Omega: What do you think prevents people from living their full potential?
Dan: First, we have to overcome the notion that we’re not living up to our potential! It seems self-defeating, even crazy-making, to believe this nagging sense that we’re not “living up to our potential.” Potential is a future notion—like the idea that “I'm happy, but not happy enough.” Or if we do such-and-such, we’ll be happy at some future time. There is no future happiness because the future never comes. It’s the same with this notion of future potential. I prefer the idea that we're living our potential right now in the sense that we’re doing the best we can do for now. Naturally, we improve with practice over time.
Omega: One of your favorite quotes is from writer Barbara Rasp, “The lesson is simple; the student is complicated.” How can we simplify our lives, especially when they seem so busy and complex these days?
Dan: Awareness of the problem is half the solution. We can simplify our lives only after we realize how we complicate them. As Mark Twain put it, “I’ve had many troubles in my life, most of which never happened.”
We face external problems in everyday life. But most of our complications are internal, in the subjective mind. Look how we complicate simple, natural human activities like eating and sex, adding on the baggage of our fears, beliefs, and associations. We complicate life by letting our attention drift to past regrets or future anxieties.
My life, like yours, can be quite busy. But life is much simpler when I focus on doing one thing at a time and doing it well. Past and future are full of complications. This moment is simply as it is.
Omega: You started your spiritual journey at a young age. How have you maintained a sense of presence throughout your life?
Dan: One could say that we’re all on a spiritual journey whether we know it or not—a winding path called “life on planet Earth.” I don’t believe that anyone can maintain a sense of presence (or anything else) all the time. Life is a series of moments: intelligent moments, dumb moments, awakened moments, asleep moments, along with changing emotions and passing thoughts.
In some moments, I’m fully present. In others, my attention wanders. My challenge, like anyone else, is to increase those moments of presence, kindness, compassion, and courage in everyday life.
Omega: What lessons from your martial arts practice have had the most impact on how you live your life?
Dan: The martial arts are a unique lineage. Unlike a sport or game, where you may lose a point or match, in martial training you may lose your life. Not so much today, of course, but failing to catch a ball and failing to evade a punch have different consequences. Martial arts involve a sincerity, a focus, and a reality-based need to train not only physical skills, but mental focus and emotional presence. Sports today are evolving toward the kind of training that warriors have practiced for centuries.
Omega: As a former world champion athlete in gymnastics, you still practice handstands, even on desks and chairs in your talks. What do you love about inversions?
Dan: I never thought about handstands in the yogic sense of “inversions.” I simply enjoy handstands and other acrobatic skills because they transcend the ordinary, just as singing is an elevated way of speaking and poetry a refinement of writing. I also enjoy teaching handstands and cartwheels to children and adults.
Omega: In your book, The Four Purposes of Life, you explore one of the biggest topics in life—finding meaning and purpose. How can people who are currently at a crossroads get connected to their life purpose?
Dan: Robert Byrne wrote, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” We humans are hard-wired goal seekers. A sense of purpose provides us with meaning, direction, and connection. It helps make sense of our lives. This core need is so strong that it leads some young people who can't find a constructive purpose to find a destructive one. Sport or hobby provides one kind of purpose. A career provides another. Yet there remains so much confusion. I wrote The Four Purposes of Life to bring clarity to this question.
Just as we divide the days of the year into four primary seasons, and the points on a compass into four primary directions, we can look at our lives through the four purposes: learning life's lessons, finding your career and calling, fulfilling your hidden life path, and attending to this arising moment. Anyone—especially those at a crossroads—can grasp four different kinds of purposes we all share in unique ways. Perhaps the most important purpose—the fourth one I present in the book—is the one that arises in each moment.
Omega: You have three grown daughters. What wisdom do you have for fathers raising daughters?
Dan: I’d rather speak about raising healthy, happy children. Children are like puppies—they need simple, healthful food when they’re hungry. They need to be active. They need a stable routine, consistent bedtime, and clear expectations. They need our attention, interest, and respect. And they need fathers (and mothers) to be good role models. As James Baldwin wrote, “Children have never been very good at listening to what their parents tell them, but they never fail to imitate them.” It’s wonderful when fathers can spend quality time with their children. Read to them each night or when possible to develop their imagination. None of these things are easy. Dads can get tired. Or have work to do. But carve out the time. When children hit adolescence, the rules change but not the fundamentals.
Omega: What’s one of the most magical moments from your life?
Omega: Do you have a wish for the world?
Dan: Epictetus said, “Learn to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does.” My wishing that the world should be different from the way it is, in the words of my colleague Byron Katie, “is like trying to teach a cat to bark.” So instead of wishing, I seek out moments of love, connection, meaning, pleasure, and service. That said, if I did make a wish, it might be that humanity continues its gradual awakening to our essential unity, even as we stumble together toward the light. I might wish that we survive long enough to see where this human experiment may lead.
© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies