Book review: Way of the Peaceful Warrior (or, the book that woke me up)


First, it was stumbling across this shockingly timely quote by Christopher Isherwood, the beauty and truth of which made me cry.

Next, it was swapping out my first-of-three annual Nikki McClure calendars from 2009 to make room for the first-of-three McClures for 2010 and noting what had been buried under all those months for all these months. (See above.) No crying, but not a little, “Hahaha, LOOK WHO WAS TRYING TO SEND YOU A MESSAGE 11 MONTHS AGO!”

Finally, in the midst of a mad dash of decluttering to peel the poppies from my eyelids, I was able to actually wake up long enough to tell the Resistor to suck it, because I knew what I had to write about:

Waking up.

Not how to wake up, because if it’s even possible, it’s well beyond the scope of my powers and one little review of one little self-help book. Hell, it’s probably what this entire blog is about, if it’s about anything, and five years into this process I’m only starting to get a grasp of how to do it intentionally and usefully. Honestly, I can’t imagine phrasing the purpose of the search (nor the perils of ignoring it, nor the pain of actually executing it) more beautifully and succinctly than Isherwood, which is partly why I burst into tears. (Hey, never claimed to be done with envy.)

What I can do is write a long-overdue tribute to the one book above all others that helped me wake up. I’ll consider it a closed loop, and maybe you’ll find yourself a literary cup of coffee (or maybe you’ve already read it, are 100% sure it did and will do zero for you, and can move on to the next thing. Either way, good thing.)

A now-longtime friend pointed me to Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman’s classic self-help novel about a clueless youngster and the (I shit you not) mysterious gas station attendant who changes his life forever. It’s a parable of awakening that’s derived from real life (the protagonist’s story mirrors Millman’s own journey), containing mystical elements that may or may not be true. As with the consumption of most myths and parables, that sort of stuff is beside the point: what matters is what the stories in the book do to you as you take them in. Are you intrigued? Do you feel questions bubbling up? Recognition, self- or otherwise? Do you feel tumblers falling into place or a coating of dust being blown away? Do you want to climb in and disappear, or pull the characters out and ask them questions?

There is instruction galore, real, practical, tactical stuff, and you can take as much of it as you’re ready for. I wasn’t ready for much of it for the many annual re-readings I did of the book, nor, to be truthful, am I quite sure I’m ready for much more right now. I like my sugar and my coffee and my booze, I struggle with exercise and discipline in general, and we all know about my ongoing battles with clutter. Even if you’re not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon, the story of someone just (or way) ahead of you on the path can be encouraging or inspiring. (Buddhist meditation teacher Jack Kornfield‘s talks, which I found via Joe Frank‘s “The Other Side” on NPR, served a similar purpose for me, and deserve a whole other post unto themselves.)

And if it is the right book for you, it will ring a bell that cannot be unrung: that reminder that yes, there’s something else and yes, one foot after the other, given some purpose, luck and assistance, will get you there…



  1. i remember reading this book many, many years ago and it affecting me. but i’m not sure if i got the whole shebang (cause I was like, 18 maybe). might consider reading this again now that my life and perspective are a lot different…

  2. Way of the Peaceful Warrior and both Pirsig’s novels have helped me understand better our true nature, that of interdependence and lack or permanence.

    Others include books by J.Krishnamurti, Chogyam Trungpa, and D.T. Suzuki.

    “Not Always So” and “The Myth of Freedom” are eye opening as well.

    Hi C’atrix!

  3. The Chief Atheist was very into Pirsig, and I did get through Zen/and, but it was a slog for me. Maybe it was the boys-‘n’-bikes thing: I was always CRAZY terrified about motorcycles, and that the Chief Atheist cracked up a few during our tenure didn’t help.

    Krishnamurti…now there’s some good stuff. Boy howdy. Wish I could’ve heard him speak in person. In Ojai!

    Complete aside: I did some of the graphic design for a musical based on his life. It was underwhelming—both my design and the show—but pretty impressive to me that someone was so moved by K’s work he decided to write and self-produce an entire musical based on the guy’s life.

  4. I have seen that book here and there on my journey, and it may even be buried in my house somewhere. I’m sure I will be reading it one day, myself. Very cool stuff!

    The book that did that for ME was Starhawk’s _Dreaming the Dark_, about merging one’s politics with one’s spirituality. I will never forget the internal waking up I did as I worked through that book.

    Reading a book that does that to you is like finally coming home, isn’t it?

    Jen M.

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