This week’s conversation is with Dr. Pedram Shojai, a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Master Herbalist and acupuncturist.

Pedram is the New York Times bestselling author of The Urban Monk and The Art of Stopping Time.

He is an acclaimed Qigong Master and Taoist Abbot with a practical approach to modern living, using Eastern thinking and practices to help himself and others overcome the Westernized challenges of everyday life.

His upcoming book, FOCUS: Bringing Time, Energy and Money into Flow, is about bringing your attention in line with your intention to get the life you want, and will release November 10, 2020.

In this conversation, we talk about strategies for improving focus and getting the most out of each day.

For Pedram, it comes down to prioritizing what’s most important and implementing a practice of life gardening.

You get a certain amount of plants. You say you want them watered. You say they’re important to you. How is the allocation of your water?

“There’s a lot of ways to gain efficiency, but if you’re not curating how life is going to flow, give or take some room for magic to happen, then, you’re not focused enough to be directing your life, and you’re tumbling in the white water wondering what happened.”

In This Episode:

What have his life experiences taught him?

Stop taking yourself so seriously. You got to slow down to speed up. You’re going to die, so enjoy today. Be kind. Water all your plants. And, remember, today’s just another day, and things can end very quickly. Things can become magical in an instant. You could be kicking around living a day, and something magical wisps you away into just a complete adventure or you’re in a car accident and you’re laid up your leg up in the air, and all that happens like this. It all happens while we’re taking ourselves so seriously, so caught up in our circumstances.

What was early life like?

Pre-three, it’s easy living, easy street (in Iran). Then, suddenly, you are transplanted to a country (USA) during a hostage crisis where you’re not really particularly liked with parents who hardly speak the language and you don’t speak the language at all. You go from being little Persian prince to complete brown kid outsider in white schools.

How did immigrating to America change him?

It was an opportunity to harden my experience and develop entrepreneurial chops and develop all sorts of skills that I would not have been able to develop having had life handed to me in a different way. For me, it was a learning opportunity. It made me the man I am today. Learn a language, learn how to fight, learn how to adapt, learn how to have a storefront that was acceptable as an immigrant in a very interesting society that forgot about its own roots. America is about scrappy immigrants learning how to adapt and survive and find that.

What led him to Taoism?

I was a straight A student in high school, was ranked number one and then went to college on this track to be a doctor and then hit this dark night of the soul of, wow, this sucks. I don’t want this. I never really had to think about my life. I just followed these footsteps because I was told that’s what the narrative is. Now, I actually have to think about it. So, had a crisis, asked God for help.

How does he describe Taoism?

The balance of harmonizing with nature which is from where we come and really understanding that our essential mind, our true mind is of nature and can be resolved in all of its complexity back to simplicity of just kind of the polarities of yin and yang and balance in life. It plays out in every instance of every life that you see. It’s an operating system that brings us back to balance when done right. Taoists are very happy people. They’re very, laissez-faire. They’re very, “Go with the flow.”

Life is hard

If you don’t understand that life is hard work, then life is harder for you, and you’re back on your heels. The operating system is one of constant examination, improvement, and betterment of your positioning in life. I don’t think it’s an addition process. I think it’s a subtraction process. I think getting out of your own way and finding the simplicity and looking for the Pareto’s principle, if you will, of where your energy is best spent needs to be is something that I think people lose track of.

Prioritizing what is most important

I call it a practice of life gardening where look, you get a certain amount of plants. You say you want them watered. You say they’re important to you. How is the allocation of your water? Your water is your time, your money and your energy. You say your family is important to you, but whenever the kid comes up with the thing he colored, you’re like, “Not now. I don’t have time for you,” or you say your health is important, but you’ll get around to it after this next project and you’ve gained 40 pounds and you’re not sleeping and blah, blah, blah, blah, like, come on, let’s take a realistic look at like how you have to curate this thing called life that somehow operates on these gnomes of this thing called time and pace yourself in a way where you don’t run out of breath. You don’t get over your skis. There’s so many ways to say it.

The power of meditation and mind-body practice

It puts you in parasympathetic nervous system and gets blood going to the organs and your immune system doing what it’s supposed to. It takes you out of wartime to peacetime economy. It powers the prefrontal cortex which allows you higher moral reasoning, negation of impulses, higher cognitive thought, all the things that separate us from the monkeys right here, right in front of you.

His deepest form of mediation

My deepest meditations are probably tree skiing, and some of the shoots up here is just real life stuff where the stakes are pretty high, but if I didn’t have a meditation background, I wouldn’t have that operating system running in the background basically asking me what am I doing right now and allowing me to close windows as fast as they’re opening.

How does meditation translate to real life

Close those windows all the time. Literally, they’re popping up. That’s the nature of the human mind and sympathetic overload and all the stuff that we can talk about, geek out about, is we’re just going to keep opening windows like, “Oh, did I call Billy? Oh, man. Mom did this.” They just start opening these loops of to do’s entrapping us in future time or past time not allowing us to be in present time. You just have to have this almost like virus scanner that’s constantly closing windows and allowing you to be present so that your system is optimized. Look, take notes, put things in your calendar. I’m not saying neglect your life. I’m just saying you don’t need to be thinking about that right now.

Attention and intention is a powerful combination

“Attention and focus are so sparse as a currency in a culture where information wars and social media and everything is trying to grab your attention and use it to manifest the world that they want versus the world that you choose. A big part of my movement now has all been about bringing focus back because without focus, you’re lost.”Things don’t manifest without the fusion of attention and intention. Intention, you’ll bank up some energy and be like, “Damn, that’s it. I’m going to lose 30 pounds. It’s new years. I’m going to stop this. I’m going to stop that.” Then, your focus is just not there. You just squander the energy, and it’s over. Intention with attention together, you’re a force of nature.

How to combat Fear of Others Opinions (FOPO)

Ask yourself who am I and then, when you think you have an answer ask yourself who just answered that and then who just heard you answering that and going back along that deconstruction line of your ego and your storefront, who you think you are and who you need to be for these people and why the hell any of it even matters. Then, you start getting into all the viral memetic programming that led to all of the defenses you’ve created to be this person that can be loved and not judged and respected and whatever the hell led you into the person you think you are.

If he could sit down with a master, what would he ask?

I want to see somebody who is standing in the battlefield of the modern world with bullets flying everywhere, dealing with some crazy real world situations and living the dharma right there in the moment because I’ve gone to the temples. I’ve gone to lots of places in the Himalayas. I’ll tell you, it’s easier to run. It’s a bit decadent to be able to have your life in such simplicity to contemplate the big questions. I just don’t think we can afford that luxury anymore. I like meeting people that are champions of industry and champions of things that are really impactful and important. I want to see how they interact with their kids. I want to see how loving they are with their wife. I want to see how good they are with their staff. I want to see it translate across all the different areas of their life garden to show that they’ve actually demonstrated mastery of this thing called life. It’s easy to just be spiritual smurf or like, “I’m just going to be a good dad, but my career doesn’t matter.” I love seeing proficiency across the channels to someone who’s mastered whatever’s put in front of them.

How does he think about success?

Success is being able to live the life that you choose to live in a way where the outcome is in front of you. The struggle has been gamified. You are happier and growing and more fulfilled in every day. Whether that’s golf, money, raising family or whatever, it’s just becoming good at the game that you have chosen to play. Then, maybe even crossing over to different games to apply that. Look at Michael Jordan then going to baseball. You know what I mean? Some of these guys just completely chunk it and some of them can apply the principles into different verticals because they like it. To me, there’s a caveat, is can you do so and stay in your serotonergic circuitry and not become an addictive dopamine-driven fiend like a complete narcissistic a-hole to everyone around you because all you care about is winning. To me, I have a much more well-rounded definition because I’ve met those other guys. They’re just no fun to be around.

Why is he cautious of the serotogentic system?

To me, there’s the payload. If you’re doing things that make you a nicer, softer, kinder person while also getting your wins in your success bucket or whatever that is, you don’t become an addict to the external criteria that help define you in life, but you’re just happy. Then, you take that happiness into this thing called life where get wins or not and whatever. You sharpen your sword, but your self-worth doesn’t live or die by it. You don’t become an a-hole when you lose a game. You don’t hit your kids because that… I’ve seen all sides of it. I’ve worked with a lot of execs. I’ve seen guys fall to the wrong side of it, and it’s dark side. It makes them less human over time. It makes them insufferable. Their friends and family don’t want to be around them. To me, that’s not a win. To me, that’s not a well-lived wholly lived life.

What routine does he find helpful?

Set up a timer on your desktops or phone. Every 25 minutes, a timer would go off which said, “It’s time for your five-minute break. You get up. You stretch. You do a couple of breathing exercises. You go pee. You drink some water and stretch the one part of your body that’s telling you it needs the most love and then, just do 10 squats. Do 10 push-ups. Do 10 something five minutes twice an hour.

What excites him about the future, considering we’re mid-pandemic and experiencing other natural disasters?

To me, it’s an opportunity for introspection. It’s an opportunity for growth. When the phoenix rises from the ashes like, yeah, this is bad, but this is an opportunity for us to grow as a species. I’m not one of these like, “See, we did it.” Now, God’s punishing us, and here we are, it’s the rapture. I think that’s all just insane. This is an opportunity for growth like anything else. What’s it going to be human species? You want to hang around. Let’s talk about it. In Chinese medicine, we talk about like the moment of death is when yin and yang start to separate. You see right and left separate. You see the polarity starting to become more polarized. It’s a time of death. It’s a time of rebirth when that happens. The tempered, rational, reasonable, heartful voices will rise and people will start to move away from the hatred hopefully and come to the middle and really find a new level of discourse for humanity. We know how pervasive this social media is and all this. It’s just fake news left and right. People should become more discerning and start breathing down to their bellies and wake up to the real answers which come from within.

 

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Pedram Shojai is a dynamic teacher, Taoist minister, and lifelong student of various Alchemical Traditions.