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The Way of The Charioteer:

Self-Defence for Health of Mind in Stressful Times

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Introduction

Written in 2020, the year of the covid-19 global pandemic, this book brings together knowledge gained from many years of experience. These experiences vary from my practice of the martial arts, understandings gained from philosophy (the love of wisdom), the school of hard knocks (life itself), my connection to nature, and my experiences in the practice of the human and social sciences. Having followed the lessons given by these various aspects and interests in my lifetime to date, I have come to realise, as many others have stated in the past, that there are common principles that govern all life. It is not my aim to convince anyone of these principles. However, in expressing them to you the reader, maybe I can help you in your life when it comes to dealing with the challenges you face. If I can be of help to you in some way, then it will have been worth my time for having written this book.

So who is this book for? It’s for everyone, not just mental health professionals or academics. There is no human being who does not suffer at some stage in their life. While some forms of suffering are unavoidable, such as when a loved one becomes seriously ill or dies, much of the suffering in this world is caused unnecessarily. It is possible to avoid creating suffering, for example, such as bullying in the form of physical conflict, harsh words or exclusion. The creation of such suffering is very much an avoidable choice. When it comes to my experiences, I have had a wide variety of challenging situations, but have also had valuable learning in how to deal with these challenges. I know that one day, hopefully a long time from now, I will die. When that day has come and gone, I want my life to have been meaningful and worthwhile. To make my life meaningful and worthwhile, I am creating a legacy for humanity in the meantime, which includes this book. My hope is that this legacy, both in the current era and for the future generations will play a role in helping people to discover for themselves, how to reduce their own suffering.

Every Human-Being is unique, and therefore what every Human-Being needs in terms of their healing and growth is unique to them. I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all solution, or standardised formulas that are supposed to work for everyone. Such an approach can end up shaming, (unintentionally or otherwise) people who don’t fit the formula. It is important that everyone who seeks help finds the healing process that works for them as unique individuals. My hope is that this book will complement and contribute to the process that works for every unique individual.

In this lifetime, to date, I have dealt with heartbreaking trauma. I have been homeless and unemployed. I have made it to college and have had career success. I have overcome depression and suicidal thoughts. I have achieved a black belt in one martial art and a brown belt in another. I have survived meningitis. Three Consultant doctors gave me the diagnosis of cancer, which did frighten me. Four months later after the tumour was removed, the biopsy results showed that it was a benign tumour. However, for four months, I lived with the belief that I had cancer. I am not talking about what I have faced and overcome in order to be boastful, in any way. I am saying this to let you know that it is humanly possible not to be beaten down by these life experiences. Also, I am saying, that while I don’t wish to face such circumstances again, the integration of these life experiences, which I see as life lessons, has helped me to grow as a Human-Being, and deepened my sense of meaning in life. If I have grown and found meaning in such experiences, and have learned to thrive despite them, so can others, and so can you. You might not believe that you can do it, especially if you are in deep physical or psychological pain. This was once my thinking with regards to myself. How many times I told myself, “I can’t”. Such was my thinking. However, I came to realise through experience, that I can, and that thoughts often lie.

Hopefully the contents of this book will help you to figure out how to not be beaten down by painful life circumstances. In the martial arts, we anticipate attacks that might come our way one day, and we practice methods to deal with those attacks. In other words, we learn strategies on how to defend ourselves in anticipation of a crisis arising. When it comes to other types of crises, for example, being seriously ill, the loss of a loved one, being unable to pay the bills, being undermined in work, living through a pandemic etc, we often don’t usually know how to deal with these crises, nor have we practiced strategies to deal with them or their psychological impact. We often don’t know how to defend our mental health in stressful times. Hopefully this book will go some way towards helping you being able to practice self-defence for health of mind despite crises that arise. This does not guarantee that the crisis won’t affect you. Just like when a black belt in a martial art successfully defends him/herself from a physical attack, they might be on the receiving end of one punch, but they have avoided or blocked ten punches. In a similar way, when one is faced with a life crisis, it is possible to reduce the impact of that crisis to a large degree. For example, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was afraid. However, applying the knowledge that I am referring to in this book, I managed to reduce the fear dramatically by approximately ninety five percent. I came to realise that the fear, was an optional extra, and I said “No Thank You” to it. I found this really helpful, and I was able to get on with my life for months before surgery and realising that the tumour was benign. Given the fear that a diagnosis of cancer can generate, I believe that it’s worth telling you how it is possible to reduce such fear. This is just one example of self-defence for health of mind.

Another example of self-defence for health of mind occurred when I realised that I had meningitis. I was in hospital at the time, and I was not sure if I would survive. Realising that death was a possibility, I went into crisis mode, and yes, I was afraid of dying. However, using the knowledge contained within this book, this was another situation where I came to realise that the fear was optional. I am grateful that I managed to achieve a state of calmness and peaceful mind even though I was unsure at the time if I would survive or not. It’s a similar principle that a martial artist faces when sparring. When one learns to overcome the fear of sparring, one can participate in the simulated fight in a calm state of mind. Sparring is an opportunity to practice self-defence when one doesn’t know what attack one’s opponent will throw at you. Similarly, when we don’t know what life is going to throw at us, it is helpful to be able to achieve a calm state of mind. This helps us to deal with the crisis more effectively, without the addition of, or at least with a reduction of, panic and fear. Therefore, with self-defence for health of mind, the impact of crises that we face in life need not impact on us as heavily as we may believe.

So Self Defence for Health of Mind is the great theme of this book. To understand how to defend ourselves when we face crises, we need to understand who / what we are as human beings. The Way of the Charioteer is a philosophical metaphor that helps us to know ourselves and to become conscious of the choices available to us in life.

What is the Way of the Charioteer?

The Way of the Charioteer is a metaphor that describes the Principle of the Human Being, faced with choices during the events of daily life. The Human Being may not be aware of the choices that are available to him / her, but these choices exist nevertheless. The more conscious the Human Being becomes of the available choices in every life situation, the more he / she is able to respond to those life situations. In other words, the Human Being becomes “Response-Able”, as in Able to Respond. The response-able Human Being, is able to respond consciously to life circumstances / crises, rather than reacting unconsciously to, or being pushed around by these life circumstances / crises.

To go indepth explaining the Way of the Charioteer, I will use the medium of philosophy (the love of wisdom), and the scientific evidence-base of Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy, to explain it. So, the Way of the Charioteer is a metaphor for summarising the Human Being. Why is this important? It is important because, what we understand ourselves to be, impacts on everything in our lives, including our beliefs, our fears, our hopes, and our vision for what we can achieve. What a Counsellor / Psychotherapist or Mental Health Professional believes a Human Being to be, impacts on how he /she will try to help the person before them. So, what is the Human Being? A body and nothing more? Are thoughts and emotions real given that they are not physical? Is medication the solution to life’s problems? What is spirit, and does it even exist or have any relevance in the 21st century? I can imagine a large room filled with thousands of people giving their varied opinions in relation to these questions, and depending on their perspective, their ideas on what would be helpful to humanity would vary considerably. However, if understood well, those thousands of people could apply the Way of the Charioteer, as a principal in many ways that would make sense and that would be helpful and meaningful to them all, taking the uniqueness of each individual into account.

The aim of the metaphor of the Way of the Charioteer, is to help every Human Being navigate their way through life, with all its challenges and joys. No matter the colour of your skin, where in the world you are from, your culture, your spiritual belief or lack thereof, the Way of the Charioteer can help everyone who chooses to apply it. The Way of the Charioteer helps you to place yourself in the eye of the metaphorical storm, so that you don’t get tossed and turned by the winds of chaos. At the very least, it helps you to be less vulnerable to the winds of chaos. It reduces their grip on you. It helps you to place yourself in a situation whereby, if life knocks you down, you find it in yourself to stand up again. Even during the painful moments where you have been knocked down by life, and standing up just feels too difficult, the Way of the Charioteer helps you to understand, that standing up again is possible and that if it hurts too much to stand up today, you will be able to do so tomorrow, or maybe next week. The Way of the Charioteer, is a gift of hope and love towards finding a new way.

In the Way of the Charioteer, the chariot symbolises the physical body, what the ancient Greeks called Soma. The body is a well-designed vehicle of transport, like the chariot. The body is not what we are, but it contains what and who we are. The chariot (the body), despite its brilliance, cannot carry out any action unless it is directed to do so. It receives this direction form the horses. The horses represent what the ancient Greeks call, the Psyche (Thoughts and Emotions). So, one horse represents Thoughts and the other represents Emotions. Sometimes they work together and are in harmony with each other, and sometimes they work against each other. Working against each other can lead to turmoil and suffering, and the chariot simply goes wherever the horses pull it. The Charioteer represents the Being, that is the Human Being. The Charioteer has the capability to direct the horses and the chariot, but it needs to learn how to take charge. The problem is, that the horses believe that they are in charge, and they try to assert dominance over the Charioteer. As the Charioteer begins to assert itself, and the horses resist, thus begins what ancient philosophies refer to as, “The Inner Battle”.

The ancient Greeks call the Being, that is the Charioteer, “Noos”, meaning “Spirit”. The word “Nooetic” is derived from the word “Noos”, and refers to the Wisdom of the Inner-Being, of the Charioteer, or of what is referred to in Mindfulness Practice as, “The Silent Observer”. In  order to direct the horses, the Charioteer needs to calm them, and when the horses gain confidence in the charioteer, they will follow the Charioteer’s direction. The direction taken by the horses alone is often unconscious and is dependent on the circumstances, such as for example fear, hunger, like or don’t like, that motivate them. The direction given by the Charioteer is conscious, and the Charioteer can navigate through life circumstances while keeping the horses calm and assured. Therefore, the reins held by the Charioteer represent consciousness. The path, sometimes rough and sometimes smooth, on which the Charioteer directs the horses and the chariot, represents life.

The above will be expanded on in more detail later in the book. For the moment, it is important that I point out another guiding principle that underlies this book. If you are an atheist, or have had a difficult experience with religion, may I please ask you to bear with me. This book neither promotes nor undermines any religious belief. Whether you are religious, an atheist or a spiritual person, this book can still be helpful to you. I am not trying to convince anyone about what to believe or not believe. Personally, I am not a believer. For me, when I say “I believe”, I am saying, “I don’t know”. For example, maybe I believe that the team I support is going to win the league next year, but I don’t know that they will win. I will have to wait and see. I am more interested in knowing and understanding through experience. So what I have written in this book is what I have come to know and understand through experience, and is not solely based on academic learning. There is always more to know and understand, so I don’t claim to know and understand it all. That said, when you have experienced, known and understood something, you cannot un-experience it. You cannot un-know what you have come to know, even though there is always more to be learned and understood. For example, do you know what it is like to drink water? If you have had that experience of drinking water, nobody can take it away from you. You don’t have a belief of what it is like to drink water, you know through experience what it is like to drink water. So what am I building up to in this paragraph?

What I have been building up to in the previous paragraph is an understanding and a guiding principle within this book. That principle is, that the Human Being (the Charioteer), is a Spiritual Being that expresses itself through a Psyche (Thoughts and Emotions) and a body. It “Is” what we “Are”. This is where I request that atheists bear with me, as I am neither promoting nor undermining religious beliefs. I am not religious myself. When I use the term “Spiritual Being”, I am not using it in the religious sense, nor is anything I am saying in conflict with religion. I use the term, or it’s ancient Greek equivalent, “Noos”, in the manner described by Viktor Frankl’s scientific evidence-based form of psychotherapy, i.e. Logotherapy, where Frankl states that it is the primary concern of all human beings to have Meaning in their lives despite their experiences of suffering. Frankl advises that the search for Meaning in life is a great concern of the Charioteer within all human-Beings. I have found this to be the case with both atheists and with people of a spiritual persuasion, and I have never asked such people to believe in anything but themselves. As a professional, by helping people to tune into their values, they find what is meaningful to them in life, and they can find it within themselves to rise above their suffering. This applies in situations where it is both possible for someone to change their circumstances, and where it is not possible for them to change their circumstances, e.g. if they have experiences distressful events in the past, or are faced with terminal illness. Even in these cases, it is still possible to find meaning in life and therefore to reduce one’s suffering.

In addition, while I do not impose, promote or undermine religion with my clients, both personal and professional experience has demonstrated to me, that when people practice mindfulness (which also has a therapeutic scientific evidence-base), this calms their metaphorical horses. They find the Charioteer within themselves, and they find the ability to make conscious choices that are meaningful to them, which helps them to rise above whatever is causing them to suffer. In mindfulness practice, as mentioned above, this Being is often referred to as “The Silent Observer”. Finding the Silent Observer within has helped atheists, people who have given up on religion having suffered abuse in religious institutions, as well as those who adhere to religious codes, and those who define themselves as spiritual, but not religious. The Silent Observer is not concerned with belief or judgement, it simply “Is”. The Silent Observer, also known as the Noos, or the Being that is the Human-Being, is referred to in this book as, “The Charioteer”. The combination of Philosophy, an evidence-base of the human and social sciences, the principles of the martial arts, and the learning from lived experience is, The Way of The Charioteer. May this book compliment you on your unique journey through life as you discover and apply the self-defence for health of mind, that is specific to your own needs and your own life as you discover your own inner Charioteer.