Purpose. Focus. Simplify. Sacrifice.
For Hindu priest, entrepreneur and master of meditation, Dandapani, the ability to focus is essential for living a purposeful life.
On this week’s episode of the #PositiveLeadership Podcast, JP learns about the practical techniques for defeating distraction in a busy world. Listen now and don’t forget to subscribe.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Hello, I'm Jean-Philippe Courtois, this is Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, a leader, and ultimately as a global citizen. In today’s fast paced society, we are bombarded with information, fighting for our attention. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and distracted. Struggling to concentrate, to be totally present in the moment, is something we are all familiar with.
DANDAPANI: You get to the end of your life, you look back and you go, I was completely present in all my experiences, good, not so good, with all the people I loved, and I didn't waste a second of my life. What a great gift to be able to go through life and be able to be engaged with every single person in every single experience fully. For me, my life is precious. I get one shot at this, Jean-Philippe, I don't get a second chance.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: My guest today, Dandapani, is an expert in helping people focus on what’s really important. A Hindu priest, an entrepreneur, and a former monk of ten years, he’s a master of meditation. In this episode, Dandapani takes me through his step-by-step approach to building and developing concentration and focus. It’s something any of us can start doing right now. And the benefits to doing this practice are truly incredible. We’ll also dig into the key findings from his book, The Power of Unwavering Focus, which I hugely enjoyed, and I would highly recommend to you. There’s so much wisdom to be had in this episode, make sure you stay with us until the end.
If you don't mind, Dandapani, I’d like to begin by taking you back to your childhood. In your book you mentioned that growing up you were constantly told to concentrate and that you struggled with being distracted. So how did that affect you?
DANDAPANI: You know I didn't – and you’re absolutely right, when I was growing up in school, everyone, even at home people told me to focus, to concentrate, but no one ever taught me how to. So never being taught how to concentrate, never practicing concentration, I was just never good at it. It wasn’t until I joined the monastery in my 20s that my guru actually taught me how the mind works and how to concentrate. And only then did I realize the benefits of concentrating. When you don't know the benefits of it, you just don't know what you’re missing out in life.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: If I may, before we get much deeper, I’d like you indeed to clarify the terms that we’re going to be – you’re going to be using – particularly the way you define awareness and the mind, so that all our listeners are embarking with us on that discovery together.
DANDAPANI: So, in a very simplified way, I define the mind as a vast space with many different areas within it. So, one area of the mind could be anger, food, jealousy, happiness, joy, technology, photography, sex, there’s just different areas of the mind. Let’s call that the mind and put that aside. And then I define awareness as a glowing ball of light. So, imagine an orb, a round ball of light that can float around, and let’s call that awareness. So, the next step is to see how does awareness and the mind interact together or work together. So, the mind doesn’t move – it’s awareness moving through the mind. And if awareness goes to the happy area of the mind, it lights up the happy area of the mind and you become conscious of it. I define concentration as my ability to keep my ball of light, my awareness, on one thing or one person for an extended period of time, or until I choose to move it to something else. So, if it drifts away, I use my willpower, which I teach how to develop, to bring that awareness back and hold it on you. My ability to hold my awareness on you is my ability to concentrate.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, let’s discuss the way you actually do that, because I understand it takes a lot of practice. Maybe, I mean, it could take ten years, as you did, to get there, and I hope our listeners will be as passionate as you’ve been. But I think your book, The Power of Unwavering Focus, used this analogy of the house with a few levels for consciousness. And in every case you’ve been navigating us through the house into open doors, actually, with your awareness. So can you take us on a visit of that house so we can visualize what’s going on in our mind and make sense of it or try to really understand the paths, again, of awareness of this light.
DANDAPANI: So, the analogy I used in the book is looking at the mind as a mansion. So, you imagine a huge mansion with different rooms, and I'm the person walking through the mansion and I'm pure awareness. So, if I go into one room in the mansion and I open the door and walk into that room, and just say that room is the angry room, now I experience being anger, I don't experience any of the other rooms in the house. Now while I'm in the angry room I experience anger. I step out of the room, I close the door, I walk down the hallway, I open another door and I step into that door, now I'm in the world in a room of happiness, or technology, for example, and I only experience technology. I don't experience anger, which resides in a different area of the house. The most important thing here to understand, Jean-Philippe, is that the mind doesn’t move, I am pure awareness, that I move within the mind, and the biggest takeaway here besides that is I have the choice at any point in time during the day to choose which room I go into. Now two things can control awareness. I can choose where my ball of light goes in my mind, or I can allow my environment – and I define environment as the people and things around me – to control where my awareness goes. So, for example, Jean-Philippe, you say to me, “Hey, Dandapani, your red shawl is really ugly, it looks like a kitchen rag.”
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It’s not, I like it.
DANDAPANI: I can let you take my awareness maybe to an upset area of the mind. But if I had enough control over my awareness I can choose to stay in a happy area of the mind, or a content area of the mind, and not let your words affect me. And if you look at most people around us, their awareness is perpetually being driven to so many areas of their mind by their environment, by what people say, by things around them, internet screens, social media, whatever it may be. And because of that, they become a slave to their environment. And the emotions they’re experiencing, ups and downs, all throughout the day without any control. And that’s quite hard on the nervous system.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It’s difficult to imagine life before a personal and professional world, we’re so dominated, and switch on via smartphones and other devices that make us accessible. And constantly so distractible, every second of the day. This constant fragmentation of concentration has become the new normal. But more and more experts are telling us that this can have a profound effect. In 2005, research carried out by London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that people distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep. It is no surprise we see so many people exhausted in their personal life and professional life with all the distractions they have in their lives. So, the obvious question is, how can I learn to concentrate better, to take control of my awareness, that ball of light, and take it where I want it to go, so that I don't become, as Dandapani says, a slave to my environment.
DANDAPANI: The best way to learn to concentrate is to practice doing one thing at a time. The best way to practice doing one thing at a time is to identify the non-negotiable reoccurring events in your average day. So, let’s look at that sentence, non-negotiable reoccurring events in your average day. Every day I speak with my wife and my daughter. It’s non-negotiable and it reoccurs. I can’t go up to my daughter and say, “I'm not talking to you anymore,” it doesn’t work, right? In a day I speak with her maybe a cumulative total of two hours, maybe three hours, if you add up five minutes here, one minute there, half-an-hour there. Every time I speak with her, I keep my ball of light on her. It drifts away, I bring it back. It drifts away, I bring it back. And as she’s speaking to me, I find my ball of light drifting away, and go like, oh, I’ve got to sign that contract for that client and get the paperwork back to him, you know, I should also do that. And look, I’ve drifted away, and bring it back to her and say I'm going to stay focused on her. It drifts away again, I bring it back. And I'm relentless with this practice. So now in an average day I can clock up to two to two-and-a-half hours just by speaking with my daughter, and I spend about two hours speaking with my wife every day, added all up. So now I'm up to four-and-a-half hours of practicing concentration. Imagine, Jean-Philippe, if every day I practice the piano for four hours of day. After six months, what would I be good at?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Pretty good.
DANDAPANI: Playing the piano. Practicing four hours a day, that’s a lot of practice. So, imagine if I practice concentration four hours a day. After six months I’d be really good at concentration. But here’s the thing – the way to get a practice to stick and gain traction and sustainability, which is really the key, the holy grail is sustainability -- find things that occur in your day that are non-negotiable and insert the practice into those things. If I say to myself, Jean-Philippe, that every morning I'm going to meditate for half-an-hour, to me, meditation is not non-negotiable. There are days I can skip it. I could just say, you know what, I can’t do it today because I have too many things going on. But I can’t skip talking to my daughter. Does that make sense?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It makes a lot of sense, but if I was to push you even more on that topic, Dandapani, representing maybe many of the listeners and even myself, I would say we all are struggling of course with finding more time after 24 hours, but we cannot find a 25th hour, we have 24 hours. And so listening to you, and many of the people here have busy, professional lives, personal lives, social lives, hopefully communities, bonding etcetera, hopefully for some of them as well, how do they pick their battles? In a good way. I'm not talking about making a war, but in a way of what you said about their non-negotiables, right? Because you call that as a great example, my spouse and my daughter, in your case, for 2 to 5 hours per day. Wow, if I do this and that but I’ve got also this and that and that, how many new non-negotiables can I pack up in my day, if I may? Have you come to such discipline that there’s kind of a balancing act in terms of those non-negotiables versus, oh, the rest that I can actually negotiate with my time?
DANDAPANI: This, because the first step is to discover what your purpose in life is. Most people haven’t discovered their purpose in life. Your purpose… There’s four steps: purpose, focus, simplify, sacrifice. I’ll say that again: Purpose, focus, simplify, sacrifice. So, let’s look at the first one. Once you know your purpose in life, your mission in life, your purpose defines your priorities. Your priorities then become your non-negotiables. The second thing to learn, is learn now to focus. Because if I can’t focus and I know my purpose, what’s the point? I'm perpetually being distracted. I need to know what I'm here on this planet to do. I need to have the ability to focus so I can live a purpose-focused life. The third step is simplify. I’ll bring your attention back to what you said at the very introduction of this podcast. You said we all lead fast-paced lives. I disagree with the fast pace. I don't think that’s the case. We’re not sleeping any faster. We’re not eating faster, we’re not walking faster, we’re not going to the bathroom faster. What we are doing is we’re doing too much. I would replace the word “fast”, “slow down”, with “simplify”. So go back to what you said. You said there’s 24 hours in a day and we can’t add another extra minute, we will all agree on this. So, time is finite. The other thing that’s finite each day is our energy. Because at some point tonight, Jean-Philippe, you’re going to be exhausted, you’re going to say, “That’s it, I'm tired, I'm going to go to bed.” So, energy and time are finite each day. Now the question becomes, how do I proportionately – and I don't use the word balance, I emphasize the word proportionately – invest my time and energy into my priorities that have been defined by my purpose. Now if I don't have a framework, clearly defined priorities that have been outlined by my purpose, or defined by my purpose, then my time and energy goes everywhere. Microsoft has a vision.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: We do, we do a mission actually. We talk about empowering every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
DANDAPANI: There you go, very clearly defined. Now you could say that statement so clearly. Now if I were to go to an employee in Microsoft and say, “What’s your purpose in life?” most people wouldn't be able to articulate it as clearly as they could articulate the mission or vision of Microsoft. We do it for our companies, but we never do it for ourselves. And then we wonder why we’re all over the place. Microsoft is not all over the place because they’ve defined clearly what it is they want to achieve, and they channel their time and energy and their focus towards achieving that and having metrics to measure they’re making progress. We don't take the same approach with our personal lives. We never define our purpose, we never define our core values, our guiding principles, we don't have frameworks. So, our energy and our time, instead of getting channelled, is getting ramified. It’s going all over the place. And then we say, oh, we’re leading a fast-paced life. But what we’re doing is we’re switching so quickly from one task to another because we have a thousand tasks instead of just a hundred or fifty. It gives us the impression we’re going fast. We’re just doing too much.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: When we multitask, most of us think we are being highly productive, getting lots done. Actually, we are wasting two of our most precious resources – our time and our energy. The key point to take up on here is that nobody is forcing us to do all the things we do – we just choose to do them. And as Dandapani explains, we make the decision to commit to so many things because we like clarity in our purpose and our priorities. And I think focus is crucial to finding the clarity, because if you can’t concentrate, how can you look into yourself and reflect on what is it that you want in life? So, it makes a lot of sense for all of us to build up that ability to focus early on. I’d like us to talk about the way one can manage his or her own energy system. Something that really stood out to me in your book was a phrase I think your guru would repeat: Where awareness goes, energy flows. And in your talks, you often make reference to Nikola Tesla, I heard that from you as well, best known for his contribution to the design of the modern electricity supply system. He said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” So, one thing that’s really clear to me, that if you want to make a positive impact in the world, you need to build up your positive energy within yourself first. So how do you do that and how do you see the relationship between awareness and positive energy with that ball of light you’ve been talking about?
DANDAPANI: So, let’s look at the statement first, “Where awareness goes, energy flows.” If my ball of light goes to the angry area of the mind, that’s where my energy is flowing. And that area becomes strengthened. There’s another phrase I always say, “Life is a manifestation of where you invest your energy.” The best way to understand the statement is to look at energy, to understand energy, and the simplest way to understand energy is to look at energy the same way we look at water. If I took a watering can and I watered a garden bed, would the weeds grow or the flowers? Both, right? Water cannot tell the difference between weeds and flowers. Whatever I water will grow. Energy works the same way. So, if I want to develop positive mindset, positive energy, I need to learn to control my ball of light in the mind. I need to constantly push – take my ball of light to uplifting areas of the mind, areas that are content, happy, joyous, compassionate, has empathy. The more my ball of light goes there, the more energy flows there. The more energy flows there the muscles you could say in that area of the mind become strengthened and empowered and filled with energy and becomes really magnetic. It starts to vibrate at a higher frequency, and always has the ability then to pull awareness towards it. So, learning to control awareness in the mind – again going back to the very, very basics – is the first critical step towards creating more positive energy.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I think again that’s super clear, Dandapani, but I would argue, how do you master that awareness so that you avoid going into those negative places, right? Because all of us in our lives are confined to a lot of small annoying things, issues, happening through our life, and sometimes some drama happening in your life. Sometimes some trauma, which is of course much harder to even survive. How do you build that ability to basically avoid – it doesn’t mean not acknowledge, I think you always need to acknowledge obviously real issues, big issues, drama, you’ve got to start with that – but then really move that attention to places where you can actually drive the positive energy more often.
DANDAPANI: Three words: practice, practice, practice. You know, in the first couple of chapters I talk about the power of desire, how badly do you want it? You know, Philippe, to be honest with you, most people don't want it badly enough. When I met my guru for the second time when I was 21 years old, I told him what I wanted in life, which was enlightenment, and I wanted someone to train me and teach me. He asked me, “What are you willing to do for it?” I said, “I'm willing to give my life for it. I'm willing to give up my family, my friends, never see them again. I'm willing to go live in your monastery, learn with you and dedicate my life to this. I’ll give up food, sex, technology, movies, music, clothing, everything.” How badly do you want it? Most people don't want it badly enough. Most people don't want to know their purpose in life badly enough. Most people don't want to live a life of focus badly enough, and therefore they don't practice it, and they never get it. A lot of people say to concentrate is very exhausting. It’s exhausting because you are a master at distraction. Now, if you ask me to practice distraction five hours a day, I would be exhausted. Why? Because I don't know how to do that.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Right.
DANDAPANI: You become good at whatever it is you practice, and if you never practice something really well, it requires a tremendous amount of energy to do that task, whatever that task may be.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I’d like now to shift gears and discuss how a good handle of my awareness, attention, concentration, can help me solve for happiness. So maybe you open in a mansion, this house, this door, sorry, or room of happiness. You know, there’s a book that was written by a friend of mine, a former colleague, Mo Gawdat, called Solve for Happiness. And this book – and I had a chance actually to have Mo Gawdat in my podcast a little while ago – and so Mo is an engineer by background who defined the happiness equation as follows: Your happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the events of your life and your expectations of how life should behave. So, I’d like to understand how awareness practice can help you better manage your expectations, and also better react to the actual events of your life, so that your equation is in a good balance at the end of the day?
DANDAPANI: So, let’s look at the reactions. The more I can control my ball of light, the more I have choice on how I react to something, or something, or an experience in my life. So, if I have an experience happening in my life, if I couldn't control my ball of light, my ball of light would get absorbed in that experience. I give an analogy in my book where I'm sitting in the subway car in New York and a couple was arguing. And before I know it, everybody in the subway car, their ball of light goes to the couple and now they’re fighting with the couple. The wife is saying, “Why is he doing that?” I keep my ball of light with me so I can observe and say I don't need to get absorbed in this issue. And that’s one of the benefits of learning to control awareness. You can choose how you respond to something. And the more you can control the ball of light the more you can control your reactions. And obviously, like you said, sometimes we have traumatic experiences in our life, and that overpowers our awareness and pulls it towards us. That’s natural, but the majority of the time you can choose if you want to get absorbed in an experience or not.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: With your reaction to an event, I fully understand the way you can better master attention so that you’re not distracted by or confused by this event – what about setting the right expectations for yourself, Dandapani? How can you work on that as well so that you are making the right set of goals, right set of steps, without giving you some unachievable goal sometimes or crazy expectations in your life that cannot be met any time?
DANDAPANI: For me, with the advent of technology, and I'm pro-technology, I love technology, just so you know. I think it’s created unrealistic expectations in people’s lives. People are so used to instant gratification, getting things right away, that they take that same expectations and apply it to their lives and their goals. Nature doesn’t work the same way technology works. We’re creating a botanical garden here and we planted four or five thousand trees. I can’t see the flowers tomorrow. I have to wait ten years sometimes to wait for the tree to bloom from the time I planted it. But we are so used to scrolling, getting whatever we want right away within a few minutes, a few seconds, milliseconds, that we take that same thinking into our lives and say, okay, it’s January 1st, I'm going to lose 40 pounds by June. And then by this date I'm going to do this. And I'm going to scale my business this way and I'm going to do that and I'm going to do this, and then we fall short and we get disappointed. I think we need to separate nature and technology in the sense of, yes, technology can be scaled rapidly – we don't work that way.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I'm really struck by so many similarities between Dandapani and Mo Gawdat’s ways of thinking. Particularly the way they think about time. If you haven’t listened to the episode with Mo, please do. He argues that time is not an objective feature of reality. The more we understand that, the more we can focus on the present and find happiness. Grief, embarrassment, envy, guilt, are all negative emotions linked to the past. Whereas anxiety, fear and perilousness are negative emotions linked to the future. Being in your head, worrying about the past or the future, is time wasted. Meditation really is the perfect antidote to living in your foots, and centring you in the now. So, building on happiness, I think your guru said two things. Life is meant to be lived joyously, and life is a manifestation of where you invest your energy again. So how do you decide, Dandapani, how to pick the people, the activities and maybe as well the place where you want to invest your energy. And on the other hand, on the opposite, how do you de-invest from what I'm calling toxic people or things in your life that bring you down, how do you do that?
DANDAPANI: I would work on what is the mission, what is the purpose in life. Because I am clear of my purpose in life. My purpose then defines for me who are the type of people I want to be with, what do I do, what books I read, what music I listen to, what foods I eat. This is all defined by my purpose. There’s some music I just don't listen to, some books I just don't read. My purpose defines the framework in which I operate. So, I would tell people to go back to that. Because if not, decision making becomes really, really difficult. Does Microsoft make washing machines or lawnmowers? Why not? Have you ever thought about that? Do you want to bring it up at your next executive meeting, talking about making lawnmowers? No, because that’s not part of the mission. So, if someone came up to you, if I came up to you and said, Jean-Philippe, we should talk about lawnmowers, you go like…? We’re not aligned. So rather than trying to see if that person or this person or that thing or this thing is something I should do, start with purpose, because then purpose allows decision-making. I always say, once you know what you want, then you know who you don't want and what you don't want in life. But you can’t say no unless you’re knowing what you’re saying yes to first. And going back to toxic people, in a very simplified way, I have this whole talk about energy and you can categorize people in a simplified way into three groups: Uplifting, neutral, or not uplifting. We’re keeping it very simple. Uplifting, let’s define them. Uplifting – I spend ten minutes with John, I walk away, I feel good, uplifted. Neutral – I spend ten minutes with John and I walk away, nothing changes. Not uplifting – I spend ten minutes with John and I walk away and I go, oh my God, that’s exhausting. But you cannot just judge John on that one experience. Maybe he was having a bad day. So, for me, it’s an evaluation. If in a period of 3 years I have 50 occasions I meet John, 49 of them I walk away and I go, oh my God, it’s exhausting, it’s fair to say he is not an uplifting individual. Then the next step is to slowly remove yourself from him. One of the first things you can do is to be very conscious of what you’re saying. When two people meet each other, what do they always say?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: How are you doing?
DANDAPANI: I don't ask, because I don't want to know. You know? If I meet someone, and I know John is not uplifting, I meet him, I'm polite, I'm kind, I say, “Good morning, John, what a beautiful day in Costa Rica.” I don't have to ask him “how are you?” Because if I ask him, how are you, he’s going to tell me, and I don't want to sit there for the next 20 minutes and listen. And then what do people say at the end of a conversation? “It was lovely meeting you.” Actually, it wasn’t. “Let’s have lunch.” Why? “I’ll call you.” Please don't. So, let’s be more conscious about what we say. At the end of the conversation, you can be polite, you can be kind. You know John’s an energy vampire, and you can say to him, “John, I hope you have a lovely day.” That’s sincere, that’s kind. But if we can be more conscious of our conversation and what we say, we’ll find that we lose a lot less energy. How many times have you asked somebody “how are you” and they start dumping everything on you? And you go like oh my God, why did I even ask that question? So being very conscious of how we interact is one way to protect our energy and also not allow people that are negative… But the first step is evaluating, right? Evaluating if somebody is uplifting or not uplifting. And the simple way to do it is, if you have a conversation with someone and you end the conversation, as soon as you leave, ask yourself how you’re feeling, uplifting, neutral, or not uplifting. It’s a simple test.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That’s a good reality to check to do indeed. One person at a time, and that same person multiple times a year, and then see where you stand, actually, as a person as well.
DANDAPANI: Just one really quick thought on that, we just have to be very compassionate and have a lot of empathy, because people go through difficult times.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yes.
DANDAPANI: And sometimes I can be un-uplifting. But if it’s one or two times, it’s okay, then it’s my friend’s job to give me energy to help me, because we should be compassionate. But if it keeps happening over and over again, then it’s a problem.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: For sure. Unless we can really help those people to dramatically change the way they think about life, but it’s deeper, probably coaching and intervention, I would say, depending on the people. So, let’s not go there now for this podcast, but I'm sure we can come back. Finishing on that kind of happiness, in psychology there are two popular conceptions of happiness. One is hedonic and the other one is eudemonic. I know those are complex words. Basically, hedonic happiness is achieved through experiences of pleasure and enjoyment, where eudemonic happiness is achieved through experiences of meaning and purpose, of course. So how do enable those two conceptions of happiness through awareness in a practical way, Dandapani? We have not talked too much about the business context as an example, how do you coach business leaders – and I know you are working with some very large companies – to work on their purpose, in terms of the leadership, the people themselves, one by one, hopefully to enjoy happiness as well in their job and work and in their lives altogether.
DANDAPANI: For me, I always say, never pursue happiness, but rather pursue a lifestyle where the by-product of the lifestyle results in happiness. So, my purpose defines my priorities. When I invest my energy in those priorities and put my focus on that, the by-product of that is happiness. I spend time with someone I love or really enjoy, I feel happy. I have a glass of wine with my best friend, and we have a great conversation, I feel happy. I play with my daughter on the beach, I feel happy. I go for a walk with my wife, I feel happy. So how do I design a lifestyle where the majority – and I'm not saying the whole lifestyle because it’s impossible to be happy all day – the majority of the lifestyle results in that feeling of happiness. And that lifestyle could be a combination of purpose, the concept of serving others, a mission of making an impact that’s not self-serving. But part of that lifestyle can also be self-serving. You know what? I want to go get a massage today. I want to go get a pedicure. That’s okay. It’s nothing wrong to take care of yourself, to give yourself pleasure by having a nice meal or a nice experience. But finding that right balance of making sure that part of your life is also thinking about others, the environment, and how you can leave a lasting impact in their lives is a critical, critical thing. But again, I would bring people back to purpose, because happiness is a by-product of a lifestyle that’s aligned with your purpose.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I just want to pause and think about that point. At the most fundamental level, we all just want to be happy. We never actually achieve happiness, because happiness is not a goal. Happiness is a by-product of fulfilment in a life well lived. A sense that you are doing something that’s meaningful and has purpose for you. When you realize that happiness is not the end goal, but just a by-product, you’ll be able to stop chasing happiness and just be.
I’d like to finish the last couple of questions, really, Dandapani. I know you and your wife Tatiana have been developing a 33-acre spiritual garden on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. It is a celebration, I think, of natural sanctuary for endangered native trees and plants that will end with a Hindu temple. This garden’s name I think is Siva Ashram. So is Siva Ashram, what David Brooks called your second mountain? If this is your second mountain, what is your inspiration with this garden, and how do you see this garden help achieve your self-realization?
DANDAPANI: Part of it is self-serving, because I want a place where I can eventually live, where I live now full time, but eventually immerse myself into my practice of self-realization, working towards that. The purpose of this place serves two things. One is to empower people, and especially children, with tools and understanding of the mind, and teaching them how to focus so they can discover their purpose early on in life. Wouldn't it be amazing if kids knew their purpose when they were 6, 7 years old, and lived the rest of their life in alignment with that purpose. They would get maximum reward from their life as opposed to spending their whole life seeking what their purpose is. The second part of this mission here is to teach people about the environment and the importance of caring for the environment. All these companies that are creating, you know, doing the work that they’re doing, have no future if we don't have a planet to live on. And one way I get people to think about the future, and care about the future and about the environment is, so let me ask you this question. You have kids, do you love your kids?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I do love my kids a lot.
DANDAPANI: And if your kids had grandchildren, would you love your grandchildren?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I will love my grandchildren as well as soon as they are born, yes.
DANDAPANI: Let me ask you this one question: If your grandchildren had kids and you were fortunate enough to know your great grandkids, would you love them?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Absolutely.
DANDAPANI: So, then I always ask people, what are you doing today to ensure that your great grandkids have a planet with clean air, clean food, a clean environment, a healthy environment, to thrive in?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love it. It reminds me actually of another piece that I did with a corporate philosopher and [INDISCERNIBLE 00:36:46] as well, a wonderful person called Luc de Brabandere. And Luc has been actually planting trees in a forest as well. For his family, but open it as well to friends and people to get a rapport with nature and work and become philosophers of their lives. So, it reminds me of that deep relationship with nature as well which I think is so critical for all of us. So let me finish with my very last question. One of my favourite quotes from Lao Tzu, who was the founder of the philosophy of Taoism. He said, “Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character.” And of course, “Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” So Dandapani, you talked about working on your thoughts and on your mind, but what about the endgame, your destiny. What is your destiny?
DANDAPANI: My destiny is what I created, you know? My goals in this life is my own personal self-realization. There was a monk named Ramana Maharishi that lived in South India, and he had the same. He said, “Your greatest contribution to humanity is your own self-realization.” And in a very simplified way is that the next version of you can impact everything else around you, people and things, in a much greater way than the current version, and self-realization is the highest version of you. So that is my primary goal in life that I'm working towards, but at the same time ensuring that I do my part in making sure that we can help people live better lives, more rewarding lives. Empower them; not to make them dependent on me. Help them lean on their own spine, like my guru would say. With the right tools and clarity and processes and steps to go forward and live a rewarding life. And to ensure that this one planet that we have, which is the most beautiful planet in the known galaxy, you know, there’s no point in looking for anything like this, we have something that’s incomparable to anything else in the known galaxy. Let’s take care of what we have. If we can’t take care of what we have, how can we take care of what we find?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: A really beautiful conclusion there from Dandapani. There was so much in our conversation that deeply resonated with the positive leadership philosophy. He talked about self-realization, about the importance of taking care of ourselves. And helping ourselves grow by being so much more aware and being clear about our purpose. And if you follow his practical techniques, you’ll get better at developing focus through your practice, and you will find yourself having a greater control over where your energy flows, it will become easier to manage fear, worry and stress in your life. But beyond that, it’s about using that positive energy in ourselves, not just to connect with others, but to do so with real intention, so that we can help them realize a better life, as Dandapani says. So, I love it, and thank you so much for being a great inspiration for positive leadership in our podcast. Thank you so much, Dandapani.
DANDAPANI: Thank you so much, Jean-Philippe, I appreciate it.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Thank you.
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