The Spirit of a Warrior

August 18, 2015

Authors Note: This is the third article in a series on the importance of a holistic approach to physical training, nutrition and spiritual strength. This article focuses on inner strength, referred to as spiritual strength, or warrior spirit. For background on the context of equally dividing time spent in physical training, food preparation and development of the Warrior spirit, please see this and this

I was recently asked: “If you only had 15 minutes a day for fitness, what would you do?”

I paused for a moment to reflect on my answer—15 minutes was not a lot of time, and for me, training is a matter of life and death. Then the answer hit me like a ton of bricks: Five minutes would be dedicated to constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement. Five minutes would be dedicated to preparing my nutrition and hydration plan for the day. Five minutes would be dedicated to prayer, silence, mediation, and stillness of my mind and body. I would strengthen my spirit.

In the first two articles of this three part series on holistic training, I elaborated on CrossFit (physical training) and the Zone diet (nutrition). I’ve saved the most important component of a well-rounded and holistic training program for last: The development of the spirit.

The Dog of Courage

In October 2010, while I was serving as a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), my good friend Jimi Letchford, chief marketing officer of CrossFit and former Marine captain, invited me to join him on a 50-hour SEALFIT camp in Encinitas, Calif.

SEALFIT was the brainchild of our mutual friend Mark Divine, a senior ranking Navy officer and a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy SEALs. The camp, called “Kokoro” (“heart” in Japanese), was designed to provide a complete immersion experience for prospective future SEALs and other special-operations components of the United States military. The camp was created to test, evaluate and ultimately enhance a candidate’s mental toughness, leadership and physical capacity to endure extreme conditions.

Kokoro combined sleep deprivation, intense physical training, arduous team exercises, ocean exposure and leadership challenges in a chaotic, fast-moving environment, and it was coached by combat-proven Navy SEAL instructors.

Nothing I had been through up to that point in my life seemed even remotely as difficult or as challenging as Kokoro would be, including the DEA FAST (Forward Advisory Support Team) 30-day Assessment and Selection Course in Quantico, Va., which I had recently graduated from. I was eager for the challenge and yet nervous for what lay ahead.

Reporting For the Challenge

The report time for Kokoro was Friday, Oct. 24, at noon. Due to the distance I had to travel, I decided to make the trip the day before and stay at a local hotel. On Friday morning, I enjoyed a pre-packed Tupperware breakfast (see Article 2) in my hotel room. I got dressed in the uniform for the camp: military-style woodland camouflage pants and a white T-shirt. Then I walked out of my room to the parking lot of the hotel. No sooner had I stepped outside my room than a voice bellowed,

“Hey, are you going to Kokoro?”

I looked across the parking lot and saw a large and well-built guy approaching me wearing the same outfit. It turned out the guy had traveled from the East Coast and arrived early like me. After a brief conversation, he nervously admitted,

“I hope I don’t quit this year. I did last year, and it was so hard.”

“What have I gotten myself into?” I thought.

Based on Jimi’s and my previous leadership experience in the military, we were selected as class leaders and immediately tasked with organizing the arriving candidates into boat crews. At exactly 1 p.m. on Oct. 24, Jimi and I formed our class into four boat crews on the open cement slab called “The Grinder.” Shortly afterward, Mark addressed the candidates of Kokoro Camp No. 12 and asked a question he would frequently revisit over the next 50 hours:

“What dog are you feeding right now?”

Mark explained that deep inside each of us lived two dogs, and each dog was hungry for food. One of the dogs represented courage, and the other fear. Unless we consciously fed the dog of courage, the dog of fear would receive our unconscious energy and “food.” The key to being successful in Kokoro was to continually feed the dog of courage regardless of the physical circumstances we would find ourselves in.

The analogy of the “Two Dogs” is a beautiful illustration for the significance of two key warrior attributes:

1) Thinking Positively

2) Speaking Positively

The first step in forging a positive mental attitude and enhancing the ability to speak a language of positive expectancy is developing physical stillness and mental silence. Everything in our holistic training program up to this point has involved action: We physically train and we eat physically. However, in the forging of a strong spirit, we must also develop our ability to be still. There is a beautiful story that further illustrates this point.

A young martial artist asked, “Sensei, how will I know when I’m ready to defend myself on the street?”

His Sensei, a wise old master, replied,

“When you can sit in silent mediation, and not the roughest ruffian would dare make onset to your presence, then you are ready.”

Finding Stillness

The first step in creating peace and silence in our mind is to create stability and stillness in the body. Personally, I have found resounding success with the Yoga pose known as “Child’s Pose.” Due to the amount of surface area in contact with the ground this pose affords, it is very easy for me to become completely still for long periods of time. In addition, the pose has been shown to offer simultaneous physical health benefits and increased mobility in the lower back, hips, shoulders, knees and ankles.

Once I settle into Child’s Pose, I close my eyes and begin to bring awareness to my breathing. Essentially, I “watch myself breathe.” I ensure that each inhalation is full and complete. I concentrate on the brief pause at the top of the inhalation, and then I continue to follow my breath as I exhale completely. Being in Child’s Pose allows me to feel my diaphragm and stomach rise and fall with each breath. One of the keys when developing a mediation practice is to release the tendency to judge ourselves. There is no “right” or “wrong.” We simply watch our breath come in, and we watch the breath go out.

After I take several deep breaths and ground myself with Child’s Pose, I use a breathing technique I learned from Lt. Col. David Grossman (author of On Killing and On Combat). David taught me this concept while I was a student at the DEA Academy, and I have since successfully used this technique in challenging situations ranging from apprehending violent offenders to difficult CrossFit workouts. It’s called “Box Breathing” or “Combat Breathing,” and I refer to it when I lecture and teach seminars as “The Warriors Breath.” Here’s how it works:

Inhale through your nose for a full four-count. (One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc.)

Hold for a full four-count.

Exhale through your mouth for a full four-count.

Hold for a full four-count.

Repeat this sequence a total of four times.

This breathing technique is designed to slow the heart rate and respirations, calm the mind, and enable a controlled and conscious choice about our thoughts, words and actions. By practicing this breathing technique while in Child’s Pose, I experience immense relaxation, mental stillness and inner tranquility.

[Editor’s Note: For another take, see Jeff Shannon’s Present Moment Awareness.]

Morning Practice

As a young deputy sheriff serving with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, I learned from the moment I hit the street, that I was at the mercy of the dispatcher. I could have lofty plans and goals for serving arrest warrants and catching bad guys, but in reality, a dispatched call always had priority. It was imperative I show up to work prepared for the “unknown and unknowable” challenges my day would hold.

In the Warrior tradition, the concept of being prepared is taken a step further: A true Warrior is prepared for the unknown and unknowable the moment they leave the relative safety of their front door. This is the reason the majority of Warrior teachers advocate developing the ritual of a morning practice. The morning practice I follow and teach others is designed to prepare the mind and spirit for any challenge that awaits.

Following are the steps I teach.

1) Upon awakening in the morning, remain silent. Resist the temptation to say anything at all.

2) Pour yourself a glass of water, drink the water, and with your inner voice, express gratitude for the water, and your body’s ability to receive the nutrients the water has to offer.

3) Go to a section of your home where you will not be disturbed and settle into Child’s Pose. IMG_5107

4) While in Child’s Pose, perform four cycles of Box Breathing.

5) After the four cycles of Box Breathing, remain in Child’s Pose for as long as you choose. Enjoy the stillness of the mind and the body.

6) Offer up your “First Words.” This means to become very conscious of the first utterance of words you speak that day. Ensure your first words are positive. (Personally, I always speak Bible verse as my first words.) Your first words should be in the form of a mantra of affirmation (i.e., “I believe in myself” or “I love myself” or “I constantly reinforce my ability to succeed”) or a singular word that best describes your life’s intention (i.e., “courage” or “faith” or “service”). After your first words, slowly make your way out of Child’s Pose, and continue with your day. The morning practice is an opportunity to connect with your higher self, with God (Source, Universe, Spirit, etc.) find stillness, experience silence, and deliberately begin your day.

My Yoga teacher, Rolf Gates (a former Army Ranger) explained the concept of internal silence to me in this manner: “Imagine you come across a very still body of water. The water is so still, a single stone, dropped into the center of the body of water, creates a rippling effect. This ripple spreads evenly throughout the entire body of water. Once the ripple has reached the shore, the water once again becomes still.”

When our mind and body become still, we become like the body of water. Our first words represent the stone, which creates a ripple effect throughout our life.

The Challenge

I encourage you to participate in a 30-day challenge. Every day for the next 30 consecutive days, engage in the morning practice I described above. The positive effects will be noticeable within only a few days. However, continue the practice for all 30 days, which will create a lifetime skill for your ability to bring awareness to the quality of your thinking and speaking.

A warrior EXERCISES a certain way.

A Warrior EATS a certain way.

A Warrior THINKS and SPEAKS a certain way.

Until next time, train like your life depends on it–because it does.

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