He is Indian, so it is easy to compare Dino Daswani with Mahatma Gandhi. He is guru-like, and has the same frailty and stooped appearance — though this likely derives from sitting hunched over a computer, literally inches from the screen, despite the thick glasses and zoomed text.
When he is led into the center of the Ambassador Hotel room at a recent Skal International Taipei luncheon, Dino gingerly takes the proffered microphone and starts speaking. It is a quiet voice despite the amplification, but even so the chatter eventually dims.
Everyone is paying attention by the time he starts talking about his life-transforming moment.
About seven years ago, he had been looking out the window of a Singapore high-rise, king of the world, a successful telecommunications manager, admiring the view. But there was a red line on the horizon. When he turned and looked at the room’s walls, it was still there. Gradually, the recognition came that the red line was not outside, but inside, his eyes flooding with blood.
It was the beginning of his blindness, or partial-sightedness, that has left him seeing the world as if underwater. In sunshine the world is a whiteout, at night it is total darkness. But in one of those twists of fate that would appear contrived if it were not true, this is how Dino came to see the light.
To begin with, Dino went through the standard stages of grief. He was in denial, then angry, at himself, the world, his parents. He blamed “God” and railed at life’s unfairness, before realizing it was doing him more harm than good.
He quotes with approval Mark Twain on the subject: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
Then came stage three of his recovery process, bargaining with himself and hoping a higher power was listening: “Why can’t I have one eye, or half an eye? It took a while to accept the way things are, the way life is.”
The fourth stage was depression. “When you hit rock bottom and have the choice of going further down, underground, to the grave, suicide basically,” he says. “I couldn’t see a future, literally. After all, who was going to marry me, or give me a job?”
But the breakdown was his breakthrough. “Since my eyes were closed, I decided to meditate,” he says.
Dino cannot say enough about the benefits of meditation, which in his case led to acceptance and transformation: “Through meditation I fell in love with my true love … myself.”
He also found purpose, studied for a master’s degree in leading innovation and change, and took up a new job as an inspirational speaker, mind transformation and life coach.
“Like Rumi (the Persian poet) says, ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’ Before I wanted to change the world by giving money away. Today, I have no money but I still want to make a difference and contribute,” he says.
Fortunately, for Dino, there’s profit in prophets.
Perhaps it is to be expected that in a world drained of belief, the business of personal development is booming.
Bharat Book Bureau’s 2015 report suggests the world market for self-improvement products and services is worth about NT$310 billion. This includes motivational programs, books and DVDs, seminars, workshops, retreats, webinars and personal coaching. The audience is business leaders and sales, investors, those seeking relationship advice, weight loss, fitness or general self improvement.
Born in India’s Bombay, Dino was brought up in Japan and Africa, but eventually settled with his parents in Taiwan and attended Taipei American School. Now 37 years old, he’s on the road to “learn, earn and return.”
I learn something new as soon as we sit down. Always a good sign.
Guiding him to a chair, carefully placing his juice on the table so he does not spill it, Dino says my helpfulness is actually self-serving because it makes me feel abundant. He lets me help, so I feel good, and he feels good making me feel good. It’s called a “positive loop.”
On some level I already know this, but it is kind of cool to have it pointed out. A trick of the trade, you could say.
In return, I tell him I am a cynic, a contrarian platform that allows me to question his methods and beliefs. He says this identity — “the cynic” — is a useful tool for what I am doing, but it should not define me, because it is limiting.
I say positivity makes me gag because I associate it with the relentless enthusiasm of salespeople — for whom it is a powerful tool; or as a comforter for the naive and stupid.
He replies that, yes, it is a useful tool for business, but it is much more than that: “We all wear glasses (have a view on life), which is positive or negative. I say take the glasses off and see things as they are.”
He tells his clients that positivity is not thinking everything is “for the best in the best of all possible worlds” (Leibniz and Voltaire). Since memories are our past, they can be changed by attaching a positive label.
“Life just is. We create meaning,” he says. “Never tell a story in the negative, be positive.”
I ask him whether life coaching is just for the dysfunctional. He admits some people need it, but others want to attain a new level, just like a sports coach helping an elite athlete.
I take issue with his idea that we should be open to new experiences all the time, like trying chocolate ice cream when I am satisfied with vanilla. Why not be satisfied with less, rather than more?
He replies that people naturally tire of what they have, so being open open to new possibilities keeps life fresh.
He talks about his ability to channel an audience’s feelings and give them what they want. Is this not like Donald Trump, I say, not necessarily a good thing?
He points out this is intention based, and that he has a message of love, choice and personal development, not anger or violence.
We go back and forth in classic Socratic mode on a full range of subjects: “Love yourself, before others,” he says. “If you don’t love yourself, you repel others.”
“Religion is a story, to me it is not true,” he says, but he does believe in Superman because superheroes experience fear. In spite of this, they “cultivate the courage to take action, since their purpose is greater than who they are.”
On occasion, he refers to himself as “Super Dino.”
“Happiness is within you, not outside you,” he continues, and “Happiness makes you more productive, not vice versa.”
I can be pretty irritating, but he does not crack, keeps his center and advice pours out of him like a full vessel.
“Turn words into wisdom,” he concludes. I’m not sure whether he is talking about himself or me.
1 0H 1: Can refer to Taipei 101; an introductory course or analysis; One uh One, a spare male at a party, or a useless person — always male; there are about 1.01 men for every 1 woman, thus, every one hundred and first male is not going to find a partner; a one-on-one interview