A Conversation with...
Interview by Aaron Thunder Hart
Dan, you're probably
best known to most people for your best selling books. Your
first book, Way Of The Peaceful Warrior, has been read by
millions of people, translated into 12 languages, and has a
major feature film in development. But athletics was your first
love. And it's obvious that it remains dear to your heart.
You're doing a fund raiser here in Las Vegas for the World
Acrobatics Society. Let's start there.
Okay. I'll be visiting with the World Acrobatics Society as they
hold one of the major meets of the season, The Go For It
Classic, at Cashman Field. I'll be speaking on Life Mastery And
The Laws Of Spirit at one of the rooms there, from 2:30 till
about 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 7th, followed by a book
signing. Tickets are $ 22. I'll be there to raise funds for
these talented kids.
You had a
wonderful career teaching and coaching gymnastics at Stanford.
You took a dormant program and in four years turned it around to
produce world class and Olympic athletes. You put in all the
hard work of changing it around, but didn't stay to reap the
Dan Millman: I stopped coaching when I
realized I was admiring the other team as much as my own
athletes. I didn't care who won. I cared if everybody played a
good game and did their best. In my view, no one looses, because
whenever you play, you're learning something about yourself. I
treated opposing athletes not as the enemy, but as potential
teachers. So I decided it wasn't really appropriate for me
I understand that you used
some unusual techniques at the time; fairly commonplace now, but
unheard of back then.
Dan Millman: Yes. Other coaches
used to rib me because they considered me kind of a weirdo at
the time. They'd say, "I heard rumors you have your athletes
meditate before competition." And I'd say, "Of course not! I
have them meditate during the competition."
From being an athlete and college coach, how did you
get into writing books like Way Of The Peaceful Warrior, The
Laws Of Spirit, and your other books?
started my writing career with articles about natural principles
of training for a gymnastics magazine. Later, these principles
expanded to the broader arena of skill training, including other
sports, such as dance, martial arts, and music. During this
time, I wrote the book now titled The Inner Athlete (formerly
"The Warrior Athlete), to convey how to become a natural athlete
(or musician or anything else)--about the larger promise and
potential of training. Having done that, the scope of my work
expanded into the realm of daily life. I went on to write Way Of
The Peaceful Warrior and the books that followed.
I realize that it's not as important as some
people think, but for the record, is the character Socrates real
The character of Socrates is
based on a real old man I met in an old gas station on the
corner of Oxford and Hearst Streets in Berkeley, California,
about 3 A.M. one starry night.
could he really jump up on rooftops etc..
No. Nor did he grab me by the head and "send" me on inner
journeys, or make me forget about Joy for all those years, or
"crush" my skull in a cave in the mountains. Socrates became the
spokesperson for what I had learned from a number of teachers
and influences in my life, both external and internal.
How much of that book is true?
Except for the items I've already noted, most of the
book is factual. I did go to Berkeley. I was a world trampoline
champion and gymnast. I did shatter my right femur in a
motorcycle accident and recover to join my team and win the NCAA
Gymnastics Championships. I did travel around the world studying
various martial arts and spiritual traditions; I was married to
Linda with whom I had a daughter, Holly. I did have an
experience one might call "ego death" and powerful insights that
continued to surface over the years.
As I said, I realize the non importance of the question, but
some people will be very disappointed.
are very disappointed to learn that it's not all factual,
because they are so strongly hoping for "magic" in the world
that contrasts with what appears to be a mundane existence. My
intent is not to create illusions, but to point out the
extraordinary event of daily life, right now. Let's keep our
heads in the clouds, but our feet on the ground. Why be
concerned about traveling "out of the body" before we've even
gotten INTO it? Let's not get so fascinated by "near-death"
experiences that we fail to notice that THIS moment is a
near-death experience. Some of us who want to know all about
past and future lives aren't yet paying attention to this one.
I understand. Here at Spiritual Endeavors:
we've had that lesson drawn to us also.
Idealistically, we'd love to give everything away free. But that
head in the clouds philosophy doesn't keep Spiritual Endeavors:
alive, to keep on benefiting others, unless the bills are paid.
I would imagine that being the great success you are, you would
have had to do a bit of soul searching in the "money and
spiritual truths department". How did you work it out for
Some people have negative or
unrealistic, idealistic views about money, especially when it
comes to what they see as spiritual teachings or spiritual life.
Images of the Indian sadhus, ascetics who own nothing but a
loincloth, or the Buddhist monks with begging bowls, are
archetypes in our psyche. Popular media laud the "poor but
good-hearted people" and the "nasty, spoiled rich." Remember the
film, "It's a Wonderful Life"? The term "rich person" has become
Money is neither my god nor my devil. It is a
form of energy that tends to make us more of who we already are,
whether it's greedy or loving. If one lives alone, one can live
without much money; if one raises a family as I do, and wants
the best schools and a comfortable life for them, then one needs
to work. I make my living writing and lecturing. I charge a
respectable fee and give all I can. This is how it works for me.
At Spiritual Endeavors:
understanding that more clearly with every passing day. Yet,
let's play devils advocate for a moment. There are those people
out there who would say, "Dan you have information others should
know about. You should be giving it away, not selling it".
Anyone who disagrees is welcome to express their
view. After all, if we all agree on everything, only one of us
…People are welcome to express agreement or
disagreement, and to criticize me. No one is above criticism. I
don't require people to believe me or even to trust me; I
encourage them to trust themselves. It's important to test what
we read or hear against our own life experience to see if it is
realistic or valid.
And that is so
important! That's probably the one thing we try to convey the
strongest at Spiritual Endeavors. So many "New Agers" tend to
gulp down the latest philosophy without even bothering to chew
it over. The real spiritual knowledge is eternal and gained
through the discernment of all ages. How do you feel about your
books being considered New Age?
I really haven't the faintest idea what the "New
Age" is. First of all, it's not really new; most of the
shamanistic, positive-thinking, proto-Atlantean healing
technologies, occult, extra-terrestrial, subliminal, affirmative
this-and-that have ancient roots. Second, the "new age" differs
from the warrior tradition in that the "new age" has no shadow;
it is aggressively pacifistic, idealistic rather than realistic,
hopeful to the point of denial. Anyway, now that I'm 50 years
old, I've asked the bookstores to move my books out of the New
Age section and put them in the "Middle Age" section.
Dan, this has been delightful. Perhaps I
better ask you some questions for your readers. Some of your
readers think that through your experiences with Socrates you've
become enlightened. How do you respond?
We've all read about these idealized figures who have "reached
the state of permanent enlightenment." I'm a little skeptical
about that. If life is a series of moments, we each have
enlightened moments, and moments of being asleep, ignorant.
Sometimes I'm an illumined guy, and sometimes I act like a
jackass. I do have more good moments than in the past. Someone
who observed my life would find it pretty compassionate,
balanced, committed, responsible, functional, altruistic, and at
other moments less so. That seems more realistic than talk about
enlightenment, as fascinating as that may be. Enlightenment, to
me, is less like turning on a light switch; more like gradually
turning up a dimmer switch. In a sense, we're all becoming more
"enlightened" over time--that is, if we're paying attention to
the bigger picture.
Do you believe
One of my favorite sayings is this:
"There's God; and then there's not paying attention." To me this
has nothing to do with saying I believe or don't believe
something. Anyone who has looked into the depths of the ocean or
up at a starry sky or really looked at a flower or a tree or
anything else is also somehow gazing into the heart of God. At
least it seems that way to me. But if you mean do I agree with
or state my allegiance to one or another holy book, well--yes
and no. A mountain path is my church; so are the city streets.
Church is everywhere because Spirit is everywhere.
Spirit is everywhere. And in many ways it
could be compared cyber space. You maintain your own web domain.
Are you finding the Internet a useful tool for reaching the
Personal Development audience?
I have an
almost religious zeal--not for technology per se, but for the
Internet which is for me, the nervous system of mother Earth,
which I see as a living creature, linking up. In fact, the only
way to get information about me and my work, currently other
than what's written in my books, is to check my web site. I
encourage all my friends to get online. Saves paper, increases
interconnection and communication. To me we are in the midst of
a quantum evolutionary leap and it's impossible to predict what
it will mean.
And now there's
another site, www.destinykeys.com, which aids people in
discovering their life purpose. How did that come into being?
I was approached by a very bright group of
people who were so taken by the material in my book, The Life
You Were Born to Live, and had the Internet expertise to do it
right, that I agreed to put the life purpose system online for
those people who would like to receive the information through
this growing medium. So far, the Life-Purpose Workbook orders
are modest, but I know it will grow and serve a valuable
At that site people are
actually able to get a free preview life purpose reading
according to your system. I was there a few days ago. I
submitted my birth date, and I was impressed. Helping people
discover their life purpose is right down our alley. What do you
say we put a link in the Spiritual Endeavors:
Let's do it.
Okay. [ See link below interview. ] What other projects are you
currently working on?
My next book, Everyday
Enlightenment: The Twelve Gateways to Spiritual Growth will be
published by Warner Books. It should be in the bookstores by
April 1998. I also have more stories in the works, including a
special Christmas story, a sweeping novel, and a book of
principles, quotations, and stories.
Everyday Enlightenment. Now there's a concept to practice. How
about a sneak preview?
Love to. [Editor's
note: That exciting preview will be featured in the next issue
of New Beginnings.]
How about being a
guest speaker at the Tuesday Gatherings during your visit here
Love to. Let me check the dates….
Opps… I won't be coming in to Las Vegas till Thursday. Perhaps
You're on. Dan, you
certainly have been very gracious. Is there anything you'd like
Sure! That's why I'm still writing.
When I have nothing else to add, I'll stop. Let me close with
this: Some people have called with one or another problem--maybe
it's a relationship issue, or health or finances or a difficult
decision. I end up saying the same thing: Trust the process of
As the title of one of my books, The Life You
Were Born To Live, indicates, our lives may be predestined in
some sense; yet we also have the free will to make choices which
shape our lives. There may be no ultimate right or wrong, but
there are consequences. Responsibility means recognizing the
consequences of our actions for ourselves and others. Faith is
the courage to live and act as if we "can't make the wrong
decision." In other words, we make our choices and live as if it
were the best possible choices.
A path we choose
may turn out to be difficult, but that doesn't mean it was the
wrong choice. Let's treat difficulties as forms of spiritual
weightlifting. All we can do in this life is to handle what's in
front of us, accept ourselves and others as we are. We can be
gentle with ourselves, and compassionate, and at the same time,
call forth the best within us. There's the paradox; there's the
humor; there's the path of daily life, the way of the peaceful
Thank you Dan.