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Interview with Dan Millman
Best-selling author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and The Journeys of Socrates
Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, university coach, and college professor. He wrote Way of the Peaceful Warrior, The Journeys of Socrates, The Life You Were Born to Live and many other books to offer inspiring reminders about life’s bigger picture and higher potential. As a former athlete, Dan prefers practical outcomes to abstract philosophy. His purpose is to teach, to share, and to remind people of what they already know but might have forgotten.
by The Share Guide
Dan, the book you are most known for, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, is based on true-life incidents, isn’t it?
Yes, this book is based closely upon autobiographical material, and many of the incidents described did happen to me. But it says in the back of the book that it’s fiction, so there would be no issues about how much is true and how much isn’t. I did meet an elderly man at an old Texaco station in Berkeley, California, at about three in the morning. This man’s name was not revealed to me, so I called him Socrates because he reminded me of the Greek philosopher. So that is accurate. Many other incidents from the book are true as well. In any case, I have been quite clear in explaining which parts were factual because there’s enough illusion in the “new age,” and it’s important for people to discern what’s real and what’s not.
Like the character in the book, you were a gymnast and you had a bad injury to your leg. What do you think allowed you to heal when the doctor said it wasn’t possible?
The doctor said, “With practice you should be able to walk okay without limping. But I really doubt you’re going to be doing gymnastics any more.” And I said, “Thank you for sharing your opinion.” But that wasn’t the outcome in my mind. I was doing pushups even before I left my hospital bed. And I just kept training. I worked my upper body when I couldn’t work my legs. It took a long time, but eventually, I was determined to make it back, and I did.
Did you go on to be involved in the Olympic Trials like in the film?
Actually, no. Here’s what happpened. After the injury, I worked so hard to recover because I wanted help my college team win the national championship. I was actually the last performer, and my landing off the high bar was going to determine whether or not we won. And when I stuck my landing, at that moment I knew we’d won the nationals. That felt like a good way to bow out, so I pretty much decided to retire when I stuck that landing. When I graduated, I was married and I had a child on the way, and I needed to get a job. I couldn’t just be training all day, so I didn’t try out for the Olympics. I did, however, go on to coach gymnastics at Stanford University for four years, and our team was one of the best in the nation. I was happy teaching and mentoring rather than competing myself.
You mentioned the term “new age” a little earlier. You’ve stated that you don’t like that label. Can you explain?
I just don’t like fluffy terms. The new age shelves in the bookstores were actually put there in large part because of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and a few other books published around the same time--in the early 1980s. They didn’t know where to put the book; it didn’t neatly fit into psychology, philosophy, or religion. My publisher actually said, “Why don’t we call it new age?” So that’s when the section started. But what happened was, they threw everything into that category. It was like the miscellaneous drawer that many people have in their kitchen. Everything from flying saucer sightings to abductions to peace and spirituality of one kind or another got lumped together.
What do you think would be a better classification of your books?
I would put them under inspirational, spirituality, or guidebooks. Even self-improvement isn’t bad. I don’t really like the term “self-help” very much. Actually, the first self-help authors were Confucius, Lao Tzu, Plato, Socrates, Ben Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau. The new age isn’t really new--everybody knows that. It’s the knowledge from ancient traditions gathered and discussed in different ways. I can only remind people of what they already know at deeper levels and might have forgotten. I do not claim any more wisdom than other people.
Peaceful Warrior has just been released as a film. It was marvelous seeing Nick Nolte play Socrates. Will the film be getting screening in major theaters?
Yes. Unlike many other spiritual films or message films, Peaceful Warrior was able to build that bridge to the mainstream. Last month in Los Angeles at the Inspirational Film Festival, it won grand prize--both the audience and jury awards. And it will be released in mainstream theaters. Lions Gate Pictures is distributing the film. Much like other independent films such as Million Dollar Baby, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or March of the Penguins, it will start with a select number of theaters, and then as word of mouth builds and more people attend, they will begin to release it across the country.
How true is the film to the book?
I couldn’t care less about a movie being “true to the book.” In my opinion, it has to be true to the spirit, not the form. It’s just like translating a painting to a sculpture--you have to make changes because they’re not the same thing. And if the movie is just like the book, what’s the point? There’s no imagination involved. To make it into a visual media, that means it’s a different entity. The movie covers about the first two-thirds of the book, and it manages to convey some wonderful lessons--the heart of the teachings from the book. Plus it’s entertaining. I think that people who are interested in spiritual growth and personal transformation will be very intrigued by this film.
Were you involved with the screenplay or casting at all?
I worked for a period of 10 years on many drafts of a film script, hoping to convey my authorial vision of what might be translated to the screen. But due to a long story, neither the producers nor director saw my script until two weeks before shooting started. They had a different script. But to the director’s credit, he actually incorporated a couple of scenes from my script into the film at the last minute. I was not involved in the casting, but I was quite happy with the decisions that were made.
Do you feel that the film is a good representation of the book?
Yes, I’m pleased with it. In fact, that’s an understatement. First of all, it was a great emotional release, because many things can go wrong with a movie, and I didn’t know what to expect. But the choices they made, the actors, the quality of the film, and the quality of the direction is just excellent. Everyone involved really connected with the material; it wasn’t just another project to them. And it was a tremendous risk for Lions Gate, because it’s not the kind of film they normally do. It’s a business, you know, movie making, but in this case they were able to put out a movie that may do well at the box office, AND also change some lives. This is a film that may do some good in the world.
So fans of the book will not be disappointed?
Right. Way of the Peaceful Warrior has earned the devotion of many readers because I was able to reach out to my audience in a way that they could relate to. The filmmakers were able to balance the movie in such a way to where it wasn’t too spiritual--which would simply play in a few churches, maybe. It didn’t end up too mass market either, where it wouldn’t convey any real message. They actually found that balance between the two worlds.
What do you think about all the spiritual movies being made now? Some people are refering to this trend as the “New Hollywood.” We recently attended the Spiritual Cinema Festival, which was held on a cruise ship.
I think there’s a certain vagueness regarding the idea of “spiritual cinema.” There have been many popular films over the years that have been inspirational, such as Resurrection with Ellen Burstyn, about a woman healer who has healing powers; also Field of Dreams, The Natural, Phenomenon, Ghost, What Dreams May Come, etc. These films and many others are films of substance. But none of them were exactly spiritual message films--they were mainstream films that had a good story and dealt with truth. They weren’t didactic. Then we have quite a few smaller, independent films that have been made that are more overtly spiritual. Many of those films have played in alternative venues like community churches, movie clubs, and other outlets. But these films didn’t match a popular audience profile; at least not enough to justify distribution from a major distributor. Some people say that it’s because they were too spiritual, but that’s not the reason at all. They simply weren’t judged to attract enough people. Although there have been a couple of breakout films that made it to mainstream theaters after a period of time, when they proved popular, like What the Bleep Do We Know. I think Peaceful Warrior may be one of the first of its kind. It’s one of the first films to have a major cinema release with a clear spiritual message and teaching.
It does seem like there’s a new wave in cinema. You mentioned the film, What Dreams May Come. That was produced by Stephen Simon, who is the director of the new film, Conversations with God, based on the bestseller by Neale Donald Walsch. That film is about to be released. Stephen Simon is also one of the founders of the Spiritual Cinema Circle, a DVD-of-the-month club. And since more people watch movies than read nowadays, especially youth, it’s really important to have positive messages on the screen.
I agree. Look at a film like Schindler’s List. That was a spiritual film, although it wasn’t one that people would normally recognize as such. It didn’t have to do with angels, and it was a very unpleasant subject matter.
You say that it was a spiritual film because it was about the triumph of the human spirit?
The Celestine Prophecy is another upcoming film, also based on a bestselling spiritual book. I’m very interested to see how well these types of films cross over to the mainstream. I think there’s a hunger for it.
I definitely agree. I think the film Peaceful Warrior will do quite well. But it’s hard to predict. . .nobody knows until the first weekend, no matter how many focus groups and press screenings you do ahead of time.
Your lastest book, The Journeys of Socrates, was very interesting and well written. What new projects are you working on now?
Currently I’m working on a book, and the working title is Paradox, Humor, and Change. But we’re not sure yet if we’ll stick with that title. It’s a guidebook to Way of the Peaceful Warrior and also my latest book, The Journeys of Socrates. This is something that’s been waiting 25 years for me to do. I’m going through the books and collecting the substance of the teachings of Socrates, and I’m going to further explain, shed light on, and further clarify what I meant by those things. Many of the lessons have been misunderstood or not clear to readers. It’s going to be put out by my original publisher, H.J. Kramer. After that, I’m going to be writing an absolutely true memoir called My Search for Truth. It’s kind of “the story behind the story” of Way of the Peaceful Warrior. I like to be productive. Lately, I’ve been traveling a lot to help get the word out about the movie. And I’m really enjoying that. Any stereotypes people have about cigar-smoking producers and “the suits” may or may not be correct, but that’s not my experience. I found the people I worked with at Lions Gate are very dedicated and they have good hearts.To learn more from Dan Millman, visit www.peacefulwarrior.com
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