All Xero Gravity episodes
Hosted by Elizabeth Ü
“The book that has created the biggest impact in my life is the Autobiography of a Yogi,
by Paramahansa Yogananda. It made me realize how important the quest for
self-realization and enlightenment in this life was.”
That’s Dandapani, former Hindu priest and current self-development speaker and
entrepreneur. He joins Elizabeth Ü for a conversation on mindfulness, and how
practicing it greatly enhances your life, and your business.
Dandapani shares his thoughts on cultivating deeper concentration and observation skills, better managing your energy, why gaining more clarity on who and what are most important to you is vital, and the power five minutes of “you” time every morning can bring.
“To be truly selfless, work on yourself first.”
So tune in to Xero Gravity #58. 30 minutes for mindful entrepreneurs like yourself.
Come for the enlightenment, stay for the business advice.
Small Business Resources:
Host: Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]
Guest: Dandapani [D]
Intro: You’re listening to Xero Gravity, a podcast for small business leaders and entrepreneurs across the world. Now to your host, Elizabeth Ü.
EÜ: Hi, everyone, I’m Elizabeth Ü and this is Xero Gravity.
Guest soundbite: “Our biggest fault is that we think we will live forever just because we’re young. It’s not the case that we only die when we are old. You don’t want to live a life thinking that you’re going to be dying at any moment, but what you want to do is live a life where you realize that your life is finite, that your time on this planet is actually finite."
EÜ: Meet Dandapani. He’s a Hindu priest, speaker on self-development and entrepreneur. With a passion for understanding the mind, Dandapani teaches self-development to individuals, companies and organizations around the world. I was surprised to learn that Dandapani knew he wanted to be a monk from the age of four; a dream that led him to Hawaii where he joined a monastery, before relocating to New York City a decade later.
Dandapani talks to us about mindfulness and living life to the fullest, something he’s spent his whole life not only practicing himself, but helping others achieve, as well.
Guest soundbite: “It’s kind of sad that we go through life and nobody teaches us how to live life — you know? You go to school and you learn to read and write and do math and science and geography and history. But how to actually live life — we don’t get schooled in that. Everybody’s expected to go through life knowing what to do, and we don’t.”
EÜ: So we have all of that and more, coming up on Xero Gravity, right after this.
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EÜ: Dandapani, thanks for joining us on Xero Gravity.
D: Oh, well thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here.
EÜ: You’ve got quite a unique and colorful background. How did you come to the decision to move to New York City? That’s not exactly the first place I think of when considering calm and mindful spots.
D: Unfortunately, my teacher died three years after I joined the monastery and things in the monastery changed quite a bit after he passed away. And I felt that the monastery and I were going in slightly different directions.
So normally there’s a severance package in our monastery for longtime serving monks. You get to keep your two sets of robes, your beads. They give you a MacBook Pro and a thousand dollars cash and a one-way ticket home. And I didn’t want to go back to Australia, to Perth. My guru had told me a long time ago a monk should never return to the place from where he comes. So I decided on the monastery way, so I decided to fly to the mainland US and I flew to Los Angeles because it was the closest port of entry from Hawaii. And decided to start a new life in the United States. When I arrived in New York I felt it was the perfect place for an ex-monk.
EÜ: [Laughs]. Why was that?
D: Oh well, you know, one of the big things I heard, you know, was back then in the monastery — people come to visit and sometimes we’d share with them teachings, you know, monk tools and teachings and quite often the response was, “Well it’s so easy for you to practice all of these things. You live in this peaceful serene monastery in Hawaii. How hard is it to be zen?” And I go, “Yeah, fair enough. I can’t really argue with that.” And then they would say, “You don’t know what it’s like to live in LA or New York or San Fran or London, or all these different places.” So when I came to New York and I saw what New York City is: beautiful and amazing and crazy at the same time. I thought if I could live here, be an entrepreneur and actually practice what I am teaching, then I can actually tell people that you don’t actually have to live in a monastery to practice these tools. They actually work anywhere you are in the world.
EÜ: So when you meet new people, how do you explain to them what it is that you do?
D: If they ask then I usually tell them I work as a self-development consultant, a coach to entrepreneurs. That’s a simplified way of putting it, really. What I essentially do is help people with personal growth, helping them to gain greater clarity on their life and what it is they want out of it. And sharing with them tools and techniques that they can bring into their life to help them lead the life they want to lead.
EÜ: What have been some of the major turning points in your own life that led you to this work, and to what you’re doing today?
D: I would say, you know, I wanted to be a monk since I was about four or five years old. And it wasn’t till I was about eight or nine years old that I realized that it wasn’t really about being a monk, it was enlightenment which was what I was seeking. And I would say the biggest turning point there was, was really coming to the realization at about eight years old or so that everything in life came to an end. Everything was created, it existed for a period of time and then it ended.
And I asked myself, there must be a constant. There must be something that doesn’t change, and it made me dive deeper into finding that constant in life. What is that one thing that doesn’t change in life? And it really drove me deeper and deeper into this path that I’m on now.
EÜ: So this path started for you when you were quite young. I don’t think I even knew what a monk was when I was four or five. So what was your exposure to this way of life?
D: I was born in Malaysia, and when I was about four years old or so — I kind of estimate it was around that time — a monk visited our home and my mum invited him in and she gave him some food and water and some money and just greeted him in the traditional way that we would greet a monk. As soon as I saw him I said, “That’s me.” Everything about him just resonated with me: the markings on his forehead, the beads he wore, the earrings, the robes, and I thought, “That’s me.”
But then it wasn’t till I was about, you know, seven, eight, nine years old that I realized enlightenment was really the goal in my life. Being a monk was the most efficient and effective way to get to enlightenment, so the monk was a pathway to get there or a highway to get there, I should say.
EÜ: And at what point in your life were you able to dig into that work itself? I mean, is there a path for an eight-year-old who’s ready to become a monk, or did you have to wait until you were a bit older?
D: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say that, you know, there is a path but nobody taught me that. Well, nobody really guided me, so I was just figuring out as I went. I would try to meditate and though I didn’t know what meditation was. I figured that’s what monks did, to sit cross-legged and close my eyes. And I worked on myself inwardly a lot, and as I got into my teenage years I started to read more and more books about spirituality, becoming clear of what my goal really is, defining what enlightenment is, right?
I mean, there’s probably a million different ways to describe enlightenment and for me that definition needed to be clear. And also, the path to get there, there needed to be a crystal clear path, but it wasn’t till I met my teacher when I was 21 years old, that he outlined clearly for me the steps to get there and the goal, and I was very impressed by how systematic he was about the whole approach and how practical that I decided to be a monk in his monastery.
EÜ: Tell us more about this teacher and how you found him.
D: He actually found me, and very interestingly he was born in Lake Tahoe — so near San Francisco where you are. In 1927 he was orphaned when he was quite young and by 10 years old he had lost his mother and father and a close friend of the family had adopted him, and she asked him, “What do you want to do in life?” and he said, “I want to be a dancer.” So the people that trained him in dance in his early years when he was 10, 11, 12 years old were mystics from Europe and not only did they teach him in dance, but they also taught him a lot of mysticism and how the body works, how the mind works, how the nervous system works, how the energy flows through the body. And by the time he was about 16, 17 years old he was the premier dancer for the San Francisco Ballet Company, and one of the best ballet dancers in America. This is back in the 1940s, I would say.
He decided to quit at the peak of his career when he was about 18 or 19 years old and he jumped on a ship and sailed to India and Sri Lanka where he meditated and attained enlightenment and adopted the Hindu faith. So he was an American caucasian man that became a Hindu monk and later came back to America to bring the teachings of yoga and Hinduism and meditation to the west. And so, in 1995 he was travelling around in Australia and made the trip out to Perth and we connected and it was love at first sight. I think a lot of times for me that, you know, growing up as a teenager, growing up as a child I met a lot of monks, a lot of spiritual teachers.
One of the things that really didn’t sit well with me: they all said very inspiring motivating things and I’d go home emotionally charged and I’d tell myself I’m going to practice everything they told me, and I would for about four or five days and then all the emotion and inspiration would wane, go away, and I would default back to who I was, and I was never happy with that. I couldn’t sustain the change I wanted. And because a lot of the work in spirituality was quite often based around motivation and inspiration, I realized that’s not the way to change someone.
The way to change somebody or the way to change yourself is really to give simple, practical steps that you can follow methodically in a routine and sustain, and then the sustainability of those practices bring about a sustainable change. And that’s really what I was looking for, and my teacher was to give that to me.
EÜ: And what were you doing before you entered the monastery?
D: I’d gone to school in Australia. I graduated from high school and then I went to university and did an engineering degree. God knows why. And when I graduated [laughter] from that I moved to Hawaii to be a monk. I actually met my guru halfway through my engineering degree and I wanted to leave but he wouldn’t let me. He wanted me to finish my degree. Ao as soon as I found out I passed my last exam and graduated, I left Australia and moved to Hawaii to live as a monk in his monastery.
EÜ: And what was it like growing up in Australia? Do you miss it?
D: I do miss parts of it. I love Australia. I love the humor.
I love that people spend so much time outdoors. I love the beaches. But, you know, I mean I think in life there’s always sacrifice and you just have to give up some things to pursue other things that you want that may be more important in your life at this point.
EÜ: Well, let’s dig a little deeper into this episode’s theme, which is of course mindfulness and self-development for entrepreneurs. So first up, how do you define mindfulness?
D: There’s a lot of definitions of mindfulness out there, but if I were to define it I would say that mindfulness is the ability to keep your awareness on one thing for an extended period of time. And also you could say it’s concentration, to be concentrated, and when you’re in a state of concentration you cultivate this quality of mindfulness, being aware of what is around you. Observation, which you could say is another word almost to mindfulness, is a byproduct of prolonged states of concentration.
EÜ: Why do you think mindfulness is such a hot topic right now?
D: Well, I think people are distracted. So many people are distracted these days and people can’t concentrate to save their lives, really. And I think people would appreciate just being more concentrated, and they think by being mindful they can achieve this. But mindfulness shouldn’t be pursued. You know, mindfulness is a state that comes as a byproduct of being concentrated, and I think that society is just jumping on this big bandwagon of this new word called mindfulness and everybody’s talking about it, but that’s really not what should be focused on. What should be focused on is learning how to concentrate, because when you concentrate, the byproduct of that is you become mindful, because you’re focused enough to become aware of what is around you and when you become aware of what is around you, you’re being mindful.
EÜ: I also wonder how many people think of mindfulness as the goal, or if there’s something else that’s beyond mindfulness that they think they can achieve if they become more mindful.
D: Let me be totally honest with you: I think people have no idea what mindfulness is.
EÜ: [Laughs] How do you know?
D: I really don’t. Well, it’s because I meet people all the time. Everybody is talking about it and nobody really defines what it is, and then if they do define it they don’t tell you how to do it. Just be here in the now, be in the present, be in the moment. What does that mean? How do you do it?
EÜ: So how do you do it?
D: I first learn how the mind works, right? So in the monastery, to learn to be in the moment, which monks do try and practice very hard to be in the moment, is to understand how the mind works. You have to understand there’s a separation between awareness and the mind. These are two completely different things and that you can actually move your awareness in your mind.
So when people say, “My mind wanders all the time”, and you hear people say this all the time, “My mind’s like a monkey. It’s all over the place”, technically that’s a false statement. Your mind doesn’t wander, rather it’s your awareness that’s moving within your mind. So to achieve concentration is the ability to keep your awareness, not your mind, your awareness on one thing for an extended period of time. So one needs to learn first how the mind works. Once you learn how the mind works, then you need to develop concentration. And here’s the problem with the concentration, Elizabeth, you know, most people can’t concentrate today, I feel for two reasons: because one, they’ve never been taught how to concentrate and second is, they don’t practice concentration. So can I ask you, where did you grow up?
EÜ: I grew up just north of San Francisco.
D: And you went to school in San Francisco?
D: Okay. Did you ever have classes, the same way you had classes in geography and math and science, did you have classes on concentration?
EÜ: No. I will say though that I went to a very lovely private school and had the privilege of an aikido teacher who did teach us about centering, which is close.
D: Which is close.
But did you actually have classes where somebody sat down and taught you concentration every day?
D: But did anybody tell you to concentrate?
EÜ: All the time.
D: All the time. Isn’t that amazing? It’s like, people will tell you to concentrate, but they won’t teach you how to do it. So it’s like, if I don’t know how to play the piano and someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, Dandapani, play the piano.” I’m going like well, I don’t know. Do you want to teach me?
It’s kind of sad that we go through life and nobody teaches us how to live life, you know. You go to school and you learn to read and write and do math and science and geography and history, but how to actually live life, we don’t get schooled in that. Everybody’s expected to go through life knowing what to do, and we don’t.
So if I want to be a good tennis player, the first step is I need to learn how to play tennis. The second step is, I need to practice it to be good. So if you don’t learn concentration and you don’t practice it, how would you be good at it?
EÜ: That is something I wanted to ask you about, because I think for a lot of entrepreneurs and small business leaders there are so many distractions and there’s so many demands on our time. So what is it that we can do to learn mindfulness within that context?
D: I actually said that to a friend of mine who is a very successful entrepreneur in Germany and, I said to him, you know, “God, I’ve got so many things going on and just feeling all over the place,” and he said to me, “You don’t have a lot of things. You just have misguided priorities.” And I thought about that and I go, like that’s so true. We always have a lot of things to do, but we have misguided priorities.
At the end of the day, how many things are truly important in life that needs to be done right this moment? And if you want to develop mindfulness, the power of being aware and mindful of what’s around you, then you need to develop concentration.
How do you develop concentration? You develop concentration by doing one thing at a time and you integrate that practice into your everyday life. We make a choice to be distracted. You know, a lot of people say to me, like “Hey, Dandapani, do you think technology is distracting?” I actually don’t think technology is distracting. I think if you allow technology to control you, then it is distracting. But if you control technology, then you won’t get distracted. You know, when a person joins the monastery, or at least the monastery that I went to, you get a set of robes, a set of beads and a MacBook Pro. So every monk had a Mac, and when the iPhones came out, every monk had an iPhone as well.
EÜ: I’m surprised, yeah.
EÜ: I did want to talk about that a little bit, because there does seem to be a cult of multi-tasking in the entrepreneurial world, or even in the business world in general. I often joke that I’m a serial single tasker and people often look at me funny because like, oh well then you’re not being as efficient as you could be. But in my experience, I’m actually far more efficient at a single task at a time than if I’m trying to do 12 things at once. But how do you see mindfulness relating to multi-tasking?
D: First of all there’s no such thing as multitasking and you can Google that. What’s actually happening is your awareness is moving from one thing to another so quickly it gives you the sense that you’re doing two things at one time. What you’re doing is training yourself to be distracted, and when you’re training yourself to be distracted, you’re training yourself not to be concentrated. And when you can’t concentrate you don’t develop observation or mindfulness and you lose that beautiful quality of being observant. So as an entrepreneur, I feel like one of the things that has helped me grow my business over the last seven and a half years since I left the monastery, is my ability to concentrate, because as I said, concentration develops observation and observation I feel is one of the greatest qualities an entrepreneur can cultivate.
EÜ: For those of us who work in open office spaces, what can we do to stay focused? I mean, this is a structure with distraction built right in.
D: Right. The owner of the company or the manager or director of the department has to really set the guideline or the rules saying that okay, “We want to cultivate a concentrated team here and one of the ways to do this is that there needs to be a way to inform someone else in the office that you do not want to be distracted.”
So what I tell companies to do is to create signs; some way of telling the other person that you can or cannot distract them. So for example, in the monastery when my guru was in his office, his door was closed and when he did not want to be disturbed his door was closed. So we knew not to disturb him. But when his door was open, we could come in and have a chat, ask him a question, interact with him. Very clear, right? Even by the way monks hold their hands and if they walking down the path and they hold their hands a certain way, you know they’re in a deep contemplative mood. Don’t interrupt them. So, you know, even a simple way of having a flag or a sign that says “Yes, I am okay to be disturbed, you can interrupt me right now, no I'm in the middle of something really creative and important, please don’t interrupt me.”
EÜ: Can anyone practice mindfulness? I’m wondering if it’s more suited to, for instance, introverts rather than extroverts.
D: Oh no, this is definitely a pathway open to all. I think a person needs to have, first of all, the general desire for personal growth and improvement. It has nothing to do with whether they’re introverted or an extrovert.
EÜ: How can we as small business leaders be more mindful ourselves? Are there some simple steps that we can take?
D: When I work with companies and entrepreneurs I start off by telling people that you have one life and even though I believe in reincarnation, I have one life as Dandapani. So life is finite. I don’t believe life is short. And the other thing that’s also finite is my energy. I only have so much energy in each day, right, and I need to be wise in taking my finite amount of energy and investing it in the people and things that truly matter to me.
EÜ: Well, that’s the crux right there. I think so many people don’t actually spend the time to know what’s important to them or who is really important to them. So how do you inspire people to even go through that first piece of work?
D: By helping them to realize that life is finite and you’re not going to live forever. Most people think that they’re 20 years old so they’re going to live up to 80. That’s not the case. Babies die all the time, teenagers die, young adults die, middle aged people die, old aged people die all the time. Our biggest fault is that we think we will live forever just because we’re young. It’s not the case that we only die when we are old. That is not true. People die all the time. And once you realize, and you don’t want to live a life thinking that you’re going to be dying at any moment, but what you want to do is live a life where you realize that your life is finite, that your time on this planet is actually finite. So life is not short. Life is finite.
So one of the things I ask people in my workshops — which is normally like three hours or four hours, and sometimes a full day — after an hour in I say to people, “If someone walked in and said that you only had two hours to live, how many of you would stay for the rest of the workshop?” Nobody ever puts their hand up. Everybody says, “No, we’ll leave.” And then my next question is, “Do you know exactly what you’re going to do for the next two hours?” And you know what, almost every single person I ask is crystal clear who they’re going to see, what they’re going to do next. When you shrink the time down in life, people become so clear with what they want.
EÜ: I think so much about how you see all these studies that come out showing how important it is to turn off and to go on vacation to kind of get out of your day to day, and yet, there’s still so many people who don’t actually do that, or they use their vacation to get distracted in some different way. So how do you recommend that as small business people, we can really encourage ourselves and our staff to take that time out to rejuvenate to build back up to that 100% energy level?
D: You know, to be honest with you, it’s really hard to encourage someone to do that. People only start to do that when they really want to.
EÜ: And that often happens when something catastrophic happens to someone they love, right?
D: Exactly. Right. Something bad happens in life, they have a near-death experience, car accident that nearly killed them, someone they love died, they go like wow, life is finite. You could lose your life. You could lose someone you love. Someone I love just died, so I really need to re-look at my life.
EÜ: How can we as small business leaders be more mindful ourselves? Are there some simple steps that we can take?
D: I would say by making an appointment with yourself every day. If you could take five minutes out with yourself each morning, the first thing in the morning. So my recommendation would be wake up, answer the call of nature, take a shower, change your clothes and go spend five minutes with yourself.
And I’m talking five minutes to yourself is not walking the dog, cycling, going for a jog. I mean, actually sitting down on the floor cross-legged, and if you can’t sit on the floor cross-legged then sit on a chair closing your eyes and actually going within yourself and having a conversation with yourself. When was the last time people had a conversation with themselves? People make time for everyone and everything else in their life. Your friend calls you up and say like, “Hey, do you want to go out for a glass of wine tomorrow?” and it’s like, “Sure. Let’s do it.” But somehow when it comes to them they don’t have time.
EÜ: That’s funny. I just this morning suggested to a friend that he schedule a date with himself, because [laughs]… he’s scheduling all these dates with other people.
D: Right. Exactly. People don’t value their lives enough. So, Elizabeth, if I wanted to get to know you, what should I do? What would you recommend?
EÜ: I would invite you to come on a hike with me.
D: Awesome. How long’s the hike?
EÜ: Well, let’s go for at least two hours.
D: Two-hour hike. Okay. So in the two-hour hike I’ll get to know you a little bit, right? But if I really wanted to get to know you as a friend, just really understand you, I would have to spend more time with you, right?
We’d have to make regular hiking outings, maybe go for lunch, have a glass of wine, chit chat, go for a walk, right?
EÜ: Go through something hard.
D: Go through something hard. If you don’t spend time with yourself, how would you get to know yourself? Businesses that truly want to understand what their clients’ needs spend so much time with their clients. They interview their clients, they ask a million questions. They just get into the nitty gritty detail to find out exactly what their clients want so they can provide the service or, you know, fulfill the requirements of the service to the best possibility. People don’t make any time for themselves at all.
EÜ: I can’t remember where I heard this, but somebody had a rule that you should create before you consume, and there’s something that’s so powerful about letting whatever is inside me come out before I start consuming images that have come from outside me, and I'm very religious about that in the morning. I don’t want to have any outside media tainting what I feel like I’m tapping into in that early morning hours before I’m connecting the dots or making plans or anything else. I can just really get connected.
D: I am the same way. My routine in the morning, I use my phone to wake me up and that’s all it does. I don’t check Facebook. I don’t get on social media, emails or nothing. The first person I spend time with every morning is myself. Even before hanging out with my wife, I spend time with myself. Once I can understand me, I can work with me. Once I can work with me I can direct me, I can direct my life. And once I can direct my life, I can begin to create what I want in my life.
EÜ: Right. Well, I think a lot about this concept of self-care and how so many people are willing to take care of everything outside of themselves, but they never take care of themselves and they say, “Oh no, it’s because I’m taking care of others” and I'm like, “Actually, you know, apply your own oxygen mask first.” I am not convinced that people can really fully take care of others, or I mean, so many social entrepreneurs fall into this trap as well. They’re trying to save the world, but their own business is falling apart because of this lack of self-awareness or [laughs] this lack of taking the time to really identify what is it that makes this company tick or what makes this founder tick.
D: Yep. And the best way you can impact the world is really by changing your life, by being a better version of you, and that’s the greatest way to impact the world. Because my guru worked on himself so much to be who he was, it impacted my life. But because he changed his life it impacted me, and because I am working on my life, I can impact other people. But if I don’t work on my life, I’m not going to impact anybody else. To be truly selfless, work on yourself first.
EÜ: Well, thank you so much for sharing your insights and for having done the work, so that we all can benefit from that and be inspired.
D: Well, thanks for having me on.
EÜ: So we’re going to finish up with our question countdown, which is five quick questions and five quick answers. Are you ready?
D: I feel under pressure [laughter].
EÜ: What book or idea has made the biggest impact on your life and why?
D: The book that has created the biggest impact in my life is the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, a Hindu monk who established the self-realization fellowship in Los Angeles and in Encinitas in California. When I read his book it made me realize how important the quest for self-realization and enlightenment in this life was, and it really was hugely influential to bringing me to resolve that that’s what I wanted to pursue in this life.
EÜ: What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
D: My daily spiritual routine. I would die if I didn’t have that.
EÜ: And what’s the most useful app on your phone right now?
D: Adobe Spark Post, and that’s Spark S-P-A-R-K. This thing is amazing for posting on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest.
EÜ: So what’s your handle on all of those platforms? How can we follow you?
D: Dandapani LLC. I know it’s pretty lame, but that’s what it is [laughter].
EÜ: Great. And in one sentence, what’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
D: I would say work hard, do the work, but don’t be anxious about the results, because if you do the work then the results will manifest. So just do the hard work and trust that it will materialize. It’s the law of cause and effect.
EÜ: And finally, what skill do you want to enhance this year?
D: Narrowing my focus. Becoming even more concentrated than I am now to the point where I can simplify my life even more than where it is. That’s what I’m working on this year.
EÜ: Mm, that’s beautiful.
D: That’s the theme for this year, unwavering focus.
EÜ: Well, thank you for your great insights, Dandapani, and we’re so glad that you joined us on the show.
D: Thanks, Elizabeth. Really appreciate it.
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EÜ: That was Dandapani, Hindu priest, speaker on self-development and entrepreneur. Thanks for listening to Xero Gravity. Make sure you join us next week because we’ll be talking to Tim Kitching. He’s a coach, facilitator and advisor with the KONA Group, a professional training and coaching company that has worked with some of the most influential businesses in the world. So don’t be a stranger and tune in next week.