Way of the Peaceful Warrior didn’t have a subtitle when it was first published. But so many people told Mr. Millman stories of how strongly it influenced their lives that the publisher added, A Book that Changes Lives.
If it sounds sort of tao-ist, that’s because it is. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen was a tai chi master in action. Try to attack him, he’d flick his wrist, and you’d be flat on your back. (The first thing he taught students was how to fall.) One of the principles of tai chi is non-resistance. The idea is that whatever is coming at you, don’t see it as bad or dangerous; see it as energy and use that energy to your own purpose. MUCH easier said than done. And that is the way of the peaceful warrior.
This is the story of the start of Mr. Millman’s own journey towards enlightenment, which began in college. He says it is a novel, but based on truth. He really was a champion gymnast and he really did meet an old guy on the midnight shift at a service station, nickname him Socrates (because he would not tell him his name), and spend many, many late nights/early mornings with him at the station during his college career. Beyond that, he doesn’t tell us where the line is between truth and fiction. My guess is he’s leaving it up to us to choose for ourselves. The story spends much of the time in a reality most of us don’t live in very often, if at all, so accept what you want and see the rest as teaching stories.
When Dan finds Socrates, he (Dan) has just started college on a gymnastics scholarship. In his day, he was one of the best in the world. He was the best trampolinist at one time, pioneered several moves on the high bar, and the accolades go on and on. Needless to say, he’s got the world wrapped around his finger and has no need to grow or change. In other words, he’s a cocky teenager. Fortunately for Dan, Socrates is willing to take on one last student.
To say he turns Dan’s world inside out is way too mild. During one or two lessons, he feels himself die. That’s what you have to do to grow, you have to be willing to let parts of you die in order for a new you to be born. Your world changes, but the world remains exactly the same. I’m pretty sure Socrates didn’t originate this thought, but he says, “If a blind man realizes that he can see, has the world changed?”
I love this book. I read it 20, maybe 25 years ago and I just read it again. What strikes me most about it this time through is how much I have grown. The first time, a lot of what Socrates tells Dan was new to me. This time, I found myself thinking, Dan, come on already. How can you not get it?! (That’s the third stage of enlightenment, by the way. The first is you tell everyone you’re enlightened. The second is you find a new consciousness, and third: you have no patience with – even a mild disdain for – those who aren’t there yet.) I finally did relax and just enjoy it.
If it sounds like this book is a lot of work to read, it might be. Or it might just be a great story with some really good lessons in perspective. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy it and get a lot of benefit from it.