Dan Millman, former world-champion athlete, university coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor is perhaps best known for his multimillion-selling autobiographical novel, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which was recently adapted into a feature film starring Nick Nolte. In addition to his writing, Millman travels the world, leading seminars and giving talks about what it means to be a peaceful warrior.
Two weeks before Millman was to fly to Yugoslavia to compete in the 1966 World Gymnastics Championships as a potential Olympian, he was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. Doctors said the odds were against his ever returning to gymnastics. Not only did he return, a little more than a year later he and his team took the national collegiate championships. He was co-captain of the NCAA championship team and was inducted into the Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
He went on to teach athletics at Stanford University and Oberlin College, while continuing his explorations of spirituality and enlightenment. His journey, with several different mentors along the way, led him to develop a singular approach to leading a meaningful and fulfilled life.
Kim Wozencraft: Peaceful Warrior was a phenomenon. What brought you to the task of writing the novel?
Dan Millman: It came out of a desire to teach. I realized one day that as I improved myself it was only one person, but if I could influence other people, that could make my life more meaningful. I started teaching what I knew, which was gymnastics, and that evolved over time as my interests changed. I went from a talent for sports to a talent for living, and my goal was to share what I had learned, but not all the metaphysical gobbledy-gook and cultural entrapment that goes with some of the esoteric manuals I had studied over the years. So I started writing. It took many shapes, and finally I decided to base it around this old guy I met in a gas station. I called him Socrates. I’d read a couple of Castanada’s books, but didn’t want my story to be out in the desert with all these terms—that’s not very universal, how many people can go out in the desert and meet a shaman?—so Socrates became the perfect way to convey the story. There was a cosmic vibe for sure, and I did meet him in a gas station at about three in the morning. I didn’t know how to write a book, really. I mean I went to Berkeley, I wasn’t dumb, but I’d never really studied writing much, so I based it on autobiographical material: first person narrative, some of it’s fiction, some of it’s just straightforward reporting of what happened to me.
Has your philosophy as portrayed in Way of the Peaceful Warrior changed or evolved over the years? What are you focusing on now in your work?
I’ve been around long enough to have gone through some life phases. I went through a phase working with one mentor, The Professor, and it was all about a school of certain techniques and practices. If you practiced these, it would lead to enlightenment. There were some very good techniques and practices, but pretty soon they were coming out of my ears. And after doing the advanced training, I realized that the techniques weren’t the answer. You know, if you do meditation, it’s like doing pushups, you get certain benefits. But people tend to put the various techniques up on pedestals. Then I went through a phase with a guru, where it was all about devotion and surrender, a way of life, and reaching the divine through this guru. And I went through a phase of working with somebody I call The Warrior Priest, and I learned some very practical things that influenced my books. And then finally I met someone I call The Sage, and this brought me back to every day reality, back to earth.
Is that to say that that your life has gone from the physical, as a champion gymnast, to the spiritual, as you searched for enlightenment, and now has returned to a focus on the physical again?
Not in the sense of saying that everyone has to be an athlete. Athletics is a form of voluntary adversity used to help us develop ourselves in various ways. Most athletes do learn valuable lessons for living, but they don’t know what they know, because they’re so focused on scores and points and winning and losing that they don’t realize the lessons they’ve learned about life. They do learn these lessons more consciously in the East, for instance in Japan, where they have words that end in -do: judo, kendo, aikido. “Do” means way, and sport is a way of learning about life. Our sport, as peaceful warriors, is daily life. It has events, and the events are money and relationships and health and functioning in life, so I get into elements dealing with all of these. Practical, commonsense things that help us deal with the art of living.
What do you see as the focus of your speeches and seminars?
I like to think of myself in part as a deprogrammer. Most of us have been programmed (and we don’t realize it) by idealistic notions that don’t serve us well. I try to provide a clear map for the territory of daily life. I try to remind people of what they know at deeper levels but might have forgotten. I’m not here for people to trust me, I’m here to help them trust themselves. For example, my book, Everyday Enlightenment, includes this passage:
“To progress toward your goals, please choose one of the following methods:
“(1) You can find a way to quiet your mind, create empowering beliefs and positive self-talk, find your focus and affirm you power to free your emotions and visualize positive outcomes so that you can develop the confidence to generate the courage to find the determination to make the commitment to feel sufficiently motivated to do whatever it is you need to do.
“(2) Or you can just do it.”
What people can expect in my talks is first of all what a peaceful warrior is, and not only that, but why they are peaceful warriors in training and how that applies to facing our fears, living in the present moment, and achieving balance.
Dan Millman will speak at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on Thursday, August 9, at 7:30pm. Tickets are $40 in advance, $45 at the door, and can be purchased at Mirabai of Woodstock, online at www.bearsvilletheater.com, or by calling JTD Productions at (845) 679-8652. The weekend of August 10 through August 12, Millman will lead a Peaceful Heart, Warrior Spirit workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck. Information at www.peacefulwarrior.com or www.eomega.org.