Monday, February 4, 2008

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior

I was looking for something to read. My wife suggested a book that she just finished reading. She left it on the book case downstairs.

I'm sure she told me the title, but I just didn't pay attention. I figured that if it was any good, it would reveal itself to me. And I was hoping I would find something better. Perhaps I'd find one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels that I didn't know I had. Or I might get the urge to reread Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy, again, for the fourth or fifth time.

In any event, I browsed our stacks, thinking that Updike's "Rabbit Run" might be worth reading again. Or possibly the James Herriot series "All Creatures Great and Small," for some light escapism. I also considered "A Year in the Maine Woods" -- it might make me feel as though our winter is mild and easy compared to the one Bernd Heinrich experienced.

Then I spied Dan Millman's "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" crammed horizontally way up on top of the books on the top shelf. When I pulled it down and saw the cover, I finally remembered reading it back in 1991 when I was struggling through the last two semesters of engineering school.

I'm having trouble with this material. It's difficult to understand, and I just can't focus on it. And there's so little time because the workload is heavy. Am I retarded?

But I'm having an equally bad realization. What could be as bad as thinking you're retarded? How about realizing that you have no interest in the topic you decided to major in? It's not just a lack of interest, actually. No, I'm beginning to really loathe engineering. I'm so tired of it.

And what about the future? What am I going to do if/when I'm done with school? Do I go on to graduate school? I start looking at graduate school programs, but the research they do all seems very complicated, boring and meaningless. I fill out a few applications and even a grant (more work/deadlines). I also dread having to start interviewing again. Do I really want to pretend that I've always wanted work on Doppler detectors for mine shafts, that it's something I've longed to do my whole life, and that it would take precedence over my personal life?

I've lost my appetite. I've lost my appetite because I feel like puking all the time. I'm normally a loner. But I start hanging out with my classmates. Because if I don't, I feel the panic creep over me like a cold electric fog. My classmates distract me enough so that I can eat a bit of food from the campus cafeteria.

I'm also becoming emotional. This is strange. I've always been stoic. It used to be that I could read about horrible atrocities in the newspaper or hear about them on TV and I'd feel nothing. Now I get upset.

What's wrong with me? Am I really going crazy? I see the doctor and complain about the difficulty I have eating and swallowing. He wonders if I have a Hiatal hernia. I get an upper GI series, which requires that I swallow some ghastly thick liquid. I cannot drink it all, but the technician does the scan anyway. The results are negative.

The doctor doesn't think there's anything wrong with me. I decide to visit the school's social worker. When I describe what I'm going through, she tells me that I might actually have a learning disability, but it becomes apparent only when I'm under a lot of stress. This of course only adds to the stress. But I do see a wonderful poster of a cyclist beginning an imposingly steep mountain ascent. An avid cyclist myself, I understand the analogy perfectly -- focus just on what's right before you and don't think of how far away the final goal is.

But I still need help, so I get the phone number of a local clinic for off-site counseling. My first session starts out awkwardly, but then it gets downright disappointing. She doesn't seem to have much empathy. "So what's the problem," she asks when I mention that I start crying for no reason.

But after a few sessions, I see that she's trying to help. Her aim is to get me to identify the causes of my problems, break them into smaller, more manageable problems, and solve them.

We start to build a rapport. She recommends that I read "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior," by Dan Millman.
That's the book I held -- the book I'd forgotten about completely until now. This is the book I was looking for, that I've needed for nearly seven years in fact.

I read it in two nights and felt energized and inspired. "There are no ordinary moments." "What time is it? Now. Where am I? Here." "The horse ran away. Oh no! But he came back leading two other wild horses. Yippie! But my son broke his leg trying to tame them. Oh no! But the army decided not to draft my son for the war. Yippie!" I love this stuff.

But I was also a bit troubled by it. Because in order for Dan to remake himself the first time, he cuts himself off from those around him -- his professors, his coach, his friends. And the second time he needs to remake himself, he and his wife separate and he goes off on his own.

I sometimes long to be a loner again. My wife and daughter demand more attention than I can spare. There are days I need to work at home because my wife's pain and fatigue confine her to her bed. They spend a lot more money than I would on my own. I pay bills for the newspaper and cable TV for them. They use heat and electricity during the day when I'm at work. If it weren't for them, I could leave my job and strike off in another direction and be willing to accept less pay. I wouldn't worry about moving to another part of the country, into an unknown school district, away from in-laws and friends.

But the peaceful warrior does not dwell on what might've been or long for things to be different. The warrior accepts what is and learns from it. I must do that, too.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE this post! Now I've got to go find that book - wow! and hey, you might want to check out myers briggs sound like an INTJ - which is wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Karen!

I'm an INFP. When I was younger, I was INTP. I can still sometimes manage to swing back over to T, but F takes over, especially when I'm tired.

You might enjoy Dan Millman's website and blog: