Staying the Course: The Warrior’s Way

canstockphoto1218783Rarely do I read a self-help/inspirational book and come away angry. I just finished Way of the Peaceful Warrior (grandiosely subtitled: A Book that Changes Lives). It is the highly fictionalized autobiography of Dan Millman, a former Olympic gymnast and yes, yet another American self-help guru. He’s done a TED talk and made a career on the lecture circuit. The book was recommended to me and because I’m a sucker for anything that has warrior in the title, I settled in to read it.

With some worthwhile lessons interwoven with flights of fancy, the book rambles through Mr. Millman’s college career and interaction with his oddball life guru, Socrates. Bearing in mind that this takes place in the late 1960’s, I thought much of it must have been drug-induced. Mandatory drug testing wasn’t introduced to the Olympics until 1968.

I was angry, because after working through two-thirds of the book, I read that Mr. Millman leaves his wife and daughter to seek enlightenment. Sound familiar? Upon doing a little research, I found out that this was fiction he never left them to travel the world wide for enlightenment. Obviously he borrowed liberally from the story of the Buddha.

Why was this a necessary part of the narrative? This literary device/idea has not been limited solely to the male perspective. There are certainly enough female narratives of the Eat, Pray, Love ilk to go around. Abandoning commitments to travel the world in order to find oneself – it brings to mind that horrific 1977 ballad “I’ve Never Been to Me”. So often, changing a circumstance is hailed as the route to self-enlightenment and of course, to holding expensive workshops in hotels around the country.

For the rest of us dolts, with that whole embracing commitment and responsibility thing, we’re left weighted with a dubious lack of self-knowledge. How can I know me, if I’m taking care of and being cared for by you…and you…and you?

I have often referenced one of my favorite fictional detectives, Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple. She has the acute ability to understand people’s universal nature by her thorough knowledge of her little village and its occupants. I like this story because it operates on the premise that you can know the world without frequent flyer miles.

The same holds true for enlightenment or whatever miasma of self-knowledge one would like to attain. It isn’t about location. It’s about paying attention, the oft-touted mindfulness. It’s about listening, being in the moment, slowing down and seeing the world around you. It can be done in the grocery checkout line. It can be done while cooking a meal or riding the bus to work or in the early morning hours before everyone else is awake.

I’m reminded of when I started to practice yoga. How quickly and easily I got lost in the idea that I needed the right equipment, the right clothing and eventually, an entirely different frame of mind. It had suddenly become a hobby with required supplies. I needed more before I could learn to do with less.

As we begin a new year, many of us are loaded down with resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, not swear while driving (that might just be me). Have you started buying the right memberships, equipment, cooking gear, nutritional supplements, etc.?

Perhaps it is human nature to think that to make a change, there must be more to it than just us. Because to stand still and make a change puts the onus of responsibility entirely on our shoulders. That’s a heavy burden to bear. Maybe so much so that it serves as the proverbial straw and we can only do it at the expense of everything else.

I traveled and spent the first 30 years of my life with no personal commitments to anyone other than myself. It was only when I began to stand still that these bits and pieces came together in my head. I’ve had more “aha” moments in the last 16 years of my life, married with a child, than in all the years before it.

Each of our paths are different. I understand that. I just don’t want it left unsaid in the face of travel epiphany literature: change is possible standing still, too. You can slow your breath, notice how good your coffee smells, hear the snuffling and snoring of loved ones in the rooms down the hallway, and be grateful for heat when it’s -22° Fahrenheit outside. I can become acutely aware of the vastness of the universe by learning how to notice the details of a single moment. Every time I practice that mindfulness, I feel one step closer to being a true warrior.

Inspirational Books that Didn’t Make Me Angry:

What inspirational books have you read that enlightened and delighted?

Is there an inspirational book that angered or disappointed you?

23 Comments on “Staying the Course: The Warrior’s Way

  1. “I can become acutely aware of the vastness of the universe by learning how to notice the details of a single moment.”

    I like that statement a lot!

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  2. I’ve read a number of these books including this one. I’ve learned to seek out the nuggets that I need and toss the rest out. I’ve read the Celestine Prophecy too, and few others. I read one called Unholy Hungers which probably had the least useful material, but I still got something out of it. The mindfulness part frequently comes up in many self-help books and it’s an idea that is good and useful. I practice this every day. Sometimes it’s the small detail hidden in the irrelevant folds of something much larger, that can really change lives.

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    • I read the Celestine Prophecy many years ago as well. I tend to approach philosophical/spiritual ideas and reading the same way as you (and likely most people) – taking away those things that really appeal to one’s own sensibilities.
      Mindfulness gets talked about a lot, but as a practice, I think it’s hard to describe without trying the traditional routes of meditation and/or breathing exercises. In this time of constant distraction, it’s really hard to slow things down and shut things off without a sense of deprivation or anxiety, but when I can do it, I find the contrast to be startling.

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      • I agree, mindfulness is far easier said than done. Even meditation is difficult. Calming the storms that constantly rage through the mind is no easy task. But once accomplished, the benefits are quite amazing.

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  3. That’s a great reminder that there is tremendous power in simply being in the moment. I am naturally an observer but it’s easy to get distracted.

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    • I tend to be a natural observer as well, but I can easily lose that ability when life kicks up around me. I have to remind myself frequently to slow down, be still and just breathe.

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  4. this is brilliant.
    i was so angry reading “eat, pray, love” that i finished it. it was predictable and formulaic to the point of depressing me. why? there was nothing left to the imagination. the language was prosaic and all i could wonder was: Really? This is what people want? Really?
    again, thanks for pointing out that a committed relationship produces far more growth than hopping continents (and even more so when you have kids!).
    excellent review and beautifully written….

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    • Thanks for your kind words and sharing your reaction to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. I think it’s a very fine line between sharing self-discovery and coming across as a tad narcissistic. The very nature of personal memoir is that someone talks about themselves and what they learn from their experiences. Some writers pull it off and others can be quite irritating.
      It’s fair to say, too, that we weigh these experiences against our own. I had a conversation with a friend about Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. As much I am pursuing healthy living for myself and my family, this book set me on edge (even while I enjoy her writing). I couldn’t tell if it was envy on my part or working class disgust at the relative middle class ease with which she was able to pursue her goals.
      To be fair, regarding personal growth, I don’t want to suggest that the same will work for everyone. I just wanted to knock on this assumption that great change requires decimating one’s family and responsibilities, having great amounts of disposable income and a passport.

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      • love that last line–use it! and i agree–it’s different for us all. i guess i feel repulsed when an author (or movie, or TV show, or whatever) assumes the most base common denominator will do. and then there’s the notion “my way is the only way.” learned THAT one the hard way….
        a pleasure reading your words–truly.

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  5. In the bookstores, there is shelf after shelf of motivational material. Also there are so many wonderful books on being a great business manager. And yet, in spite of all these books, so many of us are less close to happiness than we were before we read the books. As far as the business manager propositions, it seems nobody follows this advice. Yet more and more get published. I’ve noticed a trend lately. I am successful. Do what I did and you’ll be successful. The problem for many of us is that we don’t want to do the hard work required.

    If I’ve learned one thing about being happy or having a good life, it’s this. Put one step in front of the other. And if you want to be a good business manager, no advice is better than practicing the golden rule.

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    • I agree that there is no easy answer and that in many cases, it’s simply hard work and moving forward. It’s nice, though, to get some guidance so that we’re at least moving in the right direction. There are wise humans that have tread the same path, who can serve as great resources and beacons. It’s just hard to sort out the truly wise from those with mediocre ideas in search of lucre.

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  6. Wow, your anger is palpable. I have to admit your post got me going too. I’m going out on a limb and admit I loved both books. For me, I took away many valuable insights. I agree with your points about not having to abandon responsibilities in order to seek enlightenment or self-knowledge if you prefer. That we can find great comfort and a sense of the vastness of the universe and our connection to it in our own back yard if we can just slow down and take it in with our senses instead of our over-analytical minds. I don’t know why Millman chose to fictionalize having left a wife and kids, but perhaps he deliberately used a negative circumstance (one that would push our emotional button) to illuminate the point that when one embarks on a spiritual journey (inner journey) that is so far removed from the solid, tangible and familiar routines of every day life, the changes that occur are highly transformative. It’s a long shot but I had to take a stab at it. 🙂

    One last note: All roads lead to Rome. That’s it.

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    • You’re awesome! This is the beauty of philosophy and motivational tomes – each person can see them so differently. What is meaningful to one person is an angry post to another. I tend not to write reviews of books, but sometimes a book hits a nerve. Parents abandoning their children is one of my particular emotional buttons. I didn’t understand it as a child and I understand it even less as a parent. It’s a judgment on my part that interfered with an overarching message. This is also why I struggle with the idea of many religious practices – the idea that eschewing relationships or families somehow leads to a higher form of knowing.

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  7. I think the same is true for me, Michelle. I learned so much more about myself when I slowed down to enjoy it. I had always been so fixated on the idea of getting somewhere so that I was shortchanging my present life. When I stopped focusing on that, I enjoyed my life a lot more and worried a lot less! I haven’t read too many self-help books lately.

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    • Over the years, I’ve learned that, for me, changing location, jobs, relationships was often a way of dealing with problems I didn’t know how to fix. Every time I made a change, it initially felt new and like I’d made progress, only to find that I was still me. I read loads of self-help books in my 20s. This particular book was recommended to me – I only hope the person who recommended it doesn’t ask me what I thought. I’ll have to be sufficiently vague, saying something Oprah-like: “It didn’t resonate with me”.

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  8. You’ve done good, Michelle. This was inspiring and I needed to remind myself about these simple truths. Distraction is the bugaboo. I hope that for me, 2014 will prove that I can see through the clutter and get to what matters. I think that I can find myself in my own backyard.

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    • I am getting a bit fierce about the subject – usually as a way to remind and encourage myself. I have been forcing my life into a slow down. It’s very hard to get over the sense that there is something that I “should be doing” after being constantly distracted for so long. Instead of doing housework or reading blogs the other night, I sat down with my daughter and we talked while having popcorn and hot cocoa. No hurry, no sense of time. She piped up, “I really like doing this, mom”. It was a reminder that so often I’ve been in a hurry or distracted. How many moments like this have I already missed?
      Backyards are the best! I’m looking forward to the spring thaw and getting reacquainted with mine. Working in the yard is such a wonderful form of meditation.

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  9. Couldn’t agree with you more on Millman’s book. I think I threw it across the room, actually. Thich Nhat Hahn’s books are always good for me, especially the one on anger.

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