Today’s guest is Sam Morris who is the founder of Zen Warrior Training and if anyone has earned the right to call himself a zen warrior, it’s Sam. He is paralyzed from the waist down from a tragic accident caused by a drunk driver and he said, “While my legs are paralyzed, my mind is not.” When Sam talks about controlling how you react to circumstances and then how you think about what you can do in your life and not stop and not take excuses, he knows exactly what he’s talking about and faces challenges that most of us thank goodness we’ll never have to face but he’s faced them and has gone on to create a zen warrior training program, a keynote speaker and he really gives people insights into the tenacity and grit it takes to deal with whatever life gives you and figure out a way to make it happen. Enjoy the episode.
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Zen Warrior with Sam Morris
Hello and welcome to the Successful Pitch. Today’s guest is Sam Morris who is the founder and owner of Zen Warrior Training. What a great name. In 1999, just after leading a bicycling trip for nine teenagers across the US, Sam was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Rather than becoming the victim of his circumstances, Sam learned and created a system of mental and physical training that brought him more vitality, clarity than he ever had before his injury. In addition to coaching private clients in Zen Warrior Training, he hosts a Zen Church event in Santa Monica and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and believe me, he is someone that you are going to be inspired by. Sam, welcome to the show.
Thanks. It’s great to be on John. Thanks for having me.
Well, you’re just such an example of someone who doesn’t give up, right? I mean, I think that would really be … If I had to sum you up in a few words, that’s the first thing that pops into mind. How do you describe yourself?
Well, actually my tagline for Zen Warrior Training is let nothing stop you and that’s the motto that I’ve been living with shall we say for my entire life but especially over the past 18 years since my spinal cord injury. Yeah, I’ve been through thick and thin and spent over three years bedridden of my life and had to deal with those challenges, multiple surgeries, this and that.
A lot of not knowing what the future held for me and through all that experience that I had, developed this attitude of perseverance that I now use to train others with Zen Warrior Training.
Well, so many of us have our excuses from day-to-day. “I’m not in the mood to go work out.” or “This is too hard.” or “Man, I’m getting all these no’s when I’m pitching to get a new customer or pitching myself to get funding or pitching myself for anything. I won’t give up.” Right? Then you look at someone like you who has mastered the art of perseverance which I really think it is an art form.
It is an art absolutely.
It ties into Zen philosophy. Let’s talk about the combination of Zen and being a warrior because for some people they might think, “Well, aren’t those mutually exclusive?” How do you combine them?
Yeah, well that’s part of what I love about the brand too is they appear to be paradoxical but they are actually not paradoxical at all. When you think about how the more peaceful and present with yourself, the more grounded you are, the more powerful you become, then you’re able to conquer the challenges of your life.
It’s only when you’re in reaction towards your life’s circumstances that you become powerless. Zen and warrior actually sit perfectly together because it’s all about being peaceful, centered, grounded and then conquering challenges from that attitude, that mindset.
We’re going to tweet that out. The more peaceful and present you are, the more powerful you become. That’s a great, great take away right off the bit. Well, let me ask you, Sam, have you always been someone who’s been present and peaceful even before the accident?
Before the accident, yes I was definitely present, peaceful individual. I was an outdoor leader and had just finished leading a bicycling trip across the US for nine teenagers, and I was an expert skier and snowboarder. My whole life revolved around being in the outdoors. I was peaceful, I was present, I was vital, I was excited to be alive and when my injury happened, I had to step it up a notch. In fact, after leading the bicycling trip across the US I thought, “How could any challenge ever compared to the challenge that I’ve just been through?”
Ironically, it was only two months later that my spinal cord injury happened and the challenge was far greater than cycling across the US. I really had to step it up a notch to be able to have a good attitude despite the circumstances of my life and then a few years later, I ended up hospitalized and over time, it ate away at my will and spirit looking back over the course of those years.
It was really, really, really challenging for a long time. I went through a decade plus of not really knowing what life had in store for me and being the victim of my circumstances despite my best efforts to keep a good attitude about what was going on, but eventually I just transcended all of that and found, “Wow, I’m creating my life right now. The circumstances of my life are one thing but it’s how I’m interpreting the circumstances of my life that make all the difference.”
That is what’s actually going on. It’s not the circumstances of my life that are happening, what I’m doing with what’s happening to me that is actually happening.
Well, you have so much credibility in saying that because a lot of people can say, “Oh, just control your reaction to being stuck in traffic or what have you.” Don’t get stressed out, don’t get angry but your situation is such that a lot of people can’t even fathom what they would do let alone how they would cope.
You have so much more credibility than other people would just say, “Oh, you know, just work on your interpretation of the event.”
It’s so much more meaningful. One of the things that you have on your websites Zen Warrior Training that I just love and there’s seven points that I want to cover that you talk about that involve the system of meditation, awareness training and breath work that would have some real return on investments and the first one you talk about is seizing the moment. Can you talk to us about how do you seize the moment in your everyday life, you’re in the wheelchair and yet, you’re able to figure out how to do that?
Yes, yes, seizing the moment, being in the now moment is my only source of happiness. If I am stuck in my projections about the future or my thoughts about the past, I’m numb to my present situation. By being in the present moment, it’s not about … For me, it’s not about positive thinking. I don’t teach positive thinking to people. A lot of people ask me is it about positive thinking and so forth and I say, “It’s about neutral thinking. It’s about being grounded and centered and neutral so that positive things can actually happen to you so that you can actually experience positivity.”
That takes a lot of discipline, mental discipline to ground in the present moment and take advantage of the present moment because it’s the only moment we’ve ever got so you might as well take advantage of it. That’s the seizing the moment part. People talk about being in the now and so forth but I really think it’s about seizing the moment, really taking the moment back and making it your own.
We’re going to tweet that out. If you’re stuck in the past or worrying about the future, you are numb to the present. I love that word numb that you used Sam because I’ve never heard anybody describe it quite like that and that’s really what it feels like your foot falls asleep, right? In this case, your brain falls asleep. You’re unconscious. You’re not even in the … you’re just numb and you’re numbing out with food, alcohol, drugs, TV, sex, whatever your choices so you really help us seize that moment. That’s fantastic.
All right, so let’s talk about the second one which is owning your power to conquer challenges. Clearly, there are some challenges you’re facing. How do you own your power?
Well, I realized early on in what had happened to me that there was no one to blame that the only … that I couldn’t blame myself, I couldn’t blame the person who was responsible for what happened. It just was what it was and you can either look at things through the lens of this is a terrible thing, this is this awful thing that happened. Yes, it was challenging but if I judge it as terrible, I judge it as awful, then I stay stuck in that situation.
I’m not actually owning my ability to be present with myself and to generate new energy and create and really focus my mind. Owning your power is really about taking back the power of, “Nothing can happen to me that I don’t allow on some level to happen to me.” If I am in a situation like when I was bedridden for months and months and months on end.
The longest period I was bedridden was seven and a half months. I did not get out of bed, lying flat on my back for seven and a half months. When that happened, I was fully cognizant of the fact that there was no one to blame, there was nothing to blame. I was just there having an experience. I was owning my power by being fully accountable for the experience that I was having.
I might not have liked the experience that I was having but I was being accountable for my feelings about the experience that I was having and a lot of people don’t … They fall in and out of accountability for the experiences that they’re going through.
Well, that’s everything, isn’t it? Especially in the business world, right? If you are going to take accountability for not hitting your numbers that you project or not being on time or all the 101 little things that we need to be accountable for. What I really hear you saying Sam is when you stop blaming other people or other things for where you are, you let go being a victim.
That’s right. That’s right. That’s absolutely right and it’s hard for people to own their feelings sometimes. Sometimes people will have these feelings where they’re really irritated with what’s going on and they’ll feel awful about like you said not making your numbers or whatever and they’ll go into a reaction, it has to be because of something else, it has to be because of someone or something or some situation because I couldn’t possibly be creating this in my own life but it’s just feeling.
All it is is feeling, it’s just sensations in the body and if you can get used to making room for those feelings to be there in your body, then you can learn from the experience rather than reject the experience and then have to repeat it over and over and over again until you finally learn from it.
Well, when people are pitching to get funded or pitching to get hired or pitching to get a new customer, they can sometimes go into this little pity party for themselves, right? This isn’t working. I don’t blame everybody else. You more than most people had to pitch yourself on not giving up and your third point here is let nothing stop you. How did you pitch yourself if you will with your internal thoughts et cetera, to not let anything stop you from being happy?
I’d tell you when I created Zen Warrior Training back in 2013, it was really with the commitment to myself that I wanted to lead a Zen Warrior life and that I wanted to hold myself accountable to that type of standard. I pitched myself, I pitched my own business to myself basically. I decided, “Hey, if I’m just doing this for a living, if I am creating value, Zen Warrior value in people’s lives then I have to be always pushing myself to be living at my edge, to be taking my mind to new heights and to be engaging more with the world and conquering more challenges and also relaxing more, relaxing so that I can have more power in me to be able to conquer challenges.”
I really pitched it to myself as the perfect opportunity for me to live the life that I wanted to live and knowing that as I work with clients, if I’m not living that life to the best of my ability, I’m not able to bring very good value through to my clients. My whole approach is I want to bring as much value through to my clients as I possibly can and in order to do that, I have to be very, very present with my own life.
Well, you’re a living example of how to not let anything stop you and then from there you say, “Okay, nothing’s gonna stop me so I want to live at the edge.”
What does that look like?
That’s all about treating life as an adventure. It’s all about really getting out of the mindset that it’s just the burdensome experience and a lot of people can unknowingly get caught in that mindset, that life is just a burden and it’s never living up to what their expectations are of it and your job isn’t, living up to your expectations, your relationships aren’t living up to your expectations but that’s a very anti-adventurous spirit.
Living at your edge means pushing yourself forward, always pushing the envelope, always looking at what the next thing is, how can you engage with the adventure of your life? How can you be totally the hero of your own journey? It’s really about training your mind to be the hero of your own journey.
Can you tell us a story of how you have an adventure now?
The Adventure that I am on right now is scaling my business, to really create a really solid online platform where people can get Zen Warrior Training through and I don’t have to be working with them privately or in groups or workshops or whatever or speaking gigs but they can get video content and audio content and so forth. That’s the adventure I’m on. I’m looking for fresh new content, stuff that hasn’t been done.
I’m not trying to regurgitate anything that any other coach has ever created. It’s really about coming from my unique essence and what I have to share and that pushes me to live at my edge.
Well, that goes right into the fifth point you talk about which is honoring your truth and that’s really what you’re doing here, isn’t it?
Exactly, exactly. Being totally genuine with yourself all the time and I’ve got this contract with myself and really, all of these seven principles really create that contract. I’m committing to being authentic, I’m committing to being genuine, I’m committing to noticing when there is a tendency to want to be less than genuine and going what’s that about? Where did that tendency even come from? What can I learn from that tendency so That I can bring it back home to my authentic truth.
It sounds like you’re not trying to resist it so much, it’s just look for the lesson so that you can move on as supposed to fighting it.
Exactly, exactly. If you resist it like they say, what you resist persist. You just keep on having to experience that same basic theme coming up over and over and over again in your life until you actually get haters learning here for me. This is a good thing for me. All of this irritation that I’m going through is actually the perfect experience for me to learn whatever there is that I have to learn to become more self-actualized.
Well, it’s almost like you’re saying, “Don’t have a tug-of-war with yourself.” Right?
Let go of your end of the rope a little bit and just say, “Okay, what’s happening now? And what am I going to learn and I’m still going to move forward and make the most of this.”
Exactly, which leads us to our sixth principle.
Freeing your mind from the obsession with the past or worry about the future. Right? So many entrepreneurs talk about, “Oh my God, I get up at two in the morning with sweats worrying about how I’m going to make payroll or am I ever get a client? Buy this or how am I going to get … whatever.”
Right, then they’re actually training their minds to keep doing that and they’re training themselves to stay in that state of paralysis by doing that.
It’s a subconscious experience. All of those thoughts are happening through the subconscious mind, the primitive parts of our brain that are trained and trained for survival basically and it triggers these thoughts and feelings that there is a lack of safety and that lack of safety oftentimes doesn’t go anywhere.
If you train your mind to focus on that and without knowing it, not that you would ever choose to train your mind to focus on that, but if you’re repeating that pattern enough in your mind, you’re perpetuating that experience and the next day you’re going to feel that way or you might make some money and your temporarily alleviated from that experience, but then a month down the road, you end up having the same experience again.
It’s really about noticing that tendency and noticing what I love about Zen mindfulness is it helps you to remove from the identification with the thoughts and feelings. You’re observing them but you’re not in them. If I’m observing, “I really have some nervous energy right now around this deadline that I’ve got three weeks from now.” or whatever. Where is that originating? Where is that coming from?
Is that actually … Is there a logical reason for me to be nervous? Am I just feeling the pressure of performing and being on? Or is there something that’s deeper than that? Is it a survival instinct that I need to be aware of so that I can start to not identify with that survival instinct so much.
Well Sam, you more than most people, when you talk about perseverating over a thought over and over again of negativity and fear that we put our mind into a state of paralysis, it has so much more meaning coming from you because you are paralyzed from the waist down.
I’m not going to let my mind be paralyzed too and neither should you.
Exactly, I realized early on and this … I realized this conceptually, it took me many years to really fully be able to experience it experientially but I learned early on in my injury that while my body may be paralyzed, my mind was not paralyzed and even the term paralysis just means stopped movement. There’s the physical paralysis but then paralysis in someone’s psyche paralysis in an organization, paralysis in a company, anywhere where there is stopped movement, now that’s a mindset.
It’s a mindset that there is stopped movement. There’s never stopped movement. Nature doesn’t occur that. That’s just not how nature works. Now, there might be a lack of sensation, physical sensation and motor function with me physically below my level of injury but that’s not paralysis. That’s just a lack of sensation and motor function.
If you take that analogy and I just happened to be a living metaphor, if you take that analogy and then you apply it, anywhere in life you can see that it’s only our own minds that create the feeling of paralysis which then triggers old subconscious responses and reactions that are actually undesirable and prevent us from living in the present moment and handling whenever there is to handle.
Speaking of nature not ever allowing things to stay static or not move, can you tell us about the blog you wrote about the bird that got trapped and if you keep trying to get out from where you are, you’ll wear yourself out and you’ll get free?
Yeah, I had a bird fly into my house a few months ago and it flew straight over to the window and the door was wide open and that’s why the bird got in in the first place but it flew over to the window which was closed and it had a screen on it too so there is no way that the bird was going to get out unless I hold off the screen and open the window and so forth.
I was trying to get the bird to see, “Hey, look. Look, there’s this wide open door over here.” All you have to do is just look around. There’s where you came in, there’s actually an exit but the bird was fixated on the window because it was the closest source of light that it could find. It was just fixated on that and it was thinking, “Hey, whenever I’ve gone into the light before, it’s always worked. Now, what’s wrong now? Why can’t I go into the open space?”
It just kept banging itself against the window. It just kept on doing that repeatedly, repeatedly, it would have eventually died doing that if I hadn’t come over and wrapped my hand around it and brought it back over to the door and then put it out the door. And this is such an apt analogy for the way that a lot of people live.
There’s the space that’s always worked. There’s the thing that they feel like has always worked the way out, the way back into freedom but sometimes that door closes and banging their heads against that wall and feeling like, “What’s going on? What’s wrong? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my situation? What’s wrong? Why can’t I go into that space? Why is it no longer … Why does this not work anymore?”
Then they start to freak out and panic just like the bird even though the open door is just one little turn of their head away.
Look at companies like Kodak beating their head against the wall or Blockbuster is another one, right? They could have done what Netflix did but they didn’t. You just keep doing the same thing and then when it doesn’t work anymore, you don’t know what to do and you won’t allow yourself to evolve.
Really great stuff and the best way to evolve is to free your mind if doing things the way you’ve been doing them and say, “What else could I do here?” Right?
Yes, yes that’s right.
Which bring us to the seventh and final alliteration of catalyst change. What does that mean? I love the word.
Yes, be a catalyst for change. It’s all about serving the greater good. It’s all about getting outside of our own ego, projections about what our needs are and into how can I be of service, what can I do to create value in people’s lives and if we start to look in that direction, there is infinite potential. As long as we are looking in the direction of how do I get my needs met, what do I need to do to get my needs met to be able to make this much money to buy the car to impress the girl? All that crap.
As long as you’re on that type of trajectory, you’re missing out on an incredible amount of opportunity to actually generate, to actually generate wealth. Wealth is in the value that we can create for each other. That’s the energy of wealth. It’s all about identifying that value. By initiating, generating that value for other people, you naturally create the energy of wealth that then comes back oftentimes in the form of financial payment.
You have an example, obviously, your accident was a catalyst for change but what have you seen working with groups in Zen Warrior that’s been a big change for the group?
Well, a lot of things. A lot of changes that are happening for individuals and when they come together as a group, they can experience, “Wow, this is not just something that I am, where I am changing personally but this person is changing. This person is changing.” And each one of us is creating more value in our lives and more value for other people’s lives by being more present and that reflection that happens in a group is really pretty profound because it goes from being a concept to more of a truism of where people can feel, “Wow, there’s real truth to this.” It’s not just some nice idea about the way the world should work. No, this is actually the way that the world does work.
Well, I can’t thank you for sharing these insights. As I said, your words of inspiration have a whole new meaning because it’s not just a theoretical concept for you, it’s an actual thing that you have experienced and written above.
That is true. Yes, thank you, John.
How can people engage with you to either get some private or group coaching, hire you as a keynote speaker?
Get on my newsletter. If you go to zenwarriortraining.com, just scroll down to the bottom of the homepage and there’s a newsletter sign up. You’ll get a free 11-minute guided audio meditation that I’ve created and that’s the best way to stay in touch with me and to hear what the current news and free offers are and that type of thing and you can also follow me on Twitter @zwtraining, Instagram @zenwarriortraining or www.facebook.com/zenwarriortraining.
Fantastic. Sam, thanks again for being on the show and thanks for showing us how to never give up.
Well, thank you, John, for inviting me. It’s been a real pleasure.
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