Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Way of the Peaceful Warrior, a Book That Changes Lives is the first of twelve self-help books written by Dan Millman. Prior to becoming a writer, Millman’s professional background was gymnastics and teaching, as was that of his lead character. This book is a fictional autobiography, which he categorized in an interview with David Cohen as “inspired by true events”.

Plot Summary:

The story is that of a young Dan Millman, a gymnast in his first year at UC Berkeley. He meets a mystical old man who works the graveyard shift at a nearby gas station. Dan names this mysterious attendant Socrates because he never gives a straight answer. Socrates has special powers that get Dan‘s interest, such as the ability to jump tall buildings like a cat. He tells Dan that he must learn the way of the peaceful warrior. Socrates becomes his mentor and Dan begins spending his evenings at the gas station.

Dan asks Socrates lots of questions in between servicing customers. Socrates often calls him a fool, answering questions with parables and fables from around the world. Occasionally, to make an especially difficult point, Socrates will touch Dan and take him on Ebenezer Scrooge style journeys in super-real waking dreams. Each time something changes in Dan‘s knowledge of reality and himself. He sees himself as part of all consciousness and the connections between him and the greater universe.

Socrates demands discipline from Dan and Dan‘s focus begins to steer away from academics and his gymnastic abilities to inner growth. Socrates warns Dan he has a rough path ahead and sure enough, Dan‘s leg is shattered in a motorcycle crash. Nonetheless, with the help of Socrates and a mysterious yet delightful woman named Joy, he makes a rapid recovery and manages to win the National Collegiate Championships for his team. He discovers that the path to the championship was the true victory.

In the end, Dan has learned much about satori and yet is still seeking answers. Socrates sends him away. Dan goes on to live his life after college in the way most of us do, getting caught up in the grind and moving farther and farther away from the truths learned during his time with Socrates. He leaves his settled life and scours the world for other teachers, never quite getting it.

Socrates returns to him years later in the wilderness and takes him on one last journey. Dan experiences his own death, and then sees his body decompose and recycle back into the ecosystem, feeding the soil, the plants, and the animals. He is all of it and all of it is he. He sees the insignificance of each individual life and knows that after death he will go on as part of the oneness. Socrates passes on his journal and tells Dan to become a teacher, then disappears like Obi Wan Kenobi but with a fantastic light show. Dan finds Joy, both figuratively and literally, and heads happily for a new future.

Key Concepts:

The difference between mind and body/thought and action is a key topic in this book. Socrates tells Dan to stay in the present because action and the body are always in the present. Past and future exist only in the mind. The mind only distracts from the present. (170) “Mind is an illusory outgrowth of basic cerebral processes. It is like a tumor. It comprises all the random, uncontrolled thoughts that bubble into awareness from the subconscious.” (62) This powerful statement affected me strongly. I had always thought of mind as defining who a person is but now I see it may be more like the incessant questions and chatter of a child in the backseat of a car on a long trip. The body is closer to reality, being the only truth in the moment. Like Aristotle, Socrates taught that action is what you are. You are what you do, not what you think.

The simplest message of the book is to be happy, for no reason. Socrates does not tell Dan how to be happy, he just tells him to be happy. A warrior is happy without reason. (197) Enjoy every moment because there are Read More

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