The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a book by Dan Millman where he talks about his journey from being a self absorbed and ambitions gymnast to a peaceful warrior who learned to be happy by simply allowing life to take its course.
Dan Millman starts the story from his college days in Berkeley University where, amidst the euphoria of representing his country in international gymnastic competitions, he started experiencing bouts of depression. Soon he started experiencing nightmares, dark and morbid enough to leave him awake in a cold sweat. One character in his dream was an old, wise man that he names Socrates. In the company of Socrates, Dan finds himself stumbling, tripping and questioning his potential as a human being.
As the book unfolds, Dan finds himself resisting the flaws in his life which Socrates forces him to confront. At the same time, he finds himself learning to appreciate the simple things which he used to be too busy to notice.
In his journey with the wise, old man, Dan learns some life changing lessons like:
…a person may go through a lot of experiences in life. But none of these experiences will make a difference if the person doesn’t learn from them;
…one’s education may have imparted a lot of knowledge and a lot of information about everything and everyone else in this world. But all of that is just clutter in one’s mind which doesn’t make a difference in one’s life. One needs to dedicate time to get to know one’s self;
…there is a need to take responsibility for one’s actions instead of blaming other people for one’s circumstances. In the end, it is one’s own mind that is responsible for one’s circumstances.
But the most important lesson Dan learned is what it takes to be a warrior. The surprisingly simple answer is that being a warrior means learning to be happy with the way life is and learning to be serene through the power of meditation.
Socrates showed Dan that learning how to be happy was his challenge because he didn’t know how to just let life happen. He was too caught up in being an achiever that he was a prisoner to his own self expectations. He was living under the illusion that his achievements brought him happiness when in truth his addiction to success is what left him empty and depressed to begin with.
This book is a good reminder that there are things in life we cannot control. When this happens, it is better to surrender to fate rather than beat one’s self up for failing to achieve the goal set for oneself. This book is also a good reminder that, while competition has the power to bring out the best in everyone, too much of anything is bad. When wanting to come out on top becomes the be all and end all of one’s life, it’s just a matter of time when one reaches a breaking point.
Dan’s continued resistance and defensiveness to Socrates’ teaching points is a validation of the human inability to break old habits until the human being admits that there is something wrong and there is a need for change. But what compounds the human problem to break old habits is the fear of change. This is another reality that the book managed to acknowledge. People don’t like to change their way of thinking because how they think, albeit destructive, is familiar. It seems what the book is trying to imply at this point is that people are disillusioned into believing that what is familiar is good for them.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is a hindrance to self awareness. Another reality the book makes evident is the fact that many people are not ready to simply be happy, with the angle showing Dan and Socrates in a separate world from Dan’s friends. While Dan wanted to introduce the idea of Socrates to his schoolmates, he was aware of the possibility that the idea would not be well received and maybe misunderstood. The book makes it evident that, only when Dan finally admitted that he had problems, only then could he find the answers to his questions.
When Dan was given a view of his future given his present state of mind, this brings us to a realization that time is of the essence and that family is important. As someone once said, no one on their deathbed ever says they wished they spent more time at the office. It’s always they wished they spent more time with their loved ones. It would be a really sad situation for Dan if he only came to this realization after losing his wife and kid to divorce.
Socrates’ bizarre approach as a life teacher is an indication that experience is the best teacher and sometimes getting one’s pride hurt is the only way to learn the most valuable life lessons. Socrates’ approach was similar to what Jack Nicholson pulled over Adam Sandler in the movie Anger Management. Similar in the sense that part of his intent was to test the limits of his student’s patience and to annoy and test if his student can constructively express this annoyance.
If there is any criticism that can be offered for this book, it is the inconsistency in the mention of the Koran, the Muslim holy book which Socrates claimed he was meditating upon. All through out the book, there is this theme of being happy by surrendering to fate and resisting any desires and expectations. This attitude leans more on the teaching of the Buddha rather than the teaching of Mohammed.