‘When we can be with ourselves doing nothing, we are free, and you will find many hidden talents in yourself.’

I came across the concept of meditation and mindfulness a few years ago, when many people in the media had started popularising and sharing their positive experiences. The whole idea seemed to be sensible and I knew that one day I would also start practising it. But I didn’t really get the idea what it was all about… until I moved to London.

In October 2016 I went to a meet up organised by Dan Graham. And then finally (I guess) I got the sense of Mindfulness. Dan fascinated me with his personality and his approach to life. I just thought I need to draw upon his knowledge and wisdom. And from now on, I am present for all the weekly meetings. Dan has been running a Mindfulness group for two and a half years. He agreed to be my first interviewee on my blog. What’s more, it’s in English. I’m very excited about it, because my final goal is to write and create in English to reach to more people in the world.

I love asking people questions. Dan patiently answering them. We created this interview originally in English, then I have translated it in Polish. If your English is quite good, then I recommend you to read this conversation in English.

Ani: Dan, this is how you describe yourself: ‘I am an osteopath, an entrepreneur, and a lover of coaching’. I would add that you’re a connoisseur of the mindfulness 😉 Let’s clarify in the beginning, if there are any differences between meditation and mindfulness. And what is your own understanding of these concepts?

Dan: Well, I have to say in regard to your first question, for me they are the same thing. Although I have to admit that I have deferred to a much greater authority than me for this answer, an authority I absolutely trust, namely Osho. The more interesting question is what exactly is meditation or mindfulness. For me when I am as I am we can get a taste of what is called mindfulness or meditation. It’s a taste of inner oneness, there’s a quality to it which is a lovely state. And for me it’s all in this: ‘If I am that I am’. You see, most of the time we are divided inside. We don’t like it if we are behaving in a way that our ego is not proud of. So, if I am embarrassed, or depressed, or feeling lonely, or awkward, we tend to judge ourselves. When I judge myself I am not being “I am as I am’. If I could just be depressed, or embarrassed, or lonely then there would not be a problem, it’s my judging of it that creates the problem.

Ani: Yeah, and we’re used to see them as a ‘negative’ emotions which in our opinion we shouldn’t feel and don’t want to feel…

Dan: When we judge how we are in this way we create an inner division. Instead of being one, I am two, I am divided. This is not harmonious. Moreover, if I am locked in a fight with myself, with this judging of myself, I have no connection to anything else, to what is outside, to others, the world, all I am obsessed with is my fight with myself. So, you see for me it’s all in this, the whole secret of life, this inner division, me judging me. And the antidote is to bring in a non-judgemental effort. I see myself in this internal fight and I bring in a part that isn’t judging. The judge is not to be underestimated, it is a colossal force. In fact, I have heard it say that the judge or the ego is known also as the Tyrant, and liberation for Man is liberation from this Tyrant. So, it’s difficult because the ego has such a strong hold. We have to be patient, we have to allow the judge and not start another fight with the judge. It’s a small force of non-judgement that we are introducing but it’s the only way, and it does have an effect, when we allow ourselves to be as we are we come to inner harmony, or mindfulness. So, it’s a natural state that is simply there when we are not engaged in this inner war with ourselves. Say I am feeling embarrassed, then my effort is to allow the feeling of embarrassment, including my judgement of it.

mindfulness interview

Ani: Amazing. I love this idea – it’s releasing even when we experience it just for half a minute. It’s worth adding that the main reason we judge ourselves all the time is because someone used to judge us when we were a child. I like this simple definition: just to be as we are and accept all our thoughts and emotions. This kind of approach, that you present was one of the reason that aroused my interest in mindfulness.

Dan: You know Ani, your response ‘Amazing. I love this idea – it’s releasing even when we experience it just for half a minute”, gives me such joy. My whole wish is to pass on this message and hope that people will get it, will try it and get it. All of us, suffer so much from so many crippling negative emotions like loneliness, awkwardness, boredom etc. But we are never taught this very simple technique of “staying with the feeling”, rather than trying to get rid of it. ‘Allowing’ the feeling is a very effective way of getting rid of the feeling. We always seek to escape the feeling, which a lot of the time doesn’t work. This technique doesn’t  just work with psychological discomfort, it works with physical pain too. We are so afraid of any sort of discomfort, physical or psychological. We make monsters out of nothing, and create a hell for ourselves. So, it gladdens me to see that you have got it, and half a minute is enough, we don’t have to do it for hours. Half a minute to suffer not doing anything on the tube or at home. That’s the message I want to spread. I find it criminal that we are stuffing teenagers heads full of nonsense, and we could be helping them to get to know and manage themselves, and be happier.

Ani: Yeah, I got it, although this is just the beginning. I know there’s a lot of work ahead of me with this issue. I would like to ask you about techniques. You don’t use any special techniques regarding to the place, our body position, the way of breathing or whether our eyes should be closed or opened. Although you admit that good posture can facilitate mindfulness meditation, for example straight back and feet contacting with the ground… But it’s not essential and depend on us.

Dan: This technique I am communicating could be called the technique of no technique. However, it is good to have other techniques up one’s sleeve to try as well as this one. Good posture can instantly change how we think and feel so this is definitely worth exploring. Following the breath, paying attention to sensation in the body, chanting, simply being more conscious, there are many many techniques that can help to lift one’s mood. I like this technique of no technique because for me it is often the easiest one to do. We really have to do nothing, except allow, and not run away from how we feel. The other techniques require a certain energy or force which is not always present for us. This technique of no technique is also the purest because we are being exactly as we are, not changing anything.

Ani: What pushed you to start being interested in mindfulness, if you may shed some light on your past? How long and how often do you practise it?

Dan: When I was 19 I all of a sudden realised that I was a cosmic individual who was going to die. I hadn’t thought about the universe, my mortality before and it pretty much scared the life out of me. I became very depressed. Then about a year later I came across the teaching of G.I Gurdjieff in a book called In Search of the Miraculous. I had never been interested in esotericism before. Gurdjieff in this book seemed to me to know what life was all about, and I was particularly struck by his message that man is a machine, and that we need to get to know our machine. I joined a Gurdjieff group. The group was not an intellectual group, the whole group ethos was about being in the body, having a connection with the body. For me even a momentary connection with the body gave me a little lift, it made me feel better.

Ani: Thank you, Dan, for sharing with your story. We agree to disagree that I’m not a big fan of Osho and Gurdjieff 😉 I’m very sceptical to their life and morality of their behaviour. But I understand that their philosophy had a fundamental impact on your life. And if I would divide their personality and being self-proclaimed guru from ideas they were spreading, I can find something valuable for me. Although what I have things in common with Gurdjieff is his half-Armenian descent. I also like the music that Gurdjieff composed with Thomas de Hartmann.

More to the point, you place large emphasis on the body, which is harmonised with your profession as an osteopath. You said: ‘We live in our heads’, which is absolutely true in this western world, we seem to ignore its existence. Why it’s not enough to concentrate on and to heal our brains and hearts but also our bodies?

mindfulness interview

Dan: The body is full of tension, and stuckness. In a way, the tension and stuckness control what we think and feel. So, unless you can release your stuckness from the body, the head and the heart will not change. Releasing the tension in the body and you are free. It’s a long process because the patterns of tension are very entrenched. We release ourselves and then the next moment we are back in an old habit. If your body is completely free from tension so is your heart and head.

Ani: I see, that’s a true goal to achieve. This short post in your blog about our body can be helpful. When I met you first time, I was impressed of the enormous inner peace and calmness that felt around you. Regardless of whether you speak or walk or just sit there’s no rush and pressure in you. Tell us, please, how did you get to this point? In which extend it’s about your introvert personality, self-improvement or other factors?

Dan: So, I’ve been involved in this sort of work for a long time but I did go through a major transformation about 6 years ago, that enabled me to feel so much more space. I came across a book written by a woman who took over the Gurdjieff work from Gurdjieff when he died in 1948. In it the passage that transformed me was basically saying ‘don’t avoid the void. I was always trying to fill my emptiness and her message was: ‘Don’t fill it, suffer it, allow it’. Now I can see that we all try and avoid our sense of emptiness, with internet, TV, work. But when emptiness is confronted, sooner or later it transforms into its opposite. This really freed me, and this is what I still try to practice. Not to distract myself but to ‘suffer the void’.

mindfulness interview


Ani: Excellent! Thus, you have gained an incredibly crucial skill: to tame the solitude and not try to escape from yourself. Now we live in the world where we are not able to get bored sometimes, always trying to fill the space with anything rubbish. Most of us in a deep level of unconsciousness believe that we are not enough, that we need someone or something to feel safe, valuable, worthy, happy. While the biggest love and attention and care we can give to ourselves. Subsequently other people and things could additionally enrich our life. I have this problem as well, and one of my life’s goal is to achieve this mental independency. Recently, I practice as you advised me before. For example, when I travel I try not to stare all the time on my phone but I like observing people on the tube and following my thoughts. Or when I’m at home alone, I try not to always turn on the radio when I cook or don’t watch youtube when I eat a lunch, but just concentrate and enjoy what I’m doing in that moment. I find myself less tense, more relaxed and peaceful.

Dan: Again, I am so gladdened that it makes you more relaxed and peaceful. For me this is the path to liberation, freedom. Because we are always avoiding doing nothing we fill our time with rubbish, with seeing people we don’t really enjoy being with, watching TV we don’t find interesting. When we can be with ourselves doing nothing, we are free, and you will find many hidden talents in yourself, and you will find yourself doing many more interesting things.

I’ve been involved in the coaching world for some time, but have come to the conclusion that yes, absolutely, we ALL have vast potential in us, extraordinary talents, but how do we get there? In my opinion we need to have ways of dealing with our stuckness. If we weren’t stuck life would not be a problem. But we spend most of our time being stuck or covering up our emptiness. A good coach should listen, and listening is the most powerful thing we can do. But an hour with a coach, an hour where we are listened to every week is completely insufficient, never mind costly. What we really need, in my opinion, is to teach people to listen to themselves. And what does listening mean? It’s what we have been talking about, it’s a non-judgemental attitude to ourselves, it’s giving ourselves a break, giving ourselves space.

Ani: Yes, I absolutely I agree that we all  have full potential in ourselves to become our best friend, coach, therapist etc. So, you’ve made some kind of self-therapy and you are still practising that… We have been taught that we always need someone to lead us. You do something completely different: you let yourself to be your leader. Why do you think it’s important?

Dan: We need to empower each other. If there is a leader, then normally there is a sense of disempowerment of the people being led.

Ani: One of the greatest thing on your Mindfulness meetings is true freedom. You follow ‘the rule no rule’, which means you never even try to force people to do something, or to meditate in a specific way or to behave somehow. I love this approach and I think freedom is the most basic and crucial value needed by people to feel comfortable and be able to develop themselves. What led you to this unusual way of being and leading (I know you hate being told what to do)?

Dan: Yes, I hate being told what to do, mainly because no one can really tell us. So yes, it is difficult, but it’s back to your previous question, it’s about making the priority of the group empowerment of the individual. If empowerment of the individual is the priority within a group, then I feel some quality of energy is received that can have a transformative effect for that individual. It’s the intention to empower which is powerful, so over what is said or done, it’s the intention of wanting to empower others. Also, I have experienced the negative impact of forcing something on myself. For example, earlier you were talking about posture. If it feels right to sit up, put your feet on the floor when you sit, if it makes you feel good, do it, if not stay as you are. And know that we require something different every moment.

mindfulness interview

Ani: In one of our deep conversations you told me that you can’t imagine living the life without being a rebel. Explain widely, please, what do you mean by rebelling.

Dan: This is more to do with seeing rebel as one who can think for themselves. It’s not such a common property of people, to think for themselves. In my opinion the only thing that can really help us to think for ourselves is to be free inside. Now it’s back to what we were saying earlier. How to be free inside? For me the most powerful way of doing this is to stop running away from our sense of inner emptiness. All our fear comes from this feeling that we are no one, our inner emptiness that we experience when we are not engaged in anything. Our fear of death, that nothing will remain of us when we die, comes from this identification of ourselves as being empty. But as I said earlier, if we confront this sense of emptiness, don’t try and cover it up, it is transformed. Then we know that this sort of superficial emptiness does not exist. Therefore our feeling about death changes when we realise we are not the empty self we thought we were. We become far freer because we are not spending our whole time running away from ourselves. Then we will begin to realise our hidden talents, and potential, they just come to the surface.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share this with you and your Readers, I am greatly appreciative.

Here you will find more information about Dan’s Mindfulness group: https://www.meetup.com/Coaching-Exchange/

This is Dan’s website:  http://themindfulnesswalk.com/

If you have any questions to Dan (or to me), feel free to ask in comments below 🙂

Ani - Liberal Rebel