I’ve been dancing with a Zen koan for the last few weeks — something John Tarrant once taught me. It goes, “Medicine and Sickness are in accord. The whole world is medicine. What am I?” It’s been a slow, methodical and, at times, difficult dance … like dancing the tango while wearing a heavy backpack. At times I lean into to the koan and at times it leans on me – the yin and the yang…

It’s been a wild adventure just to arrive here, to be pondering a koan (or even know what one is) and to be asking the question “what am I?” in the first place.

I grew up poor with my single mom in a trailer in the Arizona desert. I wanted to live the dream, and I did; I worked my way up to overseeing 20,000 concerts a year around the globe as head of the concert division for Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter. (If you’ve been to a big concert, chances are it was one of ours.) I had a great boss, was named to Fortune Magazine’s list of top paid executives under 40, and worked with some of the biggest stars in the world. See what I mean … what more could you want?

But I did want more. Everything I thought I was, my identity as the brave business warrior, was tied up in the tenuous bow of my career, possessions and power. To feel good about myself, I always needed more and with the more came its companions in the form of the ever increasing pressure, stress and friction I was experiencing. And then it burst.

The rocket ship I’d ridden to the top came crashing down just as dramatically as it had risen. In a matter of months, my mom died from stomach cancer, I endured my second divorce and I lost my job. I looked around in a daze and found my dream in shambles. Everything that had seemed real to me – my mom, my wife, my career — was gone and I grasped around in the dark looking for something to hang on to … searching for an identity beyond the warrior who had somehow managed to win all the battles and yet still felt lost.

A few months later, still searching, I travelled to the Shaolin Temple in China with a new friend I’d met at a wellness conference, the herbal master Ron Teeguarden. Together we climbed the one thousand steep mountain steps that led to the cave that Bodhidharma is said to have meditated in for nine years before establishing what is now Zen Buddhism. I liked Bodhidharma. He was scrappy, fierce, a barbarian, a stranger in town, who was also a saint. He walked from India to China and converted a monastery full of overweight monks into the home of the seemingly odd mix of Zen and Kung Fu. This story resonated with me as I struggled to unite my own odd mix of the business warrior and the peaceful monk who was slowly emerging inside me. What I found, through the teachings of these descendants of the teachings of Bodhidharma, was that I couldn’t find peace; I had to learn instead to be at peace with what I found in me … both the warrior and monk inside.

I remember the moment it all sunk in for me. I asked one of the monks how he reconciled his peaceful nature in the midst of Kung Fu battles. “When I was little all I wanted to do was fight. My punches were stronger, my technique was better and I always won. Then one day I met a superior opponent who beat me, badly. For the first time I understood what it felt like to lose, to be in pain and to doubt my ability. That day I gained a true understanding of compassion. Now I try to solve problems with my heart instead of my fists. I am a monk and I am also a warrior. I use them both in life. Compassion is my guide.”

His explanation made sense to me. The peace I was searching for wouldn’t come as the result of denying my warrior nature. Instead it was about embracing the entirety of my being, both the warrior and monk, and learning to apply them both compassionately in my life. I could fully engage in life while fully embracing my spirituality, and as a result experience peace.

“Medicine and Sickness are in accord.
The whole world is medicine.
What am I?”

I think another take on the koan might be: Monk nature and warrior spirit are in accord. We are all both. What am I? It’s easy to think that our monk nature is the medicine and our warrior spirit, with all its battling and conquering, is the sickness and to run away from it all to meditate in the solitude of the mountains. But the koan doesn’t let us off that easy. It calls me back from the meditation cushion to my home, my kids, my office — with the assertion that monks and warriors are in cahoots. And there’s the bold proclamation that everything is, in fact, part of one unified life — that it’s all medicine.

Over the last five years, I’ve found more of the peace that eluded me for most of my life. Some might say I’ve found a way to insert my practice into my life as I share my experiences through my book, blog and conversations with others. But I think it’s more accurate to say that I’m discovering my life through my practice, as the ins and outs of my real-life spirituality fueled by every day events become my practice and the fodder for my sharing. As Sharon Salzberg said to me once, “With awareness our whole life becomes our practice.”

I have an old business associate I used to work tirelessly, but without notable effect, to impress. I got a note from him the other day after he read my book. He said simply, “Thank you for sharing what so many of us are silently feeling.” After years of warrior-like hard work, what had finally garnered his admiration was an act of honest sharing from a vulnerable heart. And the koan smiled knowingly at me … everything is medicine.

This week I invite you to get in touch with both the warrior and monk natures inside you. Embrace the parts of your life you may have viewed as hurdles and trace their lines through your life and find the medicine hidden in them. Experience the same honor in the scrappy and unrefined parts of your being as you do in the accomplished and holy parts. And view your life as an adventure in real-life spirituality by finding the practice weaved throughout your everyday experiences. In us all live a warrior and monk – everything is medicine.

Big hugs of love,


  1. Precious thoughts Jason. I love the “When I was little all I wanted to do was fight….” And so it is for all warriors who have learned to embrace and share compassion. It is a long, difficult, and wondrous journey. Thank you for sharing yours.

      • David Reid-Daly says:

        As I understand it Shaolin was already practicing Martial Arts before Bodhidharma arrived as had been the case through out China. Martial tradition was centered on the application of Yin, Yang and Jin in the context of the Confucian ethical socio-political framework of the time. As a definition and a truth Zen cannot really be said to have started at Shaolin, but what can be said is that when Awakening did occur the integration of practice cemented the link between peace and conflict dissolving them into a single state of experience. Martial tradition becomes Art only when the practitioner makes self-development and Awakening their goal. One cannot be a warrior and monk. He can only be himself. The soldier trains in many skills so that he can confidently adapt to life as it meets him. The Dojo allows a person to prepare for danger, the landscape tests the level of Mastery. Zen is not philosophy. Its feeling the fullness of life in context and discovering how we react to it. Today the rifle replaces the sword but the experience is unchanged. Can I serve those who wish to kill me, my family and my Nation? Am I filled with compassion for the mind who straps a bomb to a child and sends her to her death so that I come to harm? If I numb my Self to conflict or war where will I find peace? Without compassion how can anyone become Awakened.

  2. Wendy Alden says:

    Great article and so very true. Reminds me of the quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in it’s deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

    The quote could be changed for a man to “princes” to make it appropriate for yourself. I recall this quote being used in the TV series with Ron Perlman & LInda Hamilton of Beauty and the Beast and not given as from the source above, but from the novel, Great Expectations, but the quote was worded differently with the same meaning. Either way, it applies to your concept of all challenges are the adventures of life with a healing power we may not see at the beginning of that journey.

  3. Greg Armstrong says:

    Way to wake us up on a Sunday morning, Jason! I’ve been growing increasingly restless for several years on a number of fronts. An influential friend recently advised me to figure out what I want after listening to my travails, and I work on that every day. But I would substitute “needs” for “wants” in that piece of advice. After reading this post, I particularly like your point that “I couldn’t find peace; I had to learn instead to be at peace with what I found in me.” Seems very relevant to me at this juncture as that is something I need to do. Thanks.

    • Agreed, Greg. Love the line “I couldn’t find peace; I had to learn instead to be at peace with what I found in me.” Seems that we are all searching externally for this peace, rather than internally. Thanks for the great writing, Jason.

      • Jason Garner says:

        Thank you Matt. Instead of searching, we’re invited to simply allow and accept what we find. Big hugs – Jason

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Greg. Sometimes the restlessness is a sign that what we think we need we actually don’t. I’ve found stillness and quiet to be the best avenue to find my way. Big hugs – Jason

  4. Jason, since a started getting your message by email, I’ve read every one thought it has not been easy. It is very difficult for me to read from a screen. I print everything I want to read that is more than a few sentences. With your messages I’ve tried every way I can to print them out but it has not gone well. I get multiple pages with the comments and the type is too light and small. Is there a way you can add a print feature?
    Keep on.

  5. It is true, we are all warriors and monks. The perfect example in my life is being a parent. When I’m having bonding time with my kids having fun, and the hugs that I get from them, are all sides of the monk. But when they don’t do their chores, I have to be the warrior. Anyone who has been a parent knows we have to balance both when dealing with kids. One of the hardest things for me to do with them is to be the warrior.

    My one son was diagnosed with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Our life was at a stand still where he was paralyzed with fear, unable to cope or deal with life. Through cognitive behaviour therapy we were able to get him the help he needed. But part of that help was for me to learn to be a warrior. If he was afraid of something, I had to force him to face his fears, which was so hard for me, because as a parent my instinct was to protect him from everything. Once he was facing his fear then the monk came out as I encouraged him to use the coping skills and tools he learned in order to deal with the situation. This was 9 years ago now, and today you wouldn’t even know he has OCD.

    Both the monk and the warrior are parts of me. Learning to balance and know when to use which is sometimes tricky, other times more natural. As I grow, I am learning to use both wisely.

    Big hugs of love to you and your family, Jason. Thank you for sharing. Oh, and a tip of advice from a ballroom dance teacher….do NOT tango with a backpack on! It will ruin your form. 😉 Try dancing with a partner instead. I actually studied in martial arts before I took up dance. With martial arts it was always fighting against people, although the patterns were always beautiful to me…with dance it was learning to work with people to move together and create something special. I enjoy dancing much more. 😀

    Faith, hope and love. Kathleen.

  6. The authentic sharing of your journey is truly touching. You had the courage to be vulnerable, to share from your heart, the hurdles of your journey. You discovered your light and by doing so, as Marianne Williamson so brilliantly said:”And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
    As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Thank you for pointing out the benefits of having a balance between the ‘warrior’ self and the ‘monk’ self so we too can enter that sweet spot and allow both energies to guide us to higher grounds.

  7. Thanks for this article and for sharing some of your life with us. I am currently reading a book by Pema Chodron called “When Things Fall Apart” Pema is an American Buddhist Nun who is in my opinion a warrior, encouraging folks to lean into life, even the sharp edges of life and to face what scares you as wells as being compassionate towards yourself and others, to be okay with your whole self. I am find this message running through many books and talks that I have encountered over the last few years. I find that very encouraging. I ordered your book and look forward to reading and sharing it with others.

  8. Ha, I bet you mad a FEW saints mad along the way! I urge you to do a Kriya Yoga initiation and learn their meditation techniques. They call it the Rocketship, ya know.

  9. Ray Khelawan says:

    I have felt like that…..especially now. When I’m with my husband, niece and nephew….when I’m doing yoga or drinking my green juice….even reading….I feel all monk. When I’m at work….all warrior….guns blazing!!

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