In our Zen Things I Hate About You series, we’re exploring all the wellness trends and practices that some of us are maybe a little skeptical about, and offering a peek behind the curtain. Our first installment features Dhani Oks, founder of UN//TY and leader of the mindful meditation practice at our Zen Things I Hate About You event on June 4.
Think you can’t meditate or that you just haven’t got the time? Dhani Oks has some gentle advice: “Sit down. Shut up. Start with one minute.”
We caught up with UN//TY founder, VICE host, and leader of the mindful meditation practice at our upcoming Zen Things I Hate About You event, to learn how even the most skeptical among us can embrace meditation, why we’ll all soon be chilling in yurts & teepees in Muskoka, and how riding with a biker crew in the deep south became a lesson in mindfulness.
Well TO Do: We’re thrilled that you’ll be leading a Mindful Meditation practice at our Zen Things I Hate About You event! Without giving too much away, can you tell our readers what to expect?
Dhani Oks: Expect nothing. The old schoolers & Buddhists say that expectation & attachment are the root of much of our suffering. Come with a “Beginner’s Mind”, ready to learn something, even if it’s as simple as learning to breath (again, or for the first time).
WTD: You have a LOT going on, maybe too much for one post, but let’s try. Start by telling us a bit about UN//TY. What is it, what was the inspiration behind it, and how can people get involved?
DO: UN//TY started because I think there is too much duality and divisiveness in the world. Me Vs. You. My Team Vs. Your Team. Red Vs. Blue. Conservative Vs. Liberal etc. So, this is my way to contribute to the unification of our differences through being mindful, thoughtful and conscious.
We can’t solve the larger problems of the world, our work or our lives without first connecting to the true source of power and truth within us. So we must learn to breath again, in a way that chills us the fuck out. Then when we chill, we can see the truth in ourselves & others in a non-judgemental way that leads us to learn & grow.
WTD: You’re working to bring meditation to larger audiences, including teenagers. Can you tell us about the program you’re working on with Oasis Skateboard Factory?
DO: I think skateboarders are the epitome of mindfulness & flow state. I can fall into a YouTube/Instagram wormhole watching skate videos because it reminds me what we are capable of if we build a solid relationship to our fear.
Oasis Skateboard Factory is the school I wish I had when I was a kid. It’s a TDSB high school program formed with students who don’t fit in the conventional system and were on out outskirts of it. But their Founder, Craig Morrison, created a program for these kids based on their passions and creativity. Now they design skateboards, brands, art and they get PAID for it. It’s project-based learning at it’s best, and they are learning stuff that will leap-frog them far ahead into a world where their skills pay off.
Long story short, in my work with them we design t-shirts together while using mindfulness and fitness to help create the mental & energetic states to help facilitate creativity and inspiration.
WTD: And on top of all the UNI//TY awesomeness, you’re also building an amazing retreat experience with Woodfield and hanging out with southern biker crews for VICE. Tell us a bit about both of those projects.
DO: Woodfield is a 400-acre wellness retreat centre and community in Muskoka. It’s about finding your way and discovering true nature. So we’ll have lodges, yurts, teepees, meditation and yoga areas, fitness spaces, lots of animals, a bio-dynamic farm and WAY more. My goal this year is to talk to as many people as possible in the wellness, yoga, corporate and development worlds so they can come-up and do their own group retreats at Woodfield.
I’m a host for VICE and have done stories around health, sub-culture and meditation. Working with them is a dream come true. I’ve always appreciated their style and I love getting thrown into weird situations and finding out what makes them interesting. So yeah, riding with Bikers in South Carolina was cool. Ironically, that experience taught me more about mindfulness than almost anything else.
WTD: You’ve been a significant ambassador for MUSE. Can you tell us a bit about MUSE and why you think it’s such a great tool for a meditation practice?
DO: We’ve never had a mirror for our brain before. MUSE is a way to see what our brain is doing during meditation so we can adjust our practice in real time. It’s a valuable tool that makes meditation closer to a workout, which is something that I think most people will understand. And I’m all in favour of things and gadgets that help people become more mindful.
WTD: You’ve probably heard more than your fair share of excuses from people on why they don’t meditate (they don’t have time, they feel like they have to clear their minds and that’s too difficult, they don’t know where to start). What’s something you wish people understood more easily about how approachable meditation really is?
DO: Sit down. Shut up. Start with one minute. When one minute is easy, go to two minutes, and so on.
It’s basically that simple.
Lots of people think meditation is this “thing.” It’s not. And it’s especially not about clearing your mind of everything. The most basic form of meditation (and also the most advanced) is the non-judgemental kind awareness of what’s happening NOW and only NOW.
So if that means your leg hurts a bit. Just let it hurt. Explore that sensation without judgement or “trying” to “change” it. Doing this has the tendency to dissolve any sensation that once caused us suffering. And use the breath to create space between what you are experiencing and how you choose to interpret that experience.
And if it blisses you out, awesome. That may happen 10-15% of the time. Most other times, it’s work. But that work pays off big time, giving you the ability to handle whatever life throws at you with a knowing smile.
WTD: The concept of our event is removing the stigma attached to a lot of things that people are skeptical about or find “woo woo” about wellness, specifically meditation and yoga. What was one thing that you were once skeptical about in this field or that you maybe still question?
DO: I’m not a woo woo person at all. That being said, I can hang with woo woo people and have a conversation on that level. We have ALL have different belief systems and who am I to say who is right?
I like to work with the obvious things that most people will agree on. Having a scientific mindset and looking at things through an evidence-based mindset is how I like to approach Mindfulness. Meditation works and there is no real dispute whether, you are a Ph.D or a Hippie.
The thing that I am still very skeptical about are gurus. I’m talking about meditation gurus AND science gurus. Basically, anyone or any organization or any religion that claims to know the answers. The thing that meditation teaches us is that we all have the same access to the truth.
If you can sit for one minute a day, you can find the same connection to the truth as anyone else.
WTD: What’s the best way for someone to start a meditation practice?
DO: Sit down. Shut up. Start with one minute. When one minute is easy, go to two minutes & so on… (Or use an app. Or whatever else gets you do do the above.)
To learn more about UN//TY and attend upcoming events, visit uniity.org and sign up for the mailing list. And to sign-up for Zen Things I Hate About You – where you can meditate with Dhani – click here!