simple… if you want to become a truly resilient human being, you cannot do so without a spiritual life because spiritual life, if it’s real, is the only way to actualize the full potential of your being.  On the most obvious level, committing yourself to high values and principles will take you beyond the narrow confines of your ego and even beyond the constraints of this short life.  On a deeper level, there is no other way to open the depths of your being to a direct experience of the Absolute Reality. 

Of course, a quick look at the news is all you need to convince you that what we conventionally call “religion” can be a pretty scary thing – right wing fundamentalists condemning minority groups or telling their people how “God wants them to vote”, Muslim demonstrators carrying placards saying, “Behead those who insult Islam!” are just the tip of the iceberg.  

You may remember that in The 5 Pillars of Life I make a clear distinction between “religions” and “Authentic Ancient Traditions” and outline the differences.  People in our culture these days tend to think religion – the institutional version – is bad, whereas “spirituality” – the individual version – is good.  Reality is not quite so simple.  So how do you tell the kind of spiritual approach that will transform you into a saint / Bodhisattva / immortal from the kind that will transform you into a neurotic, a terrorist or a self-righteous jerk?

Powerful Questions to Ask About ANY Spiritual Path:

1.  Does it insist that the only way to be saved or avoid eternal torture is to become a member and / or believe in its creed?

2. Does it tell you that God is angry, judgmental and is basically just waiting for you to slip up so He can punish you?

3. Does it give rise to a culture of guilt and shame?

4. Does it teach you that God hates “unbelievers” or that you need to convert them by force or otherwise oppress them?

5. If you try to leave this spiritual path, will your life be in danger?

6. Do its teachings give rise to large scale emotional dysfunction? 

If you’re involved in or thinking of becoming involved in any spiritual path where the answer to any of these questions would be “yes”, then I’d suggest you run screaming in the other direction… fast.  

In general, any “spiritual” path advocating violence is simply a fascist religious ideology masquerading as the will of God.  Those that have moral teachings that produce emotional dysfunction are usually distorted versions (religions) of earlier Authentic Ancient Traditions.  

Unless a tradition meets the following criteria, it’s highly likely to be either a dumbed down version of an authentic tradition (i.e., a religion) or simply a fake from day one.  Here’s what every legitimate spiritual path must have or do:

1. It must teach that a total mind-body transformation of the human being is possible, that it can begin in this life and that every human being, here and now, can come to a direct experience of the Absolute Reality (God or whatever the name might be).

2. It must possess a deep spiritual teaching that includes meditation and / or unceasing noetic prayer.

3. It must be able to prove that there is an unbroken lineage of transformed people who have put this teaching into practice, been transformed by it, and can pass it on.

4. It must be able to prove that it gets the results it claims, preferably by demonstrating this across multiple cultures for several centuries.

5. It must value love, compassion and humility above all else and teach forgiveness.  

These simple criteria will enable anyone to get to the truth about any tradition in short order.  

If you’re a Christian or if you know the New Testament well, you may remember a section from the book of Acts (5:34-40) where a Pharisee named Gamaliel says that any spiritual movement that comes from God will survive and thrive, whereas any movement not from God will just fade away.  Since many Christians are used to the idea the Bible contains no errors, they may not have noticed that there’s only one problem with Gamaliel’s theory…

…It’s plain wrong.  Total crap, actually.  History proves that many religious movements have existed for over a millennium, with hundreds of millions of followers, and that these same movements have given rise to near constant strife, killing, emotional dysfunction / neurosis and endless misery.  

So be really careful before you commit your spiritual future to anything.  If you apply the simple criteria above, though, you’ll be just fine.

Next time, we’ll talk about how to build a firm foundation for your spiritual life.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Resilience Tip: Why you need to build your network

One of the most consistent findings in studies of various resilience indicators (such as longevity, health, emotional balance, etc.) is that people with healthy and numerous social relationships are at the top of the range… every time.

Ancient traditions of health maintenance and spiritual life were built on the deep insight that all of us are interconnected with each other and the whole world in ways we’re not even consciously aware of.  Quantum physics and the latest experiments in distance healing are beginning to validate this insight.  What’s it all mean?

You are a communal being – you’re not meant to be alone or isolated!

As our Western society has evolved over the past century, driven by industrialization, urbanization and endless technological change, we’ve become more and more isolated.  Sometimes it seems that our spouse and kids are all we have, if that!  One of the symptoms of this isolation is the mushrooming of social media – facebook, myspace, twitter and more.  People are desperate to connect with other people.  It’s a deep seated existential need we have as human beings.

So what can you do?  If you want to be more resilient, help others to do the same.  Connect with new people.  Reconnect with old friends and family members.  Take some time over the next week to go out for coffee with someone you haven’t seen in a while or call them.  Nudge somebody on facebook and remind them you care.  What you give will come back to you many times over.  Resilient people have big networks of other people they care about and people who care about them in return.

You CAN be such a person.  Sharing love is not only easy, it’s fun and it’s free.  What could be better?

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Resilience Tip: Reject, spit at and mock this mentality…

For you to be right, do others have to be wrong?  For you to be good, do others have to be evil?

Ask yourself this: “Is there a secret desire in me to be the one who is ‘right’ and to persecute those who don’t agree with me and are therefore ‘wrong’?” 

This is one of the greatest diseases of the human spirit.  It cost tens of millions of lives during the 20th century and it’s all around us today in various forms.  Several years ago I was visiting a church – I won’t say which or what kind here – and the sermon left me horrified.  I was told that people outside the church are selfish, egotistical, greedy, materialistic and unspiritual.  “Oh,” I thought, “I guess we don’t know the same people, because most of the people I know outside are kind, thoughtful, caring and trying to do the right thing.”

FASCISM is a perennial human temptation, a spiritual disease and not just a political ideology.  People try to transform the groups they belong to into fascist communities, into exclusive groups that are “right” and are therefore justified to hate those who are “wrong”.  Political parties and religious groups are especially at risk.  Today’s Jihad-crazed sociopaths are simply the latest version. 

What I’ve called “authentic ancient traditions” of spiritual life are immune to this, fortunately, and consider every single human person to be precious, no matter what their current beliefs or where their life is at.  St. Isaac the Syrian (7th century) provides a wonderful description of this:

“Do not provoke anyone or argue with them, either for the sake of the faith or on account of their evil deeds, but watch over yourself to make sure you don’t accuse anyone in any matter.  If you would correct them, then say a word or two to them with tears and love.  For love does not know how to be angry or provoked or to passionately reproach anyone.  The proof of love and knowledge is profound humility.” 

One of the great hallmarks of resilience and emotional maturity is the refusal to treat the great mystery of life as black and white, but rather to acknowledge its complexity, its many shades of gray, to embrace its rich texture and everyone who shares it with you.

This, paradoxically, means the one thing you must not tolerate is the mentality of narrow-mindedness and hate.  Ready to spit at it?

~Dr. Symeon Rodger