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Voice Male Spring 2004

Becoming a "Healing Warrior"

By Haji Shearer

I was in my early twenties, sitting in the living room of my future wife's home, talking with her younger sister who was about 10 years old. We were having one of those discussions that precocious little sisters like to have with their big sister's boyfriend as he waits for his date to get ready. Careening through pop culture opinions, she was trying on her grown-up attitude; I was trying to endear myself to the family.

Suddenly, her younger brother, about six or seven then, burst into the room, a cacophony of noise and energy. He tried to change channels on the TV, teased his sister, played with the cat, and launched a covert attack against my left flank, all within a couple of minutes. I gently restrained and remonstrated with him. At times I enjoyed his physical hyperactivity, but my mellow mood preferred the psychological interplay with his sister. Then as suddenly as he entered, he was gone.

Having both martial arts and yoga experience, I smugly informed his sister, 'Every man is a healer or a warrior." A conspiratorial smile and a rhetorical question followed: "Which do you think he'll be?" She humored me with the correct answer. "A warrior," she said, as we shook our heads with mock disappointment.

I was firmly in the healer mode at that point in my life. Fancying myself an urban shaman, I practiced meditation and crystal healing. I experimented with a variety of healing herbs and fell into an intense love affair with one in particular. I dressed in bright, vibrant colors long before the Fab Five started lending their "queer eye" to straight guys.

But without quite realizing it or acknowledging it to myself, I was also a warrior. I had to maintain my own safety, after all. The danger in being different, in allowing your sensitivity to show, is that some brutish oaf will disrespect your manhood and take your money, woman, pride, or all three. My ability to sustain all this sensitivity was grounded not only in my abiding faith in the protection of the Most High, but also in some specific physiological language I learned in my study of Uechi Rye Karate.

"Securing the perimeter" is the role most required of a warrior. The healer, on the other hand, is at his best once an external threat is minimized. The healer deals with the internal threat of sickness within the self, dis-ease within relationships, and illness within a community. The warrior deals with threats from outside the body, force from outside a relationship, or terror from outside a community.

Whether to be a warrior or a healer, and when, is really a matter of perspective. The tactics chosen by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X (El Hajj Shabazz) in the struggle for African-American freedom dramatize this. In simple terms, Dr. King saw white people as part of his beloved community--"all God's children"--and thus within the perimeter, so to speak. Naturally, he chose a healer's strategy. Malcolm X saw whites as a force from outside his community, so he logically took more of a warrior's approach. The comedian Chris Rock, in his book Rock This! (Hyperion, 1997), points out that the healer-versus-warrior decision can also be based on size or perceived strength. "Martin Luther King was a little guy. Malcolm X was a big guy. The little guy talked about us all getting along. The big guy talked about whupping ass. It wasn't an accident."

Although I am 5'9", 135 pounds, I have begun to feel more connected to my warrior nature of late, in part due to several years of participation in support groups with other men. I'm not suggesting that male bonding produces warriors, but rather a kind of balance. Many men I've met in these groups actually temper an overblown warrior nature with elements of the healer and other archetypes, sometimes dramatically so.

The limitations of this warrior/healer dichotomy crystallized for me as I was reading How Can I Get Through to You? by Terrence Real, a psychotherapist who specializes in men's issues. In the book, the author tells the story of his visit to a remote Masai village in Tanzania. As an American, feminist-oriented therapist, he was nervous about how he would relate to a "living remnant of warrior culture." After several nights of meeting with the male village elders, he asks the wise men what makes a good warrior, a good morani.

Through their translator, one of the smallest, oldest men in the group replied, "I refuse to tell you what makes a good morani. But I will tell you what makes a great morani. When the moment calls for fierceness a good morani is very ferocious. And when the moment calls for kindness, a good morani is utterly tender. Now, what makes a great morani is knowing which moment is which!"

I've come to realize it's not the role, but the addiction to it that is the problem. It''s often pointed out that even one of history's paragons of healing, Jesus Christ, flipped into warrior mode when those damn bankers disrespected his temple. I'm reminded of the Hindu epic the Bhagavad Gita, where God speaks to a devotee who is paralyzed while defending the righteous on a battlefield. God tells him, "If thou shouldst die (battling thine enemies), thou wilt gain heaven; if thou conquerest, thou wilt enjoy earth. Therefore O son of Kunti lift thyself up! Be determined to fight!"

The challenge is when and how to use the warrior energy, and when it's appropriate to switch into another less aggressive, more cooperative mode. Too many men get stuck in the warrior mode when a healing strategy would be more effective. Part of my rationale for regular manifestation of the healer was to help balance the overabundance of warrior energy on the planet. It served me well as I learned to be intimate in relationships and to model that another approach is possible for men.

Even though the world remains in need of more healers, I am exploring more of a warrior's attitude now, to achieve greater internal balance. I've enjoyed the shift: Practicing punches and kicks in addition to chanting and meditation. Defending my perimeter more clearly in conversation. Not being as concerned with others' perceiving me as a "nice guy." I'm happy to be expanding my repertoire of roles, as I evolve toward becoming a more balanced "healing warrior." Oh--and I'm happy to report that my brother-in-law is still searching for that balance as well--from the other side of the spectrum.

Haji Shearer directs fathers' programs at the Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts in Boston. His Color Lines column on working with fathers of color appeared in the Fall 2003 Voice Male. He lives in Boston with his wife and two children.

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