Zen and the Martial Art of Living
Nicolas Gregoriades/Gabriel is a world-renowned BJJ black belt. Nic is famous for earning his BJJ black belt (under Roger Gracie, no less) in just over 4 years.
Lacking a home address, Nic travels around the world teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He also operates a highly successful blog and podcast. He recently launched a clothing line. He earns his living doing what he loves.
Like you, Nic is on a quest to master himself and his emotions. You are going to love this podcast. (I’ve also posted the podcast transcription below.)
What did we talk about?
- Nic’s podcast, the Journey.
- The Law of Attraction and the Law of Reflection.
- What does it feel like to hit major life milestones like earning a BJJ black belt or making one-million dollars?
- The unconscious mind and how using ayahuasca can help boys become men.
- We talk about Zen riddles and parables and spiritual bankruptcy.
- Exercises that help you get into the moment.
- Nic’s new BJJ Gear for The Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood — www.jjbgear.com
You can click play or find it on iTunes or SoundCloud. You may also read the transcript below.
So today is a really interesting a curious episode because it validates a lot of things that we talk about which is the law of attraction and how you get the energy that you send out to the universe and I’ll explain why.
I remember it was 2 or 3 years ago where I watched this YouTube special on Ayahuasca. And I saw this guy on the YouTube channel talking about his experience with Ayahuasca, and I thought “Yeah, that’s a cool guy, I’d like to meet that guy someday. He seems like he’s insightful, introspective and he’s on a quest. Cool guy. Maybe I’ll meet him someday.”
And then he moved on to other things so I lost track of the guy for several years and then a message forum that I read stated talking about him, “Can you believe this article he wrote about performance-enhancing drugs [like HGH]? It seems like he’s encouraging them.”
And by encouraging them, they mean he didn’t say that taking a shot of Testosterone will immediately kill you. And I thought, “Oh wow that’s that same guy from way back when.”
So as it turns out, I linked to his Ask Me Anything, and then he saw that I linked to it and then we started talking and he asked me where I live and I said “I live in Venice Beach.” And he said, “No way! I’m in L.A.”
And I thought, “Well wow that’s kind of odd. So this guy that I saw 3 years ago who lived in London, happened to be in L.A. the exact day that I tweeted his AMA, that’s quite a coincidence isn’t it?
Yeah I like to think so dude, and as you said, like attracts like.
I really love the way you said that “he’s on a quest” because a good friend of mine many years ago he said…I think we were talking about the game or something like that. He said that he met this guy and that he was a really cool guy and that he was “on the path,” he’s like us, he’s on the path. And I thought that was a really cool way to describe someone who was making a concerted effort to improve themselves and increase their amount of joy, pleasure, and goodness in their life.
So it’s interesting because although Nick is a very well-known BJJ guy, I had never known him as a BJJ guy, so this isn’t going to be another “Oh you trained with Roger Gracie? What was that like? What was it like being Roger Gracie’s BJJ black belt?”
Although we will talk about some BJJ specific questions, we definitely want to go a little bit deeper than that. We want to talk about mindset, philosophy, and just your quest of how to find what you’re looking for. How does that sound?
It sounds great man; I’m really looking forward to that.
So why is it that you’re in L.A. now?
Well, for those of you who don’t know, I have a podcast called The Journey and the main reason I’m here is that I’m networking for that. There are a few people in this town that has really illustrious podcasting careers and they know how the industry works and there are also a bunch of Jiu-Jitsu industry players here that I have meetings setup with.
It’s basically a networking trip primarily and secondarily, it’s to relax and have a bit of a vacation because I really love the States and in particular Los Angeles.
What made you decide to start a podcast?
Well, I had been involved in the London Real project for 14 or 15 months. And when the other co-creator and I went our separate ways, there were aspects of it that I missed, but I was so busy with my other projects that I didn’t give it too much thought. And then a bunch of people started asking me, “When are you going to do your own thing?” or “When are you going to do another podcast?”
And I had someone I had started becoming friends with, a guy named Paul Moran and he had his own Jiu-Jitsu podcast that I had appeared on a few times before. And I think he might have brought it up, but strange enough I had been thinking the same thing. I thought, “This guy and I would make a pretty cool show if we did one today.”
And one of us mentioned it to the other and before you knew it we had started our own show and it has gone on from there.
Yeah, it really is pretty trippy that technology brings people today who never would have met 10, 20, or 30 years ago. So many guys think, “How do I meet like-minded men or how do I connect with people who see the world as I do?” And I think the biggest mistake that people make is expecting those connections to happen when you walk down the street. A lot times those connections are going to happen online.
Yeah. And you know there’s that expression “You make your own luck.”
This is a huge understanding which I’ve had recently which is the law of attraction. I do believe there is some truth to it, but I strongly believe that the universe will only meet you half way.
So if you sit on your couch and you say, “I want a million dollars.” And you start thinking about a million dollars, there’s no fucking way you’re going to get a million dollars. It doesn’t work like that.
But if you get off your ass and start moving toward what you want, then the universe takes notice and says “OK, I’ll meet him halfway.” That’s the thing with technology; you can open up a Facebook account and expect people to connection with you or open up a twitter and expect people to just start following you. But that’s not how it works. You have to put in the effort and seek to engage with people and seek out the people you want to talk to and connect with.
I think a lot of people misrepresent the law of attraction.
They say “Oh all you do is meditate on something and it’s going to happen.” But what happens is that when you start meditating on something, the transformative process happens within yourself. So if you say, “I want to start a podcast that gets a certain number of listeners,” and you really meditate on that. Then suddenly, something inside of you or outside of you, however you want to put it, kicks into gear and then it starts to push you into that direction.
I agree with you completely.
Also you start to see the law of reflection in operation.
A guest on The Journey spoke about this. As you were saying, it’s not necessarily that you attract everything in your own life; it’s also that you reflect things in your own life. Well, the world if reflecting things back at you so if I say to myself, “I want to start a super successful podcast.”
And then I’m focused on that, then I start seeing opportunities. The world starts reflecting opportunities back at me to do that as opposed to handing them to me on a plate.
Exactly. You start to notice things that you never would have noticed. A classic example is, if you buy a Toyota Prius, you are going to look around and think “Holy shit there are Priuses all over the place.” There were always there, but now you are noticing, or as you said, now you’re reflecting. Now you see something that is always there, and the same is true of your thoughts.
When you get new thoughts in your head or buy a new thought so to speak, suddenly you’re going to notice all those same people with those same thoughts.
Yeah. There’s another interesting way to look at it which, Terrance McKenna is the person I believe I heard this from, and he was saying in a video of his called
“Culture is your operating system.”
The analogy is that your brain is like a piece of computer hardware and the culture in which you are raised is the software which the brain runs.
And he was saying how some of these softwares don’t support specific plugins. So if you don’t have a mind open enough to recognize certain things, you just won’t see them. You literally won’t even see them because your software is not supporting that. So for me personally, I’m always trying to upgrade my software and make it as flexible and open source as possible so that I can see these opportunities and choose whether to engage with them or not.
It has always amazed me that people hold onto these views so strongly and are so confident that they are right and know what they are doing. And I’ll ask them, well, “Where did you get these ideas?” Did you go up to Mount Sinai all by yourself and fast for 30 days and meditate and then come down with some stone tablets? And the answer is no.
Your culture, your society, your parents they put all this stuff in your head, even if it wasn’t ill intention on their part, is garbage. It’s bad and it makes you engage in self-destructive behavior and it makes you come from a sense of powerlessness rather than from power. Part of the quest or the journey is putting new thoughts in your head or changing your software or however you want to put it.
Yeah, I have two thoughts on that come into my mind straight away. The first is that a lot of things society puts into your head are actually very good. Admittedly, a lot of them as you said are garbage, but I like the fact that I was programmed not to steal or not to fuck people over or just be, I don’t want to say a “good” person but morals are a good programming thing up until a point.
Also, there was a point a few years ago of what I call the point where I was starting to wake up and I started to realize that I needed to literally analysis every single thought I had about everything. It’s like, in the morning when I’d wake up and go to brush my teeth, I’d be like “Well why do I always pick up my toothbrush with my left hand or why do I brush my teeth in this way?” And I’d listen to my language and stock answers I’d give to people, and I’d be like “Why do I always say that? Why do I always end the conversation with that phrase, etc.?” And it’s just, for a long time I became very meticulous about my thought processes and my actions and then I could see which ones were coming from my instincts, I guess you could call it my soul, and which ones were things that had just been loaded up there. And then I could choose which ones to keep and which ones to do away with.
That sounds really simple now, but let’s talk about the panic and anxiety and self-doubt that occurs when you start to re-examine everything.
So, if you think about your psyche as a building with a foundation, you’re going to go in there and take that foundation out and redo it. Obviously the structure is going to become wobbly and unstable. And that’s what self-analysis is, or self-reflection is, especially when you go through that stage, it’s like you have to take these supports that your whole life is based on and get rid of them.
That’s definitely going to lead to anxiety and fear, but it’s ultimately something you have to go through to have a bigger stronger structure.
Did you have a lot of anger or resentment toward any specific people as you went through this?
I mean, like my parents had a shitty marriage and they are always fighting and stuff, and yeah there was a lot of resentment and anger towards them. I had an issue with an ex-girlfriend. But ultimately what a lot of that self-reflection showed me is, is that I was responsible for a lot of the things in my life.
And secondly, even the ones that I wasn’t responsible for on a conscious level, the things that I thought were bad or horrible came with some hidden benefit that manifested at a later point and I was ultimately really thankful for them.
Yeah, it’s ultimately choice and how you perceive things because no matter how you are raised or what your upbringing is, you can choose to view it negatively. “Oh well, I had too much money and because of that I don’t have hunger and I don’t have drive” or “I grew up poor and I was never provided opportunities that these other trust fund kids had.” Or “I never had this, I never had that.” And the truth is that everyone was lacking in something in there upbringing or their education.
Yeah, I completely agree with you. In fact, it’s something that has become clear to me lately, is my dad he was a reasonably wealthy guy for a while and then he lost everything. He took his eye off the ball, his business is fucked up, and he lost everything. I realized at one point that not only is there no more inheritance for me, but it’s pretty likely that I’m going to have to support my parents into their old age.
At first I was really pissed off about that and then I realized that this is a massive opportunity. If I had been some rich kid or some trustafarian, I might have had that motivation. I might have just been content to sit around and do nothing with my life. And it made me really think that it was a blessing in disguise. That’s pretty much the latest I’ve identified but there are loads in my life. And I’m sure loads in the listener’s lives as well.
Yeah, it really does come down to how you choose to frame what you have experienced.
You can frame it as an opportunity for growth, as an opportunity to learn, or you can frame it as victimization. “I’m a victim, I can’t believe this happened.” The trustafarian example is good because I know kids in L.A. that have multi-million dollar trusts and they sit around all day at a pool and they are miserable and aimless. A few of them have died of drug overdoses. It’s because they were given everything and because of that, they had no hunger for anything. And they hate their parents as much as anyone who grew up in an abusive environment.
Yeah. And what it comes down to for me is to ultimately start everything from, I was speaking about earlier about installing a new foundation. And I believe about that foundation is, one of the best ones you can have is gratitude. Be thankful for your life and its circumstances. Because it comes with its own set of challenges, opportunities, difficulties, and rewards that no one else’s does.
I heard a saying a long time ago, I think it’s a Chinese saying. I’m paraphrasing, it says,
“If every man were to bring his troubles and lay them out on a table in front of everyone else in the world, at the end of it he’d pick up his own troubles and leave with them.”
We all have our own shit. And I guess, just be grateful for your circumstances right?
Exactly. Everybody is dealing with something. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older. Is that, that millionaire that you’re jealous of or that person that you covet, is dealing with some problem.
Or you hear the joke, “Show me a hot chick and I’ll show you a guy who’s tired of putting up with her shit.” No matter who you look at, somebody is dealing with something because we all ultimate, only have our own consciousness to compare to.
I don’t know what’s going on in your head and you don’t know what’s going on in mine. And we can talk and communicate, but ultimately you have your thing and I have my thing and that’s the blessing and the curse of being a human. And when you start to look at other people from a covetous nature, rather than being grateful for what you have, not only does that put you in a negative state of mind but it’s also delusion because that other guy is dealing with all kinds of shit too.
Man I couldn’t agree more. Big understanding for me.
Jealousy is such a wasted and negative energy.
There is nothing good that could come from that. It’s something that I’ve been working on for the past few years and someone said to me once, “Jealousy works in the opposite way that you want it to.”
And it’s so true, when you see a guy with something you want, and you think, “Oh fuck I wish I had that. Why does he deserve it?” That doesn’t bring what you want closer to you, it actually pushes it further away. Whereas if you see someone that has something you admire or a trait that you possess and you think to yourself, “Oh man, bless that guy, he’s worked hard for that. That’s his good luck that he’s got that,” and you send out positive energy toward him I feel like it’s far more likely that you’ll have the thing that is it you’re looking for.
Obviously people are jealous of the outcomes but they don’t see the struggle. A good example of that, is my roommate and really close friend is a very very successful lawyer. And I lived with him and a lot of people say, “Why are you putting so much time into Danger & Play instead of putting time into being this hardcore lawyer that you once were?” And I said, “Well, because I saw what my friend goes through.”
Yes he has amazing financial rewards, but to be a really successful lawyer is a grind. I’m sure people see this guy and think, “Oh I’m so jealous, how come his wife looks like this or how come his car looks like that or his house is so big?” Well, why don’t you live with that guy for a couple weeks and then you can tell me if you’re still jealous.
Everything has its price and I guess the question is, are you prepared to pay it?
And financial success is a huge one of those. There are certain individuals…I just really started to take my business serious over the last few years and sure I don’t have the money problems I used to have but fuck man, I work for that money way harder than I ever have before. And sometimes I have to ask myself, “Is this trade off of my time and life energy worth the financial remuneration?” And sometimes I actually think the answer is no. In general, I think it’s yes, but sometimes I think the answer is no.
Yeah, a friend of was kind of teasing me but I was complaining I said “Man my hosting bill is going to be so high because my traffic has been blowing up.” and he said “Oh humble brag,” and I said “Man that’s not a humble brag, it sucks.” You build this successful website and you think “Yeah my site’s growing, isn’t this amazing?” And then all of a sudden your site is crashing and you have to upgrade to a different server, and then you have another problem and you can’t keep up with emails people send you. You really do trade in one problem for another set of problems.
Yeah. To an extent. There were two things I wanted to say on that. The first that I’d rather be wealthy and have problems than poor and have problems. I know it’s a clichéd statement but a friend of mine was in an exchange program, he lived in the states during high school. He’s from France originally but he lived with a wealthy family in Aspen and he was having a chat with the father of the family and the guy said to him:
“You don’t understand but with success and wealth come a whole new set of problems that you have no idea what they are until you reach those levels of wealth and success.”
And that was something that really really made me think.
So what’s your philosophy on money or what is enough? Because for me generally I have an idea of what is enough and isn’t that big number that these wall street guys would give you.
You know they call it, what’s your “Fuck You” number. When you have that amount that you don’t want to do anything. And I’ve learned that rally the only thing that I value out of money is that you don’t have to put up with as much bullshit to make money.
Yeah that’s an interesting perspective. It’s a subject I spend a great deal of my time thinking about. So the first thing I’ll say is…an example, I used to work with someone who was quite a wealthy individual. He made his money in the stock market and he didn’t ever have to work again. And I realized that he was no happier than I was. And at this point I was struggling financially, a struggling jiu-jitsu teacher, I wasn’t making much money and I realized that he was no happier than I was. A lot unhappier in many ways. He had this sound system. I mean I’m a HUGE music lover, it’s one of the best things in my life, my music and listening to music.
And he had this stereo system worth a $100,100 dollars, maybe 150,000. Super high-end stereo system. And he never listened to it. It just sat in his apartment and he never listened to it. If he did listen to it, he’s keep the volume on real low. And I realized…I had bought a $150 pair of headphones that I had researched on the internet and spent a lot of time looking into and I used those every day for like 6 hours a day and I realized that I had gotten so much more out of them that he did than this ridiculously expensive sound system.
And I see that that’s a common theme with wealth because everything is relative.
Like you want to become wealthy and you want to drive a Lamborghini and you achieve those things and you get your Lamborghini and you take it for a drive and it’s really fun for the first month and then it’s like “Hmmm, I’m kind of bored of this.” You have to chase a bigger and bigger prize and I think that’s the…
For me it’s having enough money to do a few things really well like take a few decent vacations. It’s not about stuff. For me, money has never been about buying things, it’s been about freedom. That’s my #1 value in life is freedom. And I’m always looking forward to the freedom that money can buy. I mean freedom from having to work and freedom from things that I don’t want to do. So I think that ultimately that’s what it comes down to for me, is freedom.
Right. I did a whole podcast on finding your values and what you value the most and freedom is one that I rate too. I put it sort of, people say this is sort of childish, and I say well ok. It is what it is. I just don’t want to do what it is I don’t want to do. And it sounds so simplistic and I still manage to accomplish quite a bit of stuff so it isn’t like I don’t want to do anything but when you have enough money that you can do what you want to do, then you’re fine.
Now I guess for everybody that number’s going to vary. My needs are simple. I don’t need a Lamborghini or Ferrari, I rent my apartment, and I don’t need a multi-million dollar mansion. And I notice that the people who buy those things, they actually lose freedom because those things start to own them.
They have a mortgage, then they have to worry about scratching the car. They can’t even enjoy the car because they are afraid to leave it outside because somebody might scratch it. They are paranoid that the valet is in there stealing it and they become obsessed with these material possessions.
Yeah, so you paraphrased one of my favorite movie quotes ever which is from Fight Club: sooner or later the things you own start to own you.
As an example, just over the last year I don’t have an apartment, I have hardly any material possessions. I have two suitcases worth of possessions and I’ve never been happier. It’s such a freeing thing. I mean sometimes I’ll go teach a jiu-jitsu seminar somewhere and someone will want to give me a t-shirt to thank me for coming there and I always have to politely decline because I just look at that t-shirt for what it is. It’s extra baggage for me, and on a micro-level, a loss of freedom.
And the world…I think it’s strange that um, I’m starting to realize that when you look for the truth or when you seek truth, you find that the truth is pretty much the exact opposite of what you were taught to believe. David Deangelo calls it the critical counterintuitive.
He says that is you want to succeed in any sphere or field or endeavor, look at what everyone else is doing and do the exact opposite.
And if you look at what our society is saying to us is, buy more stuff. You know? Get more things. Even more. Achieve more.
And what I’m starting to realize from my own perspective is, actually have less things. Maybe a few quality things, but have less things and free yourself from all of that. And that’s what’s making me happy. It just fascinate me that there’s a bunch of different things that I don’t know about. Things where, society has trained me in one way and I still believe those ways and ultimately critical counterintuitive and I’m always looking for those things and I love finding them.
Can you identify any of those in your life?
I actually met a guy who lived kind of like you do now. He said “My kids are out of college now, I’m divorced. I’ve had the Lamborghinis, the Ferraris, and Mansions. He’s part of a subculture where you live out of a suitcase.
Your entire life can fit in a suitcase. So he had a foldable parka thing and he just travelled everywhere and I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool.” And the same thing happened to me, after I got divorced I went to stay with my friend and the plan was that I’ll stay with him for a couple weeks, sleep on his futon, and then go find an apartment of my own.
I slept on a futon. All of my belongings fit in a suitcase. It was great. Because I felt like I could get up anywhere and do anything wherever I wanted instead of having obligations to things I don’t really even care that much about.
I believe family obligations are important. Your friends are important. But obligations to, “What if somebody scratches my car?” You know, Joe Rogan had a good story where he said “My car got dinged and I got really mad and was pissed off” and he thought, “Well why do I care? It’ll cost $500, I have $500. I can fix my car door and here I am getting so angry and so enraged and so obsessed because I have a dent in my car when that’s the stupidest thing in the world that I should ever worry about.”
Yeah. That’s cool story. That’s what I’d expect from Joe. There’s another thing I thought about which is:
Anything that can be taken away from you, is not you.
And a lot of people tie up their identity or self-worth in what they own or career. And the question I always ask myself is, “If this were to be taken away from me tomorrow, how would I feel?”
And with material possessions there are 1 or 2 things that would make me feel really shitty and that’s because I really need them for work like my computer or my jiu-jitsu gi, but besides all that, it’s just bullshit man.
OK, if something was taken away from you, what would you do? My question is what if you could no longer do jiu-jitsu because some magician cast a spell that took jiu-jitsu out of your life. So jiu-jitsu’s gone, now what?
I’d just focus more on yoga. I’m really getting into yoga now. And I’ll still use the energy that I put into jiu-jitsu. In fact it’s already happening. A lot of the energy that I was directing at becoming better at jiu-jitsu has now been transferred to yoga. But if someone said to me that I couldn’t go jiu-jitsu anymore I’d pretty much do yoga full time.
And then you could do what you’re going now which is really cool.
A lot of people talk about lifestyle and lifestyle design and it’s such an amorphous concept but I think Nick embodies what you want to go for, is, his passion, his life is jiu-jitsu and then that’s also his business.
He sells gis, he has an association, and he does seminars. He has a really good book that I’ve read and going to link to. And he’s able to design everything around what he does and even if you took away his jiu-jitsu, he could just do that with yoga.
Yeah I probably could transfer that over into yoga or some other industry if I really wanted to. Again, I think the foundation, not for everyone, but for many people, if you want to look at the foundation of a business you want to start I guess the first question is:
Will being involved in that industry be fun for me and will I enjoy it?
And sure you could probably make it work if the answer is no but it’ll be a lot easier and more fun if the answer’s yes.
Because a lot of people don’t realize that there’s a lot of unfun stuff. For example, how many hairs have we pulled out of our heads talking about web design and stuff like that?
Yeah. Too many.
And you’re training for BJJ and everybody says “Oh wow he’s a black belt” but what about the injuries? What about the pain?
Yeah dude, just the other day I was in Australia and I was teaching a seminar which was great. I met a bunch of really cool people, but then this 20 year old purple belt kid was fucking almost beating me up you know? And I was like “Fuck, how much longer can I keep doing this?” But it’s just the cost dude. Everything comes with its cost. And again, you have to ask yourself the question: Am I willing to pay the price?
Jealousy comes from looking at what you have, and not what you went through to get it.
Yeah, you know that Buddhist expression, “Contentment is the one true wealth?” Oh, so you were talking about jealousy from another person’s perspective, yeah. It’s true. It’s very true. In most cases I would say and some people are just born with a certain gift or talent that they didn’t have to work too hard for, but they are the freak exceptions not the rule.
Yeah, they are definitely the exception. There are a few people with that prodigy talent. But what happens to them is they often burn out because they never had to work for it.
An example is, he still worked for it, let’s take somebody like Kevin Randleman, he was a NCAA D1 all-star wrestler, but because he had such gifts, his MMA career was nothing like it should have been.
If you want to, Rampage [Jackson] is another guy, talk about a guy with amazing genetics for fighting and although they did well, they’re not at the pinnacle that they would have been if they’d had the work ethic of someone like Fedor who doesn’t have natural fighter’s physique
Yeah. My favorite example is GSP [George St-Pierre]. Because he is someone who had genetic potential, but he didn’t just rest on that, he worked his ass off, you know?
There’s that expression, “Hard work beats talent every time,” but I’ll tell you straight up, hard work + talent beats anything else. So I think one of the important things to do is to look at look at your natural skillset or your natural talent and abilities. Then decide if you’d be willing to work hard on them and then look at the nexus point of where those two meet. And that’s how you can do well at business or anything else in life.
Had you tried anything before BJJ that you failed at?
Umm, not really man. I went to college and stuff and I was training jiu-jitsu already, I guess you could say I failed in business. Well, not failed, but didn’t make a huge success of a couple of businesses that I’d started in my late teens, early 20s. And I put them on the back burner to focus on jiu-jitsu, now it’s come full circle.
Now I’m focusing on business again. So yes and no, I guess.
That brings me to one of our questions which is, if you had to go back 10 years, what is one thing that you wish you had learned?
That’s a great question and the answer for me at this point is…I’ve been watching this show called Oprah’s master class. I noticed a theme, she interviews all these successful and actualized people and, she asks a similar question, and one of the themes that keep recurring is, just listen to that own inner voice and to trust your instincts.
When I was younger I wish I had just followed my instincts more, not so impressionable and swayed by popular opinion and people around me, and to be honest I think I was far less impressionable and swayed, than the average person, but if I had blocked it all out entirely, there’s no telling how far ahead I’d be today.
What was your instinct that you weren’t listening to?
Specifically to Jiu-jitsu the answer I think of is, I kept thinking that I had to be the best competitor ever to actualize myself as a Jiu-jitsu practitioner. My body was getting beat up all the time and I was tired, I didn’t feel good and I just kept pushing on and pushing on and my instinct was telling me that “there has to be a better way than this.”
That there has to be a way to align health and feeling good with Jiu-jitsu. And it was only when I took my eye off those competitor prizes that I was able to say, “OK cool now I should listen to this voice it’s been bugging me for this long time and focus on my health. Start doing yoga and things like that.”
Yeah. It’s interesting that we often ignore what our inner voice or whatever we want to call it, is telling us. For example, I always kind of liked nerdier people and I wish that I had hung out with more nerdier people in high school and college rather than thinking “Who’s cool and who’s not?” Because when you get older you realize that the so-called “cool people” are nothing but trend followers. And they don’t really have anything going on in 5 or 10 years and the people who are the nerds are actually the ones who have shit going on.
It’s not easy to hear that voice because you haven’t learned how to hear it.
You are so used to sitting down and playing video games for 4 hours a day, which I was. Or you are so distracted by mass media and all the things you have going on in your life that you just can’t hear that voice. One of the guests on The Journey, he said “The mind speaks very loudly, but the heart speaks very softly.” And that stuck with me and I realized that things like meditation are what allow you to hear that voice. And until you can hear it, there is no point in trying to follow it because you’ll be distracted, you’ll be hearing the wrong things.
Right. People will ask me, “Well, how do I find my life’s purpose or how do I find out what I want to do with my life?” And I say, “Turn off all your televisions and your gadgets and just go sit in a room all by yourself with your thoughts and that terrifies people. But that’s how you find yourself.
And you’ll tell them that, and none of them will do it, they want you to give them an easy answer. They want you to say is “All you need to do is read this book and you’ll be fine. Or all you need to do is go to this website and it will give you the answer.”
Very few want to sit and face themselves and look for the answer to these questions in the hard way, which is being frustrated meditating and not noticing results. Being disciplined. No one wants to do that.
Right. And they find out, the deeper you go, the deeper the hole is. That’s when the panic comes in. You’ve rejected all of the values that people have given you. Now you are rudderless and you feel like you have been cast asunder and that’s a very painful and anxious, but that’s your journey. Everybody’s journey is individual. That’s why I like the name of your podcast, the journey.
Everybody, whether they know it or not, is on a journey. Some people are being guided like sheep by shepherds on their journey. Other people sort of think, “Why am I with these people going on that? Why don’t I go on my own journey?”
And ultimately that’s what we have to do, we have to find our own journey.
Yeah, like I mentioned earlier, it’s just remarkable how many hugely successful, actualized people say that exact thing. “It’s like I had this inner drive or this inner voice that just kept pointing me in this direction or pulling me in this direction or it kept telling me to do something.”
That is the reward for listening to that voice, because when you listen to it, it’s not easy dude. The rest of the world is going to say you’re crazy. I was teaching jiu-jitsu in London, I had a reasonably good gig there and then I just decided to leave and just go teach jiu-jitsu seminars around the world and I don’t have a fixed address.
And a lot of people are like, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” It made them uncomfortable. And fortunately I had the courage to stick with it and it seems to have worked out.
Right. And then we got to remember the Zen parable or Zen rule where a guy, his son falls off a horse and breaks his arm and people say “Isn’t that terrible, your son broke his arm?” And the father says, “We’ll see.” And then the army comes to recruit people and they didn’t take his son because his son had a broken arm and they say “Well, isn’t that great?” And he said, “We’ll see.”
And really that is the journey, “We’ll see.” It really isn’t over till it’s over. What you think is a catastrophe now might not be such a catastrophe. The things that you view now, well they might be good or it all could change tomorrow.
All you have to do is recognize that you are on a journey and just embrace it.
Yeah. The stay I’d like to be at one day which I know I’m nowhere fucking near is to just have detachment from all outcomes. And it’s my understanding that enlightened Zen masters don’t really perceive, label or judge anything as good or bad. They just accept everything as it is.
And that’s something that, to a large extent, something that meditation has helped me with. And I hope it takes me to that point because there are still times in my life where something will happen like you say, there will be a metaphorical arm break in my life and I’m like “Ahh Fuck,” and as you said it will turn out to be not what I expected. And I’d like to get to the point where I would like to supersede all of that.
Right. Turning off that judge is so hard. There was a parable that I posted on the site once and it really made a bunch of guys mad. And I asked them “Why’d it make you mad?”
And the parable was something like this. A Zen master is being chased by a tiger, and he got to edge of a cliff, fell off and was then holding on for dear life and then he noticed a flower, the petals of the flower and how it was white and the beauty of the flower and that was the end of the story.
People were like “How could he just look at the flower? He’s about to die. Man up and be alpha and try to save himself.” And you realize it’s just a different level of consciousness where you are living in the moment and not worried about the outcome “if I fall down and smash my head.”
“Here I am, I’m in the moment, isn’t this flower beautiful?”
Yeah. There’s something a friend of mine told me a few months ago which is the fact that, we were speaking about gratitude and I was saying how I’ve got this gratitude journal and I give thanks to things every day and, he said “Yeah I’ve been doing the same thing and not only do I give thanks to everything that I have, but I’ve been giving thanks for everything I don’t have.”
And it made me realize that a lot of people society looks at as having things that they want, are very very miserable. And one of the examples I always think of is Britney Spears. She’s got all the money and fame she could possibly want and it hasn’t made her happier. Many people would argue it’s made her feel horrible.
And you’ll see kids in favelas in Brazil who have nothing but an old paint can to kick around as a football and they have the biggest smiles on their face. So again, it comes back to, the things that you were taught that will make you happy aren’t necessarily the things that will make you happy.
A lot of times it’s a lack of spiritual grounding too I think. I think that because we no longer believe in god that people have taken that a little bit too far and they say “There is no god, no Judeo-Christian god therefore there is no spiritual element.” In a way, we are spiritually bankrupt.
Yeah. The way I look at that is, my favorite spiritual teacher Osho, he says
“There is no god, but I’ve found something superior which is godliness.”
And that’s the recognition that everything is divine. Everything. Whether it’s the fucking dog turd on the street hat you walked by or a flower or whatever it is that we experience in reality is a divine aspect of god and part of creation.
And I think that’s a much healthier way. I don’t even know if that’s true, it’s just what I feel is true but either way I think it’s much healthier to look at the world like that than to think of some angry man in the sky watching everything that you’re doing or the alternative that this is a freak accident and we are these reductionist mechanistic that are just consuming resources in a mad scramble for survival.
Right. [criticizing the view point of:] We’re bacteria in a Petri dish and that’s all there to life. And when you think that way, all you do is chase material pleasure because you have eliminated the spiritual component of your life. “There is no spirit, there is no unconscious. That’s all garbage. If I can’t observe it, it doesn’t exist.”
Well, what can I observe? I can observe material sensations, I can observe sex. A new car. A bigger house. And then that’s all that you chase. You have material wealth but spiritual bankruptcy. And that’s why a lot of people who are rich, I always say “It’s easy to say this when you’re rich.” But then they realize after getting rich that money doesn’t matter.
Now of course money matter because if you can’t pay your bills it’s stressful etc. But they realize there is more to reality and more to your existence than material possessions and material sensations.
Yeah. And again, I’m not against material possessions and material sensations. In fact, I’m all for them, I just think ultimately these two things, being rich in spirit and rich in material possessions aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Or diametrically opposed.
And with my life, that’s my mission, I want to have everything I want or need on the material plane and also be grounded on the spiritual plane. I don’t think there’s a need to separate them and one doesn’t preclude the other.
Do you think that Ayahuasca has put you more in touch with the spiritual plane?
So funny you ask that because I was just having this discussion with someone yesterday. And the best way I can describe it is that before Ayahuasca I was a very mechanical person. Very reductionist and business-like in all my decisions and view of the world. And the way it feels after doing a bunch of Ayahuasca is that I’ve become more of an organic entity. Everything has a “softer edge” to it. I know that’s not a very good way to explain it, but that’s pretty much the only way I can.
It put you in touch with your vulnerabilities didn’t it?
I guess so. Sure as hell exposed them. So yeah, I have to say yes to that.
One thing I’ve noticed about alpha type guys or high achiever guys is that they tend to live in denial of their vulnerabilities. That means they only focus on what they are strong about and they ignore anything that might be an insecurity because they view that as weakness instead of accepting that as part of themselves. And when you use a compound like DMT or Ayahuasca, or in my case I used 5-MEO DMT you start to realize that you have a lot less control than you think you have.
There is a lot more going on than you think is going on. Control…I don’t know if I would say the control is completely illusory, I may reach that conclusion in one point in my life, but control is definitely overstated and we have far less control than we think.
And because of that, I’ve been more comfortable with my own vulnerability.
Yeah. There’s an expression from the book Peaceful Warrior, in which this mentor said to his student he said, “Being a warrior isn’t about invulnerability, it’s about absolute vulnerability.” And I think there is a tendency for, as you say, the alpha types who men who are going out there in the world to make their mark and achieve and succeed, if you think about it they almost become soldier like or they embody a lot of characteristics of a soldier.
If you think about a soldier on a battlefield, he’s armored right? He has protection on. Because he has to be because he’s under attack always. And I can understand why men, myself included, build up that rigidness and that armor and the problem is, that keeps you closed off form a lot of things.
I’m not saying it needs to be removed entirely, but you need to know where the armor is too thick or not thick enough.
It makes you a lot better writer and better able to connect. Somebody asked me recently, “Why did you start deciding to expose yourself?” In terms of anything that’s happened to me, I have no problem putting it online. I used to fear judgment. I used to have shame, “what if I real that component of myself?”
And then I got to the point I said, “When I write something, I want to feel like I want to delete what I wrote because I put myself out there and I made myself too vulnerable.” And then I thought, “Well, why are you afraid of being vulnerable?” Because really it was a fear. It was a fear that I had to conquer.
So there’s this theory that every fear has its roots ultimately in the fear of death. And that’s what people don’t like about vulnerability. It’s the fear of their own mortality.
Something that I’ve meditated on a lot is that I’m going to die one day. And there might not be anything after that. Once I internalized that and accepted that I found that it was a lot easier to just to say to people “This is who I am.”
And you spoke a lot about it earlier, we had a long conversation about it, I took a lot of insight from you on the concept of haters. I asked you “How do I deal with haters?” And you said to me, the people who usually hate on you are usually bottom feeders. They are not the ones whose opinions matter anyway. I guess no one’s opinions really matter.
Something I read the other day, “I used to worry about other people’s opinions until I tried to pay my bills using them.” And that stuck with me a lot.
I realized it’s not my responsibility what other people think of me, it’s only my responsibility of what I think of myself.
And part of the journey is finding yourself, being whole, and self-actualized and self-possessed. When you mention the fear of death, that’s funny because if you think about the metaphors we use in our everyday language. Well think about this one, “You’re sticking your neck out.” You are exposing your neck. You are making yourself vulnerable. Even though you are only doing it by revealing a part of your personality that might be weak or maybe by using something in your past that somebody might try to use against you. What you are doing is your holding your neck and that goes into our primal roots where somebody can bite your neck and someone can kill you.
So part of the quest then, is you overcome those fears. If you are afraid of being vulnerable and afraid of expressing who you are, you are missing out on a major part of what it means to be a man, and I mean that sincerely. I think that little boys are afraid of vulnerability and as you transition from a little boy to a man, you recognize with wisdom that you have vulnerabilities and you accept those.
Yeah, but again, you can very easily swing too far to the other end of the spectrum. No one likes the dudes who start crying at the sappiest scene in a movie or at the drop of a hat, or his girlfriend looks at him wrong and he’s like “I just feel so vulnerable right now.”
I mean, no one wants that. That’s an aspect of being a man, sometimes you have to fucking be in a difficult situation and not show vulnerability. But the problem happens when you can’t turn that off. When you are just a rigid badass permanently. And you cannot show any softness and you cannot expose yourself or that vulnerable side of yourself. That’s when the problems happen.
There’s always going to be duality. And focusing on one and being completely vulnerable is masculine, but not focusing on it at all isn’t going to be masculine. And I think that nowadays men have a bigger problem with coming into terms with their own vulnerabilities and I don’t mean “Oh I watched a Hallmark movie or Lifetime movie that made me cry.” But the idea that it’s OK to be anxious because you haven’t found your life’s purpose. It’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
It’s OK if you don’t know what you’re going to do in 5 years. The idea that “You’re 18, what’s your major? What do you do when you graduate college?” It’s OK to not know and just say “I don’t know.”
Now on the other hand it’s not OK to be aimless and never have a plan or even care. So part of being who you want to be is dealing with those different forces that are pulling you in different directions
Yeah. I noticed a theme that ran throughout this whole conversation today, is as you said, duality. And I’ve noticed more and more that it’s almost like a life art or life skill.
One of the most important life arts or life skills is to be able to walk that line in every aspect of your life. That line between being vulnerable and not too vulnerable.
Or making money and making too much money.
I can think of loads of examples form this chat, but it’s an art.
Well, give me some examples.
Jiu-jitsu is one. There is a fine line between training too much and training enough. And you can very easily fall over into the overtraining spectrum of things and then you get injured and tired and burned out. Or if you don’t train enough you don’t progress and it’s your job to use you intelligence and feedback loops that your body and mind provide to decide “How much do I need to train?”
It’s no one else’s responsibility, it’s yours. It’s your responsibility if you’re the lawyer who’s making 60 grand per month but is totally burned out and feeling like shit all the time to say to myself “Maybe will I be better off working 60% of the time and on making 30,000 per month?” It’s your responsibility. You got to walk the line.
And again, it comes back to one of my very favorite expressions of all time which is, “The destiny of the warrior is balance in all things.”
And it’s one of the things that I’m trying to live my life by at the moment.
Right. The lawyer example is so funny because a lot of my friends are what I would call “victims of their own success.” And I say, well, why are you working so hard, you could cut down our cases, you s=don’t have to take that many cases. You don’t have to make $900,000 this year or $1.5 mil this year. Why don’t you just make $250,000? Are you really that much happier than you would be. And they don’t stop and ask. They don’t reflect, “Is this really getting me the outcomes that I want?”
Instead they keep chasing a dragon or chasing something that somebody else told them to chase and what do they find? They find heartache, anxiety, misery, stress, and heart attacks.
Yeah. You’re a perfect example. You’re a qualified lawyer and what are you going today? It’s Friday, you’re sitting in the sun and we’re recording a podcast. You’re having fun, you’re having a chat. How many of your contemporaries from law school are doing that right now? I mean most of them are probably stressed to their fucking eyeballs. Had to have a 20oz latte to get through the second half of the day. They are stressed, they won’t be able to switch off properly tonight without getting blind drunk. And is the money really worth that?
And I don’t know, that’s a question only the individual can answer.
Yeah. A question I like to ask is, what’s the prize? If you are telling me that you want to win something, then I’m going to go into your frame then. I’m not going to tell you that your contest is the wrong contest to enter. What’s the prize?
And most people can’t answer it.
Well uhh, if that’s the prize, is that really what you want?
And very few people actually stop and think, OK, I’m in this contest whether it’s conscious or not and a lot of times it’s unconscious. They are in an unconscious contest with everyone else without realizing it. And nobody stops and says, “OK if I win, what do I win? What’s the prize?”
So I’m going to flip that back on you and ask you what is the prize that you’re chasing?
Right now, I’m definitely not chasing a prize. And that’s what’s great. I don’t feel like I’m in a contest with anyone and I feel like I’m living my purpose, living my calling, I’m contributing to others, so if there is a prize it’s the fulfillment that I get from helping other people because that’s the stage in life where I’m at.
I’m not chasing things or possessions so I would say that I’m not really in a contest any more. And it feels very liberating to feel like when I wake up, I’m no running a rat race against a hundred other rats. I’m sure I’m running my own race in my own ways but I would say more like I’m climbing the mountain rather than running a race.
Well, there’s no way I can improve on that answer. That sounds pretty good.
We’re not doing too bad for an impromptu coffee shop discussion. So we do want to get in a few reader questions. The first one is a fun one and somebody asked you a variation of this on your Reddit AMA which is:
“When did you realize that there is nothing waiting for you in the future that is any better than what is waiting for you right now?”
It wasn’t a lightning bolt realization, it didn’t just happen all at once. It’s something that over time, gradually became clear to me, just through introspection.
And the way I did that was that I noticed that every time I got something I wanted or had been desiring, the enjoyment or pleasure or feeling of sense of achievement that I had derived from that lasted only a short while before it was replaced with another desire.
And the best example I can think of is, a couple years back there was this girl I thought that was so fucking attractive, and I thought “I’ve always wanted a girl like that.” I got together with her and after a while I started getting bored of her and I just wasn’t fulfilled any more. The same thing happened when I got a black belt in jiu-jitsu. It was an amazing feeling and something I had been working toward my whole life and then after a while it just wore off and became…I took it for granted almost.
I realized that there’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a smarter way to approach life and to be constantly chasing micro-rewards or macro-rewards, that I think is the goal of Buddhism and the goal of enlightenment is to just be happy constantly or be happy with whatever you have. Irrespective of the circumstances and the outcomes and to be desireless. And it’s nowhere near where I’m at but I am moving closer towards that. As the more I move towards that, the happier I become.
Yeah, it’s an amazing accomplishment to have a BJJ black belt and it’s funny that you said, you were probably like, “Yeah, this is really cool.” But you wake up the next day, you still have your life to live.
People think, “What happens when I make that first million dollars right?” One year I made a million dollars. After taxes, it was less. And what did I say?
“WOW This is cool.” OK. You wake up the next day though and that’s your life. Life goes on. It isn’t like one event happens that’s going to totally alter the course of your life where if you win one prize, suddenly your life is different. You can sit with me, I’m just bumming around in bum clothes I don’t care. I don’t look like man of means or whatever. Because what? Your life is what it is. You still have the same problems. You are still on the same journey.
So people would say, “Nick you got the first BJJ black belt from Roger Gracie” and it’s a worthy goal but ultimately you got to find something else.
Yeah, I think a Zen master or a Buddhist master he would be as happy sitting down drinking his latte or his green tea or whatever it is as he would be to hear the news that he’d made a million dollars or to be awarded a black belt or whatever.
To hear of the news of a friend’s death. He would have just gone beyond that emotional pendulum that we find ourselves swinging from. And again, it’s not something I have claimed to achieved, but it is something that I’m definitely hoping to one day.
There’s a certain irony to it to and it’s very hard to for all of us with our classical Western minds and our logical minds to understand and people will think “Well, you talk about this Zen stuff and living in the moment, but only losers live in the moment and don’t chase goals.”
But you know, you’ve had some success in life, I’ve had some success in life and it’s really bizarre that you can live in the moment and you can still achieve your goals. The difference is that they are your goals, and it’s what you want to do and it’s how you find fulfilment. And that’s the difference I think. I think it’s how you can reconcile these Eastern concepts with the Western mind is:
Living in the moment doesn’t mean you walk around aimlessly, living in the moment makes you mindful of what you are doing. But when you are mindful of what you are doing, what happens? You start to achieve mastery.
Yeah, and again, let’s take it back to the idea of balance.
I don’t think it’s very easy to live an enlightened and enjoyable life if you’ve got nothing and you’re just walking the streets as a tramp and you have no dignity in your life but for me, everything that I’m working towards is ultimately to facilitate me to be able to live in the moment more.
So the reason that I want financial freedom is that I can practice yoga more and meditate more and not be stressed out by work. It’s not to have money to buy things. For me, that is the main difference, is the goals and everything that I’m working towards and my desires are all ultimate leading me back to a point where finding myself in the present moment is an easier ideal to obtain.
You can find yourself in the present moment in the task of making money. That’s something too that people don’t think of. I enjoy the hell out of my websites and I don’t really make a living off of them but I’m making some money off of them. And I’m finding enjoyment in the things that I do with the website and you are making a lot of your money online, you live in the moment and you enjoy it don’t you?
Yeah. It’s true. And also there’s guy I referenced him earlier in the podcast, named David Deangelo also known as Eben Pagan and something that always stuck with me that he said was that the more he focuses on the future, the better his life becomes now.
I remember when I was in Australia a couple months back and I was teaching a seminar and I was rolling, doing jiu-jitsu. At the end of the class we were all sparring and I put on this really cool music and I was just really in the moment and I was so happy I was almost overcome with emotion and I realized that that moment was only able to be created by all the effort that I had put in and all the goals that I had put in place.
So again, it’s that balance in life. Finding the balance between being in the moment and being able to plan for the future.
Do you have any exercises to get into the moment. I’ll tell you what I do a lot of the times. When I feel like I’m getting anxious or being bothered by something I just stop and I meditate actively on what I’m doing. “OK I’m sitting in a chair and wearing grey pants and there’s my phone. There’s a microphone in front of me. It’s white and it has these sort of black ribbings and the red light is on and it says B-L-U-E,” and I find that once I become conscious aware of what I’m doing, then all that self-talk kind of goes away and I find myself kind of in the moment.
Do you have an exercise that you do that helps you get into the moment?
Yeah. Meditating at night before I go to sleep. Doing a proper 30 minute or 40 minute meditation helps me feel more in the moment the next day. For reason I wake up the next day and I’m much more in the moment. But also an on the spot technique that I use is, it’s a combination of two things:
1) Just taking a deep breath. Literally deep like [demonstrates]. And focusing on the breath and feel of the breath. The sound of the breath.
In addition to that, I call it externalization. Because the problem with a lot of the nature of the work that we all do, it’s very abstract and it pushes you into your head. Like when you read. For example, we’re all sitting in front of the computer reading, most of us are doing that as part of our job. And what this is doing is causing a very mental sort of state. And I don’t mean mental like psychopathic I just mean you are in your mind.
2) Externalization: so when you externalize and start focusing on things around you. As you said, looking at the microphone right? For me, I look up, I look at the sun. I look off into the distance. I get a feel for the sun on my skin. I look at all these external things that are going on and that helps bring me into the moment.
Those are great exercises that we unfortunately don’t learn. And that’s another thing that I wish I had learned 10 years ago. What do you wish you had learned 10 years ago? Well, how to make a living on the internet. that would have been where I spent a lot of time because now I’m playing catch-up and 2) how to get into the moment because when you are in the moment anxiety just goes away. Anxiety is an obsession with uncertain future outcomes.
That’s all anxiety is. “You’re not good enough. is this girl going to turn me down if I approach her or am I not going to be able to pay my rent this month? What’s going to happen?”
But the future is always uncertain so I wish that I’d have known here’s an exercise you can do that could get you into the moment. Could you imagine if you had known this stuff when you were like 14 years old?
Ahh dude! A friend of mine was telling me recently that she started meditating when she was 7. Her mom was big into meditation. They lived on a ranch, they had a bunch of employees and at the end of each day she required that everyone sat in a circle and meditate for 20 minutes or whatever it was.
And I just thought to myself, that there’s no telling…although that’s probably not a good way to think about it, I mean my life might have taken a very negative turn if I had been meditating my whole life. Things are exactly as they should be.
Right. You change one aspect of your life today. Everything could change. You chance one aspect of your life in 10 years and everything would change but the interesting thing is that is such a framing issue because if you would have meditated when you were 7, you’d be at a different place in your life and you’d be just as happy as you are now. But it would have been a completely different road.
You might actually be in a monastery in Tibet you know? Who knows? Or you might have been trying to climb Mt. Everest. You might have been on Wall Street. Who knows where your life would have been?
But it definitely would have changed. That’s one thing that you guys can take away from the podcast, it would be the value of living in the moment. It would be, don’t dismissing all these Eastern concepts as being weak-minded or weak-willed or showing that you lack purpose. And open yourself up to the possibilities that being so psychotic and focused and goal-driven all the time actually isn’t the best way to go.
Oh man, I agree wholeheartedly. It’s been my experience that it doesn’t lead to happiness and actually moves you away from it.
Well thanks a lot for having us on. Of course I have to remind you guys, he has a great book, “The Blackbelt Blueprint” and I will link to it at the end of the post. Thanks again for coming onto the show.
Thank you so much my friend and keep up the good work with Danger & Play. I’ve actually been really enjoying your posts. Also if you guys want to check out my podcast, you can find it at, www.TheJourneyPodcast.com
And I will link to his podcast and the blog at the bottom of the post. Thanks again for tuning in and until next time this is Mike from DangerAndPlay.com
Originally published at www.dangerandplay.com on May 26, 2014.