” A Mindful Evening” with Dr. David Dillard-Wright

David Dillard-Wright, Ph. D., is an associate professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken. His research examines human relationships with non-human animals and the environment, including topics in bioethics and philosophy of mind.

What is the study of philosophy and how does it influence us today?

“Etymologically, philosophy is the “love of wisdom.” It refers not necessarily to finding wisdom but to the search for it, the pursuit of it.  We all hope to find wisdom, but there are no guarantees.  The study of philosophy is looking back over the centuries to find the ideas that people have found to be helpful in one area of life or another.  We then use the tradition to look for ways to approach the problems of today, whether we are talking about politics or art or ethics.

In philosophy, we don’t throw away the work of previous generations.  So we can still read Plato and Aristotle and find inspiring things there.  There is an odd feeling sometimes in reading philosophy, where it feels like the author is speaking directly to you.  Of course, this is due to the excellent work of translators and editors who keep these texts up-to-date for our time and language.  I think anyone can read philosophy and benefit from it, even if it is difficult to understand.  Philosophy provides good mental exercise, even for those who might not want to make a lifelong study or a professional study. “

Have you found yourself having self doubt sometimes? If so were you ever in denial?

“Self-doubt is one of those demons that we all face, that nagging inner critic.  I think the best medicine is to just ignore that voice and proceed anyway.  Usually the things most worth doing are a little bit scary.  If they are not a little bit scary, they become mundane, even boring.  So we should see that little bit of fear as an ally: it tells us that we are on the right track creatively, pushing the boundaries of what we have done in the past.  Denial is somewhat related.  It can be an avoidance tactic for ignoring something important but not very fun.

Perhaps we want to avoid some less-than-flattering part of our personalities.   Other people, especially those who are close to us, can see these acts of denial more clearly than we can.  That’s why we need to be in relationships with others.”

Do you believe self doubt starts from a young age?

“I believe that self-doubt, like most negative emotional states, can be passed down in families.  We unconsciously adopt the tendencies that our parents have.  Self-doubt begins in childhood when children don’t receive enough expressions of praise, love, and support.  We really need to do a better job of letting our children know that they are loved and valued, not just for the things that they achieve, but unconditionally.  We can also help children by learning to deal with our own self-doubt.  Then we will be a better example for young people, who are always looking to us for cues as to how they should live.”

How long did it take you to write this book?

“I have written this trilogy of meditation books, first, A Mindful Day, then A Mindful Evening, and now A Mindful Day, in a little more than a year.  Of course, the research and practice that went into writing the books took many years, probably a decade or two.  I set a goal of writing a thousand words per day.  I didn’t do this every day, but it was a good goal to keep me on schedule.  This is a practice I would recommend to all writers who want to get a lot done in a short period of time.” 

When did you find yourself interested in mindful thoughts?

“I first got started with the Christian tradition of contemplative prayer during college, reading the books of Thomas Merton and other devotional writers.  My interest in Indian philosophy and meditation came a few years later.  Now I look for inspiration wherever I can find it, although I do practice traditional forms of yogic meditation under a qualified lineage of gurus.” Link to book https://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Evening-Complete-each-heart

What has been your greatest accomplishment throughout your career?

“That’s pretty tough to say.  I’ve written academic work in animal studies and philosophy of mind, but I also like the more popular stuff I have been doing with meditation and mindfulness.  I let my curiosity be my guide.  So I’ve written about feral children, about the cave paintings at Lascaux, France, about politics, and about my innermost thoughts.  It’s odd that I feel funny posting on Facebook, but I’m totally comfortable revealing myself in printed books! My writing is a pretty good reflection of what I was thinking at the time, like a trail of breadcrumbs that I have left behind me.”

If you could go back in time what’s some advice you’d tell your younger self?

“I would say, try to be at peace with yourself.  Don’t look for external validation.  Get right with yourself, and everything else will follow.”

10 Comments

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  1. The hamster wheel of the mind often gets up and running when the day’s business ceased. The sample read of author’s book opens with this situation.
    The interview with the author discusses his influences and general thoughts, which provide the basis for the book.
    Not surprisingly, the first few pages of the book appear harmonious. Drawing from many sources, such as a variety of religion. One gets the sense in both the article and book, we are on a journey, and we are in it together.

  2. I love reading the work of a fellow South Carolinian! The overview of what philosophy is and how we can relate early philosophers to even the year 2017 was thought provoking. I’m also very glad to have a link provided so that we can check out the book! I do have one question, though. The interview states “A Mindful Day, then A Mindful Evening, and now A Mindful Day” are the trilogy of meditation works. Does the third book have the same name as the first or is this a typo? I was a little confused by that! Otherwise, I found the interview, honestly, very eye opening. “Don’t look for external validation. Get right with yourself, and everything else will follow.” This is advice that I think we can all use!

  3. Frankly, I felt that I am not able to follow the article. There is no introduction on the books that the author wrote and that caused me confusion at the beginning even if the link is given. I should know the points the interviewer was interested in to make the interview. Otherwise, the interview itself is quite interesting and got me into philosophy.

  4. Overall, this was intriguing from start to finish. You immediately started off with the credentials of the person you were interviewing to show the validity of the information presented. Your organization of ideas was planned well and the interview was conducted with clear questions and answers, but the only thing I would recommend as far as organization is placing the questions regarding Dr. Dillard-Wright’s background first, and a mention of his book in the description as I did not realize he was an author until the end.

    The emphasis on building relationships with others is extremely important, especially with regards to what Dr. Dillard-Wright mentioned: it is imperative that we surround ourselves with people we are comfortable with because “other people… see these acts of denial more clearly than we can” when we try to ignore certain aspects of our own personality. I completely agree that sometimes fear is an indicator that we’re going in the right direction to challenge ourselves, but with regards to anxiety or severe depression this course of action might be a bit more difficult in practice.

    Links to research–for the genetic comment, possibly a scientific study that provides factual evidence that depression can be passed down through families or how children mimic their parent’s emotions as they grow–and possibly your own opinion regarding what was discussed by Dr. David Dillard-Wright would improve this article greatly. Although that might not have been your intention, I would have loved to hear how you supported his arguments or any personal experiences you might have had with what was explained.

    Your inclusion of Dr. Dillard-Wright’s book was perfect as I am now eager to check it out. The questions you asked were well-rounded–especially the ones regarding his background, which I was thrilled to learn about–but I admit I was waiting for something regarding his take on nature verses nurture as soon as I read the description of the interview. So my advice would be to expand on the topics discussed with your own perspective, and include links to research that supports what Dr. Dillard-Wright explained.

    This was a well-articulated interview that I wish had been longer because hearing from a professional like this is always a great learning experience. Thank you for sharing!

  5. This article was easy to read and straight to the point. I think the interviewer had some excellent questions to ask Dr Dillard Wright, but it would have been nice to hear personal opinions, i.e. if he practises his own work and how well it works for him? Overall, it covers the basic needs of a well structured interview with some pretty interesting answers! Definitely worth checking the book out.

  6. Hello, thank you for sharing this interview with us! I found it has been an overall intriguing session packed with high-quality questions from you. I’m glad his responses matches the quality of your curiosity. It’s been a short beneficial read for me. However it’d be better if you had noted in the beginning that apart from him being only an associate Professor, he is also an author.

    Quoting Prof. Wright, I wholesomely agree that “philosophy is the love for wisdom” and that we should be in an everlasting pursuit to always search for it. It is great waste and pity for a person to be intelligent but to be lacking of wisdom. It makes one a naive fool. Wright also highlighted that in order to look and move forward, we have to look backwards to measure and learn the tools, traditions and resolutions from people who have lived decades before us– only then will we be able to approach various present conflicts. In our modern dynamic, I fear we might have forgotten and overlook matters that has been the prime issues for the ones that existed before us.

    I adore how Prof. Wright also mentioned Plato and Aristotle’s inspiring personalities and their pursuit in philosophy. I feel philosophy requires a very complex, and yet a greatly curious mind to prose wonders, and to answer them by going great lengths. Sometimes the more we ask the more new, additional questions add to the pile of unanswered questions. In the pursuit of finding a certain answer, another of which might be answered when we least search for it. The hidden benefits lies in the irony of always asking, always searching, but getting answers for something we were not conscious about. The art of philosophy is never to stop being curious.

    Plato and Aristotle both devoted their life to art of philosophy, always asking and intriguing people around them, even if they might have be seen as a nuisance or a character who bothers too much about things that are ‘trivial’ or ‘shouldn’t even matter’.

    Philosophy truly is, good mental exercise for those who believe in the benefits of thinking out-of-the-box or the seemingly simple or trifling matters can reap. By questioning and understanding, the wisdom we seek for via textbooks, reliable online sources or renowned professionals– learning has already taken place since the first step we took regardless of pursuing a lifelong or professional study or not.

    I agree that self doubt is the root of man’s own downfall. Our innate capacity to doubt our capabilities, our worth and potential to either be perceived and understood as humble or because we might truly lack external moral encouragement and support. It could also be, like Prof. Wright has said, the ‘nagging inner critic’ – it could be the drive to our success or our downfall. Again, I agree with him that without this nagging critic latent in all of us, we’ll eventually fail to see our worthwhile purpose. The lasting question, ‘what’s the point of us being here then if we aren’t on the right track?’ will find its way up eventually and we will have to reroute thanks to our inner critic. The ‘right’ track is subjective to everyone though.

    In my opinion, denial could also be considered as a defense mechanism where our ego takes charge and refuse to give in or look inferior. The significance and understanding of why people require good and lasting relationships with others is actually underrated.

    I concur with his belief that self-doubt is passed down in families. I think there should be a great or more emphasis on the significance of a young child/infant to be nurtured endearingly. This is to prevent any future possibilities of low self esteem and self-doubt. Self doubt, in the long run if not managed properly can cause severe setbacks. It’s capable of making a person loose his grip on his career or passion due to the overly negative critic within, without a sturdy base of external support, praise and love. I think as humans we all need to feel that we ARE important, that our purpose and existence here is not mainly to only reproduce or harvest the things people expect of us– but to just live and be seen, accepted and love as the raw person we are.
    The old and the young should always encourage and guide, support and teach each other.

    To author– did you had a typo? Mindful day was repeated twice.

    It is impressive to learn how Wright had begun on various studies in which he found his enthusiasm in projecting mindful thoughts.

    I can relate with him saying it’s totally alright and comfortable to write on printed books than Facebook! Perhaps we are able to direct and express our thoughts without the pressure of fitting to the “norm” of the online Facebook mainstream society. On the other hand, we are aware the content we write in our own book will be picked up and appreciated by those who share the same interests as us. The best part about being human is also our depth for curiosity, our technological advances merging with our sophisticated thinking, to produce thought-provoking reflections and stuff.

    Would like to thank Professor Wright for his quote to his younger self. I think that has helped me more than it should, considering how I am only 18 of age. Stored and secured in my memory.

    To author– I wished you’ve had written your thoughts about this interview at the end after noting everything that was spoken by him. It’d be great to see how you think of it and get to know your opinions (who knows?) I thank you for having this session with Professor Wright and taking everything down so professionally, but as I mentioned perhaps it’d be better if we could have your thoughts on it as well. At the end of the day we’re all just humans keen on learning and understanding each other better after all.

    But all in all, thank you for this piece. 🙂

  7. Starting from the beginning I loved how you gave a brief description of Dr. Dillard- Wrights work. However I wish you would have gone a little more in depth about the book itself.
    As far as the interview, you asked all the right questions. The first question really made the article a lot more easier to follow along. It allowed those that know nothing about philosophy understand it in simpler terms. You went into asking a couple of questions about self doubt which in Dr. Dillard- Wrights work is very important. However I found it a bit unneccary to go too in depth on the subject of self doubt. I would have loved to read more about mindfulness and how he uses it in his everyday life.
    Overall the article was very intriguing but in the end left me wanting more.

  8. As a lover of philosophy, I loved this article. It was a good jumping off point for anyone looking into the subject. However, I do wish we learned a bit more about the book itself. Philosophy is truly the love of AND the never ending search for wisdom.
    I quite like the Professor’s idea that self-doubt can be passed on. My grandfather constantly worried and doubted himself when he was my age, and even younger, giving himself shingles at the age of eight because he worried so much. He passed these traits onto my mother, which I later took to. Because of this I developed chronic migraines at an early age. I wouldn’t trade them for a life free of worry though, it gives you a new perspective that others do not have, which I value.

  9. This interview reminds us that biological age rarely have anything to do with philosophical discovery. we can be curious at any age and source of wisdom can come from almost anything. I just wish the interview reveal more about the book, since it’s a rare chance to be able to have a lovely talk with the author itself.

  10. First of all, thank you for putting the credentials of your researcher, it’s a very important empirical part of making sure the sources are authentic. It would be nice though to have given “A Mindful Evening” an introduction at the beginning rather than explaining that it’s actually a book at the end. That way, we readers will know what to expect.

    Philosophy, like the other social sciences (is it a social science? is it social? is it science?) hope to create meaning from the previous works and philosophists aim to publish their foundings to gather feedback in order to contribute to the greater purpose of the field. That is something I truly admire, the effort to keep the study up to date, and the open-mindedness involved in accepting contemporary theories or classical ideas in contemporary settings. Knowledge knows no age, no time, only progress and archive.

    In his phrasing, self-doubt can actually be related to psychology, in understanding that selfdoubt has a lot to do with the upbringing of an individual. The amount of attention and affection we receive from our parents and peers and social environment, combined with our genetic blueprint to react to said environment, figure out much of our personalities, and most of what we consider as self-doubt.

    Do bear in mind that meditation and philosophy may have good and slightly psychological references and roots, but at the end of the day, it follows a separate ideology. Explaining the connection would have made this article more consistent and parsimonious.

    All in all, that book definitely intrigued me, and this is a good interview. I wish he gave more references for us to follow up his works on.

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