How do we cultivate the skill and discipline necessary to defend the Self against the excesses of the modern world?
The modern world is a trainwreck of distractions, debasements and derailments. Between technology, politics, and the economy, the world is like an obstacle course that tests the limits of even the most skilled and disciplined spiritual warrior. The uncertainty of the current global crisis bombards us daily with fear and anxiety that wastes the body, torments the mind, and tortures the soul. Making matters worse, society rewards a mentality of victimhood. To cultivate the Self through proper nutrition, exercise, study and spiritual practice is viewed, at best, as an eccentric hobby—and at worst, a luxury afforded only to the leisurely elite.
This current social climate can leave us feeling dried out and drained. But the human will is an enduring spark that can ignite the dry brush of alienation to burn a flame as bright as the Sun, and the soul is a deluge that fills us with nourishment as nurturing as the Moon. All it takes is dedication, commitment, and discipline. Nevermind about “finding the time”—once you commit to developing the Self, the time will find you.
Below are eight essential techniques to cultivate the soul and defend the Self against the modern world.
In order to cultivate Self-defense against the modern world, you must begin with the body. The body is the alchemical instrument by which you engage with the world. You are left open to attack when the body is undeveloped and toxified. In order to begin refining the body, you have to start with diet and nutrition.
The food that you eat becomes a part of your consciousness. The majority of food that humans eat now is homogenized mass-product. If “you are what you eat,” then the majority of humans are products, existing in a homogenized reality with a pasteurized awareness. People allow themselves to be robbed of our autonomy when they become cheap products. The average human being in the developed world is a can of Spam with opinions.
Begin by cutting out processed foods and refined sugar, especially toxic GMO’s like high-fructose corn syrup. If you eat meat, start eating grass-fed, free-range, and cage-free meats. Make the investment in locally-sourced organic fruits and vegetables, and consider doing the majority of your grocery shopping at a local farmers’ market, if it is available to you.
The damage that the body sustains in the modern world is reflected in the damage that the Earth sustains by inflated industry. Factory farms cause unspeakable environmental devastation, so by avoiding their products we take a great measure to heal not only our own body but the Earth’s as well. And by eating locally, we cut down carbon emissions and the electrical power required to refrigerate food to stay fresh when transported long distances, as well as vitalize our body with fruits and vegetables that are freshly picked from the source.
When you are ready to take it to the next level, consult with an accredited Ayurvedic or Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist to fine-tune your diet and nutrition for optimum health and wellness. Western medicine is terrific for immediate crisis care; however, it is largely ignorant of long-term wellness promoting a high quality of life. Relying too much on the crisis-model of Western medicine leaves the body in a state of permanent crisis.
- Physical Training
Everyone is ready to change the world through politics and economic policy, but very few are ready to change themselves. How can you expect to effect change in the body politic when you cannot even effect change in your own body?
A regular and unbroken exercise routine is essential to the health of the body. Find what is right for you, and commit to it daily. If you have never exercised before, begin by walking around the block once a day. Then walk around the neighborhood. Then walk to the other side of town. Find a local gym or yoga studio with reputed trainers or instructors, and bring what you learn there into your daily life.
It is necessary to have the physical grounding that regular exercise brings the body. How can your spirit be strong when your body is weak? Build a routine that will give you the strength to lay the foundation of your Inner Temple.
- Martial Arts
Save for perhaps mountain climbing and parkour, there is little equal to martial arts in its ability to cultivate the body to be present in danger, alert to attack and aware of its mortality. The discipline, commitment and dedication required of martial arts brings the body to new levels of awareness through pain, fear and raw emotion. While it is true that yoga is great for physical health and mindfulness, martial arts puts the body in far more dangerous positions than yoga is capable. When facing an opponent in a fight, you are facing your own mortality—you are called upon to adapt and survive. Martial arts bring a fundamental respect for life and reverence for death necessary to defend the Self against the modern world.
Once you are grounded in the body, you can begin to civilize the mind.
Meditation is an overblown trend nowadays. It seems you can’t even crack open a magazine at the doctor’s office without seeing the words “mindfulness” and “awareness” alongside a list of the personal and professional benefits in the first five pages. Don’t (dis)believe the hype: meditation is the real deal.
The meditation techniques available to the modern Westerner are endless. Research Raja Yoga, Vipassana, Zazen or any of the countless tried-and-true techniques rooted in Eastern traditions. While you can learn much by reading books on meditation, your practice will go much further if you seek out a gifted instructor who can properly train and guide you through the process of gaining control of the mind.
Adopt a daily meditation routine, starting with five minutes in the morning and evening. Gradually increase your sessions to ten, fifteen, and twenty minutes. Eventually you will be able to sit for an hour or more undisturbed by the internal stirrings of the body and the external whirlings of the world.
While it is necessary to still the mind through meditation, it will eventually atrophy if it is not properly active through rigorous study. Immerse yourself in sacred texts, classical philosophy and great literature. Push your limits in your study, seeking material that constantly challenges you and drives you further away from the center of your comfort zone. Eschew the catchy contemporary best-sellers and ground yourself in the standards and classics, the original source material. Skip Ekhart Tolle for Lao Tzu and Deepak Chopra for The Upanishads.
It is also highly recommended to keep a personal journal. Passive reception of knowledge requires its active reflection. For every 10 pages that you read, you should write at least one page. If not actively reflected upon, knowledge can stagnate and degenerate into information. You may have read 20 books in the last month, but it’s unlikely that you will retain a word of them without active reflection. Journaling allows you not only to reflect on your studies, but yourself as well. It is a record of your cultivation. To “know thyself” is a core technique of defense.
When you find yourself ready, seek the tutelage of a great teacher. Or rather, when you are ready, a great teacher will find you. Social media provides a wonderful platform for connecting with teachers. As you begin to cultivate the mind through study and meditation, you will find that the grip of social media loosens and you can begin to make it work for you, rather than you working for it.
- Uplifting Conversation
When the mind is stilled through meditation, and activated through study, it is then necessary to engage it through uplifting conversation. Limit your exposure to the people who drain you; they will only be jealous of your growth and spread gossip about you behind your back. While it is necessary to help others reach higher ground, it’s time to move on when they insist on dragging you down to their level. Surround yourself with people with whom you can share ideas and gain further education that cannot be found in books alone. Seek the company of friends who inspire you on the path of Self development and challenge you to reach even greater heights. There are few better feelings in life than watching yourself grow alongside people who share your vision and virtue.
- Daily Ritual
As the body and the mind are cultivated through discipline and learning, you will discover something beyond the limits of either. You’ll find yourself aware of divine emanation—a presence beyond the mundane, a world beyond the senses. This is a time of spiritual realization and soul purpose. It is a time of gnosis.
You need not wait to find the right group or community to begin expressing your spiritual unfoldment. Implement a daily ritual practice right now to connect yourself to divine presence. Construct an altar to sages, heroes and gods who have guided you on your path of discovery, and recite prayers and leave burnt offerings every morning. Making time to connect to the sages of the past and the gods of old grounds the soul in the body, and lifts the body to spiritual heights.
Not much needs to be said for nature. It needs to be experienced. When out in nature, the fruits of your labor will be tasted like the nectar of cosmic gnosis. The natural world is the temple of the divine, and, in its splendor, the Self is purified from the poisons of the modern world.
While these eight techniques are essential to defend the Self against the modern world, they are not the only ones available. Through practical application of Self-defense you will discover that there are endless techniques available.
Now go, and do.
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