Don Dianda ’07 and his journey of spiritual awakening
Don Dianda practices what he preaches, refusing to tweet about his new book, which asks people his age to consider a slower, more deliberate way of life.
One high point in Don Dianda’s life came when the SI football team won the school’s first ever CCS championship in 2006.
These days, Dianda ’07, finds the same joy from doing everyday activities, from taking a walk or washing the dishes.
What changed? After experiencing the wild side of college at UC Santa Barbara, Dianda found a better path thanks to his time in nature and his study of Buddhism.
He chronicles his journey in See For Yourself: Zen Mindfulness For the Next Generation, which he published with the help of Amazon in 2012. The book has sold well and has earned great reviews thanks, in part, to The Huffington Post publishing an excerpt on its web site. His new book, Wading into the Journey came out at the end of April.
“After we won the WCAL, we knew we would win the CCS,” said Dianda. “Guys from the ’67 championship team were hugging us as we were crying with joy. The joy I feel now is different and comes from walking, meditating or writing.”
Dianda attended Town School for Boys before coming to SI, where he found mentors such as Matt Balano and Steve Bluford ’84 who helped him hone, respectively, his writing skills and football prowess.
His first two years at UC Santa Barbara, he admitted, involved a fair amount of drugs and drinking. He managed to turn that around before he graduated with his degree in history thanks to his own sense that he was spending more time clouding his mind and dulling his senses instead of seeing life clearly and enjoying it for what it was.
In his sophomore year, he did one solo trek in the White Mountains in the Sierra Nevada range that proved pivotal. He brought along a copy of Awakening the Buddha Within and ran close to 30 miles a day on backcountry trails. “When I got to the top of the mountain, I knew right then that I was experiencing a quiet mind. That’s what I wanted – to be at a place where everything was clear, present, vibrant and alive. I kept feeling the urge to return and experience the quiet mind. That’s how I discovered who I am and what I should do.”
Dianda stopped partying and, by the middle of his junior year, began writing his book. He finished it by the end of his senior year, but found some who challenged his right to offer spiritual advice at such a young age. “I generally change the minds of those who are skeptical after speaking with them for a while. But I’m not worried about what anyone thinks of me. It’s hard enough to control oneself let alone worry about someone else’s opinion.”
A practitioner of Rinzai Zen, a form of Buddhism, Dianda had read books by Gary Snyder and others about Eastern spirituality. He didn’t find any books from young practitioners of Buddhism, however. “I wanted to fill that gap and felt a calling, as someone who enjoys both writing and Zen, to put it out there. I wrote the first chapter for people in college, but anyone can relate to it. I have people in their 50s tell me they read my book and now want to learn more about Zen.”
The book’s title, he adds, refers to his desire to help others “see their own inner vastness. If you don’t see for yourself, then the benefits of enlightenment don’t come.”
Dianda publishes regularly both on redwoodzen.blogspot.com and through the online magazine elephantjournal.com. He is working on his second book and hopes to publish it this year.
“I know I’m reaching out a smaller audience than those who read People magazine. This isn’t as popular a topic as entertainment news. But I find that I’m an extension of a trend among young people to study themselves as they look for new ways to practice their religion or philosophy. This may be a backlash to our fast-paced culture where everyone is staring at a gadget. I’m not tweeting about my book, for instance, and that surprises some people.”
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