Hey Ninja Tribe-
In “Part 1: Embrassing the Impossible” we were introduce to our scrawny, lovable little boy hero who loved movement and hated authority. Then, in “Part 2: Into the Darkness” our ninja hero was lost in black fog of eternal night, drowning in self-victimization, and struggling to find his path to greatness during high-school. Having quit his drug addiction and subdued his violent impulses through a deep moment of self-reckoning, we find my younger self struggling to put the pieces of his life back together and find meaning out of years suffering and “bad decisions”.
Out of the Darkness: Ninja Re-Birth
High school was both incredibly humbling and completely empowering because I chose to own my mistakes, all of them. At the low points it truly felt like my whole existence was a mistake. I found the inner strength, partially because of my training in Karate, to claim my inner victim.
Each of us has this “inner victim”, it is deeply related to the shadow Jungian psychologist refer to, and it is the part of you that feels like you are not enough, you don’t belong, that life happens to you and you can’t control it. The more you think this way, the more you feed your “inner-victim” and the larger and more powerful it becomes.
Your “inner victim” is the arch enemy of your “inner ninja”, your higher self, the part of you that wants to develop your super powers, become the best version of yourself, live your legend and save the world!
And while it might seem like these inner forces of good and evil are one hundred percent in opposition, they actually work together to create the tension and drama that give life poignancy, meaning, and direction. (Alas, we often learn what we truly value only by making real mistakes that hurt.)
Going Off the Deep End
By senior year of high-school, I was on the brink of a major breakdown – constantly. I was sick all the time. When I wasn’t angry at my parents, or the world, I was angry at myself. I was losing control. I wrecked my Jeep while drunk driving. I’d mix all kinds of drugs with alcohol, then lose control and start fights, often taking on more than one “enemy” at a time. I’d throw house parties with tons of kids I didn’t know, and then throw punches, even furniture, at any dude that was disrespectful.
I’d get high by myself and then show up to class. Every day. For weeks in a row.
I was chopping up ecstasy, sniffing it up my nose, and going to the Tunnel or Limelight and dancing for hours. Then I’d be depressed for days, sometimes weeks. I’d take ecstasy and acid at the same time, and then drive places – fast. I once sniffed enough Special K (a horse tranquilizer) to put me in a “K hole” for 12 hours, and literally had to be carried home by 3 friends. That night ended in THE most physically painful experiences of my life: dry heaving for 3 hours straight.
No, it wasn’t all bad. I made some amazing friends, got into art, break dancing, and rapping, and had transcendent moments on the dance floor. Just the same, my entire world was crumbling before my very eyes. And I just couldn’t make sense of the fact that I felt the most powerful when I was the most destructive.
A Moment of Clarity
Then, one day, at the age of 19 and after 4 years of struggle, I looked in the mirror and owned my sadness. “I am not a victim. I don’t know why, but I am doing this to myself. And if I’m doing it to myself, I can stop.” Many times before, I had wished I could stop being such a “fuck up,” but that time was different; I wished with every fiber of my being. And in that brave act, I sacrificed my inner-victim and give birth to my very own super hero, my “inner ninja”: ninja re-birth.
I honestly don’t fully understand how I did it. I just wanted it so bad, I’d sacrifice anything, including my pride and my inner victim. There were definitely a few things that I know played a role in this moment of awakening.
First, studying Buddhism and reading the Dalai Lama’s book “The Art of Happiness” was a defining moment for me. It gave me an empowering perspective to work with my suffering. We all suffer, its temporary, and how we choose relate to it changes everything. This concept allowed me to really “own” my experiences. I started meditating when I was 17 and experimenting with astral projection.
Another factor, quite frankly, was my experimentation with psychedelic drugs, which gave me a direct experience of a reality that I’d never dreamed was possible. Was that altered state of reality real, or is the default reality the truth? Or are they both illusions, obscuring something deeper? These experiences opened up a genuine curiosity inside of me. After my drug days, that curiosity inspired me to continue exploring the nature of reality through my meditation.
The Power of Play
The other major factor in my recovery was connecting to nature, play, and movement through snowboarding. I started heading to the mountains in winter as soon as I could drive, and the freedom and joy that it provided tapped into something unspeakably deep inside of me. This is one of the reasons I’m now incredibly passionate about taking people on retreat into the wild to encounter the deeper aspects of themselves.
But perhaps more than anything, exercise was my vehicle for transformation. Yup, just heading to a crappy gym, over and over again, pushing my limits, and recording my progress. Honestly, I don’t think it helped that much to get clean, but it was definitely the most powerful factor that helped me stay clean (which was the hard part). Quitting was easy, I did that all the time for 3 years, but staying quit was another thing entirely.
Once I started working out regularly, I had a direct experience of becoming something greater. It was like I was a different person, a stronger person, someone I’d always wanted to be, or at least didn’t hate as much. Sure, I wanted to look stronger and, as a teenage boy, attract the ladies, but there was something deeper happening. Only now, after years of study, I know that exercise creates new neurons in your brain, in the areas that deal with survival, which is the key area that addiction lights up.
A Whole New Story
After just 6 months of working out regularly, I was a different person. Ninja re-birth is exactly that – becoming re-born as someone that is even more you. Crazy, I know. But true…
I was confident, I felt empowered in other areas of my life, I started to realize that nothing was impossible if I really dedicated myself to it. I began to remember the lesson Karate had taught me all those years back – impossible is an illusion, a story we tell ourselves when we are afraid. And re-created my personal narrative – I stopped telling myself the story of me being a fuck up, and started creating a new story.
Through exercise, meditation, and snowboarding, I made a path out of the darkness and was able to use my self-destructive experiences as the source of inspiration for my rebirth. This is a kind of alchemy—turning the poison into the medicine.
This is very different then just getting rid of the bad thing you don’t want, or ignoring it. It’s owning the bad thing and really looking at it, really entering it—and then transforming it into the source of healing, like the way snake poison can be transformed into the antidote for a snake bite.
That dark passage through violence and self-abuse became the source of my present day existence: super health (I haven’t been sick in eight years), an awesome career (I get paid great money to guide people I truly care about), a powerful body-mind with real super powers (the ability to self-heal, heal others, powerful intuition, and body radar – the ability to detect things that others can’t), and a life dedicated to helping others achieve their potential.
The more mistakes you’ve made, the more fuel you have for your re-birth. There’s no changing the past, but you can change the way your past lives in you and how it affects your future.
Tribal Rites of Passage
Powerful rites of passage are universal during the teenage years for most indigenous wisdom traditions. The tribe realizes that the child is becoming an adult and needs them to be tested with some kind of an ordeal, to discover what they were really made of. Having a tribe is like having a large family that spends all their time with you throughout your childhood, so they know you well enough to guide you towards a rite of passage that helps you face and overcome your weaknesses while utilizing your personal strengths.
“Without socially sanctioned and widely recognized rites of passage, teenagers have little choice but to create their own. And many of these self-generated initiations are dangerous and counter-productive. Some deep intuition tells the adolescent, You must be tested, you must be challenged, and some part of you must die before you can move on. The impulse to test and to prove oneself is right and healthy but without guidance and support it can too easily get beyond healthy limits.” School of Lost Borders – John Davis phd
There were plenty of people who tried to help me during this time, but no one that really inspired me and seemed truly wise. There is a big difference between being an old person and being an elder; there are plenty of people who make it to old age despite their ignorance.
An elder has consciously used the struggle of life to purify and refine their wisdom to such a high degree that they embody it completely, and can shine their light to help others find their own path. In other words, they don’t just say smart and loving things, they do smart and loving things automatically, from a place of innate authenticity.
Changing Your Story Automatically Changes Your World.
The power to claim and re-write your personal life narrative is the both the ultimate power and greatest responsibility. Be careful when you tell yourself stories about who you are, and why you do the things you do; you are writing your personal mythology, framing your life, and choosing a path in that very moment.
“Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” Barry Lopez
And there’s no greater way to change your story than to go on an adventure and find out what your actually made of. [Hint: It’s way more than you and I realize.]
The “Hero’s Journey” is a concept developed by Joseph Campbell, who studied the mythologies all the world’s religion and wisdom traditions. He found a common narrative among all peoples, and codified it into an archetypal adventure. We leave the known world behind, crossover to a mysterious special world, overcome hardship and face our fears, die, are reborn, and then return to the known world changed.
This is the universal path to empowerment. By experiences the adventure of life, we created a new story about ourselves, the world, and our place in it. If we were to flip the graphic on its back, lay it down, and make it 3D, it would look like a spiral.
Each time we consciously choose to transform through suffering, we level up our life and get to play on a new level in the known world The Hero’s Journey graphic makes it look like we end up back where we started, round and round the merry go ‘round, and in a sense that’s true. Except that we, the heroes, have changed, so we look at the same world with new eyes, and see new things from a new perspective. Have you ever read the same book twice, only years later, and it really feels like the book has changed? It’s hasn’t, you have changed. The same principle is at work here.
Does this sound familiar on a personal level? The need to overcome obstacles and endure suffering to figure out who you are, and what you really stand for? How about on a larger, cultural level? Could it be that western civilization is going through a massively self-destructive rite of passage right now, as we speak – injustice, famine, and a pandemic of preventable disease taking place in the “richest” most privileged civilization in known history – all an ordeal to help us realize what really matters, how connected we are to each other, the world, and everything in it?
You Were Born to Die
That’s the deal. There’s no escaping it. Life is an ordeal, it’s designed to be physical, painful, and temporary. We often lose sight of this because of our cultural addiction to comfort and certainty, and all the institutions and systems that are in place to insulate and anesthetize us from this fundamental truth.
Instead of spending our whole lives trying to avoid discomfort (or practicing suffering and chasing pain) there is tremendous power in finding purpose in our suffering, to use the uncertainty and circumstances of life to develop ourselves. We need to face our demons and share the stories about ourselves that we’re scared to tell.
It’s the very stuff super heroes are made of. And Ninjas.
What’s Your Story?
If you had to tell the story of who you are in 3 sentences, what would it be? Go ahead and post them in the comments. Does your story portray you as a victim or a creator of your own reality? Or both?
Up next is Part 4 of my Origin Story, “Using Suffering to Develop Real Ninja Super Powers”.
As always, TrainDeep.
Jonathan ~ Singing Butterfly Warrior
Ninja Photo Credit: Layla Studio in Brooklyn