Duncan Peak, founder of Power Living, one of Australia’s most successful yoga networks. This session details his journey from dark towards light and the ten lessons he learnt along the way. “Enlightenment does not come from analysing others and picking them apart,” he says. “I knew to get closer to the light I needed to be observing myself to really get to know myself.”
Watch the 10 life lessons he has learnt along the way:
PART I –
1) It will take great courage to be all you can be,
2) Courage is incomplete if it does not include yourself,
3) Enlightenment comes from observing yourself,
4) Power tests character
PART II –
5) Generosity creates abundance,
6) Sever Self Doubt with Knowledge,
7) Your brightest future depends on the state of consciousness you choose to have right now,
8) Love is about loving the imperfect person, perfectly,
9) Don’t limit yourself by thinking small,
10) Freedom is not only to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others.
Having observed his own negative Self beliefs and associated identities – the people pleaser, the manipulator, the victim, the approval seeker – Duncan now helps others observe themselves and transform their lives through yoga.
So I’m going to talk to you tonight a little bit about my journey and then some of the big fundamental concepts of a dantic yoga practice and how that applies to the modern age. And I’m not sure how many of you…of what you know about me. I’m sure I’m not as big success as you’ve mentioned but I’m gonna talk to you a little bit about how my business has evolved. Basically, we touch about 5,000 people a week coming to our studios in Sydney. We teach from a very traditional foundation but we’ve really dressed it up in a modern way so that we can express a level of wisdom that is… it’s really hard to find a thinking in today’s world on that level of depth and we do it through a physical practice, a happy yoga practice. But the physical practice is a very small part of it. We really use the physical practice as a vehicle of discovering a deeper dimension of ourselves and the byproduct is big biceps and long hamstrings so it’s a nice practice to have.
There are constant search for pleasure. A constant search out there to satisfy our senses and our need to just fulfill pleasure is at the root cause of our suffering. Most ever we seek pleasure, we seek to fulfill it which is always gonna be followed immediately by suffering. That’s a very basic message that yoga teaches us and we start to learn to detach from that need of just being driven by external focus and start to learn about internally what we can do to be fulfilled, not searching out there for the love that we need in here and the yoga practice is really about learning how to create that.
So the modern yogi…
So I’m gonna take you through tonight just a little bit on my journey, it’s quite unique. I’ve come from a fairly heavy military background and professional athlete background into the yoga world and through some corporate business, consulting and things like that to end up here. And every time I get interviewed they say, “How do you go from being a paratrooper and you working that sort of world to now being a yoga teacher, traveling the world while teaching?”. The interesting thing is the same discipline that drives you, it’s just one’s motivated out of a fee, one’s motivated out of love. And I had an experience in my life with divine intervention that sent me into being yoga teacher. It was never a dream, it was never anything I wanted to do but I ended up through the doors of Dharma and doing what I’m doing. So I’ll speak a little bit about that tonight and just take you through some of the bigger concepts.
So the story, my upbringing…
So I was lucky enough to be introduced to the yoga at a very young age. In about fourteen, I had what’s called non-dual experience. I did grew up with my family but had a lot of domestic violence and some turmoil and when I was about 14 I got moved in with another family — my best friend from school — and my first yoga teacher was his mother and his father and they told me some beautiful lessons at a very early age that I hadn’t seen. I hadn’t been witness to just a calm, peaceful, happy way of being. I was in a very turmoiled environment and had a father with an iron fist who eventually was taken away from us but eventually, moved in with this family, we call them hippies rather than of yogis. Suddenly I was in this environment where there’s a lot of love, a lot more love around the place and it was a beautiful experience to experience that at an early age. And so their father, Paul, used to take us out in the river each weekend. We pack up our bags and we go out to the river and we do 108 oms like you’ve been doing tonight and 108 is a very significant number, I don’t wanna go into it but we do 108 oms to celebrate the upanishad and the dances of Shiva. And I had a fifteen year old kid, for a 14-15 year old kid I think this is pretty weird. And you’re sitting out there and you’ve grown up in that environment, next minute you’re oming to your heart’s content. And I was quite intrigued by the whole process and I went out there and I remembered about the 70th om I had this experience where I was aware of Duncan. There’s Duncan here and there’s the om and there’s this connection. It was quite peaceful, it was a very concentrated state and then through that concentration of just allowing myself to feel that level of vibration in my body, I had an experience where my identity, Duncan, the existence of who I am, completely vanished and you merged with what’s called the spiritual transcendental world and you get a glimpse of your mind completely stopping. No noise, no dialogue.
Most of you right now have got a dialogue going on in your head just working out, judging, discussing wondering about the toilet or what next drink you’re gonna have. It’s you and your mind here as a constant dialogue and the crazy thing is who you’re talking to. There’s no one there but it goes on and it’s possible to have that to stop. And I had that experience about 14 years of age where it just blew me away; that seven seconds I sat with no mind. I had a non-dual experience where I felt connected or oneness to everything. And then I was able to bathe in that sort of state for the last 30 or so oms and I came out of that and I was quite shaken by it and I turned to Paul, facing my teachers and said, “What had happened?” and they gently explained the process of moving from concentration to meditation and having samadhi experiences and I loved it. I thought it was amazing and then desire welled up within me and I wanted it again and it took another six years before I have had that experience again in my life. And whenever we desire something like that, a practice like that, a non-dual experience, it becomes very elusive. We cannot want our self into that state, we must surrender ourselves, surrender our identity, who we think we are and it becomes an art form eventually but it’s the most peaceful state you’ll ever feel in your life and just the three second glimpse of it can really relax you for weeks. Really shift you. And so that’s what yogis try and master as they go.
I can remember one time we were working in the garden, Paul used to have this amazing garden and we used to work out there at the backyard and we used to have some pretty good herbs growing into that backyard as well actually. It was a bit of fun at that age. And we’re out working and he used to wear these weird clothes, he was a hippie living in India for eleven years and he wear all these big beads and his whites and he had a shaved head with a big beard. I tease him, being a little kid you know, I’d always tease him that what are you dressed in and how weird you are and always that little chants that he do and he drink his own urine and he’d swallow towel. All these things that could shut karmas which I would’ve learnt from years later that they are very traditional healthy yoga practices for cleansing the body. And I would tease him and he gets sick of me teasing him and he turned around to me in this one time and he said, “Duncan… I am!hahaha” and I’d be like “What?” and he’d look at at me and go “I am! hahaha” and he’d walk off on me and I turned to my best friend, his son, and say, “Simon, your daddy is nuts. He never finishes his sentences.” and we’d look at each other and be confused and I learnt later on that “I am” is actually the fundamental concept to what we call “Jnana yoga”, the yoga of wisdom and it’s to understand that whenever we try and define who we are through our identity of the house or the mother, the father ,the businessman, businesswoman, brother, sister whenever we try to find our self with the roles that we plan our life it will always imply a limited perspective that who we actually are and our potential of what we can be, the thoughts will never be ought to describe it. We can experience that state but we can’t know it and Yoga puts forth that we can prove that to you. We can teach you how to sit in stillness and have one of those experiences. You’ll never be ought to describe it and do it justice. And it’s really there, the essence of what yoga practice is all about. We start to get those experiences and I was lucky to have that at a very young age and understand that I am. And it becomes a very bittersweet story…
About five months after those experiences, my best friend, Simon, who I had moved in with his family and started to feel peace for the first in my life was killed in a car accident along with my two other best friends and one was crippled for life. And we went through a lot of turmoil after that, a lot of anger that how could this happen? I just touched with the transcendental and now it’s taking it away from me. And I went through, you know, a period of just being an absolute ratbag and just being a wild, young youth angry at the world and I was taken away from their family and I don’t live with them anymore. And then about two years after that, after that I had to drop out of school and get a job and do that sort of stuff. I tried to keep my schooling up but it was very hard to do and I became a pastry chef, actually a baker and just still enjoy doing and I did that for about two years and then my other best friend, the last best friend that I had, rung me up one night and tell me he is gonna commit suicide and I tried to talk him out of this and he said, “I can’t deal with this life, I can’t hurt anyone anymore and I can’t feel this pain anymore.”, I said, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” and he hung up the phone. I found him the next morning dead in his car. And so by the time I was 18, I’d carried five coffins to a crematorium and most of them were my best friends, two of them were the closest people in my life. And I had this spiritual training that taught me about detachment at a large level but I was being thrown into this absolute turmoil from a pretty intense upbringing to then a beautiful experience with a hippie/yogi family to just devastation and rather than taking my own life and going that way linking up with lots of drugs and all that sort of path you can do. I really chose a different way to deal with that and I learned very early in my life that it would take great courage to be all I could be and I developed this fearless attitude and I became a very tough, strong, could take anything type of guy, like a lot of young men do. We develop that iron fist about us and close our self off and I developed, also at that time, the victim mentality and I got very good at telling my sob story and I can tell you that can wear you out. And everywhere I went I manipulated rooms of people by telling them how hard my life is and now that story just repulses me and you know, you compare yourself to the other people in the world, you’re not a victim at all. You haven’t got a hard life, you’ve got a beautiful life. But I became very good at manipulating people with that sob story and everywhere I went, I would tell it and I carried that for about seven years. Really, just that story then became my identity. I was the victim. I had the “hardest thing done by, beat my sob story” sort of thing and it would just wore me out… nearly killed me sort of in the end.
But I had this fearless attitude that I was a warrior and nothing was gonna take me out so I thought might as well join the army. And at that time, the army needed a nice fly half in their team at Duntroon and I was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Military College, Duntroon which is officer-in-training and which is unusual for somebody because I didn’t have the school and grade so a lot of things were moved out of the way and I was given a scholarship to go and study at Duntroon down in Canberra. And it was amazing. It was a first of my life I was hanging out with kids who have been in private schools and I was hanging out with all these amazing people who had dreams. I remember the first time I drove down the Spit bridge and I was like 18 years old and I saw Sydney and this new world of all this private school kids and everything and I was like Wow! This can all be created, you know? It’s not the world that I grew up in, just look at this. And I started to transform my life in that way and I became very good at the army. I became an amazing officer and I won the prize at Duntroon for military schools and leadership and became a very good leader, could inspire men because I can lead from the front and had an amazing army crew and went to the Australian Parachute Regiment for three years and led 30 soldiers at 21 years of age. 30 soldiers under my command. Most of them have been in combat and I was in charge of them which taught me a lot about managing people and listening, really listening to people and how effective your leadership can be when you speak little-ly but when you speak, people listen. And then I got sent to the school of infantry and was an instructor up there for about two years and yeah, had an amazing army crew. And I was being streamlined for the SAS and my best friend now, one of my close friends, is the CO of the SAS and I’m very glad my life didn’t end up in that way because what he’s had to do and take on is pretty enormous for, I think, for what human individuals have to do. I really respect what he does but it’s big asking somebody.
And I had what I called a divine intervention and I was taken away on an exercise for seven days without food and only two hours sleep a night and they would test each day my leadership ability under that level of stress. And so I’ll be out in the middle of the jungle and they’d give me a new set of soldiers that all slept well last night and eaten and I’d have to lead them into different,you know, tackle a hill or rappel down a ravine or take a POW, you interrogate and things like that and I had to make the decisions and lead these men. And it’s an exercise. They do that to test us on how good we can be under pressure and I did the course and I performed very, very well at it and on the last day I finished at the last checkpoint and they said, “Right, you’re done”. Handed them my stores, my radio, my flares, everything that we carry and they said, “5 Ks up there and you’ll find a big opening, that’s where we’re gonna pick you up. Go and hang out there and wait there.”. And so I left and took into the jungle and I was walking along the jungle and I had these pains in my stomach and I just thought their hunger pains, you know, the whole time I haven’t eaten for seven days. And I’m feeling my stomach and it was just so sore and I thought I’ll just sit down and have a little drink. I put my knee on the ground and I got my water bottle out of my pack and had a sip and I felt this tear in my stomach. It was like boiling water was leaking into my stomach. And I lay down on the ground, I was vomiting blood immediately and I was incapacitated. And it didn’t matter how tough I got, it didn’t matter how much a warrior I was, I couldn’t move and I couldn’t fix the situation. And for about two hours I felt this pain and it was the most…I have never felt pain like that ever since and I don’t know if I ever will again. And I resisted and resisted it and then I started to realize “Wow! I might not actually make it out of this” and I started to contemplate my own death. And I remember back when Simon & Damian both died, I was allowed to sit with their caskets half an hour each time and meditate with their bodies. When you sit down with death and you really contemplate the impermanence of life when it’s that close to you, the permanence of spirit in the transcendental world is revealed to you becomes very obvious that the spirit moves on. And so I started to make peace with that process, I started to go this is, it this could be it. The chances of somebody walking the same path as me to the jungle is very slim, I can’t move and there’s something seriously wrong with me. And so that lasted for about three hours of me forgiving myself, forgiving my father and just learning to love myself in a very different way and I was lucky enough after that went for about three hours as the most euphoric feeling I’ve ever had and I had another non-dual experience. That same experience that I’ve had when I was quite a young teenager and started to move into that transcendental world and the I was lucky enough one of my friends, one of the other guys doing the training, walked about 50 meters from me and I yelled out to him and he came over and carried me to road which is about a kilometer and a half away and it was excruciating pain and I was pretty much unconscious and out of, you know, what was going on and he got me there.
Anyway, it took about eight hours to get me to an operating table and they cut me open and diagnosed me with a ruptured appendix and they decided to cut me open here and searched around and went, “Oh-oh, it’s not his appendix” so they took it out anyway. Apparently you have to, if they put that scar there they need to take that out so that if that does happen they won’t think you’ve had your appendix removed.And they cut me from here to here and started searching around to see what was wrong with me and what it was I had a perforated duodenal ulcer which the duodenum is the first part of your stomach and all that acid was leaking out and it can eat through all your organs and bloods, veins and things like that. Most people 6,7,8 hours, your chances of living after that are getting slim and so I was right on close to to dying. And I woke up the next morning after the operation and I was this “super soldier” heading for the SAS, playing professional rugby at that time too and next minute, I had like a five-inch scar here and a six-inch scar here and I woke up my beautiful mother who was holding my hand and I woke up and I did not know if I was dead or I was alive or I was in heaven, what was going on and tubes coming out everywhere. And I saw my mom and she started crying and I started crying too and I really learned a lesson that — that’s the army and the edge — but I learnt this next lesson that if compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
And I’d learnt compassion for other people from the pain that I’d seen people go through when they lose people closest to them. I was very compassionate, big heart but didn’t include me. I didn’t wanna be happy. I was pushing myself to my limits and didn’t think or felt that I deserved to be happy. I had all these core beliefs about myself that I don’t deserve being happy, that I’m dumb and all these stuff that drove me into being amazing officer but didn’t serve me. It was out of the sense of lack. And so divine intervention came in and suddenly I was out on the streets and all I was a trained killer — and a baker — trained killer and a baker and next minute I’m like what am I gonna do with my life? And I reconnected with my yoga practice, I kept up a little bit in the army, but I reconnected with my yoga practice and started Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and some very physical forms to rebuild my core. And all that traditional weight training and everything I’ve done to be a footballer I had to sort of stop and find a new way to focus on my body.
After about two years of traveling around and soul-searching and traveling through the world and in India and just really practicing… the doors of dharma really opened up for me. I came back to Sydney after traveling for two years in like a spiritual quest and a lot of partying I must admit…but a spiritual quest. And I didn’t even think about teaching yoga and all my friends they go to the gym and they go and hit the weights and I’d go do handstands and they’d all be like “How do you do handstands so well? I wanna learn how to do that” and eventually there was too many people wanting to learn how to do handstands. So I said we’ll just hire a surf club on Saturday’s so you can all come there because I can’t go to all your houses and teach you. And so the first day there was like seven people there, the next week there’s about fifteen and the next week like 30 and then the next week like 50 people showing up putting 15 bucks in an honesty box for ninety minutes down the back of the Surf Club. I’m like well wow! I didn’t want the money for it so I was giving it to Cancer for Kids Foundation for the first year that I was doing it and I would teach these people the way I knew yoga, the way I developed it into my own body and what I’ve learnt, the rad yoga forms as a young child and slippin the philosophy as Australian running through their bodies and people loved it. People just loved it. They didn’t even know why they were coming back but they’re coming back. But the real reason they’re coming back is because we were transforming them, we’re designed to teach them about these negative beliefs they have about themselves, these identities, the victims, the manipulators, the approval-seeker, the people pleaser, all this stuff that goes on in our egoic minds and we would bring this into the classroom and teach them and it would really have a huge effect on people and the byproduct?
Big biceps, long hamstrings.
So people had a reason to come. And it was a beautiful experience and about a year later I started teaching formally but I really learnt through that process of the doors of dharma really opening up for me is that I wasn’t gonna get to enlightenment by analyzing others, I wasn’t gonna get there by looking everybody else and picking them apart and do that, I was only gonna get there by observing myself and I knew that I had to really get to know myself. I’d learnt compassion and I learnt courage and they’re like two wings on a bird, they have to flap evenly. If you have too much courage, it will cause destruction on a big scale or it’ll cause in your own body disease which we saw with me. If it’s not balanced. If you get too much compassion and no courage, you’ll have very little influence wherever it goes. And so I learned I had to balance these two and that I had to stop judging everybody else. I had to really look deeply at myself and then I thought, well I might as well start teaching yoga formally and off I went.
And I opened my first yoga school, really out of… a guy rung me up one night and he’d been to a yoga class when I was teaching at a place in the city and he said, “Hey, I’ve been to one of your classes and I really think you know what you’re doing. You should buy this yoga school off me.” and I said, “I don’t wanna buy a yoga school. What are you talking about?” and he said, “Well, you’re a really good teacher, you should buy this yoga school…” he said, “… in fact, even if you don’t wanna buy it, I’ll give it to you for three months and you can teach and run it for me and if you like it after that, I’ll sell it to you for a good price.” and I was doing business consulting and leadership — that’s trained killer as corporate speak — I was doing leadership consulting and I thought well, I’ll give it a go. I’ll give it a go. And I started to run and I started to really enjoy it and people started to comment I was like, “I need to teach. I just need to keep doing this. It’s helping so many people, it’s helped me” and so I got everything I had which is about a hundred and forty thousand dollars in those days. Everything I’ve saved since I was a little kid and borrowed off my brother and got it all together and I gave it to this man and said, “I’ll take your studio. Thank you”. It was all fitted out. He was an ex went bankrupt and I said thank you very much. And for the first year, I taught 18 classes a week, I ran the whole studio by myself and I worked a full time job. And I went from 130 thousand dollar-paying job a year in about 26 of age to I think twenty-three thousand dollars in that first year. And it was just… it was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life because I followed my heart for the first time rather than my head, what I thought I needed to do.
Suddenly, after about a year of really pushing myself and opening and creating P.L.A.Y, I open my eyes and I had the busiest yoga school in Australia. Over 1500 people a week coming through the doors and just exploding. And I didn’t wanna be Mister Power Yoga and then the pressure came; everyone’s like well he’s the yoga teacher… imagine the stereotype that comes up when you think about the yoga teacher. I don’t look good in fisherman pants, by the way, and suddenly everyone wanted me to be a traditional yogi, only I wasn’t. I was just teaching what I know from my heart and now I’m on the spotlight and all reporters are, you know, asking to do interviews and stuff and expose and you know, on a small scale I was a big fish in a very small pond in the yoga world. And there’s a lot of pressure that came with it, there was a lot of judgment from my old community of traditional people who thought I was exploiting yoga and commercializing it in a way that wasn’t suitable which really hurt because that was a community that I love. And I had a lot of doubt and fear and I journeyed on anyway and I was very lucky that, I’m in those early days that became successful and I learnt.