A former world-champion gymnast, coach, martial arts teacher and college professor Dan is the author of 15 books read by millions of people in 29 languages. Books include the spiritual classic, Way of the Peaceful Warrior and the movie Peaceful Warrior with Nick Nolte.
Dan visited Australia with Yoga NRG last year and speaks worldwide. He has influenced leaders in the fields of health, psychology, education, business, politics, sports, entertainment and the arts.WATCH VIDEO
In conversation with Dan Milman
Tammy Williams, of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, first met Dan Millman at his home in San Francisco in 2013 and last year hosted Dan in Australia when he delivered a two day workshop on The Peaceful Warrior’s Way. This gave her the opportunity to talk with him in more depth about his ideas.
Can you share a little about your upbringing and some stand-out moments that you feel have influenced the way you teach?
I remember when I was an eight-year-old boy, standing on the rooftop of a house under construction about four or five metres above a big sand-pile. My older friends had jumped off the roof into the sand pile, but I was afraid. I’d seen them do it, but every time I stepped to the edge, I froze up. Then, after about ten minutes trying to psyche myself, and with my friends encouraging me, something shifted. I said to myself, “Stop thinking and jump!” I’ve done that ever since.
In Wisdom of the Peaceful Warrior you talk about the brain and the mind not being the same thing. You mention the brain is real, the mind isn’t. Can you talk about this – and how do we discern between the two?
In discussing brain and mind we need to have clarity about definitions. The meaning of ‘brain’ is pretty clear but ‘mind’ remains enigmatic. You can’t show me your mind (although you can give me a ‘piece of it’ at times). So we define mind (as does the dictionary) as: “the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences … the faculty of consciousness and thought” or “a person’s intellect.” They are largely unsatisfying definitions, falling back on Descartes.
The point is that brain is objective; mind is subjective and ungraspable. You can’t show it on a movie screen. In the context of my book(s), I refer to the discursive (or monkey) mind, those thoughts, ideas, images, meanings, associations and opinions that pop into our mind and we mistake for objective reality. We have an angry thought on our mind and we may feel or even act angry. Meditation is a way to gain some distance, even freedom, from this aspect of ‘mind.’
How has meditation helped you?
Over the decades, I’ve practiced, in an experimental spirit, various forms and styles of meditation, much like one might partake of various styles of martial art, dance, or exercise. Meditation is a practice (much like push-ups) – the primary difference between the two kinds of practice is that one cannot pretend to do push-ups. But one can sit and daydream and call it meditation.
I can’t speak of how meditation has helped me (or anyone else) without pointing out how the quality of attention makes the difference. Martial arts or dance or exercise may be helpful to one person and less so to another, depending on the quality of practice. The same is true for meditation.
But in a general sense, meditation has helped me to gain distance from the random static, the muddied parade of random thoughts – to see their illusory nature. That’s what meditation is for – not to somehow achieve a ‘quiet mind.’ The thoughts don’t go away; we just stop taking them so seriously.
Has it changed over the years for you? How?
In my younger years, I did a regular meditation practice of one kind or another but gradually that gave way to using daily life as my objective of meditation rather than doing formal ‘sitting.’ Some folks call it ‘mindfulness’ – paying attention to what is around me, and also, when appropriate, what’s going on inside.
Recently, I’ve developed a powerful 4-minute “peaceful warrior” meditation on death and rebirth that has many benefits as a stand-alone practice, but can also be used as a great transition into any other (or longer) form of meditation one likes to practice. I’ll reveal more about that in my next book, The Hidden School, due out in Autumn 2016. I also teach it at some workshops.
Yoga philosophy often talks about being able to learn the difference between what is real and what is not. How would you help a student discover their reality, their truth?
It’s been said that ‘Reality is made up of many realities.’ Someone once suggested that if we could transfer our consciousness into the brain of someone else, we might think we were on an LSD trip! We humans have much in common, but we also have individual differences.
Still, there is this objective ‘something,’ this mystery, arising. And through our senses, we can perceive this arising, and even make philosophy out of it. And philosophers spend a great deal of time addressing this question of “What is Reality?” We address this in some of my seminars in a rather interesting way.
But the process (through meditation and other means) of starting to notice the difference between what’s all around us, and our subjective interpretations, meanings, and projections, is an ongoing process; one approach to ‘getting real.’
What practices have best helped you in the areas of resentment and forgiveness?
The more realistically we see ourselves in life, the more likely we are to notice that our primary business is not in forgiving others, but in asking forgiveness.
In The Four Purposes of Life, you mention “There’s no permanent failure, only the need to repeat the lessons” – can you expand on this please?
No one fails; they just keep trying. What we call failure, or an unsuccessful attempt, is simply a stepping stone we can use to learn and continue on our way. I used to fail 50 times a day in the gymnasium, so I accepted it as a natural part of the process and kept going.
What are your tips for keeping life simple and developing the capacity to enjoy more with less?
Focus on enjoying what elements life brings in this moment, and the next. Refine instincts by occasional fasting from food and other stimulation to re-tune the reticular activating system.
Lastly, what practices have helped you implement these following qualities of mind…?
Patience? Time, perspective, and life experience
Letting Go? Time, perspective, and life experience
Acceptance? Time, perspective, and life experience
Trust? Time, perspective, and life experience
Non Striving? Time, perspective, and life experience
Non Judgement? Time, perspective, and life experience
Beginners Mind? Time, perspective, and life experience
A Sense of Humour? Time, perspective, and life experience
However, I might also have used the following response: “Still working on it.”
Tammy Williams is the founder of Yoga NRG at Moffat Beach, Queensland, and has been running Mindfulness + Yoga Teacher Training, retreats and events across Australia for many years. Having worked in the health industry since 1994 in many fields of nursing, health promotion, and disease prevention, Tammy has dedicated over half her life to understanding the mind and how it affects health, healing and relationships. After growing up in a small town herself where there was no yoga at the time, her vision is to be able to provide outreach services in Mindfulness + Yoga Teacher Training to those in rural and remote parts of Australia.
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