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The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary


I’m blessed by a wide variety of people in my life.  Their experiences and perspectives are so different and rich.  One of those whose path has intersected with mine responded to my question about books about facilitation with The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary.  In retrospect, it may have been a way for her to get me to read something that was important to her experience – even though it’s at best tangentially related to the question I raised.  That being said, it is a good way of connecting with ancient wisdom about the various roles that people can and do take.

New World Order

For the most part, we believe in a new world order.  We turn from the historic beliefs that people belonged to the land to one where we consider that humans own the land.  In doing so, we’ve lost some connectedness to where we are and where we come from.  Robert Putnum in Bowling Alone explains our loss of relationships with others, and Sherry Turkle explains the loss of connection to reality in Alone Together.  This isn’t the complete story though.  It misses our connection to nature and the broader world around us.

As I write this, I’ve stepped out of our office, which is designed to be connected to nature with natural light, plants, and a decidedly outdoor feel, into the sanctuary of the back yard.  Surrounded by plants and trees, I get some sense for nature buzzing around me.

The Four Ways

Angeles Arrien’s research led her to believe that there were four ways of proceeding in all shamanic traditions.  They are:

  • Warrior – Shows up and is present.
  • Healer – Pays attention to heart and meaning.
  • Visionary – Speaks the truth without blame or judgement.
  • Teacher – Open to the outcomes, not attached to them.

The Way of the Warrior

Warriors are disciplined.  They continue even when it’s hard.  (See Grit.)  They use their power in ways that are right.  This can be the approach of Servant Leadership in serving others, and it can be in finding ways to hold fast to critical ideas while letting others go as in Heroic Leadership.

By showing up, being present, getting back up again, and continuing to try, warriors share their original medicine – that is, the uniqueness that they bring to the world for the benefit of the world.  Warriors at their best are leaders who are rooted in knowing who they are and flexible enough to adapt to the world around them.

Warriors share their power in three key ways.  First, their presence is a power.  I can remember the effect of sitting among Cub Scouts.  I said nothing.  I did nothing.  However, it changed the dynamics.  Second, communication is a powerful force.  Rhetoric has been a powerful tool that leaders have used to engage their followers.  Powerful speeches can bring about change.  Third, position can signal to others what is important to the warrior.

Presence is more than just physical presence.  Sharing mental, emotional, and spiritual space with someone can be an empowering experience for them.  Our innate human desire is to be heard and understood.  Our physical presence signals this – but not as strongly as clearly being in the same mental, emotional, and spiritual space.

The Way of the Healer

There is rest built into every heartbeat.  Every song is composed of notes and spaces.  The way of the healer is a journey towards wholeness that includes everything in life, including both activity and rest.  The primary tool of the healer is love.

The framing of love is in the context of the people involved in the relationship, including familial, community, and romantic interests – as well as self-love.  Love is a catch-all for many different experiences.  The Greek have three words for what we call love: philos, eros, and agape.  (See The Four Loves.)  Anatomy of Love goes into a longer discussion of pair-bonding and love-based relationships.  More broadly, the concept of compassion is global, or agape, love and has been the subject of much philosophizing as people tried to understand how cooperation and collaboration came about.  (See SuperCooperators for more.)

Sometimes, we learn about the love that we have for one another through the study of our companions.  How Dogs Love Us walks through how our brains process love – and how man’s best friend may have similar and different structures.

The Way of the Visionary

The world that we live in today is louder and more random than at any time in history.  We’re faced with an overwhelming amount of information, much of which we’d define as noise.  (See Noise.)  However, even in previous times, there was value in those who could make it easier to see and focus on the important, and that’s the role of the visionary.  They take what has been hidden and make it visible to everyone by focusing attention and clarity.

Sometimes, the vision of the visionary comes from an internal intuition – a sense for how things work.  (See Source of Power for more.)  Sometimes, it comes from a keen sense of perception – the ability to see into the shadows where others can’t see.  Other times, it’s seeing how the pieces fit together behind the scenes and, critically, what that means to everyone.  Finally, sometimes, it’s simply generated from what the visionary knows is possible.

The Way of the Teacher

The visionary focuses us on one aspect of reality, and the teacher reminds us to be open to what may come our way in the universe.  While in the Western world, we often consider disengagement as something bad, rarely do we find the value in detachment – being detached from outcomes.  Doing what you can do and not getting wrapped up in whether the results come or not can be immensely freeing.

While detachment is an easy concept, it’s hard to live.  When confronted with failure and loss, it can be hard to keep going.  One of the ways that shamanic cultures have learned to deal with this is through the introduction of rituals.  Rituals provide strong signals of before and after and thereby help us make sense of our loss.  (See The Rites of Passage for more.)

I Contain Multitudes

Walt Whitman famously said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”  (“Song of Myself” 51.)  Each of us has some part of the four ways in us.  It’s up to us to find a path that winds through The Four-Fold Way.