Sometimes the longest and toughest journeys are inside one’s mind; and although others cannot notice them instantly, they change personalities profoundly. Dan, the main character, is a gymnast-student for Berkley University, California. His life seems perfect, he has everything he wants: friends, girls, good grades, his talent and passion for gymnastics and the strive to go to the Olympics. Until he meets Socrates. Socrates is a gas station attendant who leaves a mark in Dan’s memory right from the beginning.
When they start to get to know each other, Dan understands that he’s nothing but a fool, and that he needs Socrates’s guidance to wake up and reach a deeper state of knowledge, a state of enlightenment. After over a year of efforts trying to learn Socrates’s teachings, his teacher informs Dan that made a major improvement: he is no longer a young fool, he now is more of a man, but the biggest difference is that he has spirit. He still has a long way to go though, and the next step is moderating his life, he needs to “Follow the house rules”.
His life is now going to be modeled after Socrates’s Way of The Peaceful Warrior, and he is going to have to follow rules for the most basic things, such as chastity, sobriety and vegetarianism. He’s willing to sacrifice and give up things he is addicted to in order to stop the chaos in his mind, to reach peace inside. Even the smallest changes, the ones we think cannot make a difference, are immensely important if one wants to alter the way he’s living.
Dan’s out of body experiences are a fundamental part of his changes because they show him, if he is able to understand their meaning, what he’s supposed to do, how he’s supposed to behave and what Socrates wants him learn. One of the most important moments in Dan’s journey is when, during his first out of body experience at a gymnastics meet, he realizes how his mind needs to be all the time. While his eyes are gazing through the crowd, trying to frantically understand every single thing going on at the same time, he stops for a second, and notices that “when the soviet gymnast was doing her routine, her mind was quiet”.
But the most important out of body experience in his journey was one of the last times he met Socrates, on the mountain. When Soc helps him reach enlightenment and he finds himself dead (in an out of body experience), on the floor of a cave on the top of the mountain he had climbed right before with Socrates and realizes that “his life, too, had been an illusion, a problem, nothing more than a humorous incident when Consciousness had forgotten itself”. His out of body experiences are fundamental for the outcome of his journey, they allow him to look at his weaknesses and learn about himself, understand that he has a long way to go.
Parables throughout the book provide Dan images and ideas for meditation or introduce him to a new change in his journey. The moment when he understands Socrates is only towards the end, when his teacher goes in the mountains to rescue and help him with his final task, climbing the mountain, symbol for his ego and adversities. He remembers a parable he had never understood before that moment: “A saintly woman was walking along the edge of a cliff. Several hundred feet below, she saw a dead mother lion, surrounded by crying cubs.
Without hesitation, she leaped off the cliff so that they would have something to eat”. This shows what Socrates would figuratively be willing to do to help Dan growing up. Sometimes one thinks they know their friends, but they don’t really understand how actually bonded they are, who would sacrifice anything for you and who doesn’t actually care. Dan realizes that Socrates is one of those people who always care for you and will always have your back. Milestones of Dan’s journey are dreams. He often has odd dreams, rich in symbolism and meaning.
They are fundamental experiences he learns from. The introduction to Soc actually start with Dan’s dream of a man with white hair that he feels he can be the only one that could save him from a dark, empty city that symbolized him being lost. The simple fact that the opening scene is a dream, is an indication that those events actually helped Dan change and going serenely through his journey. The dreams he describes are, by the way, not always his, he references multiple times other people’s dreams when he thinks they have a connection with his situation.
One of the most mind blowing dreams was Lao Tzu’s, an ancient Chinese philosopher who, awoken from dreaming of being a butterfly, says: “Am I a man who has just been dreaming he was a butterfly, or a sleeping butterfly, now dreaming that he’s a man? ”. At this point, Dan understands how people live in illusions, and he finally realizes why Socrates told him, long time before, when he was still at the beginning of his journey, that being disillusioned is the best thing that can happen to anyone.
He comprehends how fake his life was and how much he has changed along the path that lead him where he is. Sometimes people live illusion, they think their lives are perfect, that they have everything under control, and when, all of a sudden, they stop and think about what is actually going on, they understand that they had been living an illusion their whole life and that they spent their time aiming for a goal they might have reached, but lead them nowhere.