Our summer issue is out now. We had the pleasure of chatting with Dan Millman, the peaceful warrior himself! Dive on in to find out more.
Be A Peaceful Warrior In Training
Behave ‘as if’
by Alison McEvoy
The Way of The Peaceful Warrior is a story which will be resurrected time and again. The book was published in 1980 after considerable effort on behalf of its author, Dan Millman. It then withered away into silence. Bookstores were simply unable to box it into a clear genre and did not want it lying around, blurring lines. A retired publisher came across the book and was catapulted back into his career by it, determined that light be shed on its pages once more. Grateful are we readers, by the thousands if not more, who have read it since. The conversation we had with Dan Millman recently was a delight. He exudes candidness and warmth, and has an exceptionally bright twinkle in his eye.
WHY THE WARRIOR?
Dan encountered bullying as a child. This led to his delving into martial arts at the early age of ten years old. He trained in Judo, Karate (various different styles of Karate), gymnastics, Aikido (in which he received a black belt) and went on to Tai Chi, Stick and Knife fighting and more, as the years went by. These disciplines, Dan emphasises, are not sports. They were practised and honed by warriors. “What is different between Martial Arts and sports is that they began with a lineage of life and death. There is a sincerity and a recognition that physical skill alone is not enough, if the emotions are in turmoil or the mind is distracted. They work with body, mind and spirit.
I grew up with the idea of training body, mind and spirit into a spiritual whole.” In his career as an assistant professor of Physical Education in Ohio, he focussed on creating talent for sport. He sought the ways in which he could increase his trainees’ ability to learn faster and increase their potential. Soon however, his “interest shifted outside of the gymnasium and into everyday life.” “I began to ask, how can we create more talent for daily life, for living, for relationships and finances.” As the shift continued to turn, Dan realised that, “It’s important not to dedicate our life to our sport or training, but we want to dedicate our training to our life. How we do anything is how we do everything.” Hence the warrior’s arena becomes the arena of daily life and the battles are the everyday ones we all face, from within and without.
A PEACEFUL WARRIOR’S PERSPECTIVE
Unreflected upon, it is likely that we view and ‘talk’ to ourselves, and potentially others, through the lens and voice of our early caretakers. However, once we begin to reflect on our perception of ourselves, we can take back ownership of our attitude to Self, life and others. Dan Millman’s perception of Self and others is one which he has spent decades evolving and honing. He invites us to share in this perception of Self and others as a way to face daily life and our engagement with it. “I view everyone as a peaceful warrior in training. Aren’t all of us seeking to live with a peaceful heart amidst the chaos and changes and current events of everyday life?
To live with a sense of equanimity in the turmoil? We need an inner warrior, not necessarily to fight, but to fight our inner demons of fear, insecurity, self-doubt. It’s about rolling up our sleeves and marching into everyday life and facing what we need to…I think it’s useful for us to view ourselves as a peaceful warrior in training.” “There have always been warriors in the world; strong, courageous, grounded, but not all of them have had a peaceful heart. And there have always been peacemakers; nourishing, kind, supportive, loving, but not all of those have been effective because they lacked a warrior spirit.” “A peaceful warrior is one who does their best not to harm others but brings a spirit and a strength into everyday life.”
SPIRIT, STRENGTH AND A PEACEFUL HEART
The strength which Dan speaks of is the strength to use our free will in the only arena he finds is truly available to us – our actions and behaviour. “I don’t encourage you to feel happy or kind or loving or peaceful or confident or courageous. I encourage you to behave that way…regardless of doubts, behave with confidence, courage, peacefulness. I spent years working on my emotions and my thoughts. This is the reason I now focus on behaviour.” “I don’t have a spam filter in my head – thoughts happen to us. They just pop into our awareness.
The same with emotions…feelings are for feeling. They enrich our lives…I’m not saying ignore or deny emotions. They are changing all the time, they are the weather patterns of the body…but I’ve found through my own experience that we have very little control by our own will over our emotions or our thoughts. I can’t will myself to suddenly stop feeling what I’m feeling…yet they fade over time anyway and we start feeling something else.” “[We should] accept our thoughts and feelings as natural to us in the moment…but focus on our purpose. Do what needs to be done in line with your goal. Behave in line with your goals as a human being.” So, you can behave your way into being a peaceful warrior. Simply take one action at a time, focusing on your aims in life. One thought at a time, allowing it to be. One feeling at a time, allowing yourself to be enriched by its tones and shades. Each moment the time is ripe for embodying your peaceful warrior within.
GETTING THINGS DONE
While Dan acknowledges that his approach is “controversial” to some, he is confident that it is now the way he wishes to approach life and living. Thanks to this “behaviour orientation”, his life has been “radically simplified”. The opposite of Dan’s approach is to focus on having the ‘right’ feelings, a positive mindset, fixing your thoughts or having a quiet mind. As in meditation, where the focus is on observing without opinion or judgement the inner landscape of thought and feeling, Dan uses this approach into his daily life.
There too, he notices, accepts, does not fight or wrestle with thoughts that naturally occur. Instead, he focuses on what actions to take. “It is not pretence” to behave one way while having thoughts or feelings of a different order. It is simply the use of our free will in the best and only possible way we can use it – in what we do. Running to save someone from being knocked over while feeling fear, is not fake or pretence. It is courage in action. Getting things done and a practical outlook is of huge import in Dan’s life. “It’s important to function and get things done. Those of us who get things done feel more fulfilled.”
GETTING OUT FROM UNDER THE INFLUENCE
“Acting on emotional impulses leads to a chaotic life,” says Dan. As young children we are constant storms and rainbows, the weather of our emotions changes rapidly and our behaviour with it. My two year old can go from a dainty, smiling little thing to raging, in a matter of seconds. Most especially if someone touches his favourite bike! Being around him can feel very chaotic at times. As a child myself I remember feeling like ‘I’ almost did not exist. I was in chaos. So fluttering and flittering were my own and others’ feelings and favourings. One week I had a best friend and the next week she had decided someone else would get that title. So fickle and varying was the world around me as I, and all the others my age, changed direction each time a new thought or feeling came our way.
As a teen, the fickleness continued. I was fickle. ‘They’ were fickle. There was very little constancy in the arena of our friendships, relationships and attachments of all sorts. As young adults and adults, we begin to want to ‘get control’ over this tumultuous sea within us. We start to feel some of the ‘borrowed’ nature of our thoughts and feelings from our early care-takers, and we wish to root out and remove these. We bring to notice patterns, repetitions, thoughts and feelings that merely sabotage us and don’t belong to us truly. What can we do? Further on in our investigations we might start to explore how our thoughts and feelings, the ones that feel alien and hurtful to us, even got there.
We uncover our traumas, the traumas of our parents, parent’s parents and ancestors. What can we do? Now, this ‘radical simplicity’ favoured by Dan, whereby he focuses his energy on behaving with peacefulness, courage and strength becomes very appealing. Moreover, it makes sense. “Everything becomes more simple and direct in our lives by focusing on ‘what do I have to do right now?’ Even if we don’t feel the motivation to do it. You can reclaim your will in this way… Find your inner strength through your outer strength. It’s a way to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of passing thoughts and emotions.”
FOLLOW DEEPER FEELINGS = LIVING YOUR PURPOSE
Trusting ourselves does not mean acting on every feeling, Dan emphasises. The feelings we get “whispered to us from the wisdom of the heart and soul” are very different to the feelings which resemble the weather within. These “deeper feelings” are the ones that are true to us, they are rightly ours, because “they are speaking for us and from us.” These are not borrowed, inherited or generated from trauma responses. They are truly ours. One such deeper feeling which guided Dan into being the healing soul he is today was the realisation that “no matter how much I improved myself, only one person benefited. But if I could somehow influence other people and improve their life, that made my life more meaningful.”
This whisper of Dan’s heart, this feeling of desire to improve others’ life is the kind of true-to-one’s-own-soul-andlife- purpose feelings we are talking of. These are calm guides within. Steadfast and with a clear aim. When we follow these deeper feelings, we are on our true path and the results are miraculous. “Because of my commitment to share whatever I learned with other people, that’s what opened me up to find my four different Master Teachers.” And all that Dan learned from those teachers is what went into his book Way of the Peaceful Warrior. “I am Socrates. That is to say, he is a projection of my own psyche. I was not Socrates’ student but his creator. As my muse, he assisted in his own creation.”
Dan certainly gets things done. He is the author of almost twenty books. In his most recent book, a reflective memoir entitled Peaceful heart, Warrior Spirit, Dan reflects on his life experiences, the ones that shaped him into being the spiritual teacher he is today.
Find out more at peacefulwarrior.com