Miles Neale is a Buddhist psychotherapist in private practice, teacher, and author. He is the founder of The Contemplative Studies Program, a company that offers immersive online learning in the ancient wisdom and practices of Tibetan Buddhism integrated with contemporary perspectives. Neale is the author of Gradual Awakening and co-editor of Advances in Contemplative Psychotherapy.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in Hong Kong with tremendous privilege but often felt dissatisfied as if something essential was missing. By the time I was twenty I had made it to India to a small town called Bodhgaya, where 2,600 years ago the Buddha gained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. There I met my first meditation teacher who embodied unconditional love and with him, I made discoveries that began to quench my yearning. For me, it was like finally coming home.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That I was good enough, faults and all. It’s a message that makes or breaks the human spirit.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
You must go to university and get an advanced degree. School taught me next to nothing, and it cost my family and me a fortune. It wasn’t for me. In general, I think academia has largely become a racket, overly corporatized, and commodifying of the human mind. It won’t be long before we start offering the next generation compelling alternatives that are far more cost-effective and provide a richer and more meaningful experience. I spent twenty years as an apprentice to my mentor, serving him in the master-student tradition that has largely been forgotten. That was a priceless life education that no amount of money could ever buy, and no academic program could ever match.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I was betrayed by someone I loved deeply. It destroyed me. After nearly two years, I emerged from the darkness having found greater resilience, strength, and confidence as a result. There is no rebirth without death, no treasure without trial. Looking back now, I’d have it no other way.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Focus on meaning and purpose, not fame or fortune. The former is independent of external conditions and far more enduring.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 7:00 am to the sounds of my kids playing, have a cup of strong coffee, then run 5 miles on an empty stomach. Not very ayurvedic, but that’s what gets me going.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Allowing myself to enjoy life. As a younger man, I overcompensated for the largely hedonic messaging of my culture by not allowing myself to enjoy the pleasures of life. I equated self-discipline with self-denial. I made a rift between the spiritual and mundane, prizing one and judging the other. That left me in an unfortunate double bind. As I matured, I started closing the gap, seeing the sacred in the ordinary, and enjoyment as an act of reverence. The pleasures of this life now fuel my spiritual motivations, and I see less contradiction between the two worlds.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Play a team game. I used to run my show solo, burning the candle at both ends doing everything myself. I swapped working harder for working smarter. Two years ago, I partnered with an amazing team, and what we have been able to accomplish for the Contemplative Studies Program in terms of output far exceeds anything I could have done on my own. Now that I’m not chasing my tail there’s more space for me to be creative with my content, I have more balanced energy and receptivity when I work with clients, and more time to be with my family.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse spawned for me what mythologist Joseph Campbell called a hero’s journey that began when I was 16 years old. It was my first glimpse of the spiritual life as a much-needed alternative to consumerism and offered a fork in the road in my development at a critical time. If we don’t leave the safety of home, we will never discover new worlds.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Percussionist Jamie Haddad advises to ‘love your beat’, which means to embrace your deeper calling. It’s easy to walk to the beat of another’s drum, it takes courage to find our own rhythm, and then to fall in love with it. But that’s when the dance begins, and when we can truly feel alive. Conformity is an invisible prison.