Craig Marshall From Hollywood to Dharma



Craig Marshall describes his amazing journey from being a childhood actor in Hollywood to becoming a yoga monk and living in a Buddhist monastery for 35 years, to leaving and creating his company MindfulU. He will describe the many bricks that have been thrown at him along the way, the people that helped him, and how he learned to listen to the whispers.


Episode Transcription:


Intro plays:


Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Shonbrun. I’m your host I have with me today, Craig Marshall. Very, very interesting fellow. I think you guys are gonna find this. This episode. Really, really interesting. Greg was a child actor in Hollywood, and was influenced by three mentors, Ronald Reagan, Shirley Temple and Donna Reed. Not really sure what the connection is there, but I’m sure he will let us know. He later graduated from USC film school. And at that point, Craig’s life took a left turn, he became a yoga monk with self realization fellowship, where he lived in a monastery for 35 years. As a respected Swami Craig lectured to large audiences on mindfulness and meditation. He became a mentor to many well known people, including Steve Jobs, George Harrison, and fashion icon Fred Segal. Today, Craig is co founder of mindful U, which teaches mindfulness to organizations and individuals via onsite and online education. Craig is also a sought after life coach, public speaker and co author of the book The next you, please help me welcome Craig Marshall.

Craig: Thanks. Sorry, nice to be with you. How are you? What’s going on? How’s life treating you? Well, I think the question is, how am I treating life because the older I get Ari, the more I realize that I am less a victim of circumstances. And I am creating my own reality. What do you what do you make of that concept? 

Ari: Um, hey, whatever floats your boat. I have to admit, I never met like a yoga monk. Alright, this is certainly a new experience for me.

So if I ask like stupid questions, or you think I’m being insensitive to whatever it is, please forgive me right off the bat. Because again, I just, I’m clueless. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited about this interview, also. So as you know, the name of this podcast is whispers in bricks, and the whispers of those voices telling you what the right thing to do is, and it actually represents the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things we go through in life. Now, we all know that life is not a straight line, there are many ups and downs and many bumps in the road. So

let me start with this the obvious question, how did your decision to become a yoga monk come about? Especially after you’re a child television star? You did you had school for film? You know, where did this how did that left turn happened all of a sudden? And like, how old were you when you made the decision? You know, this is not something that most people aspire to. I haven’t really met anybody who says, Boy, you know, when I grow up, I’m going to be a yoga monk. So why don’t you give us a little bit about your story? 

Craig: Well, you know, it’s a very interesting and personal story, alright, because I think that, first of all, I love the name of your show. And that makes intuitive sense to me is that we all do get little whispers. We have inner intuitive guidance as I think throughout life. And if we’re not receptive to those little breadcrumbs, Pathfinders, then we need a brick upside the head, you know, to wake us up and and help us change and move through different chapters of our life and continue to evolve and grow and learn. And, yeah, I grew up in the Los Angeles area, and I had very downhome parents, they were happy they were there was respect in our home. And I played little league baseball and was part of the Boy Scouts and did all those normal things that public school kids did during my era. But throughout it all, I don’t know why. But I had some little idea in my head, that there was more to life, there was a deeper aspect that I was missing something that my school teachers weren’t telling me the whole truth, you might say about life. And so when I was in my senior year at USC, I read a book called Autobiography of a Yogi by a very famous Yogi named Paramahansa Yogananda and he is a world figure, and he’d lived most of his life in America and spoke far and wide. And his book is kind of a classic in the world of bridging Eastern and Western philosophy. He was a very sane, grounded fellow. And yet he was a true master, meaning that he was the master of his consciousness, he had practice these timeless techniques of concentration and meditation, to really go within and get control of the body and the mind and the spirit. And of course, there are many, many masters in in all faiths around the world and over time, but when I read that book, I thought, you know, this is what I need, because I need more focus, more clarity, a better vision of my future because this was hippy times, right? So I was just sort of banging around trying to figure out my identity. And I was half like a straight person and half like a hippie, you know, and I thought, Okay, now, I got to go out into the wide, wide world and make a buck and maybe get married and make all these important life choices. And, frankly, Ari, I was a little afraid, because I thought, I don’t know enough to make informed decisions, to move in a relatively straight line toward who I really want to be and what I really want out of life, it wasn’t clear cut to me. And I knew that beyond just materialism, meaning money and houses and family and stuff, that there was something else because as a kid, as an actor, I was around celebrities, you know, many days every month doing commercials, episodic television shows, so I was around a lot of people who had a lot of a lot of stuff. And I saw that they weren’t happy. They were they were really, on average pretty neurotic folk, you know, I thought, you know, if this is the end of the rainbow, it’s not very attractive, you know, to see people beating their drum with ego, and you know, really kind of insecure. So I was looking for the high ground, I was looking for something really solid in life. And in looking back, I now realize what I was looking for, which is what I think everybody’s looking for sort of subconsciously, three things. Peace, love, and joy. And so when I started this study about yoga, and not just like the, the yoga postures, but the whole legacy and history of meditation, mindfulness, depth, all of that, which is 1000s, and 1000s of years old, and in many of these ancient cultures, including India, and China and Egypt, and so forth. There is a legacy there. And that kind of spoke to me. And so I got to know this organization Self Realization fellowship that was started by Yogananda. And pretty soon I realized they had a monastic order. They had monks and nuns who lived in ashrams and I thought, wow, that’s very different from my Protestant background, I had no no clue that this really existed. But yet, somehow I

was called in that direction, I thought it would be good for me. And so eventually, I just decided to sign up and give it a whirl. And so I lived in an ashram in Encinitas, California, which is on the coast about 25 miles north of San Diego. It’s a beautiful ashram, there’s a retreat program there and a temple and people come from all over the world to go on retreat there. And so I got my first initial training as a monk, which was difficult the schedule was difficult hours of meditation were difficult. The self control was difficult. But all of my brother postulant, monks were pretty much like me, they came from all over the world, just normal guys. But I started slowly to drill down through meditation, and sort of God underneath my ego, sort of, to my core to who I really wanted to be. And that was very fulfilling to me. So before I go on, does that sound woowoo crazy talk or does that sound like something of value and interest to you personally? Alright. No, so I think listening to your story.

Ari: You’re, you’re not you’re no different than a lot of

young teenagers and young adults growing up, you know, especially in today’s world where everything is, is just out there. I mean, there’s there are no secrets there. Nothing’s hidden anymore. Everything is out there. And it’s like, you know, people are searching, you know, they’re unhappy. And it’s so funny because a lot of people think that money will make them happy. Okay, you talked about making money, it’s gonna be and I, I’ve, I tell people all the time, I said, You know what? Like, I looked at my boss, alright, who is a billionaire, okay. And I realized that he’s got the same problems that I have. It’s just on a different level. All right, I got to figure out what kind of a car I can afford to buy. And he goes out and tries to figure out what kind of a plane he can afford to buy. Yeah, right. He’s, he’s got the, again, same problems that I have, except it’s just on a different level. And I find out more and more, that most of these people, these very, very wealthy people are so driven, all right, to the almighty dollar, that they kind of forget about everything else. And then ultimately, their lives, their lives turned into shambles, you know, and they have the drugs, they, you know, just, it’s, it’s crazy, you know, and so I think that

what you went through, you know, early on is what most people go through, but people find different ways in different areas.

Craig:  All right, you chose that, you know, that that was what, that’s what satisfied you. And that’s what you needed, okay, in your life at the time. And there are other people who, you know, there are people who turned to religion, there are people who turn to whether it’s whether it’s Christianity, or whether it’s Judaism, or whether it’s Islam. They they’re searching, and very often they find the answer in their religion that they’re going through. So it’s not, it’s not as crazy as you may want it to sound, okay, because it’s not alright, I think it’s a normal thing, that you found what you were looking for, and, and life was good. Well, I agree with everything you said, or 1,000%. Because I think we’re all in the same boat. There’s many roads to Rome, right. But still, I think we’re all looking for depth, we want to be grounded, and use the word driven, I think that’s one thing that I kind of, I’m totally against, I don’t want to be driven. By my desires, I don’t want to be driven by my cultural programming, I don’t even want to be driven by my beliefs. Because I’m always I’m always renewing, I’m always trying to be receptive to the whispers so that I can see things in more mature and more conscious ways. And I believe that life moves in chapters, you know, we have a certain sense of self. And, and I do a lot of personal coaching with a lot of, you know, even well known people are and, and yet, the people who come to me have certain common denominators, in order for us to have a productive coaching relationship. And most of those people are in some kind of transition. And transitions, I think, come in three varieties. One is, is they all start with loss, right. So it’s the loss of a job, it’s the loss of a relationship, or like in midlife, the loss of a particular sense of self, it’s just like your life kind of just runs out of gas at a certain point, you know, you you feel empty, you’re, you’re searching, the old things don’t seem to fulfill you in the same old ways. And so something triggers that some loss. And so then, the second stage of transitions is what I call limbo. And this can last a long time. For me, it lasted a number of years. And it’s a very uncomfortable, low energy, kind of vaguely depressing period where you’re really trying to figure things out. And then the inevitable third step in a transition is renewal. When you start to get new ideas, you start to meet new people, your magnetism changes, and then you move into a new chapter. And my job as kind of a if you want to call it a transition coach, is to help people speed up that process because it can be sped up. It’s both an art and a science. But there are things that you can do. And so I know so many people that are frazzled these days, they’re confused these days, and COVID is just amplified it COVID has caused it, you know, and so there was problems before COVID, right, and there’s always going to be problems. But those problems are actually setups. They’re actually healthy, if we know how to deal with him. And I, I never trusted the process of life because I didn’t understand the process. Now I understand a lot more. And so I believe in things like the law of attraction. I believe in karma. I believe in self will. But I do believe sometimes and here’s here’s the The X Factor. This is what the yogi’s say, Ari, sometimes

the mind cannot control the mind, because neuroscience says that we think on average about 1000 thoughts per hour. That’s a thought every two and 2/3 seconds. Think about it. Thought One Mississippi, two Mississippi, thought one well, thought I mean doesn’t have

sound real One Mississippi, two Mississippi thought. So that’s the tempo, you know. And even when we’re asleep, it slows down, but it doesn’t stop those thoughts. Just keep it’s a bubble machine, right? You know, it just keeps bubbling up. And we don’t even know what thoughts are. I mean, to me thoughts are like champagne bubbles they’re coming from, I don’t know, where are they coming? From my subconscious mind? Are they coming from my external environment? Are they coming from my memory? It’s like, I don’t even know. And yet, and yet every two to 30 seconds, a bubble is gonna pop on the surface of my consciousness and I have a choice. Am I going to write that down? Am I going to share that thought, am I going to act on that thought? Or am I going to dismiss it because another one’s coming down the pike to and to 30 seconds later. And to me, that became crazy making Ra. And so the yogi’s say the first step is to slow the thoughts down. And so they realize that you can’t do this consciously, you can’t do this at will. And that’s the purpose of meditation. The first purpose of concentration meditation is to slow things down so you can build in a pause. In fact, would you like to experiment with it right now we can do this for two minutes. Sure, I’m gay for anything. Try this on. Okay. So sit up straight, are you with your back away from the back of the chair. Okay.

Now, take your hands and place them at the junction of your thighs and abdomen with the palms up turn, this pushes the shoulders way back, which is very important because we need a lot of oxygen so we don’t drift into the subconscious. Close your eyes, and focus them between the eyebrows.

And make a mental resolve not to move the body, absolute stillness, like a statue. If you feel like scratching. Don’t just discipline yourself, it’ll disappear. Now put your attention at the nostrils because what we’re going to do here is we’re just going to watch our breath. And I’ll talk you through a little two minute guided meditation. But first of all, let’s take a couple of deep breaths together just to clear our consciousness. So Let’s inhale deeply.




Once more, inhale.


Now checking your eyes to make sure they’re closed and gently uplifted.

Watch the breath coming in. And going out through the nostrils. We’re not going to make any attempt to control it or slow it, we’re just watching it.

Now, as you watch your breath, let me talk you through what’s going to happen.

As you do this, Ari,

what’s going to happen automatically

is your breath is going to slow down,

your heart rate is going to slow down.

And eventually your thought rate is going to slow down.

Now let’s think about the breath for a moment.

As the breath slows down,

the little pauses between inhalation and exhalation and exhalation inhalation, those little gaps are going to enlarge.

So the slower you breathe naturally,

the more time you’re going to spend in those gaps of non breathing. This is quite natural.

But we’re going to remain conscious, we’re not going to drift off, we’re not going to take a nap. We’re going to remain awake. And keeping our eyes a little uplifted will keep us awake, you can’t go to sleep until your eyes go down. Keeping the eyes a little uplifted will keep us awake.

And as we get into those gaps, between breaths, between thoughts, between heartbeats, we start to get in touch with our intuition.

our innermost self,

and we start to feel the first manifestation of this inner world which is peace.

And it isn’t a passive feeling. It’s like wow, everything is all right. Everything was all right, everything is going to be alright. I don’t need to worry.

Then the second thing you start to feel is a growing love.

A connection, an expansion.

And then the third thing you start to feel is joy.

You say wow, it’s like a drug experience. You can’t define it. It’s beyond our ability to label we just say wow

and I think

any sincere person will think to themselves when they have these inner experiences, just like we’re doing now, with just calming down a little bit. This is what I need this peace, this love, this joy, because I’m going, I’m getting clarity, I’m getting focus, I’m really getting in touch with who I really am my personal essence, whatever you want to call that your soul, your Higher Self, your intuition, your creativity doesn’t matter what you call it.

This state is why people want to want run away to a retreat in Bali. But I learned how to do this in my head, I can go to Bali, just by closing my eyes. I’ve meditated hundreds of 1000s of times, using many, many, many different techniques of concentration and meditation.

So let’s just be quiet for 20 seconds, Rem let’s just watch the breath

so open your eyes. How do you feel my man?

Relaxed? Yeah. Yeah, that was really cool. So there’s no philosophy around it. There’s no beliefs around it. You know, it’s not a it’s not a religion. Right. And I don’t even think of it as spirituality. I think of it as sanity.

Ari: I hear you.

So ultimately, you left the monastery right after 35 years.

Did you Was there a reason? I mean, do people stay there for life? Or do people you know? Do they up and leave after a short period of time? And what caused you to leave at that point in time? 

Craig: Yeah, good question.

Some people stay there for life. And they’re happy, they’re fulfilled. And I would say that most people pass through it was a chapter of their life. And they learned a lot and grew from it as did I. And when I went in there, I thought I was going to be there for the rest of my life. I mean, 35 years is, you know, the most polite, right, you know, and I lived a life of service. It was a balanced life. It was a healthy life in many ways. But there’s a certain thing called dharma. And I remember talking to the Beatle George Harrison about this toward the end of his life. And I said, you know, George, you guys, the Beatles, and the Maharishi kind of introduced the word karma to the west. You know, before that, nobody knew the word karma. Now, everybody knows the word karma. It means cause and effect, right? Every cause has an effect, every effect has a cause. And what goes around comes around that kind of thing. And I said to him, I said, I’ll bet you money. George. The next Sanskrit word that migrates to the west is dharma Dhar Ma, which means one’s personal duty, it’s your highest calling. It’s like, where do you belong? You know, what should you be doing right now? Who are the people you should be with? What do you want to hook your life to? What is the star that’s, that’s, that’s your following that kind of thing. And it’s a it’s a personal thing. And it can only be determined, I think, intuitively, not intellectually. And so all I can say is I was called into the ashram and those 35 years, and I was called out of it. Yeah, there was some outer circumstances, but they weren’t the real driver of it all. And since I’ve left the ashram 15 years ago, my learning curve has gone like exponential already. And I don’t think it’s because of my outer environment, whether I’m in an ashram or not, I think it’s because of my age. You know, you get you get a little mellower over time, you get a little savvier if you’ve if you’ve focused and learned your lessons. And I think that I have done the work. And what I call the work is I’ve questioned my beliefs because I grew up I’m a wasp, right? I’m a white Anglo Saxon Protestant. By birth, right? That’s what I am. But but I’m no longer a wasp. I’ve outgrown that. Right. You know, I still am white, but, but I’m, but I’m not really Anglo Saxon anymore. I lived in Germany for a while when I was a kid, I worked in Egypt for a number of years. I’ve traveled the world, lecturing for years. And, and, and talk to 10s of 1000s of people. So I’m a I’m more of a universally rooted person. I’m not just a typical American person anymore. I’ve sort of outgrown that monoculture. And so I could talk to you about the Jewish religion and I’ve talked to many rabbis and I’ve studied the religion I think it’s fantastic. I can

To talk to anybody, and find richness and depth and meaning, you know, it would be a cool, cool exchange. You know, I’m not sectarian, I’m not a mano focused individual. And so having done that work, I’m an open system. And so I’m continuing to learn and grow. And I would love you to meet my wife, she is a really inspired person. She’s been a meditator for decades, she’s introduced me to many new things and expanded my horizon. And our relationship is not just with each other, it’s just not like a meeting and fulfilling B, it doesn’t look like this, we both are so focused on helping each other realize our full potential that it almost looks like we’re heading toward C, A and B are looking to see meaning our next step, our next self, our growth, it’s very evolutionary, it’s very fun. And we feel like kids because of that, and so we only know cool people. We we take groups of people all over the world. The picture you see behind me is a Japanese monastery, I took this picture, when we took a group of people to Kyoto, and we went and stayed in different Rio cons and everything. We were just kind of tapping into Shintoism and Buddhism, it was wonderful, you know, and everywhere we went, we felt that same peace, love, and joy, because we knew how to calm down. We knew how to soak it up. We didn’t judge it. It didn’t seem foreign to us. It’s less like another road to Rome. Cool. So we’re like a little mini United Nations.

Ari: Wow. Wow. So let me ask, I gotta ask you this. Okay.

Given everything that you’ve done, and been to whatever, did you ever did you ever? Did you ever fall?You know, just get to a point where things just weren’t going. Right. They were just, you know, it was just bad news. And, you know, you got to the point where you said, You know what, I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. My dreams are over. I’m just can’t do it anymore. All right. Did you ever get to that kind of a low? I know, most people I know, most people that I’ve spoken to have, at some point in time in their life have gotten to that level. Alright. And if you have the question is, how did you get out of it? And how did you manage to break free? And say, No, I am going to do this, okay, you’re not going to beat me? Is that something that has happened to you in your life?

Craig:  Of course, already, of course, I think it happens to everybody in different shapes and forms. Because as I said, life moves in chapters. So whatever chapter we’re in, meaning our role, our responsibilities, our relationships, and fundamentally our relationship with ourself. It runs out of gas, right? It’s like, it’s like you had a tricycle when you were a kid. And that ran out of gas, and you wanted the bicycle, right? But eventually, that ran out of gas, and you wanted the motorcycle, you know, and eventually you’re like your boss, you want the the private jet. There’s no end to this ambition.

And I’ve had different goals in life. And I’ve achieved as much as anybody. I’m a dynamic guy, I’m like you, I’m willing to put in the work and learn the lessons and collaborate and do what it takes. But at the same time, I’m not back to that word driven by it so much. So when I have run out of gas, or when I have, what I might call failed, or I needed to reboot my consciousness or my career or whatever. I’ve done that a number of times, and people ask me this regularly, they go, you know, you’ve been so sincere. You’ve applied yourself. You’ve studied everything under the sun, you talk to the coolest people.

Do you ever fall off the wagon? And I go? I sure do. But it doesn’t happen to me as often as it used to. And when it does, I don’t fall as deeply into the hole as I used to. And even if I do fall into the hole, I don’t stay there as long because I know what to do. And one, the first thing I do is I don’t blame circumstances. It’s not my wife. It’s not my boss. It’s not the environment. It’s not the stock market. It’s not the weather. It’s not the American political scene. It’s none of those. It’s my consciousness. That’s what needs to change. You know, you you’ve heard from Stephen Covey, and everybody else about the difference between the zone of your of your interest and the in the zone of your control right? In the thing, the only thing I really have control over in this whole life is my consciousness, but potentially I have absolute control over it. And so that’s what I mean when I say I am more and more already creating my reality, it’s becoming more inside out. And I don’t want to sound too egotistical, but I really believe that this journey I’m on is a journey of mastery, but Self Mastery, you know, I’m not interested in mastering other people.

You know, I’m not into any competition whatsoever. But I want to master my habits, my thoughts, my moods, my beliefs, I want to make conscious choices, not program. I don’t want to believe things just because my parents believed it, or my school teachers believed it or my American environment believes that I go, Well, maybe, you know, maybe. So I’ve tried to take the finest distinctive features from those things, and not throw out the baby with the bathwater, you know, Burn Baby Burn, you know, but but realize that Americans don’t have it all figured out. My parents didn’t have it all figured out. But somehow I believe that this yogic tradition, these people that went within what you might call the Masters, you know, wherever they are, I think they did get it figured out. And my job is to figure out

what why am I getting off track? How am I focusing? Can I go deeper? Can I be clear, I don’t want to be driven by my moods, by my habits, and even my beliefs, I question everything in a healthy way. So I’ve moved from one set of beliefs to another and, and now I’m moving into even newer sets of beliefs. And I believe in the law of attraction, I really believe that, that I’m setting up that my inner environment is setting me up for success. Because I’m more congruent with it. I’m more optimistic. And I’m really getting clear about what I focus on is very, very important. And that thoughts do become things. What do you make of that? You know, it’s like, I always tell people, you can’t control what happens, okay to you in life. But what you can control is your reaction. So it’s not about what happens, it’s about your reaction to what happens. And when you can, as you just said, that is totally in your control. How you react to different things is totally in your control. You choose to be angry, you choose to be upset, you choose to say, hey, it’s no big deal. You choose to say life is wonderful. And I’m moving on. Alright, so that’s kind of that’s kind of the mantra that you know, I think about when it comes to things that happen in life. Look, we’ve I’ve been hit with bricks, believe me, you know, I was on the Trade Center when 911 I was on the seventh floor of Tower One. Right? And I was lucky enough to get out alive. All right, but that was a brick. And that led to the whispers for me of what is life really all about? And how can I do better? And how can I help other people do better? So I hear you and and I agree with you. And I think you’re spot on? Now let me ask you this.

Ari: If people want to get a hold of you, they want to learn more about what you do about what you teach. You know, how can they do that? Do you have a website? You have a an email to what what’s the best? 

Craig: Yeah, I’m happy to share that already. I just want to close with one final thought in the beginning, you said you didn’t quite understand how my relationship with Ronald Reagan and Donna Reed, Shirley Temple. They were my early mentors, and I believe in mentorship, I really do coaching because I don’t think this this universe is set up for us to do it on our own. I don’t I don’t think Las Vegas would bet on any of us by ourselves. So I’ve always had mentors. I met Ronald Reagan, when I was 13 years old. He was the president of the Screen Actors Guild, and I had some problems with the union. And so I went with my mother, we met him he, for whatever reason took me under his wing. One of the nicest people I’ve ever met politics aside, I’m not a political animal. But it was the same with Donna Reed and Shirley Temple, I work with them in the movie business and they became surrogate mothers to me, and I have been a mentor to many people. So I believe that that becomes a jumpstart for people they need a little a little coaching a little feedback, a little input, a little encouragement, they need a den mother you know for a while till they can fly in the new chapter on their own. So I have developed a program called mindful you, you can go to the website, and we have online programs we work with both organizations and individuals or if you want to write to me individually. For some one on one coaching. My email addresses brother Craig Marshall, that’s who I am Brother Greg Marshall,  so they can reach out to me and I’m happy to send you stuff and and recommend books or anything like that because my dream my personal life purpose, I’ve found out is that I am committed to helping people take a stand for what means the most of them already. And so I love empowering, empowers, and that’s why when you and I met and I just got a Pulitzer

feed on who you were and what the heck you’re doing with your life instantly. It’s like, hey, I’ll do anything. I want to support you because I think you’re a good guy. I think you’re an influencer. I think you you have distilled the experiences of your life. And you’ve, you’ve used them to move forward, it’s become fuel for you. You haven’t become a cynic. You don’t bitch and whine, you don’t blame circumstances, you’re making I statements, you’re obviously sincere, and you’re going to track that kind of people. And I just think that’s cooler than Cool. Well, thank you so much,

Ari: Craig I really appreciate it coming from a guy like you. That means a whole lot to me. And I really, thank you so much, and thanks for being on the show. You know, thanks for sharing your story with my audience. I want to wish you a lot of luck going forward. I’m sure our paths are gonna cross in the future. I hope we remain good friends. I’m sure we will. And thanks again. Right. I’d love to pick a topic with you. And we’ll drill down into that anytime our best wishes to you and your group. Thank you so much. You’ve been listening to whispers and bricks and I’m your host Ari Schonbrun Until next time, listen to the whispers never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.