From there, the unpredictable Socrates proceeded to teach Millman the "way of the peaceful warrior." At first Socrates shattered every preconceived notion that Millman had about academics, athletics, and achievement. But eventually Millman stopped resisting the lessons, and began to try on a whole new ideology--one that valued being conscious over being smart, and strength in spirit over strength in body.
Although the character of the cigarette-smoking Socrates seems like a fictional, modern-day Merlin, Millman asserts that he is based on an actual person. Certain male readers especially appreciate the coming-of-age theme, the haunting love story with the elusive woman Joy, and the challenging of Western beliefs about masculine power and success. --Gail Hudson
Way of the Peaceful Warrior Book Excerpt
The next morning, immediately after breakfast, I walked down to Harmon Gymnasium, where I'd be training six days a week, four muscle-straining, somersaulting, sweaty hours each day, pursuing my dreams of becoming a champion.
Two days passed, and I was already drowning in a sea of people, papers, and class schedules. Soon the months blended together, passing and changing softly, like the mild California seasons. In my classes I survived; in the gym, I thrived. A friend once told me I was born to be an acrobat. I certainly looked the part; clean cut, short brown hair, a lean, wiry body. I'd always had a penchant for daredevil stunts; even as a child I enjoyed playing on the edge of fear.
Susie, a savory, unfailingly sweet friend with short blond hair and a toothpaste smile, paid me amorous visits more and more often. Even my studies were going well! I felt on top of the world.
However, in the early autumn of 1966, my junior year, something dark and intangible began to take shape. By then, I'd moved out of the dorm and was living alone in a small studio behind my landlord's house. During this time I felt a growing melancholy, even in the midst of all my achievements.
Shortly thereafter, the nightmares started. Nearly every night I jerked awake, sweating. Almost always, the dream was the same:
I walk along a dark city street; tall buildings without doors or windows loom at me through a dark swirling mist. A towering shape cloaked in black strides toward me. I feel rather than see a chilling specter, a gleaming white skull with black eye sockets that stare at me in deathly silence. A finger of white bone points at me; the white knucklebones curl into a beckoning claw. I freeze.
Mocking my fear, the black-hooded Death whirls around to face the white-haired man, who laughs in his face. Stunned, I watch. Death furiously makes a grab for him. The next moment the specter is hurtling toward me, as the old man seizes him by his cloak and tosses him into the air.
Suddenly the Grim Reaper vanishes. The man with the shining white hair looks at me and holds out his hands in a gesture of welcome. I walk toward him, then directly into him, dissolving into his body. When I look down at myself, I see that I'm wearing a black robe. I raise my hands and see bleached white, knarled bones, come together in prayer.
I'd wake up screaming softly.
One night, early in December, I lay in bed listening to the howling wind driving through a small crack in the window of my apartment. Sleepless, I got up and threw on my faded Levis, a T-shirt, sneakers, and down jacket, and walked out into the night. It was 3:05 a.m.
I walked aimlessly, inhaling deeply the moist, chilly air, looking up into the star-lit sky, listening for a rare sound in the silent street. The cold made me hungry, so I headed for an all-night gas station to buy some cookies and a soft drink. Hands in my pockets, I hurried across campus, past sleeping houses, before I came to the lights of the service station. It was a bright fluorescent oasis in a darkened wilderness of closed food joints, shops, and movie theaters.
I rounded the corner of the garage adjoining the station and nearly fell over a man sitting in the shadows, leaning his chair back against the red tile station wall. Startled, I retreated. He was wearing a red wool cap, grey corduroy pants, white socks, and Japanese sandals. He seemed comfortable enough in a light windbreaker though the wall thermometer by his head registered 38 degrees. Without looking up, he said in a strong, almost musical voice, "Sorry if I frightened you."
"Oh, uh, that's okay. Do you have any soda pop?"
"Only have fruit juice here. And don't call me Pop!" He turned toward me and with a half smile removed his cap, revealing shining white hair. Then he laughed.
That laugh! I stared blankly at him for one more moment. He was the old man in my dream! The white hair, the clear, unlined face, a tall slim man of fifty or sixty years old. He laughed again. In my confusion I somehow found my way to the door marked Office and pushed it open.
Along with the office door, I had felt another door opening to another dimension. I collapsed onto an old couch, and shivered, wondering what might come screaming through that door into my orderly world. My dread was mixed with a strange fascination that I couldn't fathom. I sat, breathing shallowly, trying to regain my previous hold on the ordinary world.
I looked around the office. It was so different for the sterility and disarray of the usual gas station. The couch I was sitting on was covered by a faded but colorful Mexican blanket.
To my left, near the entryway, stood a case of neatly organized travelers aids: maps, fuses, sun glasses, and so on. Behind a small, dark brown walnut desk was an earth-colored, corduroy-upholstered chair. A spring water dispenser guarded a door marked Private. Near me was a second door that led to the garage.
What struck me most of all was the homelike atmosphere of the room. A bright yellow shag rug ran its length, stopping just short of the welcome mat at the entry. The walls had recently been painted white, and few landscape paintings lent them color. The soft incandescent glow of the lights calmed me. It was a relaxing contrast to the fluorescent glare outside.
Overall, the room felt warm, orderly, and secure. How could I have known that it was to be a place of unpredictable adventure, magic, terror, and romance? I only thought then, a fireplace would fit nicely here.
Soon my breathing had relaxed, and my mind, if not content, had at least stopped whirling. This white-haired man's resemblance to the man in my dream was surely a coincidence. With a sigh, I stood, zipped up my jacket, and sallied forth into the chill air.
He was still sitting there. As I walked past and stole a last quick look at his face, a glimmer in his eye caught mine. His eyes were like none I'd seen before. At first they seemed to have tears in them, ready to spill over; then the tears turned to a twinkle, like a reflection of the starlight. I was drawn deeper into his eyes. I was lost for a time, seeing nothing but those eyes, the unyielding and curious eyes of an infant.
I don't know how long I stood there; it could have been seconds or minutes - maybe longer. With a start, I became aware of where I was. Mumbling a goodnight, feeling off balance, I hurried toward the corner.
When I reached the curb, I stopped. My neck tingled; I felt that he was watching me. I glanced back. No more than fifteen seconds had passed. But there he was, standing on the roof, his arms crossed looking up at the starry sky! I gaped at the empty chair still leaning back against the wall, them up again. It was impossible! If he had been changing a wheel on a carriage made from a giant pumpkin drawn by huge mice, the effect couldn't have been any more startling. --
Excerpted from Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. Copyright © 1985. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved