A Warrior’s Refrain


Pehriska-Ruhpa of the Dog Band of the Hidatsa tribe of Native Americans

Starting a 7th year teaching the Spirit Paths program, I am afforded the opportunity to examine again what it means to be a warrior. The word has often confusing meanings in our Western culture, and many of our images of warriors seem to be stuck in the past. Don Miguel Ruiz offers a contemporary definition of a warrior (in the Spirit Paths Program we spend a good deal of time focusing on Ruiz’s Four Agreements):

“The big difference between a warrior and a victim is that the victim represses and the warrior refrains.”

― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

This description hardly seems to fit our typical image of a warrior as a samurai, chief, or soldier ready for battle. Of course it takes courage and action to not repress and to refrain. But refrain from what? Refrain from… repression? Refrain from acting without intent? Refrain from doing… anything? This is interesting, because the person who represses something is avoiding it, and therefore not taking action. But a warrior who refrains from action, is also seemingly “not doing anything.” From the outside, it might be hard to tell whether a person’s inaction is from a point of strength or from repression (which of course is where Ruiz’s 3rd agreement rings true: Don’t make assumptions.)

Implied in Ruiz’s quote is that warriors know when to act and when not to act, and their decision is an active choice rooted in Freedom. Warriors act with intent, and only act when their intent is aligned with their authenticity. Thus warriors are always tuning in, checking in, and actively participating in their own authenticity. That’s why in the Spirit Paths program we teach tools for developing our authenticity, tools that often mimic the spear or blade to help us defeat our internal enemies and align ourselves with intent. In effect, then or now, the internal work of a warrior is very likely the same.

Learn more in the book, Spirit Paths: The Quest For Authenticity, available from Amazon.com.

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The Shaman in the Cave

A friend recently relayed her trip to the Lascaux Cave Painting exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Many of you are familiar with the nearly 18,000 year-old Lascaux cave paintings discovered in France in the 1940’s. Werner Herzog’s recent documentary film Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an amazing opportunity to see the paintings come to life, as well.


The only image of “man” in the Lascaux Caves.

It is believed that Lascaux was a shaman’s cave. A place where possibly many shamans came through the years, centuries—even millennia!—to worship, create and (possibly) tell stories.

There is one particularly intriguing drawing in the cave—the only representation of a human. Yet it is not a human, but that of a bird-man. Like Thoth in the Egyptian pantheon, this long-beaked, tall creature is a shape-shifted half-man, half-bird creature.

Our oldest images of our humanity are in fact shamanic in nature. We were to be seen as animal-first, as connected to our spirit world intrinsically. We can think of this from a contemporary shamanic perspective that shamans did not not simply “go on a journey”, but rather we were so ever-connected with spirit that we would be entwined with animal spirit and then painted, etched and carved into stone for future visitors to remember.


The Egyptian god, half-man, half-bird (Ibis).

The Lascaux exhibit is very much about “perspective”, both how the shamans created the artwork (along the bumpy cave ceilings with a mindfulness of how a viewer on the floor might perceive the animal) and how we can use our modern perspective to visualize (using 3-D modeling and infrared light) how the painting were created.

But we also know that the bird-man offers another perspective. That of how the spirit world and this plane are one; how Eagle (bird) sees the world from that uniting of these planes; how we are invited to move between these worlds with the soaring and graceful spirit of a bird in flight.

Pretty powerful stuff.

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Magic Words

A friend recently shared this popular poetic translation of a creation myth from the Inuit shamanic tradition:


“In the very earliest time,
 when both people and animals lived on earth,
 a person could become an animal if he wanted to and 
an animal could become a human being.
 Sometimes they were people
 and sometimes animals, 
and there was no difference.
 All spoke the same language.


Picture of a half-animal half-human in a Paleolithic cave painting in Dordogne, France.

That was the time when words were like magic. 
The human mind had mysterious powers. 
A word spoken by chance 
might have strange consequences. 
It would suddenly come alive 
and what people wanted to happen could happen—
all you had to do was say it.
 Nobody could explain this.
 That’s the way it was.”

—Translated from the Inuit by poet Edward Field.

This story has interesting echoes with other cultural stories (as in the biblical verse “In the beginning there was the word….”), and of course it also reminds us of one of Ruiz’s lessons from The Four Agreements: “Be impeccable with your word.”

The Magic Words tradition also reminds us of the power of intention through words. But it is not enough to just ask for what we want. We must ask impeccably. When we are both impeccable with our word and we speak what we want or need, we very often bring those wishes/hopes/desires/goals into fulfillment.

This Inuit tradition also reminds us, people and animals were one and the same. We spoke the same language. What does that mean in terms of articulating your goals and intentions?

In the Shamanic tradition of shapeshifting, the dissolution of our identity on this plane into the spirit world and back again offers us an opportunity for perspective, for connection, and for understanding that common symbolic language. When we embark on shamanic journeys, we are re-remembering our forgotten language, our animal ancestry. We might ask, in terms of how to be impeccable with our words, WWSD? Or, What Would Spirit Do? What Would Jaguar Do? What Would Wolf Say?

When we embark on a shamanic journey, and spirit speaks to us, we are privileged to be able to reflect upon and reconsider our intentions. We are privileged to remember that words are magic. It is up to us to choose how to best be impeccable with our words.

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Pulling Weeds

The Art of Pulling Weeds is an exceedingly meditative practice. It is not simply about pulling plants out of the ground; it is about doing so mindfully and in awareness. Anyone can pull up weeds; however to do it well, you need to have a certain mental discipline.

Getting To The Root

You can stop the weed’s growth completely if you can pull it up by the root. If not, it will grow back again. Some weeds are easier to pull by their roots than others. Success depends on how quickly you act, for one thing. The weed will establish a strong root if you wait too long, and if it goes deep enough, you may not be able to extract it by hand or alone. However, if you can get to the weed soon after germination, just as it pierces the suface to make itself known, it can be easily plucked.

How easily you can pull up the weed by its root also depends on the nature of the soil, and to some extent, how recently the weed has been watered. Hard dirt allows the weed to take hold strongly and to break as needed, just like a lizard may shed its tail to live another day. However, if the soil is soft because it is good soil or loosened by rain or watering, the root has little purchase. The earth gives it up easily, readily.

Of course, how well the root is removed depends greatly on your attention. If your mind wanders while you are working, your hand will not find the proper hold and the root will break. And it will break if you get in a hurry. Pulling the weed by its root requires patience, sensitivity, and focus.

Overlapping Weeds

Weeds that spread out often overlap with other weeds, especially if you have waited too long to attend to them. Overlapping weeds protect each other, hiding the entrance of their roots into the soil. By creating a mat, they confuse the unwary by entangling within the limbs and tendrils of the other.

Only by careful attention to the way the weeds grow and have grown together can you identify the individual roots. You can see the core and true nature of the weed by thoughtfully separating each one from the other and addressing them separately. Trying to address them together often leads to broken roots. It is in the nature of things that those joined together are stronger than those separated.

It takes a special focus and awareness to attend to overlapping weeds. Resigning to frustration and rushing the effort feeds their success, and both or all live to grow again another day. By giving in to the desire for rapid results, you will find yourself returning again to the task.

Tall Weeds

It is not necessarily true that tall weeds, those that are apparent and obvious, have deep roots. Some spring up quickly though their roots may be shallow. Some of the most most difficult to control tall weeds do have shallow roots, but grow very quickly just beneath the surface. And some of them sprout not from seeds, but from nodes that form in the roots themselves.

Tall weeds may also disguise themselves as something completely different: budding trees. Weeds with woody stems that grow quickly and send deep roots may be overlooked completely by the unwary or undisciplined. They look promising at first, but do not amount to anything in the long run.

Planted Weeds

Sometimes the weeds you have to pull are those you planted. Perhaps you did not know what they were, how large they would grow, or how they might conflict with the rest of your garden. Still, they have to go and you have to do the weeding.

Most often the difficulty with planted weeds is more about the planting than the weeding. There can be sadness for a dream garden not realized, or perhaps shame or self-blame for planting the wrong thing. Yet, in the final analysis, the planting was in perfect harmony with your vision. It just did not work out as you had envisioned or hoped.

There is no advantage to keeping planted weeds when they no longer serve. All things have their time and there is no blame when that time ends. They become compost, recycled energy for new plants, new beings to grow and develop. It is the nature of life.

No End

There is no end to pulling weeds. Though you might mindfully remove all the weeds you can find in your garden, the seeds of weeds of untended gardens of the neighbors blow in. And some come from far away and distant lands. Where they find fertile, willing soil, they will take root and grow.

It could be said that much of life is about pulling weeds: making way for the lush and thriving bounty and beauty of your cultivated garden by removing that which consumes more resources than you are willing to allow or that which no longer serves. Vigilance is required. You must not neglect your garden for very long. Weeds grow quickly.

And, of course, this is not about gardening.

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Rat In The Attic

A True Tale of Urban Shamanic Living

In December 2011, I had the most amazing encounter with a rat in our attic. Although we had spent several hundreds of dollars sealing openings and clearing the attic, one evening we heard the tell-tale squealing and scratching inside our kitchen wall.

The sound was as though a rat had gotten through some undiscovered opening under the porch, but stuck halfway up the wall. Since there was no way to get into the wall, all we could do was wait. If it was truly trapped, we would soon know. However, the next day, familiar sounds rumbled away above our heads. It was a weekend, and there was no one to call for assistance.

The next night, the sounds intensified. The creature dug furiously at the wallboard ceiling near the AC/HV closet. All I could think about was the destruction to our vents by previous visitors: the opossum and raccoon that had precipitated the expensive repairs, as well as entire families of rats who had taken up residence before. Those vents could not be repaired because that space is too narrow for any human to work within. They were open to the attic, with plenty of exposed insulation material to nest in.

Having little choice, I set a trap in the closet where we heard activity earlier, which is open to the attic. A 2×4 joist at about eye level between two exposed studs seemed the perfect place for the baited large spring trap. I set it and closed the door. Somehow, I did not expect it would take very long. And indeed, after less than an hour, we heard a sound that was not quite the “snap!” of it springing. It was a softer sound, though clearly the trap had been sprung.

Close Encounter

I took a flashlight and looked in the closet to find a large Norwegian brown rat apparently entangled in the trap, but still very much alive, staring at me. I could not discern its size accurately, but previous experience suggest that it was at least 15-18 inches from its nose to tip of its tail. My guess also was that it was a female seeking a warm place to nest.

We gazed at each other, barely more than a foot apart. She raised up nervously, leaned forward, pink paws curled near her chest, then settled back down again. I watched her round, black eyes, her whiskers sensing the air between us, his pink nose twitching, sorting out the scents, round ears forward. Two broad, flat and very sharp teeth protruded through pursed lips outlined by white fur.

“I am sorry,” I said. “You are destructive and you cannot stay. I am sad for you, but you must go.” Donna and Marty, our cat, came to see what was going on. Yet the rat and I simply watched each other for several minutes, a very long and exciting time.

It was not clear to me how the trap had caught her. Certainly, she was not held in a death grip. Her body was whole, and she was very much alive. Perhaps merely a hind foot or its tail was pinned. I looked closer, trying to determine what to do and how to do it.

I thought that it might be best to put the rat in a pail of some kind and carry her outside, let her go. I could imagine carrying her, dangling from the trap by her tail, though I had no idea how I would be able to get past her to extract the trap itself from the wall. Yet, then she could easily return to our attic or to a neighbor. Would she die naturally of injuries that I could not see? Would it be more human to put her down, even if I had no idea how to do so? Nothing seemed right.

As I looked more closely, trying to see how the trap had pinned her, I could see her feet, her tail. Nothing was caught! Then she began to move and turned away, crawling up the stud, over the edge of a crossbeam, and back into the attic. She had not been pinned at all! Somehow the trap had been sprung, and she had been sitting on top of it all the time. She had not run away from me or the bright light of the flashlight.

For that long two minutes or more, she and I connected in a way previously reserved only for trusted companions. No fear; simply one being encountering another on the path of life. Scarcely a foot apart, human and rat gazed at each other, saw each other, were real to each other.

At this time I thought, of course, she must move or she must die. It is a reality of living in the human space. Her predecessors left us with hundreds of dollars of damage, some of which cannot be repaired. It was my sincere hope that she would take the encounter as a warning: move on, dear one. Please move on.

Tale’s End: March 2012

I left the unsprung and baited trap in the closet for several weeks. It was never sprung. In the end, I removed it completely. We heard no more sounds from that encounter. Now, in early March, the attic remains quiet.

This true tales of urban shamanism reinforces for me the knowing that all the beings and creatures in our environment can hear and respond to us, if we will only try to communicate with them. Our first response to “pests” need not be to kill what we don’t like.

During the depression, hobos would mark houses in their own code: “This one is one is good for a hand-out,” “This one will give you a place to sleep,” “Stay away from this one.” My hope is that there is in Rat a marker for “Good people, but they don’t want us here.”

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The Quest for Authenticity

Many people say that they want to be authentic, that they want to express into the world who they really are rather than having to pretend to be someone they are not. They do not want to pretend to be who other people expect them to be. They no longer want to identify with the various roles they play.

However, the reality is that very few people actually embark on their Quest for Authenticity. It can be an unsettling and scary journey into an undiscovered land. After all, the person you are expressing into the world has been carefully crafted for years, and it is the only You that you know!

Most often this desire is the result of the emergence of an uncomfortable awareness that whatever you are doing just is not working any more. Something may feel seriously missing in your life: meaning, perhaps, or a deep sense that something is off-track.

The Fear of Disappearing

The first step is acknowledging that whoever you believe you are or are pretending to be, is not really you — not the essence of who you are. One of the strongest barriers to the Quest for Authenticity is the fear that, if you let go of the roles you play, you just might find that in the end, there is nothing left.

Who are you when you drop the pretense and unravel the roles? What if there is no one home?

A woman recently came into my office and expressed just this situation. She realized that most, if not all, of the relationships she had were based on what her friends wanted her to be. She had identified strongly with the expectations they and her parents held for all of her life, but she really didn’t feel that living to these expectations was genuine. In essence, nothing about her life really resonated any more and she was exhausted.

She said that after years of counseling and trying to figure it all out, she felt that nothing had really helped, that her whole life had fallen apart. She said that it was like when she looked at where she was and what she wanted, there was nothing there. It was a blank piece of paper.

My response: “YAY! Good for you!”

After all of what seemed to her as “fruitless work,” she was exactly where she needed to be. All she required then was a new way of envisioning and creating her future the way she wanted it to be, rather than how others thought she should.

Holding On

It is natural that people become attached to things and people. Relationships are important. The sense of belonging is important. However, as you journey on this quest, you will find that some of these relationships no longer apply to who you are becoming. You will have to give some of them up, even if you do not want to.

On the Quest for Authenticity, you must be willing to let go of everything. Not that you will have to, but you certainly must be willing to. Whatever you find yourself holding tightly to keeps you stuck.

You cannot proscribe any part of your life that might be affected. Change may — and very likely will — come in places that you do not expect. While you might be ready to look for a different job than the one you already know does not fit, you might not be ready to surrender some cherished relationships.

Everyone you know has an expectation of who you are, and as you change, that expectation, that assumption about who you are, will be challenged. You might anticipate that a “life long friend” will remain with you on your journey. However, along the way they may not be able to accept the new you, and they may drift away.

The Fear of Abandonment

During the journey to discover your deeper self, you will inevitably change: think differently, behave differently. There are no two ways about this. Change is inevitable. And because you are changing, you will no longer play along with the rules of the games others around you are playing, including family and friends.

The other great obstacle that keeps people from beginning the Quest for Authenticity is the fear that no one will like who they become, that everyone will leave, and they will be alone.

My experience strongly suggests that this catastrophic fear is baseless. What happens instead is that you will find yourself letting go of people who do not support you, who have expectations that you will be how they want you to be. They will be replaced by new people and new relationships that better resonate with and support who you really are.

Consider that, rather than being abandoned, you are really being found.

The Excitement of Authenticity

In Wolves In The Woods we examined the reality that the body cannot distinguish between fear and excitement. I have known several people who chose to pursue the quest for authenticity, and they all express how grateful they are for the experience.

Not one of them had an easy journey. As expected, significant change led to significant results that were not always pleasant. And not one of them ever quit once they fully engaged in the quest. As it turns out, once you begin — once you fully engage in the process — you find that there is no way back.

Past one certain point you realize that no matter what happens, you simply cannot settle for who you were before. You become hooked on the exciting prospect of engaging fully with Life, of finding out who you really are and what you really want.

Once the feeling of what living authentically is sets its hook into you, you cannot escape.

When that happens, you know that you can no longer settle for that hole in your core to which you had become accustomed. The feeling becomes a longing so deep that it has the power to force you right out of your rut.

Living From The Heart

Many people who feel themselves stuck and lost have been working at it for a long time, trying to “figure it all out.” What that means is that they have spent a good deal of time intellectually trying to make sense of their lives — living in their heads. That generally leads nowhere because all the intellect can do is plan according to the data at hand: the past. So it goes around and around in the same old circles and coming to the same conclusions.

What is required to live authentically is to live from the heart. You must learn to feel your way into what resonates with who you want to become, and learn to trust what you feel.

This does not mean that you abandon your intelligence. It means that you put it in its proper place. Your thinking mind — your biocomputer — is a remarkable gift. It researches, observes, plans, and executes extremely well. It just makes a terrible driver for your life.

Your heart, on the other hand, is remarkably tuned to the magic of inspiration. It is connected to a deeper aspect of who you are. It is no accident that many cultures believe that the soul is seated within the heart space.

When something real touches you, you feel it in your heart, not your head.

The Quest for Authenticity is a mythical adventure that calls to you from deep within. On this quest you are the adventurer and the storyteller. It is you that you seek, and it is you that keeps you from the treasure. You are the grail, and you are the dragon.

There is no more important thing for you to do than to find yourself. In the end, all you have to offer yourself — and the world — is your authentic self.

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Assumptions and Beliefs

I was recently reminded that one of the problems with assumptions is that they are always based on your beliefs, most of which are not accurate. You may believe you know someone, but you may very well be completely wrong.

Assumptions are assertions of your belief system reinforcing itself. When you make an assumption about someone, event, or action, it is always based on what you already believe about that person or life in general. When you accept that assumption and act on it, you reinforce whatever is the underlying belief. However, if you question the assumption, you also have an opportunity to examine the belief–or beliefs–on which it is based.

Realistic Assumptions

Of course some assumptions are helpful and necessary. You may safely assume, for example, that the sun will rise every morning. You can count on it without having to question the underlying personal belief. You can also assume that if you lose your balance past a certain point, you will fall; and if you get hit by a car, you will most likely be injured. These natural assumptions about the effects of gravity and motion are very reliable.

We call these assumptions “scientific facts” or “universal laws” about how the universe at large works. These kinds of natural, reliable assumptions are, of course, based on beliefs shared by the vast majority of people on the planet. They have been tested for thousands of years.

You can also assume that if you follow a particular route in your travels, you will eventually arrive at your destination. Homes, offices, towns, and cities generally do not move from their location. However, you can sometimes get off track, perhaps miss a turn or a landmark, and if you do not check your assumption about where you are, you may miss your destination and possibly get lost.

However, there are no “universal laws” about people.


When you judge someone, most often you are measuring them or their actions against your own underlying beliefs about how people are or “should” be. Of course, you assume that your view of the world is correct and that the person “should” behave or believe differently than they do. And you may feel offended and perhaps angry.

Being angry at someone often indicates that you believe they should behave differently, that they should be more like you. That assumption is not true. They should be exactly as they are, of course. It is YOUR belief that would better be questioned.

Making judgements about people tells more about you and your beliefs than it does about others. As a result, examining what you judge can be helpful in tracking down your own limiting beliefs.

Beliefs About People

One of the most troublesome problems with assumptions has to do with communication and interaction with people. People are very complex. They change all the time; they are seldom static. They flow with the state of their emotions; they change based on experience; and over time they become completely different.

Yet because of how your operating system works, it is generally easier to assume that “people never change” or your partner “always acts that way.” In fact, if you really pay attention and challenge that belief, you will find it is simply not true.

We explored in a previous article that reality is filtered. Once you hold a particular belief, your entire operating system goes to work to prove that it is true. This happens not only in how you think, but also all the way down to perception. Sometimes, you literally do not perceive things that conflict with your beliefs.

In an argument, for example, consider that you may not be hearing correctly. It could be that your entire translation of the sounds that you hear may be wrong because you are actually hearing different inflections — and possibly even missing or adding words — than the person intends. You assume that you already know what the person is saying and what they mean, and you hear what you expect, no matter what is really being said!

When you find yourself in situations like these, when you catch yourself in the middle of an argument or feel unable to communicate, stop talking. Take time to really listen instead.

Family Beliefs

Almost everyone has the experience as an adult of returning home for the holidays and being treated like a teenager or being misunderstood. This happens because the family expects you to act and think as you were the last time they saw you, or the last time you lived at home. The beliefs they have of you have not changed, but you have.

In a large family, the pressure to be someone you no longer are can be very intense, because each person has a different recollection of who you were. Your parents see you one way, your siblings another. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents all remember you differently and expect you to have remained the same. You would have to be a neurotic chameleon to meet all those demands, so you wind up getting exhausted.

And it may be that you believe the family has not changed when actually they have. Consider, too, that your perception based on assumptions and beliefs about them may not be accurate.

These same dynamics occur to some extent in all of your relationships with others. The vision you hold of all your friends and relations is subject to the same interplay of beliefs and reinforcing assumptions.

Changing Beliefs, Becoming New

If you are committed to changing old patterns and becoming genuine in your relationships with others, it is a good idea to consider your own assumptions and how they reflect your beliefs about the world. Expect that you will be shown those invalid beliefs.

Do your best to know who you are and to be grounded in that knowledge. When you can stand in who you are when everyone around you insists you be otherwise, you find an inner strength emerges. Not that it is easy to remain solid in the face of demands that you be otherwise! It is the difficulty in doing so that helps you to be stronger and to better know yourself.

Pay attention to your judgements and what you think about other people. Listen to what you tell yourself, as well. Remember, you have beliefs and make assumptions about yourself as well as others. Test those old assumptions, especially the negative ones, to find the beliefs on which they are based.

Change your thoughts, change yourself.

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