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.