In his first column for TheLatch—, Manoj Dias, meditation master and founder of A-SPACE, Australia’s first multidisciplinary meditation studio, shares his ever-evolving journey to mindfulness, and the moment that served as a turning point.
When I usually walk into a space to deliver a talk or class, I’ll notice half the room look at me in peculiar ways. They’ll think: “Here’s a meditation teacher with tattoos, a nose ring and Balenciagas (WTF)?” No doubt some might see me as the complete antithesis of a meditation teacher.
People are often surprised to hear that I teach meditation; apparently I don’t look like someone who does. But these days it’s hard to know what a meditation teacher looks like, as it seems that in 2020, everyone is one.
Today’s meditation teachers are to us what influencers were in 2012. Everyone from Russel Brand to the ex-Bachelor contestants seem to teach meditation now. Even the words ‘meditation teacher’ have come to mean many things.
But I can assure you that I haven’t been on a reality TV dating show, nor have I enthralled audiences with my humour. What I have done, is dedicate my life to understanding my own human experience, and in turn, have learned to understand the human experience through the lens of the heart and mind.
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There’s nothing quite like the flu to remind you of your own fragility. Your body and your mental state can go from an episode of Marie Kondo one minute to the season finale of Horders the next. But all you’re left wondering is how you’ll get everything done that you need to get done, in order to feel like your life is not out of control. I’m passing this lesson on as it’s a goodie: it’s ok to allow yourself to fall apart. It’s ok to recognise you can’t always do it all. And sometimes it’s OK to have a Horders kinda week. Self-compassion is listening to the wisdom of our bodies and every now and again meeting it with warmth and tenderness. #slowdown #thesweatlife
Before my time in athleisure, I had a decorated corporate marketing career — one that delivered a healthy pay packet, never-ending supply of “cool” events and a false sense of having made it. From the outside looking in, I had it all. I was in my mid-twenties, I was successful and looked fit and healthy. I had a bright future ahead of me.
But internally, and for many years, I was crippled with an undiagnosed general anxiety disorder (GAD). I was experiencing the onset of burn-out and insomnia and had managed to develop an addiction to the medication prescribed to me for a misdiagnosed case of ADHD. All of these things came to a head one day when I had my first and last panic attack… at work.
“I had a decorated corporate marketing career — one that delivered a healthy pay packet, never-ending supply of “cool” events and a false sense of having made it.”
Anyone that’s ever had a panic attack will know it feels like the closest you will come to experiencing death (before actual death). You’re incapable of rationalising or controlling your emotions and thoughts, and in extreme cases, your own body’s responses to fear.
This panic attack left me in pieces for close to two years, in that time I saw multiple specialists — from therapists to shamanic healers — and undertook every detox my naturopath could have put me on.
One day I found myself in a meditation and yoga class. The teacher was a serene-looking Sri Lankan man who would go on to change the course of my life forever, as would the words he uttered in that first class:
“You are not your thoughts.”
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#Notes-to 17 year old me: I know you’re pretty comfortable hanging out in the background because it feels safe. I know the less you’re seen the less chance people will find you’re boring, dumb and different. I know you think you have nothing to offer, so you hide and you run. You run from any chance you get to be seen. It’s safer that way, innit? But lil man — overcoming your fears begins when you decide to finally, stop running. Stop avoiding, stop distracting yourself and stop numbing.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Calm your mind and begin to compassionately & courageously turn towards your fear. Others will have your back. You will begin to see things as they really are and then the healing and transformation will begin.
It took a mental breakdown and years of pain for me to realise that the mind and heart were trainable. We could observe our habitual thought patterns and actions and make wiser, more compassionate, and ultimately healthier decisions — ones that would lead to happiness. And above all things, no matter what we have done or gone through, we were ultimately whole and complete.
I immersed myself in Buddhist meditation training and mindfulness philosophy, and over the course of a decade, studied with teachers like Sharon Salzberg, Dr Miles Neale and Joe Loizzo. I even contemplated taking robes and becoming a monk myself, but quickly realised I was too attached to the football (true story).
Many years later, I founded A-SPACE, Australia’s first multi-disciplinary drop-in meditation studio.
All this has led me to this point in my life. A point where I know a bit more about my mind and my heart and perhaps a bit more about the human experience. I’ve taught thousands of people all around the world, and there’s one thing I know for sure: I’m still figuring all of this out.
I still get angry whenever I’m in Sydney traffic, I forget my keys often and recently got in trouble when my girlfriend found out I had emotionally purchased that pair of Balenciagas.
Meditation isn’t a panacea that many teachers and corporate entities will tell you it is. It’s work. It’s the deep work of examining our mind and our heart and looking at which thoughts and actions make us happy, and which don’t.
It’s the deep work of practising tenderness and compassion for ourselves and each other. And it’s the deep work of befriending our bodies and our human condition.
My role as a teacher on TheLatch— will be to use the ancient wisdom that was given to us 2,500 years ago alongside today’s knowledge and research to help us move through our relationships, work and ultimately our lives, in a more healthy and human way.