Rarely 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:
- The Wonders of Solitude, Edited by Dale Salwak
- Buddhism without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor
- Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
- Working Out, Working Within by Jerry Lynch and Chungliang Al Huang
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Being Good by Simon Blackburn
What inspirational books have you read that enlightened and delighted?
Is there an inspirational book that angered or disappointed you?