Interview with Dan Millman author of The Peaceful Warrior

Interview with Dan Millman

Lotus Guide: In The Peaceful Warrior, you say that Socrates’ ignorance is based on the understanding that life is a mystery. And you, Dan, your understanding is based on ignorance. Could you elaborate on that and how this might apply to our world today?

Dan Millman: Well, Socrates had a way of making some outrageous statements to shake me up. If we’re talking about how the concept of peaceful warrior relates to the state of the world today, I would point to my most recent book , The Journeys of Socrates, the life story of my old mentor – how he became a warrior, but more important how he found peace. There are many people who have a peaceful heart, but who haven’t yet found the warrior spirit. This is the paradox of the “peaceful warrior,” the integration of opposites. It all occurs in the context of Mystery – the understanding that even with all our sophisticated knowledge, we are like children gazing at a night sky, blissfully ignorant of why we are here or where the universe begins or ends. As pundit H.L. Mencken said, “We are here and the time is now; all other knowledge is moonshine.”

I believe that one of the major hurdles in the world today is this stubborn idea of an “us” and a “them,” a competitive, rather than collaborative, approach to living. The Palestinians, the Israelis, the Kurds, Shiites, and all the various factions in Iraq. We could go on and on – skirmishes between India and Pakistan, Russia and China. At some point this world is going to have to begin to see that we’re all in this together – a human family.

LG: It seems we are on the cusp of a mysterious transformation on this planet and what you’re talking about could very well be the predictor of whether we survive our technological adolescence and to evolve into a more cooperative spirit.

DM: Yes, some people say humans are always going to be fighting, but I don’t believe that must be. As Socrates says in the “Peaceful Warrior” movie, “I call myself a peaceful warrior because the important battles we must fight are on the inside.” When we find peace within, we will create it in the world. Violence reflects our current stage of evolution. When more human beings have enough to eat–when they have a sense of stability, security, meaning, and self-respect–they will have more to live for and less to die for. When we begin to see ourselves as one human spirit, then fighting and killing others will seem as crazy as our arm trying to hurt our leg. All one body, you see.

LG: It’s that kind of survival thinking that keeps us making decisions based on fear, which always leads to conflict.

DM: We have to walk before we run. As psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote, we have to satisfy one need before we can face another. Gandhi once said, “Too a starving man, God is bread.” Our first priority must be to bring support to those parts of the body of humanity that need attention, to encourage self-reliance and dignity. It is not the whole answer, but it is a good place to begin.

The answers don’t like exclusively in the east or in the west; it isn’t a matter of pursuing the flesh or only turning to spirit. The way that I teach – and what is expressed in the both my book and the “Peaceful Warrior” movie – is about balance – taking the best of east and west, flesh and spirit, science and mysticism, men and women. No one is smarter than all of us.

LG: Do you believe your movie captured the essence of the book?

DM: Yes, and it was quite an accomplishment. Because Way of the Peaceful Warrior was not an easy book to adapt. But it was a labor of love for the director, the producers, and the cast, who had all been influenced by the book in their own personal lives.

LG: The casting of Nick Nolte as Socrates was perfect. It must be something to see and hear your words come to life.

DM: When Joy and I sat there in an empty theater, a screening room, and they showed us the film, it brought tears to my eyes – 25 years unfolding since the book was written. And now the movie is going to reach out to a whole new audience.

LG: Looking at the state of the world, it couldn’t be more timely.

DM: Absolutely. Another studio made an offer on the project 20 years ago. But now is the time for it – the perfect time.

LG: In one part of your book, you talk about living life spontaneously by being in the moment instead of reacting, and those reactions being determined by your past. Today we live in a world that’s heavily invested in maintaining the old paradigm. What do you think it’s going to take for them to let go and be transformed, or as Socrates would say, “disillusioned”?

DM: As in the book, the theme of living in the moment is quite important in the film – along with the reminder that there are no ordinary moments . Being in the moment really is all we can do, but we persist in believing that the past and future are real, without realizing that the past is a set of impulses in our brain we call memories and the future is simply our imagination. All we have, the only moment of reality, of sanity, is this moment.

Socrates first pointed out to me that “disillusion” – what we normally consider a negative experience – actually means a “freeing from illusion.” Not always a pleasant experience, since we love our illusions, but an important leap forward, each time we see ourselves as we are.

The biggest illusion most of us cling to is the illusion of who we are. Many people know the value of self-acceptance, but we can only accept ourself if we know ourself. So, along the peaceful warrior’s path, at some point we must face our own shadow, those aspects of our psyche that we disown and deny. Seeing ourselves realistically, with out strengths and our flaws and foibles makes us less defensive, more compassionate and empathic with others. And we begin to see the world and other people more clearly.

LG: As you say, when we follow the path of reality, having seen ourselves as we are, we find greater compassion for others and realize that each of us is fighting our own battles. Dan, I get a sense that you are one of those people who are genuine and I would like to ask you something on a personal level. Who are you beyond the writer?

DM: I could answer that question on different levels, since I play different roles. Beyond the role of writer and speaker, I’m a husband and father and grandfather. Joy and I have been married a little over 30 years now. I’m quite proud of my three daughters; all have gone to college, among them Stanford and Harvard, graduating with honors. My daughters and the time I’ve spent with them, I think that’s as important as any other work I’ve done. Many roles, many identities. But ultimately, I could say that I “work for my Father . . . he’s in the lighting business.”

LG: Do you ever get the feeling, Dan, that if you were in anyone else’s body on this planet, and closed your eyes, and said, “I am,” do you have the sense it would be the same “I am” as you are right now?

DM: Yes! But that is part of the great paradox that Socrates always pointed to. On a conventional level, we are separate, individuated beings, responsible for our lives through free will and choice. But from a transcendental view, a higher truth informs us that we are that Witness, that same Awareness shining through all the billions of eyes of humanity. So I don’t actually experience a separation from anyone. This understanding can restore our perspective and humor when we realize that all this drama, all this play of light and shadow, is the many and the One. And in this moment I look around and see the beauty of the world, but there is no inside and no outside, no me and no other. Just the One.

LG: It seems when I get in trouble it’s the same place where the world gets in trouble. We all need egos to communicate and deal with the world but we need to also keep in mind that it’s not the real “I that I am.” My ego comes into existence through feeling separate and it does that by setting up boundaries and nothing makes those boundaries seem more real than conflict, hence on a national level we have wars.

DM: The ego gets a bad rap in spiritual circles. If someone says, “You have a big ego,” that’s not normally considered a compliment. But I use my ego, my personality level, this sense of identity, to teach, to learn, and to serve. When someone says, “I’m going to get rid of my ego,” I have to ask them, “Who just said that?”

LG: I would like to get your feedback on the spiritually-oriented films that are coming out lately, like The Da Vinci Code, The Celestine Prophecy, and of course the “Peaceful Warrior” movie. It seems to be a powerful medium for transforming ideas and thoughts, not to mention helping to shift some of our dysfunctional and outdated beliefs.

DM: Well, it’s the power of story. And some people find it through their imagination in reading a book, and others will experience this shift by joining in an experience on the screen. We will see more films like these coming to the screen. There have been many popular films with metaphysical themes or elements, like The Natural, Field of Dreams, Ghost, Phenomena, The Razor’s Edge, and Ground Hog Day. But now, with recent film, we are also hearing a clear spiritual message, delivered in different ways, a gift in different wrappings.

LG: Well, we watched the review copy of The Peaceful Warrior and I can assure you that it will give everyone who watches it a new way to see their world. We look forward to meeting you someday. If you are ever in the Chico area feel free to look us up.

DM: Well, I certainly will, and I appreciate your interest in talking with me.

LG: Absolutely Dan, it’s always a pleasure to talk with fellow seekers in this mysterious adventure we call life.

For more information on Dan Millman and his film, Peaceful Warrior , visit