Musings, Reflections and Trusting the Timing: Introductory remarks by Dan Millman author of The Hidden School
Maybe you’ve heard the story about a master artist who sculpted beautiful dogs from blocks of wood. Asked how he did it, he said, “I just cut away everything that isn’t the dog.” In a sense, I suppose, we each sculpt our best selves, and our lives, in a similar fashion — cutting away the excess, the complications, until we reach a state of simplicity and authenticity. It’s a lifelong art project.
My best writerly self is one facet of that lifetime work-in-progress. With the publication of my first book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior in 1980, I could never have guessed that thirty-seven years would pass before I’d complete The Hidden School.
Ramakrishna, the Indian sage, once said that if we try to open a walnut shell when it’s still green, it is nearly impossible — but if we wait until it ripens, it opens with just a tap. I had to endure that ripening process before I was ready to share this final peaceful warrior saga. Only now can I grasp the words of Martin Buber:
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
The Hidden School, which unfolds within the time-frame of my first book, can be read as a stand-alone adventure — yet it’s an essential part of Way of the Peaceful Warrior because it reveals the initiation that prepared me for the death, rebirth, and awakening described at the climax of my first book. It completes the puzzle and winding paths I traveled toward my best self, still unaware of my destination.
Now I understand my life by looking backward, but I had to live it forward, driving at times as if through the darkest night, seeing only as far as the headlight beams. Along the way, I encountered unpredictable twists and turns like those I describe in The Hidden School.
As you’ll see from the opening pages, I still had much to learn on my quest to find the heart of the peaceful warrior’s way, and find myself in the process.
In 1966, during my college years, I met a mysterious service station mechanic I called Socrates, described in Way of the Peaceful Warrior. During our time together, Soc spoke of a woman shaman in Hawaii with whom he’d studied many years before. He also told me about a book he’d lost in the desert, and a school hidden somewhere in Asia, but the details soon drifted into the recesses of my memory.
Later, when I graduated, my old mentor sent me away with the words “No more spoon-feeding, junior. Time to learn from your own experience.” In the years that followed I married, fathered a child, coached gymnastics at Stanford University, and then taught movement arts while on the faculty of Oberlin College.
Eight years had passed since I first wandered into Soc’s all-night service station. To the casual eye, my life looked as good as it had during my college years as an elite athlete. But I was haunted by the feeling that I was missing something important—that real life was passing me by while I played pretend in the shallows of convention. Meanwhile, my wife and I had agreed to a formal separation.
Then I was awarded a worldwide travel grant from the college to research martial arts and mind-body disciplines. This opportunity reawakened those memories and the possibility that now I might find the people and places Socrates had mentioned years before. I could combine professional research with my personal quest.
Having completed the first leg of my travels in Hawaii, I’d now set my sights on Japan. That was before a chance discovery changed everything and proved the saying “Whenever you want to do something, you have to do something else first.”
It all began on a rainy September morning. . . .
A shower of leaves in the gray dawn drew my gaze out the rain-spattered window of my motel room on the island of Oahu. Dark clouds matched my mood as I floated between heaven and earth, rootless, drifting through the in-between. My summer on Molokai with Mama Chia had raced by. Now I had a nine-month leave of absence before resuming my teaching duties.
Walking across the carpeted floor, clad only in my underwear, I stopped and glanced at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Have I changed? I wondered. My muscular frame, a carryover from my college gymnastics days and recent labors on Molokai, looked the same. So did my tanned face, long jaw, and customary crew cut from the day before. Only the eyes gazing back at me seemed different. Will I one day resemble my old mentor, Socrates?
As soon as I’d arrived on Oahu a few days before, I’d called my seven-year-old daughter, who excitedly told me, “I’m going to travel like you, Daddy!” She and her mom were going to Texas to visit with relatives for a few months, maybe longer. Once again I dialed the number she’d given me, but no one answered. So I sat down and wrote her a note on the back of a picture postcard, punctuating it with Xs and Os, acutely aware of their inadequacy during my absence. I missed my daughter; the decision to travel all these months was not one I took lightly. I slipped the postcard into a leather-bound journal I’d purchased a few days before to record notes of my travels. I could mail the card later from the airport.
Now it was time to pack once again. . . .
A few minutes later, realizing how easy it would be to forget the postcard I’d slid into my journal, I unzipped the pack and tugged at the journal, trying to extract it without dislodging all my neatly folded clothing. It wouldn’t budge. Frustrated, I pulled harder. As the journal came loose, its clasp must have caught the lining; I heard and felt a rip in the pack’s fabric. Reaching inside, I felt a slight bulge where the piece of lining had pulled away from the outer canvas shell. Then my hand found and drew out a thick envelope with a short message from Mama Chia written on the outside.
Socrates asked me to give you this letter when I thought you were ready.
Ready for what? I wondered. . .
Intrigued, I opened the envelope and began to read a letter from Socrates.
Text copyright © 2017 by Dan Millman. Taken from THE HIDDEN SCHOOL: Return of the Peaceful Warrior. Published by North Star Way, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.