The Tender-hearted Warrior

love tenderness vulnerability

As a result of all isolation, we start to resent the things we've been trying to keep out, because after all, they keep trying to get in. A stone heart can only chip or shatter if it is damaged. A living, raw heart can bleed and heal and grow stronger.

What Does a Raw Heart Feel Like?

It seems distinctly un-warrior-like to get all teary-eyed in the presence of beauty. But considering that most of us avoid getting too attached to anything truly wonderful for fear of losing it, allowing ourselves that degree of tenderness would actually take a lot of courage.

Late in my year working in Korea, I had a dream about humanity's struggle with ecological balance. After watching a TED talk on the state of the ecosystem, I came down with a severe stomachache, and being a psychology nerd, I suspected a psychosomatic cause. So, I lay down and let my mind wander.

In the dream, a group of industrialists had just taken over the last organic farm. They were demanding that the farmers, a group of monks, use modern farming methods on the grounds that they were letting the land go to waste. The monks refused and so the industrialists brought in a firing squad, lined up the farmers, and had them shot. I suddenly found myself in the line and could see my brothers falling down the line.

Suddenly, there was a crack and the monk next to me fell. And in that last moment before I was to die, I felt immense sadness, not for my life lost, but for the industrialists who had been driven so far by fear, insecurity, and hunger that they would kill even this brotherhood of harmless monks. I also felt responsible for them in a way, and found myself chanting an apology to nature, knowing at the same time nature would accept no apologies for any of her creations' actions.

To my extreme surprise, I came out of the dream in tears, sobbing more openly than I had about anything since I was a small child. I was embarrassed but also relieved. These emotions had been there all along, but I'd never really allowed them to surface. Now that I could openly admit them, I felt more integrated.

The Result of a Raw Heart

The experience convinced me that I should take my interest in ecology or ecopsych seriously. It motivated me to take action, even though it was a field that would force me to face some of my greatest fears and come to terms with what I saw as humanity's greatest weaknesses.

I was afraid to commit because I didn't want to live a life surrounded by the signs of civilization's destructive habits and end up feeling resentful whenever I was around people. Which is exactly what happened after I moved to Boulder (some of my posts from that period were pretty harsh in their judgement of others).

I had to learn that the tender heart of the warrior feels for both sides of a struggle.

The Courage to Feel

Real courage is being willing to feel compassion for good and evil alike (because of course evil suffers more). It does not dehumanize that which it opposes, but accepts the paradox that you can love something even as you work against it.

So, I ask you, can you accept life's complexities and still stand for your principles and ideals? Or do you need the simple morality of a black-and-white world that allows you to overlook the wider impacts of your decisions?

Obviously, it's much, much easier to move forward with a black-and-white view, but you leave a wake of careless destruction behind you. Recognizing the complexities of life allows you to pursue a more nuanced approach. It requires much more care, but ultimately you'll create a life in harmony with others, that empowers them rather than bulldozes them.

Want more inspiration? Sign up for the Warrior Spirit Newsletter to get weekly tips and reminders for living with integrity.

Photo credit: Malcon Ricardo on Flickr