Rabbi Niles Goldstein is the author of The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior, an approach to spiritual learning as seen through his eyes as a black belt martial artist. In his last blogs, he told us about his history in the rabbinate and in martial arts, and the strength of stamina. He is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.
Over the past few months, I have been traveling around the country and talking about my newest book, The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior. In it, I interweave the experiences I’ve had — and the lessons I’ve learned — in the course of both my 15 years in the rabbinate and during my 15 years of training in the martial arts (I have a black belt in karate). The overlap is remarkable, and I explore it in great depth.
While my new book offers an eight-step path toward self-empowerment and, ultimately, self-transcendence, there are two core principles that arise over and over again, not only in this book, but also in my previous work,Gonzo Judaism (which will appear in paperback in March). Clearly, these two concepts are of great import to me and to my approach to spirituality and religious life. They are courage and creativity.
What exactly is the challenge of the soul? What does it mean to be a spiritual warrior? First and foremost, it means that we must have the courage — or begin to develop it — to confront the trials of being human, to face the adversity inherent in our mortality. In this context, courage isn’t an end in itself, but a means to one: to inner growth, maturity, and eventually the ability to help others on their own journeys. Some of us are born with this capability; others must learn to cultivate it. Over time, though, as we become more and more self-confident, courage in the presence of challenge is not beyond anyone’s reach.
Courage is what makes creativity possible. If we can summon in our guts the ability to take risks (including the risk of failure), then almost anything becomes possible. Think about how this idea relates to the arts. Pablo Picasso learned how to draw conventional human figures long before his bold experiment with Cubism. Miles Davis trained in classical music prior to his daring journey into new and revolutionary forms of jazz. It wasn’t until both of these great artists had the fundamentals of their respective genres down cold — and the self-confidence that accompanied the experience — that they ventured out into uncharted territory.