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Commander Divine takes us through the second and last part of his discussion of “The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.” Once again, he pulls sections from the book to provide us with inspiration on how Stoic philosophy can help us lead our lives correctly.
He then also talks to JD Hixson in Japan about breath-work and the importance of making the value of breath-work and proper breathing obvious in North America.
In this episode, hear:
- The importance and value of living for the moment explained by Marcus Aurelius
- How Box Breathing is a “Trojan Horse,” leading to better habits in a variety of ways
- Mark encountered breath-work initially as just an extension of his Zen and martial arts training
This special episode successfully combines teaching about the Commander’s approach to both breathing and philosophy.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks. Welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today. Super-stoked to have you join me today. I have a solo-cast. Originally had a show scheduled with a fellow named Jason Hall, who is the director of a movie I recently watched called “Thank You For Your Service.” Unfortunately, Jason got sick and can’t do the podcast so I decided to do up a solo-cast anyways. And I wanted to mention the movie and Jason, because I encourage you to go see the movie. It’s essentially… it follows a group of soldiers who return from Iraq and struggled to integrate back into life and their families. So it takes a look at the unseen wounds of war and the crisis that it’s causing among vets.
This is a near and dear issue to me, and, and I know a lot of vets who are struggling. We worked with a few over in Greece. And our training had a significant impact with them and it was… It had a bit big impact on us. I’ve made it the focus of our courage foundation which we launched last year. To work with bats suffering from PTS and to try the help stem the tide of 21 to 22 of these guys or women to committing suicide every day. It’s a real horrible problem that we all need to figure out how to solve. And so we’re going to do our part through the Courage Foundation and on that note if any of you listening want to be part of that were looking in particular for people who can help us figure out how to raise money from corporate donors. We’ve got some really cool initiatives next year that were gonna launch. Will announce toward the end of the year.
We also will be having a fundraiser with an auction at our Unbeatable Mind Summit in December. And anyways, it’s going to be an important part of our work going forward is to help heal that’s who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress using breathing and mindfulness training from the Unbeatable Mind method.
More on that after today’s podcast. Essentially, I’m going to pick up where I left off regarding the meditations of Marcus Aurelius. So this’ll be part two of that. The last part I might add.
And I’m also going to include at the end of that discussion at the end of this podcast, a discussion I had with a student’s named JD Hixson, who’s in Japan. He’s a musician, and deeply interested in the breath and so I’m going to carve out a part of that discussion where I talk about my perspectives on breath training and also give you some interesting little inside scoop on the Trojan horse secrets of box breathing. So expect that after the discussion about Marcus Aurelius. Who’s my favourite Stoic philosopher. And it was also the pet name my dad had for me as a young kid. He used to call me Marcus Aurelius, how cool is that?
Anyways, before I kick that off let me talk about the Unbeatable Mind Summit. If you haven’t heard or if you’re on the fence, it’s coming up December 1 through the third. This is a really cool event. It’s not hard-core training… some people… I heard someone say, “my wife’s coming, she’s really scared.”
This is nothing to be scared about. This is our annual gathering where we hear from other experts. This year you can hear from Mark Sisson, talk about keto diet and ketosis and metabolic flexibility. My friend, SEAL Dr. Kirk Parsley who is continuing to dig deep into sleep and recovery. My friend Ashley Horner, who’s a very inspiring fitness trainer and also doing a lot of work with battered women. My Navy SEAL buddy Andy Stumpf, who holds the world wing-suit record, or did for little while and he is doing all sorts of really cool philanthropic work. My new friend Joshua Mantz who’s an Army captain who was killed in combat and miraculously actually came back to life after 15 minutes. We’ll hear his story.
My friend JP Sears, who’s a comedic, hilarious guy. But also a healing professional in the emotional and spiritual realms. He gets into spiritual egoism and he’s hilarious. We’re going to have a lot of fun with him.
And the special guest, my yoga mentor Gary Kraskow who’s going to lead a discussion into the science of the mind and lead us through some breath training. Every morning we’ll do an optional either beach work out or yoga training. Kokoro yoga. So everyone usually jumps into those and they’re a lot of fun.
And we do spot drills. And we even… and the entire experience… Maybe not end at but somewhere there we have a full on 45 minute breath empowerment. I lead a ton of spot drills. It’s really, really, really cool integrated training but it’s not like a SEALFIT event where we kick your ass. It’s just really fun.
And there’s going to be our unbeatable mind coaches will be there to work with each boat crew. Which will be the tables to help you on cover your ego’s, develop your stand, and clarify your why for 2018. And essentially develop your front sight focus plan.
We only have 20 some odd spots laughed, and if you’d like to register now then you can get a discount of $200 off based upon your entering a code of “podcast200.” And the page to register is summit.unbeatablemind.com. And enter the discount “podcast200” at checkout.
Book 3, 5th Meditation
So I super-hope to see you there. And in honour of all of our vets and people who are serving them. And those who are suffering from PTS, let’s draw some insight from the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius.
So we’re going to start with Book 3, number five. And it’s simply titled “how to act.” Now before the start remember these were just basically his musings and this is his personal journal. I imagine him just sitting down at night with a candle, after the day is done, and just kind of reflecting and coming up with these little meditations. And they were written for him. I don’t think he ever intended to get them published. So they’re pretty interesting when you look at it in that regard. And very wise.
So how to act. “Never act under compulsion, out of selfishness, without forethought, and with myth savings. And don’t gussy up your thoughts. No surplus words or unnecessary actions. Be cheerful without requiring other people’s help or serenity supplied by others.”
That’s awesome. So how to act. This is really cool because with unbeatable mind we talk about mental control. Mental and emotional control is essentially a prerequisite to acting well.
So what he’s talking about is essentially saying, “Control yourself.” So you don’t act under compulsion or out of selfishness. Or without forethought, which is basically spontaneous reactions driven by your subconscious system or mind. Or do things you’re going to regret, with misgivings.
Don’t gussy up your thoughts. Be simple, practical and don’t use any surplus words. And so this reminds me of the unbeatable mind the practice of not speaking and less what you say is factually true as best as you can appreciate that truth. Comes from a place of being helpful so it’s practically true and it’s helpful. It’s not just idle gossip or unhelpful.
And it’s positive. It comes from good intentions and to love. And not some intention to manipulate or negativity. So those three things. And if those three things are present then you can speak. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.
Thank you for that, Marcus Aurelius.
Number 9. “Your ability to control your thoughts. Treat this with respect.” This is building upon what we just said. “Your ability to control your thoughts, treated with respect. It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions. Fulfill your nature and that of all rational beings. It’s what makes thoughtfulness possible and affection for other people, and submission to the divine.”
That’s cool. The ability to control your thoughts. It really is a dramatic shift in your experience of what it is to be human to live a good life when you begin to take control of the inter-domain and you can actually did then control what thoughts you have, the quality of thoughts, where to focus them. When even, to have them. And so you’re not… Or you’re no longer a slave to other people’s thoughts or actions on you. Or external environments or external triggers. Or those subconscious, mental and emotional patterns that have been planted there surreptitiously from a very young age.
Taking control. But that’s hard work. And I think one of the cool things about Stoicism is we read it today as philosophy and we think these people were just thinkers. And they were not. They were more action oriented then we would ever appreciate. So their philosophy was a philosophy of action. “Prove it and then reflect upon it.” It wasn’t all just like, erudite thought sitting in an ivory tower.
Number 10. Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it. Each of us lives only now–this brief instant. The rest has already been lived. Or is impossible to see.”
Let me repeat that. “Forget everything else. Keep a hold of this alone and remember it well. Each of us lives only now–this brief instant. The rest has been lived already or is impossible to see.”
We talked about that last time. His view on time is awesome and I fully support that. So he’s basically saying the present moment is all we have. The past has already been lived and is but a memory. And the future–we can have an idea, or an image of what that will look like–but we just can’t really know. So be aware that right here, right now is truly all that you have.
And even when you’re accessing a memory of that past which is behind us, it’s happening in the here and now. And when you’re imagining a future that hasn’t existed yet and may never exist, that imagination is happening in the right here and now. So to be 100% accurate, this is all we got. This moment. This word you’re listening too, and then this one. And then this one, and then this one. That’s cool. And Marcus got that. And it helped him to write these things, cause he was very present when he wrote them.
Okay, number 16. “Body, soul, mind. Sensations–the body. Desires–the soul. Reasoning–the mind.” That’s cool. So what he’s saying is that we’re all 3 of these. But to acknowledge the role of the body, the soul and the mind. The body–this physical thing is to allow us to feel sensations–emotions and desires and the things that the sense organs kind of let in.
And then the soul… he uses the term “desires,” come from the soul. And I would rather say “intentions,” right? So your soul is essentially what’s guiding your mind to have a certain intention. You could call that your distinct personality or your soul-print or your… not the physical DNA, but that DNA of your mind. Is kind of… at least in Marcus Aurelius’ cosmology that’s what’s unique about you.
And then the mind is what allows you to reason. That’s pretty interesting.
Book 4, 3rd meditation
Moving on, this comes from Book 4, Number 3. “People try to get away from it all. To the country. To the beach. To the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic. You can get away from it any time you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful, more free of interruptions than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. And instant’s recollection and there it is–complete tranquility. And by tranquility I mean a kind of harmony.
“So keep getting away from it all like that. Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough to ward off all the unpleasantness and send you back ready to face what awaits you.”
That is awesome. So what he’s essentially is a spot drill. Take the time to just pause and turn within. And in that turning within, connect with that still water that runs deep inside you. And all you need is a moment to drink of that still water to recuperate, to rejuvenate, to experience peacefulness and harmony and what he calls complete tranquility. So you don’t need to go to the mountains or the beach or on that vacation. I’m not saying don’t do that, but he’s saying you don’t need to do that to find peace. That’s like always trying to find happiness outside of you. When true happiness is found right here, inside of you.
So find that true happiness first inside of you. And then go enjoy life. But don’t be attached to the outer experience. Turn within.
Number 7. “Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.”
(laughing) How simple is that? I love that. This speaks to what you choose to accept into your life. And I’ve often used that kind of quippy little saying, “Hey, if someone hands you a gifts and you choose not to receive it, to whom does it belong?” Well that gift is representative of anything.
You know, if someone dumps a pile of crap on you… it could be anger or grief even. Or jealousy, or rage. Or anything like that. If someone dumps something on you, either directly or indirectly through gossip. Or even in the press. And you choose not to accept it, then it belongs to them. Right? Why take that crap on? Why do it? It’s not worth it. Just don’t take it on. And don’t be harmed by it. Because you won’t be, right? Be not attached. Only take on the positive and things that are serving you. Let everything else go. Let the people who dish it out own it.
Then he goes on to say, “It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise, it cannot harm you. Inside or out.”
And, you know, honestly, what he’s trying to say is only you can ruin your character. Other people can try. They can smear you. But you don’t have to choose to believe it or accept it. You can actually use that to rise up and to be stronger. Learn from it, and to project an even more humble power. And the people who count, the people who care for you…they know the difference. They know that it’s bullshit. You know, so everyone’s really so worried about their public reputation in social media and with broadcast media and it’s all ridiculous, to be honest.
Okay, number 10. “That every event is the right one look closely and you’ll see. Not just the right one overall, but right. As if someone had weighed it out with scales. Keep looking closely like that, and embody it in your actions. Goodness and what defines a good person. Keep to it in everything you do.”
What he’s saying here is that things happen for a reason or they just happen. But regardless, everything that happens to you is “good.” Is the right event. Is the right thing. Even if it seems bad. And it’s because it’s happening to you. Right?
Think about the opposite. If an event doesn’t happen to you then it means you’re probably dead. I mean, seriously, everything that happens to you is right. Because it’s happening to you. Because you’re alive to experience it.
You can’t change it. In fact, there’s a strong body of evidence to suggest that you have created the circumstances for most everything that happens to you in life. Now I think that there’s some co-creation happened that puts us at risk of being part of some accident or something that you have no control over. Like this Las Vegas shooting.
But most of the things that we experience in our life, we sort of create with the energy that we project and attract and with our actions and the karmic cause and effect over a long-term or even a short-term.
So, you know, what Marcus is saying is that it’s okay. The event happens. It’s the right event for you. Look closely and you’ll see that it is. And what he means by that is find the lesson. Find the silver lining. Cause the event’s happening for a reason. Everything that happens in your life you can find a silver lining and learn from. That’s why it’s happening. So you can learn and grow.
And if you don’t get the lesson then some similar thing will happen down the road. But it probably will be more magnificent. More painful. More intense so that you get the lesson the next time. And so on.
Number 19. “People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory–passed from one to another, like a candle flame, gutters and goes out. But suppose that those who remembered you were immortal? And your memory undying?
What good would it do you? And I don’t just mean when you’re dead, but in your own lifetime? What use is praise except to make your lifestyle a little bit more comfortable?”
That’s fascinating. “People who are excited by fame”–I’m going to take out posthumous, “People who are excited by fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too.” That’s terrific. So why chase fame? You want to be remembered or thought of well? Well, those people are going to die and not going to remember you. So what good does it do? Chasing fame isn’t going to help you.
And chasing money isn’t going to help you either. But chasing goodness, chasing character, chasing peace of mind and happiness and service, right? Good intentions, service, right? Well that might bring money and fame. In fact, it likely will if you do with a pure heart and clear intention.
And those things are fine. But they’re not very meaningful. Because both you and the people who remember them will soon die too. I love that about Marcus Aurelius. He’s kind of brutal when just speaking about life and death and contemplating on his own death.
And that’s an important thing to do. The yogis tell us, “Contemplate your death” and the Buddhists have a whole practice around dying and contemplating death. And that way you don’t fear it. And I think that’s what the Stoics were doing. They don’t want to fear anything, including their own mortality. And so Marcus is saying, “Yeah, don’t fear that. And don’t try to chase things that aren’t going to matter anyway. Make this life a good one, it’s the only one you’ve got.
Okay. Number 24. “If you seek tranquility, do less.” I love that. This reminds me of Cal Newport and his book “Deep Work” and also “Essentialism.” We did podcasts with both of those authors last year. “If you seek tranquility, do less. Or, more accurately, do what’s essential. What’s the logos (or the logic) of a social being requires and in the requisite way. Do that which brings a double satisfaction. Do less, better.”
Right there those 4 words you should write up on your mirror or put on your laptop on a sticky. Do less, better. Don’t do “less better,” but do less. Do fewer things but do them better. And then you’ll find tranquility. This speaks to our KISS principle in Unbeatable Mind. Keep it simple. De-clutter. And learn to say no in honor or to make room for the larger “yes.” So we can do fewer things better. And he goes on to say, “Because most of what we say and do is not essential. So if you can eliminate, you’ll have more time and more tranquility. So ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?'” so I encourage my team at SEALFIT and unbeatable mind all the time to be asking throughout the day is the task or the projects that you are contemplating for today–are they necessary and are they in alignment with our vision? And are they going to move us closer to our goals?
Those are important and powerful questions. And then throughout the day, to constantly ask yourself, “Is this task necessary?” Is this necessary?
How many times do we get lost in distraction and clutter and meaningless conversations? And I find that two thirds of the day has been blown and we haven’t gotten to the important things that move us toward our goal and our mission.
Always know why you’re doing what you’re doing. That is one of the core outcomes of our Kokoro camp training is to get you to focus radically on those micro-tasks so that you can always link the task to your “why.” And link one task to another so that you’re always relentlessly marching forward toward your mission. That’s powerful and Marcus Aurelius understood that.
Okay. Number 40. “The world as a living being. One nature, one soul. Keep that in mind. And how everything feeds into that single experience, moves with a single motion. And how everything helps produce everything else. Spun and woven together.” I love this. “The world as a living being… one nature, one soul. Keep that in mind.”
We talk a lot about the world-centric warrior. The 5th plateau of Unbeatable Mind is essentially to cultivate the attributes and the perspectives of the world-centric warrior. And the world-centric warrior. And the world-centric warrior understands that everything is connected. Human beings are connected with nature. Nature is connected with human beings.
All sentient beings, all animals… everything is in some way energetically interconnected. Or in some causal relationship, interconnected. And so they’re all important. All important. And it’s imperative that we take care of all of them because by taking care of them, we’re taking care of ourselves.
But if we ignore them, we’re hurting ourselves. And we’re starting to obviously see that with global warming and degradation of the environment. And species being killed off or disappearing. We’re all a far cry from getting close to having a global population that lives as Marcus Aurelius is encouraging here. Understanding the world as a living being.
But I think we’re getting closer. And I know that you’re part of helping that be so, so thank you and Marcus Aurelius thanks you.
Number 47. “Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow or the day after? Unless you were a complete coward, you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was. What difference would it make?
“Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.”
You know, this is really interesting. Cause he’s comparing our life… he did this in an earlier one. Let’s say if we have 100 years to live… and he’s comparing that to eternity. And he’s saying, “100 years compared to millions of years is nothing.” It’s literally like a breath. So stop fussing about whether you got one day or 50 years left in your life. Just treat it all the same. Give everything you got right now. Because it doesn’t matter one day or 50 years, it’s all infitesimally small in the whole scheme of things. So just do… take what you get and do it well. Live well.
Number 49. “To be like the rock that the waves keep washing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around It.” this is awesome. “Be like the rock that the waves crash over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the seas fall still around it.” This is really important, right? Essentially what he’s saying is don’t be the wave that’s constantly rising and crashing with your emotional and mental energy. Be the rock, right?
If you’re connected to your thinking mind and you mistake your thoughts for reality you’re going to be the waves. You’re going to constantly be struggling and crashing and rising and falling. And it’s going to be a turbulent life. You’re living at the surface level.
But if you can connect to that witnessing self and turn within and then stabilize in that witness, then you become the rock. Like Mount Zion. You become the rock. And the waves will crash upon you then become still around you.
You’re unaffected. Unfettered. You become that still water that runs deep. That’s awesome.
Book 5, 25th Meditation
Okay. Only a few more. The next ones come from Book 5.
Number 25. “So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature. What I do, by my own.”
So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Awesome. We literally just spoke about this a little while ago. If other people do something to me, their actually doing it to themselves. If I don’t allow that to hurt me. If I don’t accept their challenge, their hurt, their abuse.
You leave it with them. Whatever you do to somebody else, you leave a carbon copy on yourself so whatever you do to someone else, if it’s negative or poisonous. Even a thought–negative thought. You’re leaving that thought a carbon copy on yourself. So if that person chooses not to accept it. Or it doesn’t land? Guess who you’ve harmed. You’ve harmed yourself.
This is why feeding the Courage Wolf is so important. We think positive thoughts so that we don’t damage ourselves. Feeding the courage wolf isn’t be all smiley and nice to another person then walk away and think, “What a jerk.” Because that thought, “what a jerk,’ basically you’re saying to yourself, “I’m a jerk.” That thought is basically landing on you, not him or her. So be careful with that.
Other people hurt me? No, they can’t. That’s their problem. That’s their character and actions not mine.
Number 26. “The mind is the ruler of the soul. It should remain unstirred by agitations of the flesh. Gentle and violent ones alike. Not mingling with them, but fencing itself off. Keeping those feelings in their place when they make their way in your thoughts, through the sympathetic link between mind and body. Don’t try to resist the sensation. The sensation is natural. But don’t let the mind start in with judgements, calling it ‘good’ or ‘bad.'”
So essentially again, continuing the lesson on mental and emotional control. When you get in control you can watch the emotions come up. You can feel the sensations. But you’re not going to identify with them. You’re not going to say, “I am this anger.”
That’s why it’s false to say “I am angry.” it’s more accurate to say, “I sense anger. But I am not angry.” I sense anger. I’m going to acknowledge or try to search for the source of this anger and it might be obvious because some jerk is berating me. Or my boss just dumped on me.
But I am not anger. I experience anger, and I acknowledge where it comes from. And then just by watching that anger, it’ll rise like that wave and then it’ll crash. Because you’re the rock. You’re not the wave. And that way you won’t react. And you won’t react in a way that you’re going to regret later. This is, like, how to live a regret-free life. Is develop mental and emotional control so you become the witness. And watch those thoughts and emotions come and go and then just decide, which means to kill off… Decide what ones to kill off and what ones to keep and where you’re going to focus your energy with that.
Okay? That’s Unbeatable Mind training 101. And if you haven’t learned about the training or you haven’t experienced it, check it out at unbeatablemind.com. Super-powerful. Foundation course is 12 months long and it’s had some transformational effect on a lot of people. So If you like my book, “Unbeatable Mind” or “The Way of the SEAL” you’d love that course. And I’m working on another course for leaders that will launch next year, tentatively called “Unbeatable Leader” so that’ll also have a book and an online training. And that’ll be more around developing the capacity to reach the 5th plateau or to lead from that 5th plateau that we talked about. World-centric warrior/leader. And to build culture and organizations that can live that way.
Number 34. This is the last one from Marcus. “You can lead an untroubled life provided you can grow, you can think, and act systematically. Two characteristics are shared by gods and men (and every rational creature). One, not to let others hold you back. And two, to locate goodness in thinking and doing the right thing and to limit your desires to that.”
Great one to leave off on. Don’t let others hold you back. Think big and bold and go for it. And don’t let limited thinking of others, don’t let other people’s criticisms or pessimism hold you back. don’t let structures hold you back… one of the reasons I got out of the Navy off active duty and stayed in the Reserves was cause the structure was holding me back. It was too rigid. Too narrowly defined.
And I needed to grow beyond it. I could feel it. I could sense it. And so eventually I sprung out of it, like getting out of jail, so to speak. I know some of you military folks know what I’m talking about.
But it works for others. But for me the reserves gave me more freedom.
“Don’t let others hold you back.” other people in your family. Your teammates. People in the media or social media. Don’t let your… don’t take any of their crap on. Like Marcus says, just don’t take it. Don’t accept their negative gifts. Don’t let them hold you back. And don’t let any structures hold you back.
Including your own, right? If you’ve started a company… I was talking about this with someone the other day… if you’ve started a company and you’re stuck in the badlands and you can’t get out of 1 to 3 million dollars of revenue, but you can’t afford to leave the company because you need the cash flow. So now you’re stuck. You can’t sell the company, you can’t afford to kill the company because you need the income, but you can’t stand what you’re doing.
Wow. What a prison you’ve created for yourself. So now, if someone’s in that situation–or even a job–you spent 20 years creating the skills to do something well and now you’ve got a job and you’re making tons of money, but you can’t stand it. And you’ve got a vision for something else but you feel like you can’t leave it because you’ve become accustomed to that money. You’ve created essentially a prison for yourself. And that’s going to hold you back. So don’t let that hold you back any longer.
And that’s just one scenario. I see that one a lot when people come through our training. “Oh my God. Here I am. I feel stuck. But I don’t want to be here anymore.’
Well, that’s going to hold you back. So you’ve got to use the skills to contemplate a better… a way out, essentially. You’ve got to come up with a plan to develop a way out of that. And it may not just be bailing tomorrow, but it might be planning to be out of it in a year while you systematically build on the side something that you can transition to. Something that’s simple.
“Locate goodness in your thinking and doing the right thing.” That means you need to think well. Develop mental and emotional control. Think well. Develop your ethos. Be clear about what you stand for. Have a strong vision for the future so that you can do the right thing, day-in and day-out. Always knowing why you’re doing those things.
“Limit your desires to those and you can lead an untroubled life,” says Marcus Aurelius and so does Marcus Aurelius Divinus.
And I appreciate your time listening to that. Now I’m going to offer you a brief discussion…the audio won’t sound the same because it was done on Skype. But a discussion I had with my buddy JD Hixson over in Japan. He’s launching a program called “Breath Tactical” so give him a little shout out there.
And if you want some breath-training… breath-training’s a big part of Unbeatable Mind. It really is the first of our core practices. Breath followed by concentration, and mindfulness and awareness development. Sensory development. And visualization. Those are the core practices and they’re used in multiple different ways to achieve different outcomes.
But inn this audio I talk about origins of breath and why it didn’t transfer to the United States very well. And how we’re kind of re-constituting that. Myself and people like JD and my friend Stig and Dan Brule. Are all offering breath training now.
And also how the Trojan horse of Box breathing… Box Breathing is a Trojan horse experience. It’s an incredibly powerful, layered practice. And you’ll get a glimpse why.
Thanks so much for your time. And I will see you next time.
Mark: First, I’ll have to say that the breath training that I received from Nakamura in the Zen tradition was very practical and focused on developing specific skills or tools, right? Using the breath in a way to develop power and a way to obviously calm and still the nervous system and whatnot. But there wasn’t a lot of discussion about how or why. It was just do. It was all do.
And even our trips up to Zen mountain monastery, Dido was focused on awaking Satori. He wasn’t focused on breath. Zero conversation that I can recall ever about breath. Nakamura didn’t talk about breath, he just taught it in class.
So most of what I’ve learned about the breath came actually aside from the techniques of breath awareness, which was part of the Zen… beginning Zen training. Breath in, breath out, one, breath in, breath out, count two–that was the basic boot camp for Zen. Where we would develop our concentration and breath awareness.
And then, you know, breath practices like ibuki or kiai, stuff like that to develop power. And then just because of my athletic background and particularly as a swimmer and endurance athlete–I had already–before my experience with Nakamura, developed a deep appreciation for breath control and the power of the breath to really still my mind and get me into a flow state. So, again, nothing that was talked about. Just pure experiential.
So when I got into the SEALs… especially SEAL training… it seemed intuitive to me to really fall back on these skills. And once again, I really… even though it seems like when I wrote about them in “The Way of the SEAL” or “Unbeatable Mind” that I knew exactly what I was doing and I had. I’m saying, “Okay, I’m going to practice the Big Four now in this evolution.” Those were really kind of retrospective realizations. In the moment, I was just doing. Just like in music, you were just doing. And then in retrospect…
JD Hixson: I was just talking about this with another guy in the Navy. Like, just in the fleet…but, you know, 30 years I suddenly realized some of the most famous people in music and politics and I’ve rubbed elbows with and had all these conversations. So all this stuff… I’m a good coach because it’s all there. Now that I’m doing something to kind of… I have unbelievably tremendous… even more tremendous respect for you than ever, now that I’m trying to put something… keeping it as simple as possible. But also flexible so it’s not real method driven but it’s a set of principles that work. That’s a really interesting process to go through…
Mark: It’s a difficult process, yeah…
JD: Go on. Sorry.
Mark: if anything I think that’s probably one of my unique gifts is the ability to think through the what and how… what and why, you know, these practices and tools have worked for me. And then, of course, testing them on all the candidates. And then be able to present it in a form that’s somewhat simple and pretty easy to understand.
So back… anyways, it became pretty clear to me that one of the coolest things about the breath was this ability to really develop a much… a heightened sense of sensitivity, right? And so now, of course, we’re realizing that this is the hadr gi the breath art of really experiencing that efferent nervous system and what you describe as the bundle of nerves from the Vagus nerve bundle down in the Dantian and the belly region. And so when you develop that deep breathing pattern, that deep circular or tactical breathing pattern. And you maintain deep awareness of the sensations–including imagery that arises, then essentially you’re tapping into that belly/brain. And then, of course, the heart-brain, the heart/mind is a different set of sensations and feelings, but the same… it’s developed in the same way. Your heart is also accessed through the breath. Different than the belly. So it’s really interesting.
And I learned that primarily through my SEAL training because of the experiences of extreme fear. Elicited by the danger associated with a firefight, or jumping out of an airplane, or with being stuck under a ship at night. And having to literally go back to the breath to save my life and to avoid danger. And to experience senses so turned in that it was became a very rich and intense experience.
And then when those experiences…
JD: You’re submersible, right? With the masks and everything. I read something…
Mark: Yeah, well that was a submarine thing. We were driving mini-subs. But also, just the plain old diving ship attacks, we do everything at night. And we’d often get lost under the ships. All sorts… Really interesting experiences.
so anyways, not unlike learning the breath through music and the different aspects of the breath and the emotionality and how to tune into a deeper state of awareness–that’s what was happening with me during SEAL training, and then as a SEAL operator.
And it wasn’t until I really I really took up my training in Yoga, and I had teachers start to talk about breath and Pranayama and ratios. And the different effects of the breath.
In particular one of my teachers was Gary Kraskow. I mentioned him in my book “Kokoro Yoga.” He had a profound influence. And I realized that much of what was brought to the West through karate, even Zen and Yoga lost the breath. There’s some discussion about meditation in Yoga. There’s some discussion about visualization in Tibetan Buddhism. And a little bit in Yoga. Patanjali talks about it, but it’s difficult to find practices around it. Even one of my first instructors, Tim Miller, who’s the first American certified in Ashtanga yoga. There was no visualization taught to him.
And even though he did some deity kind of meditation, it wasn’t really done as a practice. It was done as a kind of deity worship thing.
So that also was something that I had to develop on my own. And only to find out later on that it actually was a rich part of the original Zen and Yogic practices, you know? Only pretty much captured by the Tibetan Buddhists as far as I’m aware. And maybe there’s some Zen tradition that I’m not aware of. But we did not learn visualization in my Zen training anywhere. So I’m not really sure if it’s still there, or… it might be… but it wasn’t in the western version, you know?
Mark: I think this is kind of the way this works, right? There is a discovery process and then there’s a forgetting process. So culture forgets these things. Sometimes there’s a particularly adept Zen master or system or Yoga system that can capture the wisdom. But then that doesn’t transfer cultures very well. So it’s lost again. And in the… it literally is always being rediscovered and that’s the beauty of it. The breath is so vast as a teacher and everybody’s going to experience it differently, I think. It literally is… when you can experience the universe breathing you, then you’re starting to get close to appreciating the power of the breath. Every breath is essentially for pure radical awareness and enlightenment. Every breath is essentially recharging the battery. Absent that breath, your battery will discharge and you pass away.
Every breath is literally like catching a wave that rides all 5 mountains. You first experience physically and then mentally, and then emotionally, and then intuitively and then spiritually and then back again. All in the same breath.
And that is Mark Divine’s interpretation. You’ve never heard that from anybody before. That’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? That I’m not repeating Nakamura’s words or Dido’s words or anybody’s for that matter, because my experience of breath is going to be different than JD Hixson’s and it’s going to be different than Nakamura’s. There are certain fundamental principles about how to breathe effectively and why. But the experience is a radically unique experience and it’s basically God experiencing life through us, breath by breath. In my… I believe that… honestly… whether you use that term or not, you know what I mean?
JD: Absolutely. Very comfortable with that.
Mark: The biology of it is also incredible. So the Vagus nerve is just one aspect of it. I think it’s the whole nervous system and I believe the body is a mind. I believe the mind is the body. It’s all one thing. That’s why we work to integrate. And that’s why Yoga and Zen are the practices of integration. It’s to re-integrate with the body-mind-spirit as one. As opposed to seeing, feeling and experiencing them as separate. So, you know, triggering the Vagus nerve, and the parasympathetic nerve system–those are just by-products of reintegration. The experience of that. And the intuitive awareness that accrues from that is simply an outcome of that reintegration. Greater powers.
Of course, the training is critical. It’s not going to happen through some hack… and I say this quite a bit when I’m asked… it’s not going to happen spontaneously. you can have a spontaneous enlightenment, Satori, but that’s not going to give you… it’s not the same thing as experiencing what a long term breath awareness practice will bring, right?
Because it just takes time. I think. It really takes time. It’s like sharpening the saw. I love that metaphor. We’re sharpening the sword day-in and day-out so that we can feel and experience the deep sensitivity and energy of the breath. And that’s why Tai Chi and Chi Gong masters… it’s 40 years of work. And a good karate master or Zen master or musician even.
Anyways, so then the imagery is just another form of energy, right? So you’re drawing in source energy with the breath and imagery is what then gives it form and direction. And also sound. So with music the sound gives breath form and direction, and the breath gives the sound form and direction. And it’s really hard to know where one begins and the other ends.
Visualization and imagery is the same. So it gives the breath… the life-force some direction and form to it. Now when you can combine breath with imagery and sound, now you’re getting some real interesting… That’s where combining mantra with visualization and the breath is like a super-power. And this is what I try to teach in Unbeatable Mind. Without having… being able to have a conversation like this cause I’m teaching it to someone I assume has no idea what I’m talking about.
But Box Breathing is a Trojan horse, because I first teach it as a physical practice. As a way to grease the groove and to train yourself to breath that way unconsciously so that the tactical breath or even the Box Breath if you’re not in an elevated heart-rate position is a natural state. That’s when you’re going to start to experience all these things that we’re talking about.
But what’s happening also is because you’re breathing in this box pattern it’s no different than saying, “Inhale, exhale, count 1. Inhale, exhale, count 2.”And if you notice yourself thinking label it thinking, come back to the breath. That’s Box Breathing. Cause the instructions when you come to training is identical to that. So start Box Breathing, but just focus on the box pattern. And if you notice yourself thinking–the noticer is your witness, and the thinker is your thinker. Congratulations, you just developed a simultaneous mind. And now we have the ability to cultivate a connection with that witness. And anytime you notice yourself thinking, congratulate yourself but comeback to the box pattern. Connect with the witness.
That’s concentration training. And then followed with mindfulness. So now we’re talking about breathing for physiology. Breathing for concentration. Breathing for mindfulness. And we haven’t even added mantra or visualization yet. Toward the end of the practice when we do our long 20 or 30 minute practices, we begin to add… if it’s a guided session where I’m leading it, I begin to add the positive affirmations and the mantras just through a call and response. But the response is internal so I’ll say “inhale, hold.” Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and stronger. And then they’ll repeat that silently, so they’re beginning to grease the groove of the mantra. Which is adding sound. And you can even do it spoken, but you want to teach them at least to do it with the internal dialogue. And then, at the end, you add the visualization. And so now you’ve combined literally a host of power practices, right? Physiological, breath-training, the stress management of the deep, diaphragmatic nostril breathing, the concentration training of following the pattern and being aware or witnessing you’re deviation from that pattern. The mindfulness practice of expanding your awareness to be able to pay attention when you… where your attention is focused. Is it focused on the thought, or is it focused on the breath pattern?
And then the mantra. Greasing the groove of positive affirmation, positive internal dialogue. Which then further extends to positive emotional management. Because that’s just a stored thought-energy form. And then the imagery. So that one practice is a secret weapon because you can include and you can stack all these really powerful practices that have correlates. They mutually support each other for maximum effect.
And then you direct all that toward a very specific aim. Whether that’s music or getting through BUD/S or accomplishing a task or a performance.
All right, thanks very much, folks for listening to my solo-cast on Marcus Aurelius and also breath-work. The power of breathing. Stay focused. Do the work yourself. Practice Box Breathing every day for a minimum 20 minutes and watch your life transform. And then go out and serve boldly.
Til next time.