Zibby speaks to Hindu priest, entrepreneur, renowned international speaker, and former monk Dandapani about his enriching new book The Power of Unwavering Focus. Dandapani talks about his fascinating life trajectory from an engineering degree and ten years as an ordained monk to leaving the monastery and opening a spiritual sanctuary in Costa Rica with his family. Then, he discusses his invaluable message: we must identify the people and things that bring us joy and focus our limited, finite energy on them. Oh, and at the end is the meaning of life.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Dandapani. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Power of Unwavering Focus.

Dandapani: You’re most welcome. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: This is the most needed guidebook today. It’s so hard for people to focus in on anything. Our attention is so all over the place. I was literally running around. I was telling my kids, I was like, “You guys, I can’t even read the book, The Power of Unwavering Focus, because I can’t even focus on it because I’m doing too many other things.” It was really funny and perfectly timed. Thank you for this.

Dandapani: You’re most welcome. Of all the things I think we need to learn, one of first things we need to learn first is the ability to focus. When I was talking to a few publishers before picking one, one of the publishers asked me, “Why do you think your book is so important?” I said, “In the world of books, and I’m no expert in the world of books, I can only imagine two things are important. One is the ability to read. Second is the ability to focus.” If I can’t focus on a page long enough, how am I actually going to get the essence of what the author is trying to tell me, be it on relationships, business, whatever it may be? If I can’t focus, like you said, I can’t sit down long to even read the book to learn from it — reading and the ability to focus are mandatory criteria to get started.

Zibby: Yes. You start the book by giving us your very interesting background and how you were a monk and how you left. Then next thing you know, you’re consulting to entrepreneurs. You’ve basically found the secret sauce of how to live the best life and that the quest for happiness — let me not give the answer away. Tell us about your background first and how you came to this whole body of work.

Dandapani: I wanted to be a monk since I was four or five years old. Went to school, graduated from university with a degree in engineering. As soon as I graduated, moved to Hawaii where there’s a traditional Hindu monastery, so lived as an ordained Hindu monk. I know lot of people go stay somewhere and do a retreat for three months and say, I’m a monk. I’m like, seriously? If I carry a baby, does it make me a mom? I lived as an ordained monk for ten years. My vows expired. Decided not to renew them. I left. No longer a monk. I’m a Hindu priest. As a Hindu priest, I can get married, have a family, work , be an entrepreneur.

Zibby: Wait, back up for a second. When you’re a Hindu monk, every ten years, you have to decide whether or not you want to keep going? Is that how it works?

Dandapani: No, it’s actually every two years. Every two years, your vows come up for renewal. You have the choice to renew them. After about ten to fourteen years of training, then you take lifetime vows. It’s almost like you date, and then you marry. Unless you’re in Vegas where you marry, and then you date.

Zibby: A monk goes to Vegas.

Dandapani: Exactly. That would be a fun movie.

Zibby: It would.

Dandapani: I chose not to renew it the fifth time around. I live as a priest. I’m a Hindu priest. As an entrepreneur, I work as an advisor to athletes and entrepreneurs helping them understand the mind and leverage that understanding and help them to focus so they can be good at what they do. I used to live in New York for eleven years. Then two years ago, my wife and I moved down to Costa Rica. We’re creating a spiritual sanctuary and a botanical garden over here. That’s where I am currently.

Zibby: Wow. For listeners, I’m sorry that you’re not getting the view that I’m getting right now. As we’re having our nice, normal book chat, I get to look at the most lush, beautiful background with the giant blue sky and trees. I feel like I’m going on vacation in this podcast, so thank you.

Dandapani: You’re most welcome.

Zibby: In the book, you outline different tools that we can all use to live better lives. I’m not going to say happier because you address this in the book, that to achieve happiness, you have to do things that make your life worth living, thereby giving you happiness. You can’t just try to run around and be happy. Talk to us all about that.

Dandapani: I always say never pursue happiness. Rather, pursue a lifestyle where the byproduct of the lifestyle results in happiness. How can you design a life or structure a life where the majority of that life results in happiness? There’s going to be a percentage of that life that’s never going to be happy. There are things that I do that don’t make me happy, whatever it may be.

Zibby: Hopefully, not this conversation.

Dandapani: Not this. There’s just things in everyone’s life, whatever it may be. I have a four-year-old. When she was a baby, we’d get up in the middle of the night to feed her or this or that. Is it fun? No. I’d rather be sleeping. It’s just part of life. How do you design so the majority of life results in the feeling of happiness, contentment, joy, fulfillment? That’s really the key thing. Once we can identify those lifestyles, those things, then focus on them. Every time we get distracted, bring awareness back to those things. The first two steps is actually learning how to focus and then identifying those things and people, those lifestyles that result in the feeling of happiness. Those two things go hand in hand .

Zibby: I’ve found in talking to peers and contemporaries about finding — I feel like I have found what gives my life meaning. Thereby, I am happier. Not every moment is great. I was summarizing this for my younger daughter. I have four kids. She was like, “But Mom, you’re always like, I have so many emails. I can’t get all this stuff done.” I’m like, “I know, but I’m actually happy underneath.”

Dandapani: I think the big misconception to bring the surface is that happiness is a state we’re going to be in. People look at me having lived as a monk for ten years and doing this. You’ve got your life all figured out. You must be happy, and blah, blah, blah. It’s like, no, I don’t. It’s a constant striving. It’s a constant working to be more focused, to gain more clarity of what’s important, who’s important, reviewing that, working at it, and striving. People put these bullshit posts on Instagram and social media. Be happy. Be present. Just be. I’m like, be what? You got to be working at it all the time. It’s not a state of passiveness, of not doing anything. That’s what people mistake monastic life to be. All the monks I lived with, some had been living there for thirty, forty, fifty years in a state of constantly working to overcome their lower nature, to be a better human being, to strive to be better. No one was just being happy. They got cranky. They had to deal with emotions. They had to deal with body pains, emotional things that come up in life, a cranky monk or whatever it may be. We all have those things.

Zibby: Let’s amend our movie to make it A Cranky Monk Goes to Vegas. I think we’re getting this .

Dandapani: I love it. I think it’s going to be a blockbuster.

Zibby: All right, you write that. I’ll go watch it. There was just this whole study in The New York Times yesterday, or maybe The Journal, I don’t know, about relationships. Of course, this is nothing really earth-shattering and new, but just, again, that they studied all these people over the lifespan and found out that the key to overall feelings of worth and happiness were close relationships. Obviously, the opposite of that was shorter lifespan, loneliness, and all of that. That’s not something you can necessarily work towards unless you have something that’s already kind of good or recognizing the — for a lonely person to say, “I’m just not going to be lonely. I’m going to focus on better relationships,” it’s hard. Whereas saying, “I’m going to start a company. I’m going to do this,” is something actionable. It involves other people entering into that with you. How do you use your tools to accomplishment that if you’re trying to do that, or should you not even pay attention to that?

Dandapani: Again, going back to clarity of, what are the things and who are the people that bring you joy, fulfillment, contentment? Identifying that is the first step. Then the second step, really, being able to focus on that. The third step is simplifying life to those people and those things. Your podcast is “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m a parent. I’m actively engaged in my daughter’s life. I have only one child. You have four. I can imagine only more demands, more mouths to feed. It’s not that we’re leading faster lives. We’re doing too much. We need to simplify. If you look at time being finite and being only twenty-four hours in a day — I also look at energy being finite. There is a point in time every night when I go, that’s it. I’m spent. I have nothing left to give myself or anyone. I’m going to bed. If my energy is finite, how am I dividing my finite energy throughout the day between everything and everyone in my life? I give a simple analogy. If I have a garden bed and one watering can, I can water that garden bed and make everything in that garden bed grow. The following year, I add ninety-nine more garden beds, but still one watering can. What’s going to grow? Nothing because one watering can is not enough to water a hundred garden beds. As we look at our lives, ask ourselves — we only have so much energy each day. You get exhausted at night, I assume, or tired at some point.

Zibby: At some point. Although, last night, I have to say, it was twelve thirty, and I was still going and going. Then all my devices ran out of juice. I was like, if none of my devices can keep up with me, I have to just go to bed.

Dandapani: Yes. The reality is that you couldn’t do it every night, right?

Zibby: No, I don’t do it every night.

Dandapani: Look, I stayed up until one, two, three in the morning working on nights when I had to. Could I do it every single day seven days a week? No. Nobody can.

Zibby: No, I could not. I’m not trying to glamorize that or brag about it. I’m not proud of it. I prefer to go to bed at ten o’clock and watch TV with my husband or something. It’s just that it’s hard to make all that work. I totally see your point.

Dandapani: The point is that we have a finite amount of energy. If we can be clear who and what’s important and simplify the number of garden beds in our life — just say each garden bed represented a person or a thing we wanted to invest in. Garden bed A is your husband. Garden bed B was the first child, second child, third child. Then you think, okay, I only have one watering can. How am I going to make this work? At some point, I’m going to run out of water. At some point in the day, you’re going to run out of energy. How do we simplify our life?

Zibby: Or you take the gardens, and you start subdividing. You get other people to help you oversee with their watering cans, other parts of your garden so that you have a whole estate.

Dandapani: You could. As an analogy, yes, that works fine. We’ve planted four to five thousand trees. I have guys watering plants out there. I have an irrigation system that’s taking care of the botanical garden. The analogy with my own life and what I personally get involved in, who I get personally involved in, I need to constantly bring that number down. If I want to nurture a relationship with my daughter or with my wife or a friend, I need to make sure I can dedicate sufficient time, I can dedicate sufficient energy to nurture that. I am not the guy that goes out when I’m traveling and have half-an-hour meetings back to back. I just don’t do that. If I’m going to meet a friend, I’ll sit down with him or her for two hours and have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, chat. There’s time I want to invest. Rather than meeting twenty people while I’m traveling to London or Munich or wherever it may be, I’ll meet two people and have two two-hour-long conversations because those are relationships I’ve chosen to invest in. That becomes rewarding to me. That becomes fulfilling as opposed to, okay, I’ve got a half an hour. How’s it going? How’s your family? How’s your wife? Your kids good? How’s business? Business is good? . You feeling better now? Are you meeting your goals? Great. Okay, I got to go. It was really nice catching up with you.

I’m like, what the hell just happened? Then you get so busy. You’re texting people emojis. I get an emoji from someone, “Happy New Year,” with a little firecracker. That tells me how much I mean to you. One emoji. That’s all the time you can spare for me, is one emoji, a firecracker emoji on New Year’s Day? You couldn’t spend fifteen seconds? I know you can type fast on your phone. We all can. You couldn’t spend fifteen seconds to go, “Happy New Year. I hope this year will be rewarding for you, and fulfilling. I hope you have more clarity around your life. If there’s any way I can be of support… Your friendship means a lot to me.” That will take twenty seconds to write that down. No, one emoji is good enough. Send it off. I don’t want to go through life where my life is just a of emojis and twenty-minute meetings. I want deeper relationships, more fulfilling relationships where I genuinely care and have time. To do that, I need to be clear who and what’s important. I need to simplify my life to that and actually focus on those things. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and go, wow, I don’t remember what the hell I did the last eighty years, it just flew by, and leave unfulfilled. Less is better, always, and especially, less that’s in alignment with you, your values, your guidelines, your purpose. That becomes rewarding and fulfilling.

Zibby: What if that’s not as fulfilling to someone else?

Dandapani: It’s a choice. At a workshop, somebody asked me in Moscow — I gave a little introduction of who I am, my background. Then I said, “We’re going to start.” It was called Unwavering Focus. This Russian guy sitting in the front row, entrepreneur, jumps up all emotional, goes, “Why do I need to live a focused life? Why can’t I be all over the place and do a million different things? Why do I need to live a focused life?” I’m going, “You don’t have to. This is a workshop for people who want to live a focused life. I’m not sure why you’re here. Why did you sign up for this?” I’m not saying everybody has to live a focused life. I don’t go to a Chinese cooking class if I want to learn how to make Indian food. Why the hell did I turn up here? Why are you here? You can do whatever the hell you want. It’s your life. For those who are listening on this who want to live a more rewarding life, who want to be more focused and to be more present, have more rewarding conversations, more rewarding time with the people and things that they love, tune in on this episode. If you don’t want to, totally cool. People think it’s a blanket statement I’m making for everyone. No, it’s your life. Do whatever the hell you want with it.

Zibby: But you have an underlying argument that if you have deeper connections and more focus, you will feel more fulfilled. Isn’t that kind of the undercurrent, though? You can make a choice, but it won’t lead to as much fulfillment and satisfaction as the other option which you’re presenting to us?

Dandapani: Exactly. Then you have the choice. Some people might say, you know what? I don’t really want a fulfilling life. I just want to skim the surface all the way to the end. I just want to be shallow all the way to the end. I don’t want to go narrow and deep. For me, when I lived in the monastery and my guru trained me — there were only twenty-seven monks in the monastery, so he personally trained his monastics. When he sat with me and — he was about fifty years older than me — and gave me undivided attention and I spoke and he listened, genuinely listened to every word that was coming out of my mouth — he wasn’t texting. He wasn’t doing anything else. He was just completely present through his ability to focus. I felt so loved. I felt he actually cared what I was saying. Holy crap. You care? Why? No one has. You value what I have to say. He valued my presence. He valued my time. He valued my energy. What a display of love, genuine love and care. That experience year after year was so rewarding to me as a human being that now I do my best to do it with whoever I’m with.

If I’m talking to somebody on my team, my family, even a stranger if I happen to talk, I give them my undivided attention to tell them, I am completely here with you. I can do that because I can focus. When you’re talking, I’m not drifting away and being like, I think we should get pizza tonight. What did you say? No. I am here. I’m listening to everything you’re saying. Because I can be focused, I can be present. Then I can also have the ability to sense what you’re not saying to me or maybe what you want to say to me that you may be afraid or struggling to say but you still want to share with me. I can better serve you, help you. My daughter comes up to me, and she may not be able to articulate everything clearly, but I can sense, because I can be completely present through my ability to focus, what she may be feeling, if she’s sad or afraid. Then I can choose how I want to respond to that. That, to me, is fulfilling because now I’m creating a deeper relationship. I’m no relationship expert. Don’t get me wrong. I just know that by being focused, I can be present. By being present, I can begin that process of creating a better relationship.

Zibby: Wow. I feel like I’m being present with you. Do you feel how much I care and I’m paying attention?

Dandapani: I do. You’re doing an amazing job.

Zibby: This all comes back to me, of course. I always focus when I’m doing podcasts. That’s why I love it. I love being able to learn about someone and have no distraction. I am guilty of the “Happy New Year,” one emoji thing with a lot of people, I have to say. I guess it goes back to your point. Focusing doesn’t have to mean that every relationship you have requires two hours of sit-down. I think you can be deep and intentional and focused for a half an hour and get a lot out of that, and not with everyone in your life, right?

Dandapani: That’s why simplification is critical. If you have a hundred people, how do you spend two hours with a hundred people? If you have fewer people, relationships you do want to cultivate that it’s a two-way street, then you can spend more time with those people and even things that you love. I love doing a lot of things. I love carpentry. I love gardening. I love this. I love that. I got to make a choice of what is more important to me and then invest in that. Coming back to New Year, every New Year, I spent an hour and a half or so leaving voice messages to the people that mattered to me. Each voice message was at least a minute to two minutes long. I get on WhatsApp, which is my primary vehicle of communication, and I leave a WhatsApp message. I don’t just say, “Hey, Happy New Year,” and then click the thing that explodes so when they open the message it’s sparkles and stuff. No. I leave a voice message and go, “Hey, Joe. I’m checking in on you and Julie. How are you guys doing? I just want to let you know that last year when we had dinner, that was so wonderful. You mentioned to me about your mother-in-law who’s quite sick. I hope she’s doing better. Just letting you know that I’m thinking about you and that I’m here if you ever want to reach out. I really hope that we can make plans to see each other this year.” Just actually put some thought and energy into it.

Zibby: You’re a really good friend, obviously.

Dandapani: I wanted to be. My guru taught me through his example. He was a good friend to me. To take even two minutes out and be focused and present, like you said, can feel like ten minutes. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour call. It can be a half an hour completely being focused. That person feels like, oh, my god, I just felt like I sat with that person for two hours.

Zibby: What went on in your life before where you ended up becoming a monk who really could thrive on the attention and the love shared by this other monk? What in you needed that? Was there something missing before? Why were you drawn to that? Where did that come from in you?

Dandapani: That was not what I went to the monastery to learn. That was one of the first tools he taught me in order to make progress on the spiritual path. What drew me to the monastery was that things in life are transient in nature. I realized that as a child. Seven, eight years old, nine years old, I’m like, everything is created, it exists for a while, and then it goes away. I go, that freaking sucks. I remember going to my cousin’s birthday party. All day, my brothers and I are excited. Then my parents drive us over to my cousin’s house and meet all my cousins. We eat cake, play balloons. We chase each other around for four or five hours while our parents hang out and chat. Then we get in the car, and we drive home. I remember looking out the window thinking to myself, that’s it. It ends. That sucks. We didn’t grow up wealthy. Mom says we’re going to go eat ice cream, that might be once every six months or something. We’d go out and eat ice cream and savor every drop. Then we’d go home, and it ends.

I’m like, what the hell is this game? It’s just going through life doing this over and over again. Is it a Truman Show? This just seems mindless. What in life is the constant? What doesn’t change in life? Is there a deeper meaning to it? It seems kind of pointless that everybody just goes through the same process. Go to school. Graduate. Get a job. Get married. Have kids. Have grandkids. Go on holidays. Pay bills. Get old. Die. Repeat again. Let’s all do the same thing. To say that’s life, it just didn’t make sense to me. There must be something more. Can we stop and really think about this for a second? That’s what drew me to the monastery, to find out, is there something more in life? Then these are the tools that I learned, understanding the mind and learning to focus. In the pursuit of finding, is there something more in life? we need the ability to focus. If I can’t concentrate long enough, how can I stay on a subject to go deeper into it?

Zibby: Did you find your answer?

Dandapani: Yes.

Zibby: Is there more to it?

Dandapani: There is more to it.

Zibby: What is it? Save me ten years of being a monk. Lay it out for me here.

Dandapani: Shaving your head and everything.

Zibby: I’d rather keep my hair. If I could just know what the point of it all is, that would be good.

Dandapani: It’s based on the philosophy that you subscribe to. Again, it’s not for everyone. The philosophy that I subscribe to is that divinity or God is in everything. We look at divinity in a very simplified way as pure energy permeating everything, you, me, the trees, the stones, everything. How can we go within us and experience that divinity inside of us? If we say divinity is pure energy, the law of thermodynamics states you cannot be created or destroyed, but you can transform energy from one thing to another. Energy can change shapes and change forms. The essence of it, it’s still energy. How do we go within and experience divinity inside of us, the one thing that doesn’t change where, in its very essence, it’s the purest form of us that exists in all things, all matter, everywhere, that continues to function and exist long after our physical body has died, that has intelligence to it?

Zibby: So it’s kind of the concept of the soul, essentially?

Dandapani: Yes, but the essence of the soul and not the outer layers that the soul puts on, personalities and emotions and things like that. How do we go to the essence of that soul, which is divinity?

Zibby: You believe that the soul and divinity lives on?

Dandapani: Yes. That soul, that divinity was never created and will never be destroyed. Always exists. We can experience that divinity inside of us. It’s not to be sought outside. We can experience it in nature and things, but the greatest experience is to experience it inside of us. That gives strength to us. That gives confidence to us. That gives hope that life is just not these years that we’re here on this planet, that it continues beyond that. My daughter, at four, is asking questions about death and dying. She said to me the other day, “I don’t want you to die.” It’s good to have that conversation. It’s good for her to understand a philosophy, understanding that, yes, our physical body ceases to exist, but the soul inside of us, the pure energy, is never created or destroyed. Law of science.

Zibby: Okay, I’m going to go with that.

Dandapani: Awesome. I like it.

Zibby: I needed that. Thank you.

Dandapani: That’s at a deeper level. I rarely, honestly, talk about that because for me — I had somebody ask me the other day, “What kind of deeper philosophy — do you believe there are finer dimensions and inner dimensions?” I said, “Look, you can talk about that until the cows come home. For me, it’s like, how the hell do I get through my day and make sure I am having a life that I can sustain and that is rewarding to me?” For that, I would say break it down into a few steps. Gain clarity of purpose. Let your purpose define your priorities. Who and what is important in your life? That’s a basic question your listeners can ask themselves. Write that down. Don’t say family. What the hell does that mean? Who in your family? Mom? Dad? Cousin? Aunt? Uncle? In-law? Be specific. Second is, learn to focus. The book is there. Everything you need to know how to focus is in the book. Third step, simplify your life. Simplify to those people and things that truly matter.

Always remember, finite time, finite energy. Yes, we can hire people to outsource things, but at the end of the day, you have a finite amount of energy. The key is not balance. I prefer to use the word proportionate. A lot of times we say balanced life, balance between work and life. I have not figured out how to live that. Proportionate means I can say, okay, seventy percent of my life is work. Thirty percent, I have to divide between me, my family, kids, whatever it is. How do I carve it out in proportion as opposed to fifty/fifty? I don’t think that’s a reality. Then if you think in those three steps, purpose, priorities, focus, and simplify, then now you can start creating a life. You have practical steps to actually follow to start creating a life that is more rewarding. I use the word rewarding because that can mean more joyous, more uplifting, more fulfilling, more content, more peaceful, harmonious. You’re not dealing with people that constantly make you upset, angry, annoyed, whatever it may be.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I’m sorry we have to end because the podcast is only a certain amount. I’m like, I’m getting the meaning of life here. This is important. This is changing how I view the world, but I got to go to my next call.

Dandapani: And I don’t have to go to a monastery.

Zibby: I don’t even have to go to the monastery. I got my view of Costa Rica right here. I should be paying you for this. It’s like I had a session or something. Dandapani, that was amazing. Thank you so much.

Dandapani: You’re most welcome. Thank you for the great conversation. Thank you for asking great questions. Thank you for being able to be focused.

Zibby: Thank you. Happy New Year.

Dandapani: Happy New Year.

Zibby: Bye.

Dandapani: Bye.



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