Interview with Doug

What is the story behind the formation of Vigilant Eats?

The birth of Vigilant Eats and Superfood Cereal was really a simple one. I was making the goji-cacao cereal for myself and when I shared it with friends, they were immediate fans. In 2011, there was very little on the market in terms of high-end, healthy convenience food. Deciding to put the cereal in a cup and adding the folding spoon made sense, and most importantly, creating a formula that allowed for COLD water to be added was a new and sensible concept. After developing the idea phase, I spent the next year putting all the pieces together and, voilà!, just like that, a company was born! Yet for me, manifesting such a company has its origins in something far deeper and closer to my heart than simply oats and gojis in a cup.

What would that be?

Well, I called the brand “Vigilant Eats.” I use the term “vigilant” intentionally. To me, “vigilance” is about commitment. Eating well is part of a commitment I make to myself in honor of the life I’ve been given. It’s about choosing to live a joyful and high-quality life of reverence. The way I see it, taking ownership of the quality of our lives is a deliberate choice that requires self-understanding of both body and mind. I’ve found that understanding and caring for the body is fairly simple. Though I’ve had some great teachers in this department and appreciate their input, accessing helpful information on this topic is now readily available. The mind, on the other hand, is a more difficult thing to master. There are events in my life that have led me down a path of self-exploration. Without these events and the discoveries along the way, I would not have made the effort to examine the nature of mind (the understanding of thought and thinking), the nature of fear and identity, thus I’d not have discovered the joyfulness that lay beneath. Once the mind is understood and joy is discovered, joy is a choice that may be made over and over, it’s a choice that requires vigilance. This is important to me.

You mentioned that certain past events inspired you to pursue a path of self-understanding. What were these events?

The first happened years ago, when I was a freshman in college. I was a typical kid from the suburbs, materialistic and concerned primarily with myself. I would stay up late watching TV. Often the late-night programming in 1990 was back-to-back infomercial episodes about St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the famous hospital devoted to serving children with cancer. Their stories focused on the unspeakable struggles of the child patients and their families. Bright-eyed kids, bald heads, needles, chemo, radiation, fluorescent-lit hospital rooms, and terrified parents. The ups and downs of hope and defeat brought out human experiences and qualities I was not used to seeing. While many of the kids died, others would survive, yet forever in fear of relapse. The families wore their hearts on their sleeves. The amount of human support, humility, selflessness, and love they expressed seemed entirely counter to the world I was aspiring to be part of. Really, I felt that all of my ambitions and fabricated identity were utter absurdities. After seeing this, I was no longer the person I had been. This event triggered a major transition in my life, one where self-exploration became the focus. I needed answers to the question of the meaning of life.

How did this self-exploration unfold?

In school, I shifted my focus from business to philosophy and received a degree in Classic Texts. It helped to some extent but didn’t supply the answers I was looking for. Though I was solidly on the path of self-understanding, a second event occurred that pushed me toward a greater commitment to this pursuit. During and after college, I struggled to forge a career as a musician in New York City. My sense of identity and security was wrapped up in my hopes of becoming a success, yet my lack of success was a source of depression and existential crisis. After enduring enough frustration, I miraculously experienced an exhaustion that would lead to a feeling of surrender. With some sense of grace, I was able to release my aspirations, and with it, something in me shifted, I discovered a peace of mind that was independent of my circumstances. It was a gift that inspired me so much that I hung up my guitar and decided to travel the country by motorcycle. This was a life-altering adventure.

I began meditating and did yoga wherever I could set up camp: in the woods, in the desert, anywhere. I studied different forms of meditation with several teachers and even lived in a Buddhist monastery for eight months. These experiences not only helped me make sense of the world but helped me gain order of my mind. What I discovered through the aid of both Eastern philosophy and other Eastern practices was that there was an unshakable joy residing at the core of my being. It’s there for all of us, always, as the essence of who we are. It first becomes visible when our personal identity and concern for circumstances are stripped away, exhausted. For me, this exhaustion created an “ah-ha” moment, and followed with a deeper level of commitment to “let go.” It’s as though I was mining for gold and when I found it, I became committed to forever polishing it. This realization and commitment was the beginning of making my moments count: I became attentive to life, moment by moment, task by task, breath by breath, choice by choice, polishing each golden nugget, one at a time.

Since then, my commitment has been to the mastery of my moments. Though I still fall off the wagon at times, I tend not to repeatedly choose bad habits. I prize the supportive reminders I receive from friends and teachers as they value the reminders and insights I offer. We all help each other. This is the spirit that gave birth to Vigilant Eats and why starting “Vigilant Life” is so important to my mission. Self-understanding offers us the choice to live well.

When you say that “Vigilant Life” is important to your mission, what do you mean? What is Vigilant Life? Is it a brand, a manifesto, a community?

Vigilant Life is a wellness community, a supportive collective. We offer gatherings, workshops, and podcasts (coming soon). I came up with this idea as a way to address a problem that many of us have. We desire connection with others, the ability to be heard, the skill to access and expose our deepest concerns and insecurities, while transforming these feelings and thoughts into wisdom. The problem I’m addressing is that we’re often alone in this process, often surrounded by coworkers, family members, or destructive friendships that fail to support our growth in self-understanding. Commiserating and blaming can be entertaining but it’s not constructive; it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, make us stronger, or improve our choices or moments. Yet, if we and our friends share both the desire to understand ourselves and each other, while utilizing the same intelligent tools to do so, we may help cut through the layers of fear and confusion. Wisdom can be a group sport.

I wrote a brief essay called “Honoring the Four Phases of Spiritual Growth.” It’s a fairly simple roadmap of the human mental experience. (A free download on the Vigilant Eats website). It’s valuable to the Vigilant Life community because it creates a language that allows us to better appreciate where we are, how we got there, and where we’re headed. It also describes in a very basic way the hopes, fears, highs, lows, tools, and pitfalls of the journey. Utilizing this essay, we can achieve a high level of articulation with our current realm of perception. Knowing where we are and how we got there allows us to appreciate how the events of our lives have been significant in pushing us toward the choice for greater freedom.

Each of the four phases aligns with a different way in which we view the world; a different lens-of-perception, thus a different set of expectations. Understanding this allows us to better articulate our personal expectations of ourselves and the expectations we have of our relationships. It allows us to keep an eye toward the probability that the people we relate to see life through a different eye of experience, and thus have different expectations. Since our expectations truly define our phase of growth, the essay, in part, can be considered a communication tool for relationships and managing expectations.

In total, the essay does two things:
1. It aims to inspire our self-understanding so that we may become more clear and deliberate.
2. It aims to celebrate each phase, respect its function, and put aside judgments, since judgments fail to respect the value and importance of each vital step of our journey.

Vigilant Life as a community becomes an anchor, connecting each of us to the shared commitment of mastering our moments and nurturing the joy at our core, so we may celebrate our lives and make the best choices for our health and wellness.

How do you plan to build this community and what does a Vigilant Life Workshop look like?

The workshops are in testing currently. Here’s the basic idea: We want to host workshops at yoga studios. I think 10 people is the magic number, plus one facilitator. Over 10 sessions, one per week, the group utilizes the “Four Phases” essay as a template that focuses the group on crafting and sharing our personal life stories. The workshop is a story-building and story-sharing process. It’s a way to dive deep into who we are, how we got there, and a way to support and inspire everyone involved. Having a community that utilizes the same tools to articulate the struggles we’ve faced and the wisdom we’ve gained is simply the most significant contribution to the wellness and yoga communities I can think to make. Besides the story-sharing workshops, we will create books, podcasts, teleconferences, and additional gatherings focused on topics such as: understanding the nature of mind and thought; the Four Phases; making the best choices for ourselves; mastering our moments—taking ownership of the quality of our lives.

Facilitators for these Vigilant Life Workshops will need to be trained. I’m seeking yoga teachers and other conscious manifesters! If interested, please reach out by clicking on the Vigilant Life tab at our website, vigilant-eats.com.

Doug, what is the ultimate outcome you wish for?

I believe that life is a buffet. Because I remember what it was like to be emotionally and mentally starving to death, I wish to devote my life to the service of others; to helping those who wish to discover their lives as worthy of celebration. The gift we are given is not only LIFE itself but the ability to reflect on its magnificence. Without this, life is slavery; a burden, a sad and lost opportunity. Vigilance is a word that ties the whole thing together: the pursuit of self-understanding and the commitment to the maintenance of our physical and mental wellness. I simply want to share with others the awe I experience as a human. It’s like sharing the perfect sunset with a loved one. If we all felt more like saying, “LOOK AT THAT SUNSET!” instead of rushing through life, placing hopes of gratification in some imaginary future moment, then we humans would be so much happier and kindlier. We all need support in this process.

3 Intentions That Help Support My Yoga Practice

1. Let yoga help me face my life and my death.

I wish to face my life as I wish to face my death: in gratitude, in awe, openly welcoming what’s next. This can not be done when disturbed by fear and desire, when holding to an identity or story of who I believe myself to be. No story, nothing to hide behind, naked, open, humble, and courageous.

2. Let yoga help me welcome life’s discomforts into my heart.

I aim to bring the discomfort of the asana into my heart. There is no freedom when I resist or reject life. Life IS discomfort. Running away causes more suffering than facing life head on. Welcome discomfort as the fuel of freedom.

3. Let yoga build my state of presence from which I may give freely of myself.

The willingness to remain with life’s discomfort manifests our compassion and peace. Every action then becomes an offering of generosity. It’s a giving away of everything that is “me and mine” to the unfolding presence of happenstance. This emptying of self makes room in our lives for awe. As we empty the vessel, the vessel is effortlessly filled again with the nectar of joy.

In an essay I’ve written called “Honoring the 4 phases of Spiritual Growth,” (free download), stage 3 is when yoga becomes most helpful. It’s the stage when we awaken to an insight that shows us how perception is the basis of our experience. Once we understand the way in which perception forms our experience, we utilize yoga to help diminish our resistance to life’s discomfort. This allows us the space to respond in greater joy.

In freedom, in awe, in love, and in peace.

-Doug Siegel

How Does Yoga Help?

Recently, a yoga skeptic asked me ‘why is Yoga such a big deal?’ She was asking in jest, just making small talk at a party. She knew my deal…guy into meditation, yoga, and health-food. I could tell by her disjointed gestures and wandering eyes that she was a bit drunk. No judgments, so was I. Since she was merely looking to play, I dodged the question but her question got me thinking. Here are some thoughts…

Yoga is a big deal to some. Depends on who you are and how you view the world. More specifically, how you perceive your experiences.

Let’s look at 2 examples of how one might view their experiences

First: When you experience frustration does it look like…..

This morning there was a lot of traffic. I wish I could have blasted my way though a thousand cars with a bulldozer while screaming obscenities at my victims.

Such a state of mind views circumstance itself as the basis of one’s experience. People in this state see the manipulation of objects, people, and happenstance as the answer for alleviating discomfort. To them, the problem exists externally. This pretty much describes the world today. Frustrated, violent, and pointing the finger. Their emotional world is tied directly to circumstance. Yoga may be helpful to this group for stress relief. It will likely do nothing more.

Or-

Second Group: When you experience frustration does it look like…..

This morning there was a lot of traffic. I noticed myself beginning to feel hot and anxious in frustration. I noticed that this resistance to traffic is in me. I do not need to do anything but breathe and be where I am. I am aware that I am the resistance and that returning to presence, letting go, becomes the dissolution of this frustration. Circumstance does not define the quality of my moments or being. Physical discomfort is a fact of life. Mental discomfort is a choice.

The people of the second group recognize perception itself as the basis of their experience. They see joy, suffering, acceptance and resistance arising from the world of perception as a CHOICE. They need not be slaves to circumstance. If they value acceptance as the basis of joy, then they wish to understand and dismantle inner resistance. Where there is resistance, there is no acceptance. While perception itself becomes worthy of examination, circumstance is merely the backdrop. Yoga is a great tool for developing an intelligent response to psychological resistance. It helps us untie the knot of resistance until only acceptance and joy remain.

How does yoga help?
The tension of the stretch invites us to willingly step into the world of physical discomfort. It asks us to be attentive to the nuance of unpleasant sensation. When we are increasingly willing to face this discomfort with acceptance, when we can embrace these sensations fully, we are increasing our tolerance to the discomforts of life. This in turn takes the power away from our feelings of fear. With a greater tolerance of fear, we may respond to such feelings and circumstances with greater intelligence and peace.

As we become less afraid to face life’s discomforts, our mind opens willingly to the unfolding of life’s happenstance. Compassion, fearlessness, selfless giving, and a feeling of trust arise. The value of this trust is in life itself being good enough. That an open and attentive state of awareness is already complete, that perception itself is already full and worthy of our awe. Our trust resides in this and the ground on which it stands is joy.

If a person wants to nurture their open state of perception, wants to end their resistance to life’s happenstance, then yoga is a great practice.

-Doug Siegel

A Roadmap of Self Discovery

On the path of self-discovery, are there insights from which we could all benefit? Could we take advantage of a basic roadmap? Fellow travelers often enjoy sharing the many points of interest along the way. Who wouldn’t wish for such guidance? Our favorite teachers and mentors can certainly help illuminate the path, yet often we aren’t starting with an interpretive framework that recognizes the level of consciousness they are promoting. It can be confusing and potentially misleading.

We all have wisdom to share. With a basic framework from which to discuss our journey, along with a greater appreciation of the particular phases of perception, we can better understand ourselves and one another. This article is an abbreviated version of an essay I call, “The Four Phases of Spiritual Growth.” This brief snippet will hopefully whet your appetite.

To understand the framework, please consider that some phases:

  • may occur simultaneously,
  • may drag out for years or just minutes,
  • can revert back to previous phases.

Please use this as a basic map that reflects the arc of human consciousness. It isn’t meant to be absolute. I welcome your input, as this is a shared human process—I intend only to offer a tool, framework, and language with which to share our experiences.

Finally, rather than judge and criticize our progress or lack there of, I prefer to celebrate and honor each phase as a crucial building block of our self discovery. Let’s learn all there is to learn about where we currently dwell. The greater the investment we make in understanding our experience, the greater will be the freedom of conscious awareness. Let’s have fun exploring…

Four Phases :

1. The Ducklings:

Becoming assimilated into a family and culture; trying to fit in; judging others and ourselves based on the standards taught to us; thus allowing ourselves to be heavily influenced by the judgments of others. This fear of not being loved, of inadequacy and disapproval has us walking in step with the ducklings, following the authority. (This phase is pre-conscious)

2. The Lion:

Rescuing oneself from the grips of familial and cultural norms. Gaining the courage to live in alignment with one’s own deeper desires. In this phase, we let go of concern for being judged. At this level of letting go, we are claiming the basic freedom to pursue happiness and our deepest curiosities. We become the lion, able to exercise our courage and independence in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. We are no longer ruled by the same fears. (This phase is semi-conscious)

3. The Lamb:

When chasing passion becomes a source of hopelessness instead of inspiration; when our possessions and the relationships we’ve chosen become too heavy a burden; when we find fear and disappointment at every turn of our proud pursuits, we are then ready to hit bottom. Hitting bottom becomes a requirement. With this, exhaustion manifests a new insight. It is here we recognize that true freedom is born of “letting go.” We become free when we understand that our suffering arises only in our resistance to life’s circumstances. We suffer due to our clinging to the story of what we believe our life “should be.” When this paradigm collapses, we are suddenly able to fall in love with “what is.” Acceptance and stillness then open a portal of peace and awe. The sensual experience of life awakens when we make peace with life, when life’s romantic notions of gratification shatter. If we feel that we have nothing left to lose, we can afford to transform our thoughts of resistance into thoughts of celebration. Our story of “fear and desire” dissolves into the bigger story of “what is.” The lamb sees no need to fight its fate, it is swallowed whole by the universe. (This phase is an awakening to consciousness)

4. The Sun:

This phase is built on the practice of letting go, nurturing what we’ve discovered as the lamb in phase 3. The deeper our realization and practice of welcoming life’s circumstances, the greater the freedom and love in our hearts. This love is expressed effortlessly and shines like the sun. (The effortless radiance is the fruition, is consciousness)

Throughout each phase, our worldview is limited by specific beliefs, fears, and expectations. Understanding these limitations may help us move through the phases more gracefully while aiding communication in our relationships. All too often expectations are not clearly communicated between loved ones. Each phase of the four phases comes with certain basic expectations. As an example: expecting our happiness to come from seeking another’s validation (Phases 1 and 2) is vastly different that expecting our happiness to be a product of “letting go,” compassion, and a deep sense of self worth (Phases 3 and 4). Each of these two notions lends themselves to two entirely different worlds of intimacy. Having a common language in which to discuss our expectations, beliefs, and values may foster greater understanding, respect, and support.

Do these phases resonate with you? If so, download the longer essay at vigilant-eats.com and see whether this basic framework speaks to your experience of self discovery. If you find it valuable, join us and share your story while learning from others on the path.

Religious, Spiritual, or Both?

I was eating dinner at a restaurant with several new acquaintances. There were 9 people. We had just completed a tradeshow. At the table, some of the Christian old timers felt comfortable sharing anti Islam sentiments. To be more specific, they basically lumped all Islamic people into the category of “terrorist sympathizers.” The sensible young man next to me became terribly offended. He argued passionately to defend the religion and its followers. He argued that there are Islamic people who become “evil doers,” like there are people of every other religion who become “evil doers.” The conversation was on fire. “Have you read the bible?! Have you read the Koran?!” In a quick race to the bottom, the opposing teams were quoting passages pointing out the sexism, violence, and hypocrisy in both religions. I have no religious affiliations. I kept quiet while enjoying my meal.

Eventually, the woman sitting across from me shouted, “I don’t think people should be allowed to practice Islam in America.” This silenced the table.

I asked her, “Barbara, what is the point of your religion?” She looked perplexed and rattled off something about the 10 commandments. She didn’t understand my question. I asked it in a different way. “What was it that Jesus experienced? What did he wish to leave you with?” She understood and replied, “that there is something bigger than us.”

“I agree. Jesus was communicating his experience about being ‘one with’ something bigger than himself, what he called ‘the father.’ ‘One-with’ means unity, unified, whole. Becoming ‘one with’ is to no longer be aligned with self centered thinking and separateness. What happens when self centeredness becomes exhausted? What remains is the spiritual experience of love, compassion, and fearlessness. This is what I believe all religions are ultimately trying to teach us…how to accomplish this for ourselves.”

“How do we come to this unity utilizing religion? It is through devotion to God. In non religious spiritual practices, we may call it devotion to ‘the universe or reality.’ Through devotion we empty ourselves of all we deem ours. If we can empty ourselves completely, then all that remains is unity. Then, ‘you’ have been absorbed by the universe or by God. By offering the contents of our belongings, identity, hopes, fears, etc to the one thing that is bigger than us, our separateness begins to dissolve. The result? A state of peace. As this begins gathering momentum, we see that we are not only part of the universe, we ARE the universe.”

“The people whom our religions have made into transcendent Gods would be worthless if this end were not achievable. Through emptying themselves, these God-like humans have discovered the wisdom we wish to attain. This emptying of the self is what we have the potential to do, but how we do it is simply semantics: differing religions each have a position.”

“The primary intent of a religion is to bestow the great gift of divinity. What is divinity? According to Webster: (the state of being a god : the state of being divine.) All the bridges of religion aim to take you over the same waters to the same patch of solid ground. Some people make it across, the rest argue, shooting each other off each their respective bridges. The bridge is meaningless just as the menu at this restaurant is worthless paper, it’s the meal that matters. Humans need not be defined by their religions and differences but by their sameness. We desire to love, to eat, to be safe, and to enjoy basic human dignity. We are not Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. We are PEOPLE. People who may utilize such religions to attain the same end goal of spiritual divinity.”

Everyone appreciated my contribution. Passion became compassion. Situation diffused. We were able to eat in peace.

-Doug Siegel