Several decades ago, an interesting “gift” was handed to me by a former girlfriend, literally on the day we broke up. Wrapped in somewhat transparent tissue paper, using recycled twine, the object required little or no guesswork on my part.
What I did find rather intriguing were the parting words with which she followed up the gesture: “After you are done reading it and processing the message; pass it along to someone else. It’s not meant to be kept.”
The gift, as it turned out, was a copy of Dan Millman’s international best-seller “Way of the Peaceful Warrior.” Though I wasn’t familiar with the book prior to receiving it, it would eventually live up to the billing of its subtitle: “A Book That Changes Lives.”
For many of us, when we think of the term “warrior,” it most likely conjures up an image of a primitive, armed combatant, ready to enter into battle against an enemy. Consequently, the outcome usually results in serious injury or death for one of the engaged rivals. In the case of Millman’s work, warriors can be just as disarming by choosing a path of composure, and rarely do they run the risk of fatality.
Written primarily as a first-person account of his quest for personal meaning and potential, on occasion Millman intentionally sprinkles imaginary inferences into the mix to enhance the various lessons on life he wants to convey to the reader. The author uses the antagonist, a provocative old warrior he calls “Socrates,” to deliver effective messages of truth and contemplation.
In their initial encounter at a dilapidated filling station run by the enigmatic elder, a sleepy and confused Millman is all but ready to head back to his college dormitory when the sage presents the following two inquiries for him to take home: “How do you know you haven’t been asleep your whole life? How do you know you’re not asleep right now?”
Personally, those two questions stuck with me for quite a while, as the book could not have come at a more pivotal moment in my early adulthood. Like Millman, I too was at a crossroad, seeking greater fulfillment and purpose. My career choice, though somewhat related to the degrees I’d earned in the social sciences, was not congruent with my core values. Additionally, several other facets of my life were becoming fragmented, lacking direction, and causing much consternation.
Many of the insights I’d gleaned from the book would compel me to look further into the subject of “warriorship” and its various facets. One such interpretation that intrigued me came from the “Shambhala teachings,” which propose an ideal state of secular enlightenment; in essence, one of personal existence without the assistance of religious dogma. With some of its practices based in Buddhist teachings, it strives to present a more independent approach to defining our purpose as human beings.
Considered by many to be the most influential figure leading this particular tradition of warriorship was one of the first Tibetan lamas to teach in English and develop Buddhism in the United States, Chögyam Trungpa. His ability to master the skills necessary, while simultaneously presenting them in laymen’s terms for all women and men to follow, has earned him much respect among admirers and students alike.
While delving into several of his works, I was especially drawn to a passage from one titled “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior,” in which he states, “The key to warriorship is not being afraid of who you are. Ultimately, that is the definition of bravery. In the face of the world’s great problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time.” He goes on to say, “We must try to think how we can help this world. If we don’t help, nobody will.”
Along these same lines, for generations, there has been a pathway for which to aspire: living as a bodhisattva (one who commits to put others first).
To undertake this brave transformation is an immense responsibility, requiring patience and trust. A complete devotion to openness and loving-kindness is at the very core. It is in the name of compassion, all the while maintaining a fearlessness, to overcome doubt and uncertainty.
I genuinely have come to believe that at the heart of true warriorship resides equanimity.
How we go about cultivating a practice of composure and mental calmness, especially when facing adversity, can be rather challenging. For many, the launching point insists that we “start right here and now, no matter what.”
It’s not waiting until you think the time is right, or when life’s difficulties are at a minimum. Quite the contrary. It begins with a commitment of compassion for self, as it does for others. Pass it along, it’s not meant to be kept.
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, and does much of his writing at Ditch Plains in Montauk. Two of his pieces appear in the 2016 anthology “On Montauk: A Literary Celebration.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.