I’m not a guy who usually enjoys the concept of a self-help book. In the self-guidance spectrum, the money spent on a book that tells you how to live your life would generally be better spent ten dollar tickets to even the most mindless movie. Did Billy Madison make a whole generation of American children dumber? Probably. But would its viewing become a central bonding moment for millions of ill-matched middle school friend groups? Absolutely. As a result, it’s value generally extends past most of the material presented in the self help and spiritual guidance Western canon. I’ll refrain, in this era of racial tension, to challenge the considerably older Eastern body of spiritual works, of which many are undoubtedly masterful breakthroughs in societal evolution regardless of their believability. All in all, I also think the aforementioned money would be better spent on a bodacious therapist.
Book Review: Way Of The Peaceful Warrior
And so, Way of The Peaceful Warrior is not a self help book – because unlike self help books, its worth a goddamn read. Theres something so inherently positive and beneficial ingrained in the fibers of Millman’s book that even the most ardent critic of new age spirituality and most stoic couch potato will find themselves swayed. Alright, so its been passed through some seriously commercially skewed rewrites, and sells the whole Socrates malarkey more vehemently than it should. And I’m not, admittedly, a massive fan of male gymnastics. And by that, I mean I can name one male gymnast that I know for sure to exist, and his name is Dan Millman. But it is a damn impressive story, and the mental resilience that Millman preaches is truly fascinating, with plenty of worthwhile messages about the human condition. It’s hard to criticize a guy telling you to eat salad through a story when you write a blog about eating healthily. I’m the sort of guy who ruled out the movie Unbroken as an Academy Award contender as soon as the music in the trailer took an uplifting turn. But hell, I can’t watch Miracle or Rocky or Rudy without a solitary, patriotic freedom tear welling up in my eye.
But I guess thats the issue that mars the opportunity present in what Millman has to say. Rocky Balboa was a fictional character, and we sure as hell weren’t expected to believe that US-Soviet relations were indeed as straightforward as the outcome of a boxing match between a man that could not exist without the Hollywood tax breaks that allow more money to be allocated toward steroids. Rudy was real, but frankly, Notre Dame can go fuck itself. The issue is that Millman starts the book on a rather problematic note. Whether or not this preface should be considered part of the mythology is up for debate. But unfortunately, so is the question of whether or not Millman believes in real-life levitation. He asks us immediately to accept his story as coming from a significant basis of truth, almost like he’s acknowledging that he downplays the events of the book for the lawyers without really downplaying anything. Millman tells us that he made up only a few “anecdotes” in order to convey the meaning behind what Socrates taught him. Alright, Dan. Just like the X-Files proved that the nutjobs in Roswell were totally spot on.
But admittedly, Rudy is a good film. And ultimately, Millman’s book is a good book, one which stands leagues above some of its most comparable literature. Did I jump up, start meditating and reject all worldly vices except a good old sprig of Iceburg lettuce? No sir. But I was surprised at how frequently the book addressed and alleviated my inherent concerns about its subject matter. Just as you think you’re reading the rules and guidelines for a nunnery in the 16th century, the tale yanks you down a road of distinct atheism. Just as you think you’re being told to never touch another beer, you’re being told to get fucked up if you do so infrequently, unhabitually and smartly. And just as you think Millman wants you to fling a carrot and whistle the John Meyer “Hallelujah” cover (great song) at a guy who tries to beat you up, Socrates flies off the handle and kicks the tits (not literally) off of a few (male) muggers. In all honesty, our generation could do with a talking to from Socrates. But admittedly, I would have preferred it done more subtly. I would have loved to see Millman’s story with less self-gratification and day-after-formal style fabrications. Trust me, I’m a high school junior, and if I’m even half as physically appealing as the real-life and non-cinematic Dan Millman then I’d have half the sex life. And I don’t. Maybe Berkeley in the 70’s treated the gymnastics team like Florida State treated the football team in the 2 years leading up to this years Rose Bowl. But somehow, I don’t quite buy it.
And more importantly, I would to have loved to see it done behind an entirely fictional story. I believe that Millman believes in some elements of his story, and who are we mortals to judge? Is it possible that Millman met an old guy who totally got it and pulled like crazy and taught him how to essentially be the epitome of every guy with adequate testorone’s dreams? Again, it does become rather a pickle for me to criticize this posited theory when I talked to a pretty inspirational old guy on the plane this morning, and in a world where Hugh Hefner exists. But do I buy that he never knew his real name? Do I buy that had I met this man, he could have swept me up in a spiritual wind and transported my brain through time and space without the use of psychedelic drugs? Somehow, my belief chooses to plead the 5th on this one.
And at the end of the day, Millman shows why a movie from Quentin Tarantino or Darren Aronofsky or any performance by Kevin Spacey or a history book (and certainly the film Boyhood, which I have reviewed here) tells us far more about the human condition than Way of The Peaceful Warrior. Ultimately, Millman’s message is just too singularly directed. Yes, we can all stand to learn from his inspiring message and his inspiring lesson. But he fails to consider that he speaks from the mouth of a confident 1% of the world population. As phenomenal and otherworldly as his accomplishment is to us who share his financial means, nationality, ethnic group and educational opportunities, it cannot touch upon the true extremes of human emotional and physical possibility. Millman’s impressive battle can guide me, and can probably guide a majority of my readers. But willing yourself to walk again isn’t an option when you are denied even the most basic medical supplies to give yourself a chance.
Way of The Spiritual Warrior is an enjoyable book, and well worth a read. But as with all art, you must understand it’s context. You must only be willing to accept it based on what it is, rather than what it claims to be. If you believe Millman fully and start wondering whether or not if you alter your breathing pattern and diet you can levitate, you aren’t reading it right. But if you dispell the story as useless new age philosophy from a man who will rank behind Kim Kardashian in historical and cultural value when reviewed in a few hundred years by learned and probably totally evolutionarily fucked scholars, then you still aren’t reading it right. The point is to listen to Millman without allowing yourself to be too gullible, and certainly without desperately wanting and forcing yourself into some massive emotional/behavioral upheaval. Just sit back, relax, and remember that even though Shakespeare was a goddamn genius, he still wrote plays that were scarfed down by the general populace. And remember that when the dust settles on the modern world after the inevitable meteor strike, the biggest influence on our mutated ancestry won’t be the art house flicks uploaded to the Cloud, but the things that got printed and distributed the most. In other words, international bestelling books like Way of the Peaceful Warrior.