This idea that Zen involves stoicism in the face of pain is new to me.
In the face of pain, I hurt; I may even cry out. This is natural.
I am not trying to be other than who I am. This is also Zen.1
Written by Dan Millman, and published in 1980, Way of the Peaceful Warrior combines years of experiences and insights into one book that seeks to outline a peaceful, balanced way of life that any individual can achieve.
The book itself is a fascinating fictional tale blending Dan's own experience as a junior at UC Berkeley with extraordinary elements of fantasy and mystery in the book's teacher, elusive "Socrates," as he is so named by Dan in the book. It takes place in the 60s, and Socrates is a gas station attendent that Dan happened to run into one night while he was out on a walk. Socrates seeks to challenge Dan's preconceived notions of success and masculinity and force him to develop a more comprehensive worldview. First, Socrates shows Dan that even though Dan is training to be a gymnast in the Olympics, he still eats rotten food and doesn't take care of himself.
Socrates teaches Dan that even if he desires to be impulsive, he must act with purpose and determination and a greater understanding of how his actions will affect his life. Dan's character in the novel resisted these lessons at first, held back by his beliefs. But through some extraordinary experiences, Socrates convinces him of the proper way to approach life. In one particularly interesting passage, Socrates asks Dan simply: Where are you? Dan says that he is in the office of a gas station. Socrates asks him where that is. Dan replies that it is in California. Socrates prods him further. Dan says California is in the United States, which is on the Earth. Again, he is asked where that is. Dan replies that it is in the solar system, which is in the Milky Way galaxy, which is in the universe. Then, Socrates asks: where is the universe? Dan stumbles, and can't answer. Socrates asks him how he can be so certain about everything if he doesn't even know where he is, and proceeds to tell Dan that he is here, and that is all.
Socrates introduces Dan to Joy, a vibrant and wise woman with whom Dan falls in love. Due to this meeting, Dan's values about love and his understanding of other people shift, accompanying his overall change in how he sees reality. He begins to value being open and conscious, as well as developing both a healthy spirit and a healthy body.
Way of the Peaceful Warrior is the sort of book that leaves me absolutely shocked? Perhaps. When I read striking works like this, I will experience the emotional spectrum. While I'm reading, tears will well up in my eyes, lights on in my presence dim, objects and voices melt into the background, and I am sealed into a cocoon where the words on the page are my only company. Then, for days afterwards, I walk without feeling my feet touch the ground, even though I am moving faster than usual. After I finished this book for the first time, I stood outside of one of the academic buildings waiting for my roommate to appear from class. She approached me, waving her hand in the air. I didn't see it until she was waving it inches from my face.
Dan credits the book's success with its attempt to address universal themes like the quest for meaning and purpose in life. It was the writing of this book that convinced him to become a teacher, and because of his work, he was reached millions of people. Socrates' humor and sarcasm makes it a particularly fun read, as well.
Millman imagines a balance of the physical and spiritual through such activities as yoga and meditation. He also recommends stretching and maintaining a flexible, strong body. He thinks that deep tissue massage work will be both enjoyable and beneficial for individuals. In terms of nutrition, he believes that the most important thing to remember is to listen to the body; how does one's body respond to certain foods? He believes in a continuous process of self-awareness and, according to him, "nobody really ultimately fails. They just quit trying."
In his work, Millman attempts to show his readers that values like process, balance, and action are important. I haven't read his other books but I highly recommend Way of the Peaceful Warrior for its ability to fully show what it means to live the sort of life that Millman idealizes.
Warriors, warriors we call ourselves.
We fight for splendid virtue,
for high endeavor, for sublime wisdom,
therefore we call ourselves warriors.
Other info from: http://www.drpatriciahill.com/books/millman/milman.htm
End quotation from Way of the Peaceful Warrior