From one standpoint, history is the chronicle of extraordinary individuals who have effected great change on human affairs. Some, like the Caesars and Alexander, Genghis Khan and Charlemagne, Attila and Hitler, have done so forcibly through violence. Others who know the heart is mightier than the sword, like Jesus the Christ, Gautama Buddha, Lao Tse, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, have brought about change through love. One might argue that, by in large, the conquests accomplished through force have ultimately been washed away by the tides of history, while the changes wrought by loving souls speak to us still — not so much from their words and dictates but from a certain timeless radiance that emanates from the impress they have left behind on the collective psyche.
What is true at the level of history applies at the individual level as well. The genius of the human experience is that all the possible characters — from the vicious to the loving — dwell within each of us. It falls to us to determine which will hold sway in any circumstance. We are capable in any moment of thinking and acting in either a constrictive or an expansive manner. This is at the core of all moral teaching, of storytelling traditions, of religions, of socialization. We have been given the power of conscious choice, and our personal and collective human experience is largely a function of how we use that power.
One of the many writings on this subject is Dan Millman’s The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, published in 1980. At the time, the book became a best-seller, part of the required new age curriculum, alongside The Autobiography of a Yogi, A Course in Miracles, meditation, and candlelit rooms abounding in pillows and incense.
Given the current trend of introducing metaphysical themes into audio-visual media, it was no surprise when Millman’s story recently showed up in movie form at a local art cinema house. My wife, Arianne, and I decided to go see it. I first got the idea that I was in for a treat when the young man at the ticket counter volunteered: “Great flick. I saw it last night and flipped (apparently an unintended pun, as the main character is an accomplished gymnast). In fact, it’s the first time a movie has made me want to go out and buy the book.”
Setting aside any pretense of being a movie critic, I have a strong urge to share my experience. The film, featuring a marquis actor (Nick Nolte) and a highly acclaimed director (Victor Salva, whose previous credits include Powder and Rites of Passage), is a success on all levels. The acting is superior, the cinematography engrossing, the message clear without being preachy, and — the ultimate test of a film — it ended far too soon. It’s a crossover piece that will please main street audiences as well as us diehard spiritual types who are increasingly demanding meatier fare in our entertainment.
Millman’s story is a semi-fictionalized version of his own college career as a world-class gymnast preparing for the Olympic trials, and he presents himself as an archetypal case of one’s internal Caesar or Alexander ruling one’s life. He is obsessive about making the US national team yet strangely not very disciplined in his personal life. His easy successes with gymnastics, grades, and women cause him to think that winning requires little more than a well-developed ego and the application of focused practice.
Unable to sleep one night, he takes to the road on his motorcycle. Stopping at a local gas station, he encounters Socrates (Nick Nolte), the wise and enigmatic mechanic who becomes his guide to the inner realms. “Soc,” as Millman affectionately calls him, helps Dan evolve from a self-centered performer to what Millman calls a peaceful warrior — one who lives by conscious choice rather than the compulsiveness of the ego. And as a result of following in the footsteps of those who act from love rather than force, Millman’s legacy of spiritual wisdom has enriched us far more than had he won multiple gold medals.
The film offers great footage of high-level gymnastics, college parties, beautiful women, and the usual Hollywood glitter. But that’s just the outer packaging for the real gifts of this film. I could write and you could read about how this flick can teach, expand, motivate, and change you, but none of it would mean as much as your own experience of the movie.
Arianne and I got home fairly late from the theater, but not so late to deter her from sending an email to a good portion of her contact list telling her friends to see the film. Truth be known, I found myself expressing the same enthusiasm to people I met the next day. In fact, I was so impressed by the experience that I decided to write a column about it. It was that good.
So check out the film. Have fun. And get ready to explore your inner nature. We’ll meet again on the other side.
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.
©2004 – 2019. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.