Book Review: Way of the Peaceful Warrior

This month I read Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. In short, it is a story about how to live your best life.

Perhaps because I had pre-internalized several of these ideas already from my own lived experience, I found the first half a slow and painful slog (also because I kind of loathed the main character, but that was mostly by design). It wasn’t until around page 100 that I settled in and felt like I was getting something out of the book.

One of those insights is a way of looking at emotions. Here I pulled three separate quotes from the book:

  • You don’t need to control emotion … The key is to transform the energy of emotion into constructive action.
  • Anger is a powerful tool to transform old habits
  • Fear and sorrow inhibit action; anger generates it. When you learn to make proper use of your anger, you can change fear and sorrow to anger, then turn anger to action.

The point is to use your emotions with intention. Take a moment to acknowledge the emotion, then turn around and use it for whatever help it can offer.

Another insight is that action is the way of the warrior. Knowledge and meditation only go so far. Turning your knowledge into action is what counts. This is a good reminder for me, that a quiet life of learning is entirely insufficient.

Here are some more nuggets of wisdom from the book that I am recording here so that I can come back to later from time to time to remind myself:

  • Any unconscious, compulsive ritual is a problem. […] Responsibility means recognizing both pleasure and price, action and consequence, then making a choice.
  • My actions are conscious, spontaneous, intentional, and complete.
  • Don’t live according to anyone’s expectations
  • There are no ordinary moments
    • Extend razor-sharp attention to every moment
  • The mind stores tension in the body. Worries, anxieties, and other mental debris are stored as chronic tension
  • Meditating an action is different from doing it. To do, there is a doer, a self-conscious ‘someone’ performing. But when you meditate an action, you’ve released attachment to outcomes. There’s no ‘you’ left to do it. In forgetting yourself, you become what you do, so your action is free, spontaneous, without ambition, inhibition, or fear.
  • The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less

I did find the book a roundabout way of sharing this wisdom. Having to slog through the experience of Danny is, I guess, one example for readers to work with. But I found so many more examples in my own lived experience to relate to that I didn’t need to be guided this way. And there was a strange side-story about a woman named Joy which became a weird metaphor that felt awkward and unnecessary. As such, I felt the presentation of these ideas overall did not resonate well for me.

However one thing I did like was how these ideas were presented without any religious context. I have a vague sense that many of them could be compatible with Taoist ideas, however not being very well-versed in that domain myself I cannot comment much further (it does remind me that I am overdue to read a different book involving Taoism that my sister gave me: A Thousand Names for Joy). On his Q&A webpage, Millman states that many readers have found religious teachings in his work but that he doesn’t subscribe “to any other philosophical stool, but to simple humanity”.

My favourite part of the book is the challenge to the reader to “be unreasonably happy”. I do believe happiness is a choice, so this resonates with me.

Feelings change … Sometimes sorrow, sometimes joy. But beneath it all remember the innate perfection of your life unfolding. That is the secret of unreasonable happiness.

I don’t pretend to be a master at anything, and there are always ways to improve, but this is one lesson, at least, worth taking to heart.

Three sequels were written to this book, including one that come out just last year (The Hidden School). I don’t feel the urge to read further, but if anyone else has then I’m interested to hear what you thought about them.