Siblings Demian Lichtenstein and Shajen Joy Aziz turn their self-help book into a documentary about self-discovery and finding the path to one's true destiny
From director and producer Demian Lichtenstein and his sister Shajen Joy Aziz comes Discover the Gift, a new feature-length documentary exploring the idea that each individual on earth is given a unique Gift, a purpose in one's life that is always seeking to express itself.
This new self-help manifesto sets out to explain how one might experience the joy, power, fulfillment, freedom and unconditional love that comes with discovering the gift that rests within any given individual. Demian Lichtenstein and Shajen Joy Aziz narrate Discover the Gift as a simple roadmap to a journey of self-discovery that will change one's life forever. Sharing their own heartfelt, personal stories of tragedy and redemption, the brother and sister are joined by over forty of today's most influential transformational leaders who will inspire, guide, and ultimately enable one's self to begin their own journey to finding the Gift and the life meant to be lived.
Discover The Gift: The Movie DVD had its debut on June 14th, with Demian Lichtenstein and Shajen Joy Aziz continuing to tour the movie throughout the summer at special events. For a list of times and locations, .
We recently caught up with brother and sister Demian and Shajen to discuss their documentary, holed up in the back of a van, outside of their favorite Italian eatery. Here is our conversation.
Are you guys living in this van as you cross the country?
Demian Lichtenstein: We're in the van right now, if you can imagine. My sister and I are in our production van, which three members of our crew drove cross-country. It's skinned in all of our colors, so we had a cross-country billboard. And we are sitting right on the corner of Houtson and Thompson Street, outside of our favorite family restaurant called Arturo's. It's an amazing coal oven pizza and Italian restaurant. We grew up eating here as kids. We have fifteen people inside the restaurant eating right now, and my sister and I are sitting in the van, on the corner, having this awesome interview.
I'll try not to keep you too long. And thank you for making me incredibly hungry all of a sudden!
Demian Lichtenstein: Oh, we have clams, and muscles, and salad. Arturo's fiesta pizza. We have all kinds of amazing things. We are fine!
Now, we always hear about two brothers who collaborate and make a movie. This is one of the first times I've ever heard about a brother and sister making a movie. Why and how did this specific subject bring you two together?
Demian Lichtenstein: My sister was in charge, and I was the poor puppy. (Laughs) One of the things I'd like to note is you're the first person who has said this to us, by the way.
Shajen Joy Aziz: We both looked at each other and smiled grandly when you asked that question.
Demian Lichtenstein: We are a unique team. Not just from the aspect of a brother and sister reconciling. But also a brother and sister together, who have created this kind of motion picture. Yes, as Shajen says, it's a filmmaker who became a teacher, and a teacher who became a filmmaker. Here would be the answer. In my world, having risen to the top, almost to the top, as an A list Hollywood director, I found that, for me, it was devoid of a lot of meaning. I had a crisis of consciousness, if you will. My sister, who was the literal school teacher in Vermont, a high level educator, and a school based mental health counselor, sat her brother down, who probably needed some mental health counseling...(Laughs) She said, "When is the man I know going to match the work he is putting out in the world? When is that going to happen?" That one very profound question shifted my entire life. Of course it came from the most important woman on the planet to me. My darling sister. In that question, we embarked on a journey of self-discovery, and the meeting of many masters of transformation, spirituality, and education all around the planet. We began in earnest with an incredible group of people. We always love to pay homage to our team. But led by Shajen and I, we procreated a book, which in itself is an epic feat. And we made a motion picture, which is an epic feat. And there are many other things that go with that. But that is the genesis of that. That starts to answer your question...
Shajen Joy Aziz: One of the things about this brother and sister team for us is that we each, through the years since we reconnected, have been a stand for each other's greatness. Even if that means pushing the other person hard, saying, "Yes, you can do this!" There is no, "No!" It is a yes. We say, "This is important for you. I see this is important for you." We've been able to be that for each other since the reconnection. The beauty of it is that we are in constant growth and transformation. As we say in the book and in the movie, we are a constant work in progress, as we all are. But we are a stand for each other's greatness. That is what makes us such an awesome team. Aside from being a filmmaker and an educator. And now an educator and a filmmaker, we really decided, pulling both of those pieces together was very powerful and palpable to the world. I understand the educational aspects, and Demian understands how people take in information in a really big manner. In a media way. That conversation was a key piece in why we wanted to do this.
This is a movie about finding enlightenment. Through that journey, have you ever found tensions arising between the two of you, either while you were on the road, or during the production of this documentary?
Shajen Joy Aziz: That is a great question. We are all a work in progress, and as with any family, tension comes up. As with any partnership, tension happens. The one thing we are learning through this work is communicating. That is an essential piece when things like that happens. That is a central piece to discovering your gift. That communication with yourself. And with others. There is your inner-action, with yourself, and then your interaction, with others. Those are key pieces of discovering your gift.
Demian Lichtenstein: On many levels, the answer to that question has both a very personal point of view, and a broad-spectrum point of view. In relationship to the spiritual and educational transformational masters, we were constantly having our consciousness opened and uplifted to new heights. Heights from which before we thought we had achieved something, only to discover that it was the first step on the ladder to the next stage of our own consciousness. Like the proverbial onion, we keep pulling the layers back and finding the next layer of our own inauthenticity, or as I might say about myself, that I am completely full of it, being able to listen to that, and pull it back. To the next layer of what is possible. A simple practice we have in place when we are upset with each other is, we try not to let one or two minutes go by, and it's usually the one with the biggest issue, where we go to the other one and say, "This is what I was feeling. This is what was going on. I am sorry if I had a reaction that way." That way, over time, my sister and I have really been able to communicate in a way, prior to that, that was impossible. When we start the book off, it begins with a letter from Shajen, where it reads, "In the beginning, my brother and I were mortal enemies." Which was true. We came from a place where we were principle, mortal enemies, and we've come to a place where we have a complete partnership. Love, co-creation. We have an active commitment to share the transformation we've experienced with the rest of the world. As we like to say, transformation doesn't mean anything, unless you are sharing it. It just doesn't mean anything. Only when you share it does it become real within you, and continue to grow within your own being. Then you can share that with the world. Through the act of our transformation. Clearly we have already seen, on a global level, that this is inspiring others to do the same.
In this day and age, everyone is constantly asking you to second guess yourself. How do you hit that concrete wall in knowing that this is, in fact, your gift in life when people will continue to make you think, always, "Is this the right path I am on?" How does one know for sure what their Gift truly is?
Shajen Joy Aziz: That is a great question. The first piece of that question is something we really focus on in our book, and in our seminars. In our society, and in our schools, we work really hard to focus on what's wrong with our children. What's wrong with us. Our job, as we see it at this point, with Discover The Gift: The Movie DVD, is to be a stand for what's right about our children. What's right with you. What's right about me. Now, when we start focusing our attention on what is right with us, what we have to offer, what our strengths our, the world becomes a very different landscape. We decided that we wanted to show what's right about everyone. So that we can stop second guessing ourselves, and start believing in ourselves. That's the foundation, that's where it comes from. In the book, we offer 8 really simple steps to unfolding your gift. Through that process, you have a really simple form of self-discovery. Because that is where your gift lies, within your true authentic self. We've done a lot of work to put on make-up and clothes, and all of these different ways of being that we think we're supposed to be. Its time to be who we really are. Its time to start living and being and dreaming from what is wonderful about who we are. We need to model that for the children. Our passions are the breadcrumbs that will lead us to what we love. That is a real important piece. All of this work with these amazing people and educators has brought light to us. The importance of paying attention, and putting your attention on what you love. And taking your energy away from what you don't love. Those are some of the processes and steps to discovering what you do and don't love about yourself. And discovering your gift.
You guys are presenting a lot of new ideas, and its interesting to watch some of the guest speakers you have come in throughout the course of the movie. How did you approach them, and present your ideas, to get them to really listen to what you had to say, and open up about the Gift?
Demian Lichtenstein: As we were out there in the world, and as we were engaging in these higher vibrational levels of conversations and interviews, and asking some very specific and pointed questions, both for our own education and for the things we felt were important, as we had experienced these steps, for me they were embedded as spiritual laws...People got very interested in what we were up to. We didn't go after, say, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, so much as his foundation approached us. The interviews then happened because they heard what we were up to, and they were fascinated with the way we were approaching it. I think Dr. Barbara De Angelis is another great example. My sister and one of our producers were at one of Dr. Barbara De Angelis's conferences, and they went up and spoke to her afterwards. When she found out what we were doing, she was in demand, if you will, to be involved with us. And she has been an extraordinary educator, and a supporter of us. I am not sure if this is answering the question, but we would seek people out whom we wanted to talk to, whom we knew would make a difference for us and in the conversation. Michael Bernard Beckwith, the spiritual leader and founder of the Agape International Spiritual movement is a good example of someone we sought out. The way we got to him, even though we had attended a number of his spiritual center Sunday services, was through one of our executive producers, Dr. Sonia Powers, who passed away during production of the movie due to complications of pneumonia. One of the last things Dr. Sonia Powers did was tell Michael Bernard Beckwith that he had to be in our movie. And that he had to be in the book. Her husband is actually going to be our MC at the world premiere. As well, he is in the movie and he is one of our executive producers. He told us that in her last hour, one of the last things she said was, "Tell Demian and Shajen that discover the gift will change the world."
Shajen Joy Aziz: Bringing it back to Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, he now speaks the Gift. Speaking on your question, as to what has changed for them...One of the things that has shifted from when we attended Agape, is the conversation about finding your gift, and really accessing it. Now, it's all part of the lexicon, and the fabric of our transformational world. We want it for everyone. When we created Discover the Gift the movie and the book, we created it so that it would be accessible to all. From six year olds to one hundred and six year olds. Because its there for everyone. Everyone has the right to find what is wonderful about them, and access the world from that space.
Have you been met with any resistance from some of these more prominent transformational leaders and teachers?
Demian Lichtenstein: Interestingly enough, no. Do you mean from the perspective of people saying, "No, we don't want to be involve?" In principal, no. There have been people we wanted to interview, where we couldn't arrange their schedules and our schedules. So we never got to do it.
Shajen Joy Aziz: We believe there is a Gift in that, when things don't work out the way they're supposed to. That is a blessing in disguise, meaning, there is a Gift around the corner.
Demian Lichtenstein: There is always some level of resistance to everything, and to change. Do we experience resistance? The answer is yes. Do we spend a lot of time and a lot of energy educating our global partners in publishing and distribution about why people want, and are asking for, and are in demand of this conversation. We have spent a great deal of time working on shifting focus off the old paradigm of lack, limitation, greed, and into the new paradigm of sharing and possibility, and working together in a partnership. While we have been called by certain people in the know, the paradigm for distribution in the 21st Century, a publishing program and a publishing phenomenon...That is how they described us, and believed that we are a new representative of the future in how motion pictures, publishing, online social media, e-books, the Nook, the Kindle, iBooks, VOD, multiple other platforms like audio books and soundtracks...We are what is known as a three-sixty project, including that Shajen and I are working right now to explain to different groups why taking this on the road, like a rock show, going from city to city, screening the movie, it's a new paradigm in how the audience wants to interact with the creators. In that area, we do find resistance. We do find that people are looking at it as a new paradigm and a new way of creating and sharing with your audience both in person and in a global social media realm. As we break through these levels, the resistance breaks away. What I would like to make note of is what we like to call the butterfly effect. If you peel back the chrysalis from the butterfly that is attempting to emerge, through that hard shell, if you help them out of it, you will kill them. The only way for that butterfly to expand itself, for its wings to grow strong, for the literal blood to pump through its body, for it to pop through into this beautiful form from its previous caterpillar form that it was in, is through the actual resistance of that process. So insistently, my sister and I, God bless her, are reminding each other that when we experience this new resistance to this new paradigm that we are speaking so demonsterously about, that it is only through this resistance that we, ourselves will transform into the beings we are commited to being.
Shajen Joy Aziz: Agreed.
Looking at Discover the Gift from the filmmaking aspect, we also saw director Tom Shadyac go through a similar transformation, and then consequentially produce the documentary I Am, which was also released this year. What is it about the film business that tends to have this radical, life changing effect on people in terms of their self-being and spiritual transformation?
Demian Lichtenstein: There are a lot of answers to that. Tom Shadyac and I know each other. We are both members of the Director's Guild of America. And we had the unique opportunity, just the two of us, after quite interesting circumstances...It is fascinating if you think about this for a second...Tom and I shared a private jet flight together about nine years ago. We both happened to be visiting Kevin Costner at his house in the country. Tom happened to have a private flight from Universal, so he offered me a ride. The two of us flew back together, and we talked about this very issue. Which is really interesting if you think about it. Here we are, two Hollywood filmmakers, and then we quite by chance happen to be on a small private flight together, we engage in a conversation about spirituality and energy, and the universe. Then here we are, almost a decade later, and we are releasing quite different, yet very similar projects. The Examiner, when they put out there top-ten list of must-see inspirational documentaries in the world, Tom Shadyac's I Am was listed at number two. Which, in our opinion, was right were it was meant to be, because ours got listed at number one! (Laughs) Which we love. But the point is, to answer your question, we get somewhere we've worked so hard to achieve, that we fundamentally believe in the core of our being, that when we get there, then we are going to be happy. But we get there only to discover that within the space where you thought everything was going to work out, you find something much more profound. Something even deeper. You either choose to become, for lack of a better word, a channel or an agent of chance, because you see it. Or you continue the status quo of the old paradigm, which doesn't work any more, and doesn't serve the planet in any way, shape or form.
Shajen Joy Aziz: We are big proponents of sharing, and that is a key aspect of who we are and what we are up to.
Demian Lichtenstein: I think Tom's movie rocks!
Shajen Joy Aziz: Totally.
Demian Lichtenstein: We are proud to be spoken in the same breath as him.
Shajen Joy Aziz: We love Tom and we love his movie. One of the things I want to really point out is that we believe in sharing. Success is empty when you don't have a place to share it. Whether its with a partner, a family, your siblings...We are with a world that comes from a similar philosophy and an understanding, so that they can be a reflection back on you for that validation. One thing that will answer your question from my perspective, with this shift I saw in my brother, whether or not it is true with other Hollywood filmmakers, is that you work so hard. Its constant, twenty-four hours a day to get to this place. It's a quest. When you get there, if you are not sharing that success so that it reflects back on you, so that you are in that infinite feedback loop, it doesn't feel right. That's where the emptiness sets in. I think that's a place where it shows up for some very conscious filmmakers.
In terms of the film and the book as one entity, how do you push this forward to continue to evolve and transform your own ideas about what the Gift is and what it can become in the future.
Demian Lichtenstein: My answer to that would come from the concept of watching my sister with her child. I, myself, do not have children yet. But as a parent, when you give birth to a being, you have a choice. You can either stand for the growth and the fulfillment of that being, or you are going to walk away. Either one is a choice. When it comes to Discover the Gift, and everything it encompasses on a global level, the book is licensed in over twenty countries, and we are going to do a national tour with the movie, and we will continue to promote the book. We are already working on Discover the Gift of Kids, an international book and documentary feature on the gift of children globally. The answer is, we have chosen to stay commited to Discover the Gift as if it were our own child. When you are a filmmaker, and you give birth to a movie, its not like you say, "There it is, lets try to cram it in for a big opening weekend, and if it doesn't work, lets just drop it and run away." Like a big studio system. No, this is like our child. We will stand for this, nurture and educate, and grow with it. As we often find, our children become our biggest teachers. We are going to continue to be taught and educated by this conversation, which, on many levels, we still consider ourselves to be students of. Said another way, we are Shepherds. We are shepherding a conversation on a global level. But we are not walking away from it, and we never will. If it is something that is with us for the rest of our lives, then that's where it is. I was having a little issue today. Quite honestly, I was getting a little ornery and cranky. One of the things my sister did was put her seven-year-old daughter on the phone with me. She said, "My daughter has something to say to you." I said, "Okay, what?" Little Mia, beautiful, intelligent seven-year old being got on the phone and said, "Demian? Remember the infinity feedback loop of creation. What you feed into the loop is what you get back. What are you feeding into the loop?" I was like, "Oh, wow. Out of the mouths of babes comes our own teaching." So, that is the answer. The answer is that we are not walking away. My sister will never stop being the mother to her daughter. I will never stop being the uncle to her daughter. And my sister and I will never stop being the parents to Discover the Gift on a global level. I want to know. What did you feel after watching the movie? What was your experience?
As I said at the beginning of this conversation, it made me think about what I am doing more, in the grand scheme, and it suddenly had me second guessing my actions in terms of moving forward in life from this point on. How do I know I am moving in the right direction?
Shajen Joy Aziz: The questioning is awesome. The second-guessing? Don't do that. Everything you were doing up until this point is exactly what you were supposed to be doing. 100%. Its life's curriculum. Its life's stepping-stones. Which has brought you now to this beautiful place of questioning. Hmm, let me look at this for a moment and question that. That is a great place to be. Don't discount where you have been, because those are beautiful places. This is for everyone who is reading this or listening. It's a really important place, because that's when you can start living from that really old paradigm of what's wrong with us. Instead of what's right about us. One of the biggest compliments for us, or at least for me, was when we were talking with some transformational leadership people. One of them said, "You guys are for real." I said, "Yeah." I was confused, because we are for real. Then she said, "You guys are beautiful, because you walk the talk." Wow. Thank you. Because we do. We are not perfect beings. We are transformational beings. That is what everyone is. We are works in progress. We are constantly shifting and changing, and growing. That is a beautiful thing. Don't discount where you have been. Honor it, and use those gifts to help you move forward.
Demian Lichtenstein: One last thing, we have been called the leading edge of transformational media on the planet today. And we have been called that by major people in the know. From the authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul to chairmen of major global media companies. Here is where we are in this conversation. We are sitting here in a van in New York City while a marching band goes by us. Because it is Saint Anthony's Feast Day, because we are talking to you. Right now, in our world, you are the person who is at the point of the sphere head. The leading edge in the conversation of transformation on the planet. Right now it is you. You are the one doing this interview, you are the one asking the really gritty questions, and you are the taking a look at what your Gift might be. That encapsulates everything this is about. From what you are doing right now, you are going to share your gift with everybody else. You became a portal through which many people can look at their own lives. And you, yourself, have no idea how many people you are going to touch because you took your time, and our time, and we are deeply grateful for it.
Shajen Joy Aziz: Absolutely. And because you were willing to put yourself out there as well. And be a model. It's okay to not know. And to change. We are giving everyone permission. Its okay. And sometimes that's all that people need. We feel that we are a metaphor for everyone else's life. We are a reflection. We are showing that you can be in some darker places, and come to some higher, enlightened spaces. Through your own inner work, and through sharing your work with others.
Discover the Gift, a new feature-length documentary, is screening in various cities across the country. Discover The Gift: The Movie DVD is available at participating retailers now.
Discover the Gift was released June 14th, 2011 and stars David 'Avacado' Wolfe, Stacey Alysson, Greg Apparcel, Janet Bray Attwood, Cherif Aziz, Shajen Joy Aziz, Michael Beckwith, Anya Benton. The film is directed by Demian Lichtenstein.