The Warrior and the Gardener - Pt. 1

A student said to his master: "You teach me fighting, but you talk about peace.

How do you reconcile the two? "

The master replied: "It is better to be a warrior in a garden than to be a gardener in a war."

Chinese proverb

Over the past few months, I have been growing more and more connected to this ideology. As a professional athlete, it is your job to be the warrior. In life, the warrior is necessary for many reasons, of which I will touch on throughout various posts.

Like the warrior, the gardener has it's purpose in life too. There are many professions in the world that rely heavily on the gardener instead of the warrior.

They say too much of anything is a bad thing. Too much good without the bad, can allow you to lose perspective. Too much bad... well that one is self explanatory. So is it actually better to be a warrior in a garden?

To answer that question, we must understand the purpose and benefits each provides. In this post I will break down each to a very specific understanding, which in turn, allows us to compare each and understand the importance of not choosing which archetype to live in which environment, but allowing us to understand the balance of each which is actually the intention of the proverb.

Let's begin with the gardener.

The gardener is where we hold our internal peace. It is the soft and sensitive side to who we are. A gardener meticulously harvests their fruits and vegetables, giving the utmost love and care to all of the plants and soil while providing the necessary conditions for an optimal growth.

Traditionally throughout the evolution of mankind, the gardener has been equally important to the survival of our species through the harvest of plants for not only food, but for medicinal herbs as well. The gardener is not only the place where we can sit and refuel ourselves with energy, it is also the place where we heal ourselves.

Healing is such an essential part to life that we overlook far more often than we should be. Imagine if you took the time to heal yourself after every single trauma you endured. What if every time you were cut from a team, passed over for a promotion, hurt by a family member or dumped in a relationship, you stopped to heal instead of pushing that pain down and pushing forward. What if you decided to become the gardener rather than the warrior and heal with love rather than lash out and destroy what was in your path. Think of the bridges that may still be intact and poor decisions could have been avoided.

That's where the gardener holds the edge- long term decision making. Key words, long term decision making. The gardener is wise and understanding, filled with empathy and compassion. This is where our best leadership is based in our psychology because the gardener is responsive rather than reactive.

Imagine a gardener's crop does not grow to his expectations, but prematurely dies. they do not become enraged with anger, but rather investigative and inquisitive. The gardener sources the problem. Let's say he finds there is an insect infestation, their initial instinct is not to kill the insect. He's understanding a compassionate. A bee may sting them, however he knows the bee is essential in the fertilising of the flowers.

So where in our body does the gardener lie? Obviously, there will be connections to the brain, however I believe the gardener lies in our body as much as our mind. Our nervous system is broken down into subsections.

One of the two we will focus on is the parasympathetic nervous system. Without becoming too technical, our parasympathetic system is where our "rest and digest" functions lie. This is where we are at our calmest and able to assess the situation in front of us. To activate your parasympathetic nervous system, deep breaths in through the nose while using the diaphragm and calm breaths out, are one of the techniques that will put us into a parasympathetic state. Being in nature, meditation, yoga and other techniques will also deliver the desired result.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the gardener, let's focus on the warrior.

The warrior is where the fire within us lies. A warrior is reactive to what happens to them, thinking little about the consequences of their actions. That doesn't sound great does it? Burning down villages if that is what it takes to get the job done doesn't sound like an ideal lifestyle.

That's because it isn't. The good news is the warrior is very necessary in our daily lives. In the most literal sense, the warrior is what protects us. It is what allows us to defend our boundaries when people try to encroach, take advantage and abuse us. It is the courage to stand tall in a moment where you should cower and succumb to whatever is in front of you.

The key word there is courage. To blaze your own path, it takes courage- a lot of it. I am learning that everyday, doing things I am completely uncomfortable with in attempt to push forward and continue to help. It isn't easy, but it is the warrior within that allows that to happen.

Fire can certainly destroy whatever is in its path, but to create anything, we need fire as well. To create anything you want in this world, you must ensure that the warrior is present. Fire moulds metal and clears what no longer serves you. The same goes for what is within you. That fire can create the necessary individual you have to become to achieve the goals you want to achieve. It is also necessary to burn down everything that does not serve who you must become as well.

The good thing about the warrior, is they are the one who must make the difficult choices because they have the courage to do what must be done. What must happen will not always feel right, however it is necessary for progress at times. It does not mean that you have to agree with it, nor understand it, you must accept it for what it is. I would imagine it be very difficult to take a life, but it is what the warrior is there to do- to do the things that very few are willing to.

The warrior is much more useful than that, though.

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”


The warrior is what makes us stand out. It is what allows us to achieve what seems impossible. If I told you that you have a 1% chance of achieving something, would you take those odds? I was told this week I have about a 30% chance of achieving something- the old Eric would have been disheartened by those odds. For you to be born it is a 1 in 400,000,000,000,000 chance. One in four hundred trillion. If you were born, why couldn't you do something that has one percent chance of happening?

The warrior is where that special X factor in us lies. It is where we can achieve what we put our mind to. Have you ever been told you couldn't do something and it pissed you off? So you went out and did exactly what they said couldn't be done. That's a warrior.

Like the gardener, the warrior also lives in another part of our nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system. This is our "fight or flight" mode, which would make sense to compare it to the warrior. One major difference between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems is the length of the nerve endings. The sympathetic (warrior) has very short nerve endings which allows us to receive messages quickly. The parasympathetic (gardener) has much longer nerve endings which gives us more information, however takes much longer for our brains to receive the messages.

A series of studies done with up to 300 participants per study from different cultures and areas of the world were asked to identify where they feel certain emotions. 3 out of 4 people identified emotions exactly the same in the exact same areas of the body. If we are capable of pinpointing that, in theory, our emotions are just as much a thought as what goes through our brain.

I bring that point up to say this, the warrior is also thinking, just on a much quicker, more reactive and with less information than the gardener is. There is necessity to that and a reason we need it, however learning which archetype to use is incredibly important in achieving the necessary result.

What if, we could learn to control the warrior and think more quickly that will better help us analyse those situations. In the coming posts, I hope to address that. For the time being, it is important to understand how we think and operate.

Now that we have an awareness, think a little bit about how you think in high pressure situations. Are you reactive or responsive? Do you allow the gardener to sift through the finer details of what has happened after the emotion has left? Are you hesitant to react for fear of making the wrong decision? Do you find yourself stuck and unable to relate to either or both? The answers to these questions will tell you a lot about which side is overcompensating for the other. The good news, once you figure that out you can find the solution.