This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Dan Millman. In his own words:
“Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, university coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor.
After an intensive, twenty-year spiritual quest, Dan’s teaching found its form as the Peaceful Warrior’s Way, expressed fully in his books and lectures. His work continues to evolve over time, to meet the needs of a changing world.
Dan’s thirteen books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, have inspired and informed millions of readers in 29 languages worldwide. The feature film, “Peaceful Warrior,” starring Nick Nolte, was adapted from Dan’s first book, based upon incidents from his life.
Much of Dan’s time is devoted to writing and speaking. His keynotes, seminars, and workshops span the generations to influence men and women from all walks of life, including leaders in the fields of health, psychology, education, business, politics, sports, entertainment, and the arts.
Dan and his wife Joy live in northern California. They have three grown daughters and two grandsons so far.
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Jonathan: Hey everyone. Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast, and today’s show is one of those extra special shows where I am honored to bring you a guest who has deeply influenced me personally and I can remember sitting on my couch watching a movie based upon this gentleman’s work. I was watching it by myself at the time. I finished watching it and my soon-to-be wife walked in the room. She had gotten home from work and I said “Angela, you’ve got to see this movie” and I literally sat and watched the movie back to back, once by myself, once with my wife.
The man is Dan Millman. He is a former world champion athlete, University coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor. He is a spiritual and life leader. He has written just many, many books, one of which was turned into a wonderful movie whose title is the same as the book’s title, which is Peaceful Warrior. He is known for helping people find the way of the peaceful warrior. Dan, welcome to the show.
Dan: Well thank you, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Well, Dan just for listeners who are not familiar with what it means to be a peaceful warrior and to find the peaceful warrior’s way, can you gave us a quick overview?
Dan: I would be happy too. Let me share with your listeners new to my work a bit about my background beyond what you said in the nice intro. When I was a young athlete back in college and then a coach at Stanford University, I was focused on developing talent for sport and my research showed me and my intuition as well and my experience, that talent was about 20 percent innate body type and genetics and so forth but about 80 percent of what we call talent or basically the ability to learn faster and easier and rise to higher levels, which is how I would define talent for sport, that could be developed through certain specific qualities such as developing more strength, coordination, flexibility, rhythm, timing, balance.
Someone who developed these foundation qualities can learn faster and easier and rise to higher levels. My theories did bear out well in practice. I trained the top U.S. Olympians and the team was one of the top three in the nation after a few years but then I started dealing with some issues for my own life. I realized being able to do somersaults and hand stands didn’t help me specifically when I went out on a date or when I got married and had children and dealt with financial challenges, career decisions, and those issues of everyday life.
That’s when I began to ask bigger questions. How can we develop talent, not just for sport or music or whatever else we do but talent for living, for those events, those challenges of everyday life; relationships, finances, decision-making, and understanding life’s bigger picture. That sent me on a quest for a very intense decade. Well it has been more than three now, but I began to inquire of the best sources I could find and I’m always uncomfortable with the term spiritual.
When someone hears someone’s a spiritual teacher, they are “Oh, one of those.” I don’t even know what spiritual means anymore. It’s like showing spirit. It’s like the whole graded in some of the parts in life’s bigger picture, that’s how I define it from the conventional, a glimpse of the transcendent and that life is really okay no matter how it seems right now, the recognition now, wherever we step the path appears beneath our feet, so that’s giving a flavor for where I am now, what I teach.
Finally, I’d be able to have provided a foundation to answer your question most directly, which is what do I mean by peaceful warrior? Simply put, everyone of us is a peaceful warrior in training, in the sense that we are striving to live with a peaceful heart but recognize there are times we need a warrior’s spirit and that applies to everything in daily life. It’s not about fighting necessarily but about standing up inside of our self and tackling the issues of daily life, including health and our physical wellness.
Jonathan: Dan, you do a very good job in your work of taking very metaphysical topics that are, “Stop trying to hit me and hit me” as Morpheus says in the Matrix and as Nick Nolte says in your feature film, Similar Things. How do we, in a sound bite world, in a quick fix world, communicate to others and take the time for ourselves to do the deep introspective work necessary to be peaceful and warrior-like simultaneously?
Dan: Well, I think we all have gathered life experience and seen ourselves through daily life. One of the primary tenets that I teach is that the earth is a school, daily life is our classroom, that lessons repeat themselves until we learn them. We’re here to learn life’s lessons. It’s one of the four purposes of life I described in one of my more recent books. We’re here to learn and we’re guaranteed to learn everything we need from really what we encounter in daily life. How many of us, for example have seen aspects of our self? We’re not too crazy about through a relationship difficulty.
Relationships teach us a lot about ourselves but so does taking on the voluntary adversity of doing a sport or training in physical ways or engaging in the world of business or raising children or maintaining…All those things are forms of voluntary adversity in which we become wiser and stronger. So there’s no secret or technique. We are all learning. We are all gaining insight into ourselves in a more realistic way. Breaking through self-image to who we really are, seeing our shadow side if you will, those parts of ourselves we don’t recognize. By the way, I probably should mention one other primary fundamental tenets of this approach to living I call the peaceful warrior’s way and that is there is no best book, teacher, religion, path, form of exercise, martial art, diet or anything else.
There is only the best for each of us at a given time of our life, so we have to recognize that life is an experiment. We have to find out what works best for us. Life is a constant negotiation. We don’t get what we deserve, we get what we’re willing to negotiate and so it’s a constant experimentation. Nobody likes to hear that. They want formulas, slogans, methods but day to day, we get up in the morning, we experience things, we meet people, we interact, we learn about ourselves.
I often tell people, when I’m talking about meditation, when I’m giving courses in this. I said “Meditation is an exercise like doing push-ups. You gain certain benefits, different kinds of benefits. When you do push-ups you gain benefits when you meditate but the primary difference between meditation and doing push-ups is that you can’t pretend to do push-ups, when somebody can sit quietly, close their eyes and look like they’re meditating.” The point is we come back to the body.
We come back to the physical level of life because that’s where we see ourselves most clearly. I often use sports analogies to convey ideas when I describe how process works. How a careful process going from A to B to C to D rather than try to skip steps. I often tell the story about how I learned to ride a unicycle when I was 60 years old. I’m 67 now and that…because story is a wonderful way to describe and to convey ideas. All I do Jonathan is remind people of what they already know at deeper levels but they tend to forget.
Jonathan: That knowing at a deeper level you mention the point that is so critical especially, it is may be acute in the diet and exercise arena, is that constant experimentation and no one right way and using yourself and looking inwards for answers, rather than outwards because Dan, I cannot tell you, I mean the nutrition exercise dialogue is basically dominated by an argument of what is best with no reference to the individual at all.
Dan: Right. You know Mark Twain once said “Beware of reading too many health books, you might die of a misprint” and diet becomes a religion to people. There’s the Paleo diet, there’s the blood type diet, there’s the macrobiotic people. There’s the all raw, vegetarian, vegan, roll in season, locally grown, all these ideas but I don’t believe in imposing a philosophy on our diet. We have to go with our instincts, what works best for each us. There may be some general principles that are elegant about diet or exercise or anything else and yeah, I convey some of those but there are general principles, there’s like a suit of clothing we have to tailor to fit ourselves.
Jonathan: Dan, have you found that in your teachings that while this message of ultimate personal responsibility which is what I hear you saying, and ultimate in every sense of the word, ultimate like it’s ultimately important, ultimate that it really comes down to you ultimately in the end. While that is potentially intimidating because we can’t look outside of ourselves, we can’t hope someone else will give us the answer, have you found and have the people you work with found that it is ultimately the most empowering view of the world because if we are the ultimate source, then we have control over the ultimate source, whereas, if it was outside of us well then we don’t have as much control?
Dan: Well look, in the movie, yes there’s certain lines the screenwriter gave Nick Nolte, to say, as the character Socrates but they don’t necessarily reflect my teachings. The book is more accurate than the movie even though the film is a meal for consciousness. In two hours, it has very nice elements to it, so if people want more accuracy about what I’m actually teaching, if they’re curious Way of the Peaceful Warrior and especially the companion book, Wisdom of the Peaceful Warrior, which explains 25 years later, the actual teachings in the original book as I understand it better today.
Let’s address that, this inside and outside. It’s an arbitrary sort of distinction because most of us have heard that kind of new age of saying, when the student is ready, the teacher appears and many people misunderstand that, that when they’re somehow deserving or prepared enough, someone like Socrates will appear in their life to guide them or kick them up the path but actually what it means is, when the student is ready or actually paying attention to the outside and the inside, then the teacher appears everywhere.
We can learn valuable lessons from our friends, from our adversaries, from parents, from strangers, from our children, definitely from our spouse or partner. It’s not about rejecting what we hear from the outside. I’ve learned valuable things from other mentors but we have to check it out against our inner know because we all hear things that just don’t click with us. They may be correct but not for us, maybe for someone else, so I don’t reject the outside at all, the so called outside, from a transcendent view. There is no outside or inside, it’s just all us in this big experience of life but we have to check it out against our inner know and come to trust ourselves and say this maybe wise but is it true for me? There are three approaches to what we call spiritual training just like there are three primary phases of life.
There is childhood, adolescence, and maturity and there are people interested in spiritual and personal growth who still have a child-like need and they need a parent figure so they look to a guru, they look to a leader, someone to tell them how to live and how to train and all these things and they’ve give them all their power and wisdom and presumably they know everything and are never wrong and so that’s a child-like approach. It’s a natural phase of our learning.
It’s not wrong any more than childhood is wrong but there is a time we grow out of the childhood phase, we become adolescents where we reject everything from the outside and we go “These fakes, they’re charlatans, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Only I know what’s right” and that’s a phase we go through. It’s a necessary phase, to throw off all the things we’ve heard and learned to find out from inside where we’re going but finally we reach a mature stage of life, where we take wisdom wherever we find it but we always check it out again against that our own instincts and find out what fits us. I hope that makes sense.
Jonathan: It absolutely does and correct me if I’m misunderstanding but a lot of what you said was as we progress along that maturity continuum, it seems like I’m just going from left to right on the continuum but the further right we are, the more we start to see things maybe as both and rather, than either or like shades of gray start to emerge more, is that fair?
Dan: Yes, and intelligence has been defined as the ability to hold two apparently contradictory ideas or paradox in one’s mind at the same time and there are many contradictions. We’re told “Birds of a feather flock together” but “Opposites attract.” We are told “He/She who hesitates is lost” but “Look before you leap,” so in other words, there is wisdom all around that seems to contradict itself and we have to apply it in the moment.
What is truest and works best for us and so it’s not the burden of only looking inside of sitting there contemplating our navel and going, “Where’s wisdom? Where can I find the answers?” They’re out there too. We can read good books. We can attend seminars but, again it has to resonate with us and fit us.
Jonathan: I love what you said earlier Dan about sometimes we engage in physical things, sport or you give the example of push-ups because you can’t fake push-ups and in areas like sport where the rules are so clear we can get feedback and interact with the system more obviously. I also feel encouraged when it comes to diet and exercise because while some of us may not be athletes or want to engage in athletics, when it comes to diet and exercise, those are very physical actions.
They are very visceral actions and whether or not something is empowering us or not is quite clear but Dan, the thing I need your help with is it seems like so often, things we do or that rather we’re told to do to improve our health make us feel terrible. The most common example is people who just starve themselves, right? I’m just going to stop eating food or I’m just going to start skipping meals and eat 100 calorie snack packs because it’s healthy but you feel unhealthy, you feel terrible. How can we turn inward and avoid being poisoned by approaches like that?
Dan: Well, this is somewhat of a tricky area. Sometimes I joke with people and say “One thing about the new age is nobody gets a cold anymore, they just have a cleansing crisis.” This is tricky because there are certain approaches to health that some people explore. It’s a natural part of exploring our whole self to explore with exercise and experiment, explore diet and even fasting. When I was younger, I read a book on fasting and I tried it and I had no problem at all until about 3 p.m. and I got starving and I got a headache and I got really grumpy but I was somehow able to get through the night.
I went to sleep about 8 o’clock and the next morning I ate, so I fasted for one day then I tried for three days then I did a five days then I fasted for seven days and I got to a point where I was fasting seven day fast, every couple of months, or every month or two. It was an interesting area of experimentation. I learned how my body responded and I exercised through it as well. For me, it was an interesting thing because one of the things it did for me, was it cleared subconscious fear of not eating. Children need to eat, they’re growing. It’s not good for children to fast. Pregnant, lactating women don’t want to fast.
In fact, fasting is not for everybody. Someone who is extremely active and very skinny body type may not do well on fasting, so again it’s one of those things you can experiment with or not but it is natural to feel kind of grumpy and detoxing if you’re not used to fasting. Many of us can do a modified fast by eating only raw food, like raw vegetables and almonds and nuts and seeds and fruit and that is a modified fast and some people feel kind of yucky a little while on that and yet it is a cleansing kind of process but, again, I’m not laying this on people, telling them go fast.
I did it for a period of time. For the last couple of years, I haven’t done any fasting. I haven’t felt the need for it anymore but I tend to go one day a week, I go 24 hours. I eat dinner then I don’t eat until dinner the next night, not every day just I do it one day a week and psychologically, it seems to have a benefit for me but it’s not something I tell other people then, they should go do.
This is my choice and I don’t know if this contradicts or responds to the point you raised. Yes, we do need to trust our instincts but there are certain practices, for example, doing a lot of exercise can make you tired. You may get achy, your muscles may ache the next day. Does that mean it was bad to do? No, its part of the process, so we have to judge when feeling badly is just part of the process of growth and feeling badly is our body saying “This isn’t for you” but each of us has to make that decision.
Jonathan: It’s a wonderful distinction Dan of, exercise is a perfect example or even sometimes with certain medicinal practices where you need to feel worse before you get better but I think we all know intuitively if we really turn our attention inwards to say, “Is this a productive discomfort or is this is a destructive discomfort?” I think if we really look inwards, we can make that distinction pretty accurately. What do you think?
Dan: I do think that and again, some real vigilance must be applied because there are certain misguided teachers who tell people “If you’re feeling horrible and you’re getting sick, it’s really good. It’s just cleaning you out.” If you’re getting sick something’s out of balance. Again people have different beliefs about that. I believe in checking out research. Yeah I’m not anti-intellectuals. The scientific method pulled us out of the dark ages of superstition but science can become a fundamentalist religion of the left brain as well.
The linear, the logical, and reason so the peaceful warriors way that I teach embraces both faith and reason, both science and mysticism. They each serve in their own way at their own time. I believe in science but we all know that one study tends to contradict another then a later study says we discovered something new. Scientists are sincerely trying to find out how reality works and you know what, if there is something, some dietary substance they can test it against a placebo, double blind and see if it actually works better than a placebo, so I’m not against studies.
We need to be well informed of the latest research but also to stay open-minded because some other study may contradict that. Some studies you’ve got to check out who paid for the study, so some healthy skepticism even of studies and research maybe warranted. Again it comes back to us what works best; experiment. I’m glad you brought this around back to the physical. One of the reasons I was looking forward to our interview together is because you focus on this area in health and wellness and fitness and it’s funny Jonathan, how some people come to me for a consultation. I don’t advertise it.
Once in a while I do a personal consult and sometimes they’ll say “Dan, I have a spiritual problem or I have an emotional problem,” but the first three questions I asked them to bring it down to earth is are you doing regular moderate exercise? Number one, number two, are you eating a balance diet? Number three, are you getting enough rest? So many issues that people have that they think are emotional, spiritual, and their troubled in this or that; relationship, they’re lacking one, two, or all three of those areas and so I assigned people.
The first thing I want you to do without worrying about all the internal variables and the complications of your life is start doing regular, moderate exercise that works well for you. You have to find out what balanced exercise is for you. For some people, it’s twelve minutes a day. For some, it’s four hours of training for advanced athletic endeavors, then, find out what balanced diet is for you. I’m not going to give you a bunch of rules, find out. I happen to be on a vegetarian diet for about 50 years but do I say everyone should be a vegetarian? No, it doesn’t work for everybody.
Some people need a little fish or chicken, so people have to find out what works for them. What is a balanced diet and also enough rest. Many people think that’s less important than the first two but it’s not. It’s possible for some people to get too much sleep, others to get not enough. I believe in power naps during the day if you can make a time for it. If you’re sleepy at all during the day, take time for a power nap. All three of those are the foundation and all the gourmet approaches to health and diet and the green substances from a lake in the Andes and all that stuff, we can deal with later but those three are the holy trinity of health.
Jonathan: I love having that baseline there and that foundation on which to build and I love the point you made earlier Dan about studies and again looking out into both end bringing this back home to that maturity continuum we talked about earlier where there are studies out there which can be useful but then there self-study and it seems like the power, the way of the peaceful warrior is one in which you use both the internal and the external. You use both those external studies that have been conducted but because there are infinite numbers of variables, you then integrate self-study to see if that would work for you.
Dan: Well, let me tell a great story for those who haven’t seen the movie. By the way, I was the one that got that scene into the movie a week before shooting. It’ll be familiar to you. Here’s what happened, I was doing a great deal of work on myself, self-reflection, self-analysis even a Mongolian self-massage take six hours of the bone surface, every bone in the body to clear, fear produced tension and these bumps along the bone surfaces.
I was doing a great deal of personal processing years ago while I was a senior in college and at the same time, the Vietnam war was raging and Socrates and I were talking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and I saw a poster about oppressed peoples and another about starving children and I said “Soc, I feel kind of guilty and selfish doing all this work on myself when there are people in need out there. Shouldn’t I be more politically active and socially active?” He turned to me and this is the part I got in the movie. He turned to me and said “Take a swing at me.” I said “What?” He said “Come on. I’ll give you five bucks if you can slap me on the cheek.”
I figured it was some kind of test, so I bobbed and weaved a little bit and I took a swing at him. I tried slapped him and I found myself for the next few moments on the ground in a rather painful wrist-lock and as he helped me to my feet he said, “You notice the little leverage can be very effective?” I said, “Yeah” shaking out my wrist I noticed and he said, “Well, you want to help people? Sure, do what your heart tells you but don’t neglect the work you need on yourself, the introspective work so you develop the clarity to know how to exert the right leverage at the right place, at the right time, then you can really be a help to people” and I’ve been seeking to do this every since.
Jonathan: Dan, that is very profound and that does seem to really encapsulate that peaceful warrior, where it’s not an absence of force, it’s not an absence of effort, it’s just the right calculated effort in the right context, at the right time.
Jonathan: Well Dan, this has been an absolute pleasure. What’s next for you?
Dan: Well, I continue to write. My daughter and I just collaborated on a new book called the Creative Compass, which is a book on writing your way from inspiration to publication. It was a wonderful collaboration and it’s going to be out in October. I’m about to start a couple of short projects and then a major book called The Hidden School, which will be the third and final part of the peaceful warrior trilogy.
Jonathan: Fabulous. Well, folks his name is Dan Millman. You can learn more about him at his website peacefulwarrior.com. His work that has most influence me is the book The Way of The Peaceful Warrior as well as the movie based upon that book. Dan, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dan: It’s my pleasure Jonathan. Hope to cross paths again some time.
Jonathan: Absolutely and listeners, thank you so much for joining us and I hope you enjoyed today’s chat as much as I did. Please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.
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