Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Peaceful Warrior

Some comments on the book

The Peaceful Warrior
By Dan Millman

I recently came across an old award medal that I received back in the 60s. It was for winning the Intramural Gymnastics Championship at UC Berkeley while I was a graduate student there. At the time I supplemented my graduate studies with a heavy program of physical activity that included working out with the gym team (and trying to keep clear of the serious training the team members were engaged in). I remember that the competition was fun and that I won rather easily.
On an impulse I put a picture of the metal on Facebook (under the category of PG for Prior Glory). An old friend of mine from those times, Chris Perliberg, responded with a comment directing my attention to the book “The Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman. What a piece of serendipity. Dan was one of the gym team members that I had been working out with. He went on to have a very successful academic career that included coaching gymnastics. In 1980 he wrote the book referred to above. It took a while for the book to catch on, but when it did he followed it with other books and currently heads up a popular “Peaceful Warrior” many faceted personal growth program.
Dan’s guru “Socrates” will be instantly recognized as a recasting of “Don Juan”, the protagonist in the series of books by the Peruvian-American author Carlos CastaƱeda that started out with “The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968. (That was the year that both Dan and I graduated from UC Berkeley.) One is tempted to draw parallels between the two series of books. However, the tone of the books and the lives of the authors could not be more different. Castaneda is dark and brooding and the stories are filled with hallucinogenic mushrooms, trances and out of body experiences, while Dan’s work is filled with light, openness and positive experiences. The story he relates is super clean-cut. No alcohol or sex, for example. The movie made from the book got very upbeat reviews.
“The Peaceful Warrior” also puts me in mind of other works like Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” and “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran. All of these works claim to present the reader with a path toward peace, happiness and deep understanding. They are heavily quoted. Like many others I have devoured the works all these authors, but have come away strangely unsatisfied. My personal growth has largely come from elsewhere.
So, I was skeptical as I started “The Peaceful Warrior”, but I enjoyed the writing and all the intimate descriptions of the Berkeley campus and surrounding town. Many of Dan’s experiences and observations were identical to ones that I had had. Still, as a scientist and skeptic, I found the recounting of various esthetic regimens bland and somewhat tedious.
That is, until I had an epiphany that is the motivation for this note. So here it is, the key to the central core of all these (and similar ones like TM) teachings. Why is it that there are so many, seemingly dissimilar, paths to enlightenment? You can equally well meditate on the tip of your nose for a week, fast for days, stand on one foot for hours, recite certain prayers or any one of dozens of paths to enlightenment. And they all work (or don’t) depending on the individual. What is actually happening? What is the common thread?
Don’t trust your response to this question unless you’ve “Been There and Done That.”
The way it looks to me is that each of these methods is simply a way of wresting control of your life away from your brain.  My experience (and there is a lot of supporting research) is that your brain charts out reality and presents it to you. That’s where stress, conflict and dysfunctionality come from. (Who would choose it?) Then most of us just go along for the ride.
All of the enlightenment methods do the same thing. They open the door a crack so that you can glimpse the possibility that there is another way, one where you actually make some of the decisions. I don’t remember exactly when it happened (I think it had something to do with sailing across oceans.), but the idea entered my mind: “Who is in charge here anyway?” At that point my life stopped short, turned 90 deg from its previous path, and has never been the same.