Illuminating Our Steps
by Claire Krulikowski
Author Dan Millman believes "life is all about basics. Not thinking about it, not talking about it, but living it."
His latest book, Everyday Enlightenment: The Twelve Gateways to Personal Growth (Warner Books), continues Millman's "peaceful warrior" approach to teaching and living the wisdom of Spirit by offering what Millman feels is a definitive, hands-on map.
Each chapter of Everyday Enlightenment focuses on different aspects, what Millman terms gateways, such as self-worth, fear, prosperity, etc. (see sidebar for gateway list) which influence the choices people make in their lives. He reveals how people sabotage themselves in each arena, offering sometimes unique viewpoints, and gives simple exercises "people can do moment to moment in daily life to bring enlightenment down to earth."
"When I was a young athlete and coach," he says, "I noticed that those gymnasts who developed the basics of strength, flexibility, coordination, rhythm, stamina, timing, reflex, and balance actually became more talented. They could learn skills faster and at a higher level; but, at the same time, doing handstands and somersaults was little use on a date or when I got married or had to deal with financial matters. So I began to look for a different kind of "basics" that developed not a talent for sports, but for living. The idea of talent for living is one that is somewhat original to me: to actually work on those elements that make us more talented for life and talented for enlightenment."
Direct Path to Manifesting
"I'm not," he emphasizes, "suggesting that these are 12 arbitrary gateways. I'm proposing they are the 12 gateways to what we call personal growth. Everybody is going to have to deal with these challenges whether or not they buy my book. This book constitutes the first time everyday life has been presented as a spiritual school with the 12 specific arenas, or subjects, we have to pass. I've presented these around the world and asked people to name a 13th or 14th gateway, but no one has done so. I would have preferred to have narrowed the number down to ten or nine or seven, but it kept coming back to 12."
While Millman's results-oriented approach to spiritual instruction is rooted in his athletic background, it's also an alternative to "the abstract philosophy" offered by many others.
"Some teachers remind us that we swim in the field of infinite possibilities.' Well, that's lovely to hear, but what do you do with that?" he asks. "One of the motives I have in writing my books is my desire to give people something they can actually do and live rather than think and philosophize about and feel good for a few minutes or hours or days."
He also says he has "friends who pray regularly to God, who meditate hours every day and yet...for many of these friends their money scene is falling apart and their relationships are weak or wavering. They are so focused on the higher self on the classical 'Eastern' or inner solution that they don't take care of the business here on Earth, the details of daily life. We tend to swing from the Western path of material success the left-brain, analytical approach to the Eastern path. I do not believe (the solution) lies in choosing the right over the left brain or the East over the West, but, rather, in embracing both integrating all apparent polarities, including the male and female within each of us.
"There seem to be two realities operating (for people): a transcendent reality and a conventional reality. Some of us concentrate more on the conventional and get tunnel vision: What do I need to do to reach my career goals? To take care of my family? We get wrapped up in the material realm as though that's all there is. But even after becoming successful, we may observe, 'There's got to be something more to life,' or, Okay, Ive succeeded; what do I do now?' Others of us who are transcendentally inclined, who focus on inner work and higher spiritual aspirations, subtle realms and all of that, fundamentally want to escape from the demands of the everyday world. As I point out in the third gateway (chapter), 'Energize Your Body,' some of us want to travel out of our bodies before we've even gotten into them.
"We were born into physical bodies, into the material realm, and given challenges, for a reason: not to escape physical life, this reality, but to experience it fully and to learn the lessons it offers. For those of us who ask, Shall I leave everything to God, or shall I take personal responsibility for my life and choices? the answer is, 'both.' As a Sufi sage once said, Trust in God but tie your camel. In other words, keep your head in the clouds but your feet on the ground."
How Good Can You Stand It?
The book's first chapter, "Discover Your Worth," poses the question, "How good can you stand it today?" That question echoes through the corridors of every gateway. In "Manage Your Money," for example, Millman points out that "when we unleash money we unleash spirit, we unleash the prosperity of the soul and of the heart." It's a powerful statement, because so much of our cultures training and dogmas lock God out of bank accounts and keep people from prospering. In gateway six, "Trust Your Intuition," Millman states that "trusting your intuition is trusting the God or Spirit manifesting in, as, and through us, and in everything that happens to us, in everyone we meet. Trusting our intuition is about trusting the best within us, that part of us that is connected with higher wisdom. Its not just about trusting our ego, our smaller self. It involves the faith that wherever we step, the path will appear beneath our feet."
Moments of Enlightening Service
Millman doesn't feel enlightenment is a difficult and far-off aspiration; rather, it's the moment-by-moment manifestation of the choices and actions we make during every day, every moment of our lives. "By taking enlightened action in the 12 gateways of everyday life," he explains, "we uplift and offer ourselves in service to humanity" and "create more enlightened moments." Each has ripple effects, and many such willed moments mold and create an enlightened life.
"There are masters who claim they've been permanently enlightened. I have a different opinion. Life is a series of moments. We have enlightened moments and unenlightened moments, and maybe those who call themselves enlightened have more enlightened moments, but I've seen some of them in some distinctly unenlightened behaviors and moments.
"To me the saints were not saints because they felt loving all the time. I would bet that if we spent time with the saints of old we would find that they did not feel loving all the time...but they did act with loving kindness whether or not they were feeling loving, and when we do that, in that moment we are saints.
"So the highest human form of awakening love, it seems to me, is not about feeling loving all the time or trying to generate loving feelings. That's not realistic. I certainly don't feel loving all the time; I dont believe anyone does. Rather than waiting for a feeling of love, the highest form of love is to act with loving kindness no matter what we happen to be feeling. That takes will; it requires the compassion that comes forth as we begin to see ourselves realistically, beyond self-serving self-images we create. Thats what the ninth gateway 'Illuminate Your Shadow' teaches us.
"We also have to confront the challenge of the eighth gateway, 'Face Your Fears,' because it takes courage to love in this world."
Every aspect of life holds the potential of service, according to Millman, including sexuality.
"For most of us, when we apply will to sexuality, it's about not doing something not having sex, not masturbating, not having too much pleasure or indulging our desires. But we can apply our will to have sex as a form of service at those times our partner may desire intimate contact but we arent really in the mood. This kind of compassionate service embracing sexuality as a form of healing, love, and caring can bring healing to a relationship.
"This is true in other areas as well. Often we're not in the mood to do our homework, do a favor for a friend, or work out at the gym. Life is about transcending moods by reclaiming our will and bringing out the highest and best within us."
In the 12th gateway, "Serve Your World," Millman relates the story of a woman who told him how a strangers smile once saved her life. Years before, she had been desperately shy, to the point of two "halfhearted suicide attempts." Not believing anyone cared whether she lived or died, she was walking home to take her life when a man walking in the opposite direction smiled at her. " 'He had a wonderful smile,' she said, 'and it was something I wanted to hold onto for a while, so I didn't kill myself that day, or the next. I decided to stick around and get some help.' We forget that we can serve our world in small ways: with a smile, by writing a thank-you note, by picking up a piece of litter from the street."
Millman points out, "Few of us appreciate how important we are, how each of us has the power to impact others, to raise the standards and stakes, or to lower them. We each make a difference, but our time here is limited.
"This life, here and now," he reminds us, "is a near-death experience. We never know how long we'll live, how many breaths we have left. We each have our mountain to climb; we can choose the pace at which we climb up the mountain of human potential.
"Life is a series of moments. Although weve all heard the advice to 'seize the day' carpe diem we can't really seize the day; we can only seize the moment.
"By serving our world while were here, we complete the circle of life by finding simple ways to make a positive difference; to support and uplift others, our environment, and ourselves. Doing so spiritualizes our life, makes it more meaningful, and gives us a sense of connection and purpose. Whatever job we do, whatever situation we're in, when life is meaningful, it's a different quality of spirit and a different quality of life.
"Ultimately," Millman states, "I write to remind others, and to remind myself, about the bigger picture and higher promise of everyday life even as we live an ordinary, natural human life on earth. Heaven on earth is not about turning earth into heaven."
Millman's eight previous books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, The Life You Were Born to Live, and The Laws of Spirit have been translated into more than twenty languages. He and a writer friend are presently collaborating on another book entitled Divine Interventions.
"Divine Interventions complements everything else I've written," he explains, noting his previous works never "addressed the issue of grace; the possibility of miracles, of relying on the divine. Whether we call it God or Spirit or Inspiration, there seem to be many, many well-documented cases in which people have experienced something, whether we call it coincidence, synchronicity, or angelic encounters, that has turned our lives around."
When asked how he'd differentiate his work from that of other teachers, Dan points out that "Every teacher is like a radio frequency; some people tune in to one station; other people tune to other stations. It is difficult to say which station is better, more accurate, more useful, or which will stand the test of time and reality. Naturally I believe, based on the feedback I receive, that the approach to living I describe is one of the most useful, practical, and realistic available; if I didn't feel that way, I wouldnt be writing. I would hope that others feel the same way about their work. All each of us can do is express our truth. I truly hope my books are making a difference. I do my best to remind my readers of what they already know, but might have forgotten. In Everyday Enlightenment, for the first time, Ive put all the pieces of the puzzle in place."
Dan Millman's "An Enlightening Day With A Peaceful Warrior" seminar, which incorporates key elements of all his books, will be held October 17 at the Center for Spiritual Living in Seattle. For information call Park Productions at (503) 233-2580. To learn more about Dan and his books, contact <www.danmillman.com> or your local bookstore.
Claire Krulikowski is a freelance writer living in Issaquah, Washington, whose writing is fueled by the flame burning within her heart.
The 12 Gateways
In Everyday Enlightenment, author Dan Millman proposes that everyday life is a spiritual school and that our evolution, no matter what our culture, sex, age, religion, financial, or social status, involves our successful passage through these 12 core subjects:
1. Discover Your Worth
2. Reclaim Your Will
3. Energize Your Body
4. Manage Your Money
5. Tame Your Mind
6. Trust Your Intuition
7. Accept Your Emotions
8. Face Your Fears
9. Illuminate Your Shadow
10. Embrace Your Sexuality
11. Awaken Your Heart
12. Serve Your World