Combining Neuroscience and Mindfulness to Build Greater Mental Toughness - An Interview With Mark Divine

Combining Neuroscience and Mindfulness to Build Greater Mental Toughness - An Interview With Mark Divine

What follows is a transcript for the podcast Mental Toughness - Mark Divine - Mindset.

Topics within the interview include:

  • The role that stillness, time spent in nature, and awe play in building mental toughness
  • How to properly meditate and embrace sacred silence
  • Why we need dedicated training in order to break negative brain patterns
  • Three preparatory practices to focus the mind
  • How to tune our bodies vibrationally to qualities that are experienced emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually

The Role That Stillness, Time Spent in Nature, and Awe Play in Building Mental Toughness

Dr. Dan Stickler: Welcome to the Neurohacker Collective Collective Insights podcast. I'm your host for this episode, Dr. Dan stickler. And today we'd like to welcome back Mark Divine to the show. Mark recorded an episode with Daniel Schmachtenberger back in 2017, where Daniel described Mark as being in a category by himself and having a degree of actual military elite forces training, combined with embodied philosophic work.

But for those of you who may not be familiar with Mark, he's a retired Navy Seal Commander, Mark Divine, and he has developed two powerful integrative training systems that have served thousands of warriors, athletes, and professionals from different walks of life. Those would be Seal Fit and Unbeatable Mind. Mark, welcome back.

Mark Divine: Dan, it's great to see you again. Hoo yah. Thanks for having me.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. You, as well. We've become friends in the last year and spent some really expansive time together. And it's been a pleasure getting to know you. And really for me, I had an idea of who you were based on all the readings, all the podcasts I've listened to. And you were so much deeper than that.

And I should have seen that in the readings, even. You know, most people have this idea of Mark Divine, this Seal Commander. And it's just like, he's this intense, just push everybody to the limits type of guy, take no prisoners.

Mark Divine: No, I can do that. Believe me.

Dr. Dan Stickler: You are a very deep thinker. And your explorations in the human mind and the consciousness have been quite impressive for me to learn from you. So, to give us some background for people, can you, I mean, we did this before in the previous podcast, but I'd love to have you give us a bit of a backstory of what you did to create Seal Fit and Unbeatable Mind.

Mark Divine: Sure. Gosh, it's been like five years. So, I mean, I doubt anyone listening has heard that initial podcast. That Neuro Hacker's come a long way since then. And so has Mark Divine.

Yeah. So gosh, I was just talking to Tina about this, but I'm from a small town in upstate New York, which is really interesting because I was pretty average. And I came from a family that was probably typically effed up. Right? A lot of alcoholism, multi-generational, my father was pretty abusive. At the same time, I loved the shit out of him. You know what I mean?

And he did some really good things for me. He got me out in the wilderness. We were fortunate to have kind of two homes. One was this small town outside of an industrial city called Utica, New York. And then in the summer we would summer on Lake Placid, New York. And most people would recognize that as the home of the Winter Olympics twice over.

And this place was really formative in retrospect. When I can look back, Dan, and say, okay, what were some of the major formative experiences of my childhood? It was Lake Placid because we didn't have any road access to our house. We took boats to get there.

And our backyard was a mountain range and our front yard was a lake. And because being under the roof of my house was a little bit unsavory, I would spend as much time as I could outdoors, often alone. Right? And so I got very comfortable in the stillness of nature, which then led to finding stillness in my mind and being comfortable with it.

And so you could say, Dan, that my first mental training laboratory was nature and not just sitting under a tree. I mean, I'm like long endurance runs alone, where I would just go and run up a mountain and then run down. And just getting into these intense flow states before flow state was even a term that we knew about. This is back in the seventies and early eighties.

And also sitting for long periods of time. I had my first disembodiment experience sitting on top of Whiteface Mountain after one of these intense, run hikes up there, where I, literally, would try to run up the mountain. And I'd go flying past all these hikers and they just thought, I think I was this crazy guy. I guess I was impervious to pain even then. Which made me a pretty good candidate for the Seal teams later on.

And I remember getting the top of Whiteface Mountain and plopping down, pulling out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And before I even took a bite, I just had this experience of me kind of like suddenly kind of shifting my perspective to where I was looking at myself, sitting there holding onto my sandwich. And I had this complete sense of awe, and peace and quietude. Right?

And that lasted, it felt like it lasted for hours, but it was probably only a few minutes. And then it kind of like snap back into reality and ate my sandwich and went down the hill, and didn't think much of it except for, wow, that's cool. I kind of like this, you know what I mean?

So anyways, fast forward, that led me also to competitive sports. So, my second mental training laboratory was the pool. And what's cool about competitive endurance sports, in particular, swimming is you're doing a combination of breath control and mental control. And I happened to have a swim coach at Colgate University who was a pioneer in sports psychology and had me visualize. Right?

And so in the mid-early eighties, actually, I was doing performance visualization. Again, pretty much before this was a thing.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Let me stop you for one second there. I don't want to interrupt your flow-

Mark Divine: But no, no, please do, because I can go down a rabbit hole real deep.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I mean, what I'm hearing from you is that you really didn't have any training in mindfulness and this flow states. So, you didn't have any pre-framing of what it was supposed to be like. Right?

Mark Divine: Not in the formative years until I was 21, which I still consider pretty damn young to come to meditation with a qualified instructor. So, all this so I learned breath control without knowing it was breath control. I learned imagery, performance imagery, and what I would call future state imagery, which I used when I decided to become a Navy Seal.

And that's a little bit, it's a longer story, but I applied performance imagery, which is like practicing a skill to becoming worthy of being a Navy Seal in a future time period. And it had the same incredible and profound impact on me where I incrementally gained more and more self-confidence and self-awareness that…

And while this was happening, the idea of being a Navy Seal went from interest and strong desire to absolute certainty. And I remember an actual shift in my consciousness that happened over about a three to five day period. After nine months of me mentally practicing becoming a Navy Seal, before I had even been selected, before the recruiters even said, yay, thumbs up, where I suddenly had this overwhelmingly sense of knowing ness that I was going to be a Navy Seal. And I just needed to kind of mark the time and go through the motions.

And that was all because what I now call I won in my mind before I stepped foot in the battlefield. So, that imagery work came from the swim coach who taught me to swim my 200 meter breaststroke in my mind. And the cool experience there that taught me that something was valuable there was because by the time I was able to swim my entire race in my mind, which as you can imagine, it's not easy to do. There's a fair amount of concentration power. you have to develop to do that, to swim eight lengths in your mind without losing focus and to be able to track your time in the stopwatch.

And I was able to do that after a few months of training. And I would get roughly the same exact time, every time I swam my event in my mind. And it was three seconds faster than I ever had ever swam in the pool, which is a long freaking time. You know, that's like a lifetime for swimmers.

Anyways, to make a long story short that all happened my sophomore year. And then I wrangled my way into an overseas study program in Colgate my junior year. So I didn't swim because swimming was kind of a winter into spring and this study program was going to go fall into winter and then I was going to only be able to catch the very latter half, not even the latter, like the very final two races of the swim season.

So, I figured I was kind of done with swimming. And I came back from that. So, I did all this mental training. Then I didn't swim for about almost a year. And I came back in the spring of my junior year.

Mark Divine: I ran into the swim coach and we had our pleasantries and he said, "Oh, by the way, Mark, we've got our final, big championship race next weekend. Would you like to jump in? You know, I still consider you part of the team." Of course, and not a fiber in my body wanted to go do this because I hadn't swam in over a year.

I was being polite to him so I shook my head, yes, Mr. Codependent, Mark. And there I was standing on the block. And I jumped in, you know, the gun went off and I jumped in the water, and I started my 200 meter breaststroke. And I had this sensation that I had been here before. And I swam the best race of my life.

And guess what? I got the time that I visualized. It was my last race was my fastest time ever by three seconds. It blew me away and I'm like, geez. And so anyways, fast forward, I went down to New York City after I graduated from Colgate University and I took a job at Coopers and Library, which is now Price Waterhouse Coopers.

And they sent me to NYU Stern School of Business to get my MBA. And I think this is kind of the way I think, I didn't want to see my body, mind go into decline like I saw everyone else on Wall Street. You know, I was like, I do not like the way these people look. I don't like their habits. I don't like their paunch and their gray, fatty faces. That's not going to be me.

I'm going to keep training because I think that's just part and parcel of who I am. And I was only 20 at the time. So my routine would be, I would get up every morning and run five to six miles. And then I would just sit and do what my little bit of meditation that I thought I knew how to do, which just came from me and my experiences, no training at that point and no books.

Because this is all pre-internet, nobody was meditating at the time, or so I thought. And then at lunchtime, when everyone went out for their high carb lunch with a beer or two, I would go to the gym and bang out what I now know is a high intensity workout. You know, I would just find whatever machines were open and I'd just crank out the fastest workout I could, break the biggest sweat I could, and get back in time to shower up and get back to work.

But anyways, Dan, I had about two hours between when they let me off at 5:00 PM to go to school and when school started at 7:00 PM down at the World Trade Center. And so most people would go home, change, have dinner. And I just looked at that and said, Hey, there's another training window here. What can I do?

And this is where my life changed. So, I was walking home one day to where I lived on 22nd street and on 23rd third street and Broadway, I walked underneath this building and I heard all these screams and shouts coming from the second floor. And I had no idea what it was. I thought maybe something horrible was happening.

So I stopped and look up, and I was standing under this big flag that said World Sado Karate headquarters. And I was like, huh. And I was intrigued. So I went up there and I saw this massive class going on in this beautiful 2000 square foot dojo, hardwood floor. And there in the middle was this like five foot five Japanese guy who was built like a brick house.

And just the most interesting individual because he was like badass, you know like you do not want to mess with this guy. But then moments later he'd be like giggling like a school girl, you know? And I was like, wow, that's really interesting. And this looks really cool.

So I signed up. And within two weeks I noticed that on Thursday nights he had a small group of black belts that he would turn the lights off and they would sit on these little Zen, these meditation benches, which I know now is Zazu benches. And so out of this guy had hundreds of students worldwide, and about a thousand at this school in New York, very famous teacher, and only about 10 black belts would do the meditation. And I asked him if I could join. And he said, sure.

So at 21, I took up Zen meditation under his watchful eye and he taught me basic Zen. It was like bootcamp meditation. And I did it religiously, so to speak, although, that's not a great word to use. I did it every Thursday night and we would go to the Zen mountain monastery in upstate New York for these long retreats where we paired karate with Zen, with the monks. And I was able to really upgrade my morning practice.

And so I took up a morning practice that lasted about 20 minutes to 30 minutes, and I would practice Zen and then I would practice my visualization, visualizing whatever it was that I was trying to become or manifest in my life. At any rate, it was a really cool experience and I was doing it just on pure faith and because it made me feel good. And again, I think the reason for this is because of the contrast between not feeling good because of the chaos and trauma of my family. And I was extraordinarily fortunate to find that, hey, there was like this yin and yang contrast between not feeling good and feeling chaotic and unsettled, and like something's off over here. And sitting on that bench and letting my mind settle and feeling this total piece of calmness come over me.

And so that was my first motivation, Dan, was just to feel good. And because I trusted Nakamura because he was a force to be reckoned with, I stuck with it. And I went from looking at meditation as something that would just make me feel better and had some physical health benefits, to recognizing and experiencing this total transformative of power.

And I had some remarkable experiences sitting on that bench that literally caused me to question everything, every story that I had grown up with, and that I had taken to be my own. And I literally rewired my entire brain until I, suddenly, over the course of about nine months, I suddenly saw that I was meant to be a warrior. And not a Navy Seal, mind you, but I had this sense that my calling was to be a warrior

And so I started asking better questions, questioning and challenging all the assumptions that I had made in my life of that core story, that origin story. And then I rejected the origin story without even having anything to replace it with.

And that's when I was introduced to the Navy Seals, literally once again, walking home from work, I, came across a Navy recruiting office and they had a poster on the window. And the title of the poster said, be someone special. And it had pictures of guys doing cool shit. It didn't say anything about the Navy Seals, but I was transfixed. I just stood staring at that and I was like, shit, that's me.

That's what it is. That's what I'm doing. That's how I'm supposed to be a warrior. There's a lot more to this story, but it is pretty extraordinary. I credit meditation for completely transforming my brain, my mind, my experience of life, what it means, how I even characterize what it means to be human all came from those early years.

And then it's just really just grown deeper and richer since then. And I've never stopped practicing. The nature of how I practice has really changed over the years as I've exposed myself to many, many different types of practices and really started the experiment with myself and with the Seal trainees that I started to teach, because I wanted to bring them this knowledge. And it's been just an incredible journey.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. And you know, the thing I love about this is that you didn't have that formal induction into it from the naive standpoint. And then somebody comes along and trains you. Our mutual friend, Kurt, and the three of us have had some great conversations about that pre-framing aspect of-

Mark Divine: Sure.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Of certain things. When you're being trained by someone, it's almost as if, if you haven't had any past experiences with it, it's almost as if this is what you expect. And this is the only way to do it because you're learning from someone.

But when you can take it without their pre-framing, it opens things up because you get to experience flow without knowing what it was. You got to experience this mindfulness without actually being trained in it. But then you learn about it and you learn that there are ways to do it. And then at that point you can kind of select your path. And it sounds like that's what you did.

How to Properly Meditate and Embrace Sacred Silence

Mark Divine: That's right. And there's a lot you said there. I agree with that because I didn't have to take it on blind faith. And that's why a lot of people fail in meditation because they hear that it's beneficial. So, they download an app like Focus at Will or Headspace or whatever.

And so they learn that meditation is just kind of randomly listening to a guided visualization. And as you know, there are benefits from a medical perspective. Right? You're going to have some stress release and just the act of sitting calmly is going to bring benefit. But it's not really meditating. That's just stress management.

And then the other pitfall is if you do find a teacher, and you pointed to one of the pitfalls, a lot of teachers will say, this is the only way, but it might not be the right way for that student. And the best teachers from the Eastern traditions would be very, very cautious. And it's kind of like the metaphor of the karate kid who was just told to paint the freaking fence or wax the window, you know, wax on wax off, and I'm going to just observe you.

And so the teacher would observe the student for a long period of time and then have the student work on foundational skills, such as just getting healthy exercise, nutrition, ethical principles of good and right living until the teacher had a good sense for what was necessary for this person's particular shape of mind. And then they would give them a practice that would be the right practice for them.

So, meditation is such a broad subject that it's almost been corrupted to even use that term because it's really a collection of hundreds, if not thousands of different practices that really should be customized or personalized based upon where the individual's mind is at.

I was fortunate in that Zen was good for me because I was a disciplined individual. But Zen doesn't work for a lot of people because Zen is like bootcamp. Right? And if you're not needing or wanting that kind of like austere discipline of the Japanese Zen way, then it will backfire. Right?

And also there's several.... Well, let me say this. There's a lot of preparatory practices. So breath training is a really good preparatory practice. Exercise and using mental techniques to concentrate your mind like I talked about with swimming or endurance sports, is preparatory practice. And you could say that it's meditation in a sense that you're releasing endorphins, you're getting your mind into a narrower rut where you're blocking out more random chatter.

And so you experience some of the benefits. But it's not true meditation in the sense, because there's a lot going on. There's a lot of distractions still. And true meditation is ultimately turning inward and moving away from mental activity altogether.

Three Preparatory Practices to Focus Your Mind

And there's three ways to do that. One is through concentration where you radically focus on one thing. It could be a mantra, which is an internal sound or even a spoken sound. It could be a spoken sound would be a chant, which is similar to an internal mantra. It could be a visual object, external or internal, stuff like that.

It could be box breathing. Right? Which is what I teach the Seals to really concentrate their mind. So, concentration really gives you a lot of mental power to hold your attention. So we call it attention control in the Seals when I was training them.

And then to be able to notice when your attention gets captured by something else, and to be able to bring it quickly back to the mission or the task at hand. And then to be able to sustain, have the mental power to sustain your attention un-distracted until your mission is complete. And, as you can imagine, Seals are masters at concentration, because we train it ad nauseum and everything we do is basically some form of concentration training for the mind.

So that's one valid path, but there's a point where you have to let go of the concentration in order to go further in the practice. And that's where the Zen master would come in and say, okay, now you take your foot off the gas pedal, allow content to arise in your mind again, but don't attach to it. Maintain that separate witnessing aspect.

And so now, that part is beginning to feel more like what's commonly called mindfulness. And what the reason a lot of people fail at mindfulness is because they sit there and they think, well, I'm just supposed to watch my thoughts. But they're completely merged with their thoughts.

And so they're really just thinking. Or they're thinking about their thinking, which, you know, we would classically call contemplation, which again has some benefits. Right? Contemplation compared with journaling is a beautiful practice, but it's not meditation.

So, mindfulness works when it's built on a concentrated mind. So, it's good for people who have already done a lot of concentration work, whether formally or just naturally through the way they've been training their mind. They've got the metacognitive ability to already separate from their thoughts.

And then mindfulness is the capacity to just watch your thoughts with a dispassionate, non-attached manner and continue to turn inward and inward and inward until the witnessing starts to become experienced as not from mind, but from pure awareness. And very few people make that shift from witnessing from mind to witnessing from pure awareness.

In fact, the classical form of mindfulness in the West is the Burmese form and it's not even taught that way. It's taught improperly from my experience. And then, yeah.

Dr. Dan Stickler: That's an area that I want to stop you there because-

Mark Divine: Sure.

Dr. Dan Stickler: I want to explore this further because it's a topic that's been coming up lately around mindfulness. Our collective group, we had the call with [Florin 00:24:02] [Niedrich 00:24:02] yesterday. And we got in to a conversation about, I had recently spoken with someone about the difference in the Eastern mindfulness versus Western mindfulness because mindfulness was really developed in the Eastern cultures.

Mark Divine: Right.

Dr. Dan Stickler: The problem was that they think differently than the people in the Western cultures in the sense that in the Eastern cultures, mindfulness is centered around the we/us, whereas, in Western cultures where we're more, I/me, it's more of a different form of mindfulness that occurs.

And I mean, you learned your mindfulness through a Eastern teacher, which, that's probably been what kept you in the initial or the, with the essence of what the mindfulness was about. Because they did a study where people who focused on the I/me in mindfulness were actually less generous afterwards than people who focused on the we/us. And I think there's that cultural difference gets lost sometimes when people are trying to do that in the context of Western culture.

Mark Divine: Yeah. This is an interesting thing to discuss and there's a valid point there. But again, we have to be careful about the context and the language we're using back to the idea that meditation is a very broad, it's like saying leadership. Right? There's a million ways of leading and in ways to define leadership. There's a million ways to meditate and a way to define meditation.

And mindfulness as a subset of meditation also has many different faces to it. So, just like I talked about in Zen, whereas, literally, just sitting and counting your breath to try to get to 10. And if you didn't get to 10 without thinking of anything but the count you had to go back to zero, that's like bootcamp 101. That was one of hundreds of practices. I never got beyond that in Zen, because that's all Nakamura knew. But it was enough to get me on the path.

What you're talking about and what this author was talking about is a preparatory practice in mindfulness for character development. And so, back to what I'm saying, you're not ready to really do the higher forms of meditation if you're in a negative state. And most Westerners are in a very negative state. Right? We're wired to be negative.

And so, part of our preparatory practices are the mindfulness practices of, in fact, it's funny. You should bring up. I got a bunch of them that, literally, my wife just gave me. Said, Hey, check these out. It's mindfulness. I said, well it is. But their preparatory practice: reverence for life, loving kindness, right?

Mindfulness practice on happiness, nourishment and healing, loving speech and deep listening. This would be about others, right? How do we relate to others?

So what these really are, are reflective practices where we take in either through a guided meditation where someone else is bringing us and having us, cuing us to reflect upon being kind and loving and to radiate that, you know, the classic loving kindness is think of someone that you actually really, really love, like your child or your spouse. And just bring them into your heart and, shower them with love.

And then you extend that out to people that you just kind of like. Right? And then you spend, then you take it out to people that you're neutral toward and you shower them with love. And you try to feel into that love. And then you even bring your enemies into this, and you feel love for them.

Tuning our Bodies Vibrationally to Qualities that are Experienced Emotionally, Cognitively, and Spiritually

Over time, this begins to cultivate more positive energy. Because, ultimately, we're just energy as you know, as a medical person. Like ultimately, at a quantum level, we're just energy and that energy is vibrating. So, negative energy is vibrating slower and has a different quality than positive energy.

And so, we're trying to basically tune our bodies vibrationally to the higher qualities, which are experienced emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually as love and forgiveness, and bliss and joy.

And I love Dr. David's Hawkins scale of consciousness. I'm sure you're familiar with, a lot of listeners are because he demarks courage as demarcation line between negative energy. Below courage is anger and guilt, and jealousy and rage, and shame and those things.

And above courage or even pride, being negative, and above courage, then you get into acceptance and forgiveness, and love and joy and bliss and all that kind of stuff. Universal love.

And so, these preparatory practices, which has also been lumped into the realm of mindfulness are really like what I talked about as you're cultivating the character to be able to sit in a non-attached, non-judgmental, positive state to where your mind can then turn inward without grasping or without distracting, or without getting stuck in a, what the yogis would call a [Samscara 00:29:12], or a negative rut.

Because you just can't, 00:29:17 the mind is just so conditioned by everything: society, your upbringing, your parent. And so it's like, you're born with this kind of like blank piece of clay. And by the time you're adult, even a young adult, it's just completely shaped and formed and most people think that's the way they are. But through these practices, you can start to reshape the mind.

But ultimately, true meditation, like I said earlier, is to go beyond the mind itself. The experience of enlightenment and the idea of Mu, which is the Zen concept of no mind, is to go beyond the mind. Now, in order to go beyond the mind, you have to use the mind. And this is the trick, right?

But in order to use the mind effectively, you have to purify it. So to the Zen, they use the concept of purifying the mirror of the mind. So you're reflecting the purest qualities of awareness through the mind. And the experience of no mind or [satori 00:30:16] is when you finally recognize and experience pure awareness beyond thought. And then you turn toward that.

And so that you're not done yet. Satori is not enlightenment. And I think a lot of people mistake, awakening, or satori for enlightenment, especially in the West. It's not, it's having a temporary experience, an aha moment and say, oh, that's what that is.

But your mind is still turned outward most of the time, but you can sit in meditation, turn to inward and experience that again. And so the more you do that, the more you experience it again and again and again, and then you take it, what they say off the mat or off the bench. And you begin to have that practice and experience in your everyday waking life.

Until someday, and it can happen quite quickly, that becomes your permanent mental state, or permanent state of mind beyond mind. Right? And it gets hard. And this is also where they say words fail us. Right?

It's the experience that's important. There's no words. Words can only point to it. That's why they call them pointing out instructions. I don't know. I probably went down a little bit more rabbit hole and I don't know.

Dr. Dan Stickler: No. No.

Mark Divine: I think the answer for these preparatory practices, culture does matter. And going back to, like we were talking about, an effective teacher would give a Westerner, a very, very different set of preparatory practices than an Easterner.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Well, using the language of turning your attention inward, I think a lot of people get confused by that because they think, oh, I have to think about me and who I am. But it's more of thinking of that in relationship, to everything else, the in nature and other people. It's the we/us, which is what the Eastern culture is really focused on rather than the self, the I-

Mark Divine: Well, it's turning their-

Dr. Dan Stickler: Relationship.

Mark Divine: If you turn it inward toward the ego, you're looking for the wrong thing.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah.

Mark Divine: Because when you say turn inward, what we really mean is turn away from the ego, which is always attached outwardly. And when you turn inward and you begin to tame that ego, and you begin to get those experiences that I was just alluding to, then you recognize that everything is connected.

So you start to see the space instead of the separate whole, you know, the separateness. So when I look at you, I see that we share the same space. Then we arise out of the same space or the same consciousness. And we share that.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah.

Mark Divine: And we share it with everybody and everything. And so we are absolutely utterly the same. But as we're expressed in this dual material of human life, we have our uniquenesses. But if you celebrate the sameness and applaud the uniquenesses, then you get harmony, and you get peace and you get inclusion.

Dr. Dan Stickler: The one thing I-

Mark Divine: And you get nonviolence. But if you separate, you know, if you focus on what separates us, then you get the opposite of those things, unfortunately.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. I think I've personally noticed one of the biggest hurdles for me has been the attachment thing you talked about.

Mark Divine: Yeah.

Dr. Dan Stickler: We have the ego wants to be so attached to everything. And giving up attachments, that was probably my biggest challenge, but the most freeing of it. And it was not easy. It was hard. It was painful.

But the attachment piece was an essential piece that was the last remaining piece for me really. Well, I think something else will come up in the future.

The Link Between Meditation and Humility

Mark Divine: I think this is where things like psychedelics or peak state moments, euphoric moments, like having a child. You start to experience that unity even if it's temporary and you begin to say, wow, there's something more going on here. And it's going to draw you more and more toward the process of evolution, natural evolution of the mind back toward its source.

And my experience is that also happens quite naturally. You can accelerate it through discipline and training. But ultimately, the irony is, it's accessible to us right here and right now. And this, again, I learned this through Zen and through, or even through yoga is like sometimes the harder you strive for it, the further you seem you get away because the ultimate path to that is through surrender. It's not striving. This is why I said concentration will ultimately be an obstacle.

Because the experience is right here, right now. The experience of being alive and being aware of your aliveness, or the experience of being just purely aware of yourself, being aware of yourself as a thinking, human being, thinking, acting human being, that is the experience of enlightenment.

And we want to make it super fancy. People who have that experience often don't stabilize there and they come back into their ego, and then they can do great harm as teachers. Right? Because they've got some fancy words and they have had some valid experiences, but they haven't stabilized there. And so their ego, then, takes over again.

And so it's a little bit tricky. And to me, the ultimate arbiter or like my Zen master, karate master, Nakamura, is a great example. Humility, right? Absolute, utter humility, and not ever putting oneself on a pedestal is being better than even the lowest of low people.

It's kind of like with Jesus people, Jesus' teachings, the meek shall inherit the world is what he said. But the meek didn't mean weak. It meant humble. Right? And so, true meditation leads to great humility. It doesn't stoke the ego.

And so I think a lot of people, you have to be aware of bypassing. There's a really famous saying amongst early meditation practitioners who were also psychotherapists, who brought meditation into their psychotherapy practices in the seventies and eighties, and they had a real problem with it because they were working with a lot of people who experienced childhood trauma or had ego development challenges. Attachment disorders and different things.

And when people who have attachment disorders or ego development, stunted ego development, adult ego development, they start meditating. They have one of these experiences that we're talking about, then they suddenly can take on like a God complex.

They'll do a massive, emotional bypass. When what they really need to be doing is 20 years of therapy before they start meditating. Right? And I had a meditation teacher once tell me, if you're an asshole and you meditate for 20 years, you're likely just to be a more focused asshole.

Tools to Train the Mind, Body, and Spirit

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. I love that. So, one of the things you talk about is having daily practices of mind, body, and spirit. And we've talked about mind and body. But I think there's a lot of people that don't quite fully understand spirit or the different ways to really focus on spirit and what is it, you know?

Mark Divine: Yeah, this is true. I think religion has done a great disservice for people in trying to really, it's confusing, right? The word spirit and soul are tossed around and they're talked about differently from different traditions. And so it can get very confusing.

And so, for most people's, their spiritual practice is church, and that's fine or prayer, and that's fine too. Those are all valid. Again, you have to be clear about what it is you are trying to do with your mind in terms of training your mind.

00:38:28 Face it, if you're not training your mind, then the world's training it for you and the results will speak for themselves. And so, in order to train the mind, you've got to train the body because the body is the seat of the mind.

Like the mind is like a river flowing in the bed of the body. It can't exist without the body. Consciousness needs the body, right? From a duality sense, the medical profession that says that consciousness is a result of complexity and experiences in the brain, that's accurate. But it's not the whole story. 00:39:05

So, we train the body in order to clarify, purify, cleanse, train, focus, insert word, the mind. And the brain becomes healthier as we do this. And you can back into this too, by, nutrients for the brain, detoxifying the brain, all the brain hacking stuff is all valid.

That's kind of like backing into mental training by making sure that the brain is healthy. And then you can add your heart brain and your gut brain to that, your biome, and your heart, and look at those as parts of your brain system and make those really healthy. So, those will improve your mental capacity. And so that's the body training.

Then the mind training, we use these tools that we're talking about, concentration, visualization, attention control. And we can begin to work with the mechanics of the mind and improve how you perceive, improve your imagery capacity, which then will help you improve your memory of past, as well as your memory of future.

So, instead of a default mode where you just have fantasy in the future, you actually create a memory like I did of myself becoming a Navy Seal, being a Navy Seal. And then that became a memory of a future event that hadn't happened, yet. But because I had trained it in my mind, it was still a past event.

All thinking, all active thinking is based upon memory. Right? You can't actively think about something you've never seen or... Had-

Dr. Dan Stickler: A psychedelic, I mean-

Mark Divine: Right. Well, this, I would suggest like, that's kind of like the first pushback against the materialists who say that the mind is only a construct of your experience in the brain. It's like, how is it possible to see things that your brain has never seen and remembered?

Dr. Dan Stickler: Or have an experience that you have no words for?

Mark Divine: Yeah. How can you have an experience that comes through you that, like ESP, that is not something that you've heard before or that you know before? And the yogis call that direct perception. That comes from pure awareness and from the field of all being, all things, universal consciousness.

It doesn't come from a brain firing and memory. Right? So that's, and so now we're getting into spiritual, the idea of, again, a word that has been corrupted. So we got to be very, very, you know, discerning with how we use language.

So now we say, okay, we're we're training the mind. And the mind has these certain functions. The yogis say the minds does these five basic things. Right? Memory. We talked about. Imagery, right? We talked about that. Rational thinking, using your neocortex, like planning, systemic thinking. And then ruminating that's a distinct function.

Dreaming is one of the more unique functions of the brain. And then direct perception. Direct perception is spontaneous. This is what I'm trying to teach now in my exponential mindset classes. How do we train leaders to be able to operate from the field of direct perception, which is that field of awareness where you, through these practices, you turn in to be able to be able to think about your thinking from the field of pure awareness, that direct directly perceiving capacity, where your knowledge or your response is accurate and spontaneous?

The Japanese warriors have a word for that called [Shubuni 00:42:44], effortless perfection. It's, not the same as flow, but you can experience this in a flow state if you've trained your mind to be in this pure awareness, direct perceiving state, right?

Because when you are in a state of that directly perceiving you have the same qualities as flow. Right? You have control of time. Time actually starts to become kind of meaningless in the state because it's pure presence.

And now when you have these experiences and you train for them, and you have them more and more, and you begin to stabilize that, we call that spiritual development in the East. Because they look at that pure consciousness, pure awareness, and you could insert and say, that's God. God isn't a man sitting on a chair, in heaven. God is all that is. God is all. Right?

And so that's why the words start to get tricky because we have these different hooks to words like God or spirit or soul. But the human, the very direct experience, and this is, I'm like an N equals one study, practitioner. I love studying and learning these things. And then I'll go read and validate, oh, what is what my experience sounds a lot like what that guy was saying over there, that yogi who wrote this book 350 years ago, sounds similar to that.

So, maybe it was close to that, but let me validate that against what this Tibetan guy says or what this Western psychotherapist is saying. And so then you start to recognize where you're on track or you're off track. It's a clumsy way to get there. And I wouldn't recommend it for everybody because it's taken me a long time to understand my experiences that I had as an 18 year old or 21 year old. You know?

I wish I had a guru who could have laid out the path for me. But I think the reason for me, Dan, that that didn't work out that way was because I needed to teach Westerners. And I needed to teach them in a language that they understood. And I couldn't come at it as like, hey, I'm a [ZojaZen 00:44:48] master, or I'm a Zen master, Rimpoche Divine. Right? I have about 10 students.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Well, can you, actually on that topic, can we move into the Unbeatable Mind?

Mark Divine: Of course.

Dr. Dan Stickler: What is it that people can expect when they join Unbeatable Mind?

Mark Divine: Well, Unbeatable Mind, as you know, came out of my training of Seals and special operatives. It's a program of total integration. And I believe because this is what worked for me, that one of the challenges that we've had in the West is we love to particularize.

You know this as a medical professional. We love to break things down into the smallest component part. And then we just focus on that little part and we forget the whole. And so when I trained, especially through the martial arts, I trained the whole. And the parts came along and integrated and worked a lot better than if I just focus on the little tiny parts.

Sometimes you have to focus on the parts and break things down in order to learn proper form. And you can do this both in meditation as well as physical movements. But ultimately, you have to integrate and move as a whole and think as a whole.

And so what I did was said, okay, I'm going to train these Seals in a holistic, integrated development program. And we're going to focus on their physical health, wellness, and capacity as humans. And obviously, for that population, I had to get them up to like elite level status really quickly.

And then I'm going to train them mentally. And I'm going to use tools that work for me. And I'm going to use tools that I learned through yoga and martial arts, and Tibetan Buddhism, and Western psychology and integral theory, and transversals, wherever I can find the tools, I'm going to test them and I'm going to evolve them. And I'm going to strip the fu out of the Kung Fu and I'm going to use what works. And I'm going to make it a living program.

And that's where all our breathing practices, our imagery practices, all of our meditation practices came from. They're very simple. They're drills and they're customizable.

And then what I found early on, was, especially because I was working with guys, is that people say, hey Seal training's mostly mental. And I said, no, it's not. It's emotional. Right?

You got the physical skills when you get there. Everyone's got the mental toughness. I've had a lot of people who were freaking mentally tougher than I probably was and they quit. Why? Because it's their emotional resiliency. And guys don't like to train emotions. They think it's icky. That's the touchy feely stuff when it's the probably most important thing for us to do as race is for men to become emotionally aware and mature.

And so I started saying, you know what, we have to bring emotional training into this mix. And so that's the third component, what I call the third mountain.

And then the fourth is intuition. Now intuition can naturally unfold if you're in a high risk environment, like in the Seals were extraordinarily intuitive. And when I say intuition, I mean that being able to listen and hear your gut saying, there's a roadside bomb up there, stop you idiot. Right? Because you're going to get yourself killed.

Where does that information come from? Well, the bugs in your biome can sense that because they care about their survival. For some reason, they can sense that well before your brain can cognize it. And they send you signals and either through imagery or sensations or whatever.

And if you learn to listen to it, then suddenly you saved your life and your teammate's life. And there's tons and tons of examples that happened to me. One example for me, I was walking toward the shooting range. This wasn't in combat, but in training. And I felt like a hand on my shoulder and I felt a voice. This odd, it was like an internal voice had stopped.

And I stopped. And as soon as I stopped walking, a teammate of mine had an accidental discharge behind me with his pistol. And the bullet went, shoo, right by my ear. And had I taken the next step it would've gone right in the back of my head. That was my gut's intuition. Right?

And intuition also can be experienced from the heart. You know, we call that empathy or empathic communication. Right? To be able to feel how someone else is feeling and also thinking. So, we trained intuition because I realized that it's a trainable skill, and especially for these warriors is really important.

But I also think, for everybody it's important because there's just so much, things are happening so fast. This exponential age we're in, you really have to rely on intuition and spontaneous ness to be able to navigate because of the speed of change.

And then the fifth mountain, so to speak, is the spiritual mountain. But I didn't want to use that term for the reasons we just discussed. And so I call it [kokoro 00:49:34], which is another Japanese warrior term that inspired me, which means integration or whole mind, or emerging heart mind in action. Right?

And so I put it together, a training program that trained all of these in a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and kind of annual way. And it was extraordinarily effective. And the Seals that I trained, 90% get through Seal training and a lot of them are now leaders in the Seals. And the Seals are teaching Unbeatable Mind or tools of Unbeatable Mine at Seal training now and so are the Ar Force Para Rescue.

And so I had back around 2011, 2012, this all started in 2007 with Seal Fit, I had a lot of civilian leaders come to me and say, hey, I'm really interested in this training. I've heard about it, but I just can't do the hardcore physical piece.

And so I spun out a program called Unbeatable Mind. And it has the same five mountain integrated development. But the physical training, really, is, it's kind of on your own. If you want to get your ass kicked, you can come to my Seal Fit events. But you know, the recommendation and it's become the coached program. That's basically what I did.

I turned it into a coached program instead of a, you come and I'll train you, program. And so now we have 400 certified coaches and it's a year long program. And the transformation is extraordinary. Right?

And so we have a high end client group that we ask people to stay at minimum three years. And of course, many do, but you know, it's not mandatory. But three years we see massive transformation and at least one to two developmental stages of growth, if you're referring to like developmental psychology, like shifting from a conventional to a post-conventional world view would be a good example.

Or, shifting from self realization or self actualization, or self-questioning, the self actualization using the Susan Kirkberger model. So, we have an element of that developmental psychology where we can map the stage of development, what we call growing up. And then there's an aspect of waking up through our practices to have people wake up to that pure consciousness, or that discerning, perceptional mind that can operate at the speed of awareness like we talked about earlier.

And then we have the clearing up and cleaning up of emotional. And so that's the emotional baggage and trauma. And that is something that our coaches can get into a little bit. But then if there's real trauma or like working with vets, we often bring in experts like you, or, trauma experts like EMDR experts and what not. So we have collaborators who we then refer out to. That's a big part of that emotional development.

So, that's kind of how we work. It's a process of integration. We have a saying in the Seals, Dan, and this I'll shut up after this, but you can't mass produce maybe special operatives. You can't mass produce excellence either. Right? It's a process. And that's why I'm kind of an anti-hacker. I look at those as just tools and you discard the tools.

Like I don't use any wearables. I have tried them, but ultimately I find them to be crutches and a distraction. I think hacks are fine, but ultimately, the training to the highest levels of awareness and beingness tend to become very, very simple. And you can become your biggest obstacle by doing too much and tracking too much, and trying too hard.

And it really is a process. The difference between doing and being, we already have such a bias toward doing in the Western culture, that we really needed to stop doing so much and just learn how to be, be present, more whole-

Dr. Dan Stickler: More being.

Mark Divine: More being. Yeah.

Waking up vs. Growing Up

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. Yeah. I love the distinction of waking up and growing up. That's been something we've been playing with a lot because you see so many people who are grown up, but they haven't woken up. And then you have so many people who have woken up and still haven't grown up.

Mark Divine: That's right.

Dr. Dan Stickler: You see this-

Mark Divine: And they're different practices ,too.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah.

Mark Divine: They are. I love Wilber. Wilber says wake up, grow up. And then he realized that you have to clean up. And I had open up. So wake up is the process of waking up to your story and going beyond your core story. And then learning that you are the creator of your story. Like you want to lift heaven on earth? You have the choice, just do it.

You can create that, but you got to retrain your mind away from all the negative patterns. That's waking up. And this then growing up is really the moving through the different stages of adult development to getting to the higher and higher stages, the highest being the unitive. And that's where waking up and growing up merge in that unit of stage of development.

But you can't get there unless you do the clearing up. It's like John Kabat-Zinn, the guy who brought mindfulness to the United States. And he came out years, like 40 years after bringing mindfulness to the States through his mindfulness-based stress reduction program. And he said, you know what? The title of his book was, "After Enlightenment Take Out the Trash."

And that referred to do the emotional work because all these spiritual leaders were sleeping with their students and dropping like a hundred points on the consciousness scale because they were still stuck in their ego because of the shadow side.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah.

Mark Divine: So, you got to do the clearing up or cleaning up. And then I add a fourth, which is the intuition is also opening up. Opening up to the natural wisdom and goodness that resides in all of us. Right?

You know, people say, how do you overcome? We call it, how do you get rid of the fear wolf, which resides in your head, all that negative thinking? And the point is, in order to get rid of the fear wolf, you have to stop thinking about the negative thinking.

And how do you do that? You feed the courage wolf, which is in your heart. And so you put your mind in your heart, and you stoke the natural qualities. And the Buddhists say you have like 82 positive qualities, but they're hidden by the seven deadly sins of your negative qualities. And those are those, the fear-based desires that your ego is constantly attracted to.

Dr. Dan Stickler: And so you mentioned about the not using the wearables and the trackers and stuff. I've seen that with the special ops people that we work with in the medical clinic, and then in professional athletes, especially like race car drivers. They have this interoception that is exceptional.

I mean, you know, they know everything about the signals that they interpret from the body, or that they get from the environment. And you know, for me, I didn't have that. And a lot of people that haven't had that background or that training-

Mark Divine: Yeah, the wearables are helpful for that.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. Because you get to learn what those signals actually translate to as far as stress, resting heart rates, and then sleep, and all of that. So, yeah. I mean, the interoception is off the charts for most of the special ops guys. I mean, it's one of those things that just has amazed me about how consistently we see interoception in this group.

Mark Divine: Yeah. So is proprioception because we learn to use our bodies as tools. And so that greatly extends the capacity of the mind. One of the concepts I play with in my new exponential mind program is the extended mind. And so interoception is one way that you extend the mind throughout the body and use that information wisely.

But also proprioception by really training your body like a gymnast or a cross fitter or a Navy Seal, to be able to experience four dimensional space, and use movement to inform higher order thinking, it's really cool.

And then we extend our mind through wearables. So wearables is a way to extend your mind, but you know, like I said, once you learn the skill, then you discard the tools.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Then you move beyond it. Right.

Mark Divine: Move beyond the tool.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Yeah. I love that. You know, all of this, this talk of this mind, body, and spirit. But the ultimate goal is to have the exceptional experience of life.

Mark Divine: That's right. Yeah. It's not to beyond it.

Dr. Dan Stickler: To its extreme.

Mark Divine: Exactly. 00:58:13-00:58:53 To be fully immersed in life, fully aware, fully alive. But to do so where you're not obsessed with the latest drama and all the thoughts and emotions. And I love the, you know, metaphors are the only way to really talk about the experience, but, the more you train your body, mind, spirit in an integrated fashion, the more that you begin to experience life, like the depth of the ocean itself.

And thoughts and emotions, and the dramas of life that occur, like the little surface chop. They're still part of your existence. You don't run from them. You actually embrace them. You fully live them. But they're not, they don't define who you are. You're defined by the depths. And that's peace, peaceful.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Well, Mark, it's been a pleasure, as always, any conversations that I have with you. What's the best way for people to kind of learn more about this?

Mark Divine: Well, my website, is a good place to learn about me or to look at some of the books that I've worked on, my latest stuff. The training, most of my training, if not all of it is done through my company, Unbeatable. And that website is And people can find me on Twitter at Mark Devine and the usual stuff.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Well, thank you for your time today, Mark. It's been a real pleasure.

Mark Divine: Thank you, Dan. It's been an honor. Take care now.

Dr. Dan Stickler: Take care.

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