Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty
🤔 Pre Read Exercise: What Do I Know About This Topic/Book?
Very little. No idea who Jay Shetty is beyond Goodreads saying he’s a celeb and that he has a podcast. Kinda makes me sceptical about the book & the author’s values; how many monks become celebs – and on of the core tenets of being a monk to avoid celeb glamour etc.?
On the topic, I’ve been meditating for several years and have read other mindfulness books, done a course on buddhism, and listened to lots of podcasts. So I’m pretty well-versed, but each time I read a new book, podcast, etc. I find I learn something new and see things from a different perspective. Often times, just reading a book on the topic, even if I don’t learn anything, helps me prioritise my mental health and is quite a relaxing/peaceful exercise.
🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences
- The story of Jay Shetty going from recent London university graduate & finance hustler to monk & preacher of living a more peaceful and meaningful life.
- Jay extracts his learnings from 3 years as a monk in India and conveys this through a combination of spiritual elements and ancient scriptures, but also plenty of practical & self-help tools and advice.
- Simple and accessible self-help book around meditation and mindfulness that offers beginners in the field plenty of insights into reducing anxiety and bringing more meaning to their lives.
- I entered the book very skeptical of the author’s intentions, but was allured by the relatively high rating on Goodreads. My skepticism was right – the author spent 3 years as a monk and has now leveraged that to his personal benefit and it seems very insincere relative to some of the more pronounced meditation books and guides I’ve come across.
- If you’re someone who’s deep into buddhism, spirituality, meditation, mindfulness, etc. you’ll probably dislike this book and not find too much good in it. For a beginner in these fields, I think it’s an excellent book.
- Personally, I lie somewhere in the middle, and found some elements quite inspiring and useful, others a nice reminder, and others really dull and lame and regurgitated.
🔍 How I Discovered It
- Found it on Goodreads and had previously promised myself that I’d read at least 3 mindfulness books per year, so quite mindlessly downloaded this and finished it in a couple of days.
🥰 Who Would Like It?
- Beginners in the fields of meditation and mindfulness looking for practical help and inspiration.
☘️ How the Book Changed Me
- Nothing mind-blowing, but it reignited a sense of purpose, duty, peace, mindfulness, etc. in my life which I always find refreshing, and helps maintain a solid routine.
📒 Summary + Notes
Part 1: Let Go
Chapter 1: Identity
We have personas we play online, at work, with friends, and at home. These different personas have their benefits. They enable us to make the money that pays our bills, they help us function in a workplace where we don’t always feel comfortable, they let us maintain relationships with people we don’t really like but need to interact with. But often our identity has so many layers that we lose sight of the real us, if we ever knew who or what that was in the first place. We bring our work role home with us, and we take the role we play with our friends into our romantic life, without any conscious control or intention. However successfully we play our roles, we end up feeling dissatisfied, depressed, unworthy, and unhappy. The “I” and “me,” small and vulnerable to begin with, get distorted.
If you know your values, you have directions that point you toward the people and actions and habits that are best for you. Just as when we drive through a new area, we wander aimlessly without values; we take wrong turns, we get lost, and we’re trapped by indecision. Values make it easier for you to surround yourself with the right people, make tough career choices, use your time more wisely, and focus your attention where it matters. Without them, we are swept away by distractions.
There are three ways I suggest you actively create space for reflection.
- On a daily basis, I recommend you sit down to reflect on how the day went and what emotions you’re feeling.
- Once a month, you can approximate the change that I found at the ashram by going someplace you’ve never been before to explore yourself in a different environment. This can be anything from visiting a park or library you’ve never been to before to taking a trip.
- Get involved in something that’s meaningful to you—a hobby, a charity, a political cause.
No matter what you think your values are, your actions tell the real story. What we do with our spare time shows what we value. For instance, you might put spending time with your family at the top of your list of values, but if you spend all your free time playing golf, your actions don’t match your values, and you need to do some self-examination.
“Seeing posts on social media that compared spending and our priorities got me thinking about how the ways we spend our time and money reveal what we value.
- A 60-minute TV show (“Flew by!”)
- A 60-minute lunch with the family (“Will it ever end!”)
- Everyday coffee habit ($4/day, almost $1,500/year) (“Need it!”)
- Fresh healthy food choices (an extra 1.50/day, about $550/year) (“Not worth it!”)
- 15 minutes scrolling social media (“Me time!”)
- 15 minutes of meditation (“No time!”)
Doing a self-audit tells you the values that have crept into your life. Next, you must decide what your values are and whether your choices align with them. Contemplating monk values may help you identify your own. Our teachers at the ashram explained there are higher and lower values. Higher values propel and elevate us toward happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. Lower values demote us toward anxiety, depression, and suffering.
According to the Gita, higher values are: fearlessness, purity of mind, gratitude, service and charity, acceptance, performing sacrifice, deep study, austerity, straightforwardness, nonviolence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, perspective, restraint from fault finding, compassion toward all living beings, satisfaction, gentleness/kindness, integrity, determination. Note: happiness and success are not among these values. The six lower values are greed, lust, anger, ego, illusion, and envy. They so readily take us over when we give them space to do so.
TRY THIS: PAST VALUES
Reflect on the three best and three worst choices you’ve ever made. Why did you make them? What have you learned? How would you have done it differently?
Take a close look at your answers to the above—buried in them are your values. Why did you make a choice? You may have been with the right or wrong person for the same reason: because you value love. Or maybe you moved across the country because you wanted a change. The underlying value may be an adventure. Now do the same thing for the future. Look at your biggest goals to see if they’re driven by other people, tradition, or media-driven ideas of how we should live.
What qualities do I look for/admire in family, friends, or colleagues? Are they trust, confidence, determination, and honesty? Whatever they may be, these qualities are, in fact, our own values—the very landmarks we should use to guide ourselves through our own lives. When you are not alone, surround yourself with people who fit well with your values. It helps to find a community that reflects who you want to be. A community that looks like the future you want.
Chapter 2: Negativity
Studies show that negativity like mine can increase aggression toward random, uninvolved people and that the more negative your attitude, the more likely you are to have a negative attitude in the future. Studies also show that long-term stress, like that generated by complaining, actually shrinks your hippocampus—that’s the region of your brain that affects reasoning and memory. Cortisol, the same stress hormone that takes a toll on the hippocampus, also impairs your immune system (and has loads of other harmful effects).
Dalai Lama said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Petty, negative thoughts and words are like mosquitos: Even the smallest ones can rob us of our peace.
TRY THIS: AUDIT YOUR NEGATIVE COMMENTS.
Keep a tally of the negative remarks you make over the course of a week. See if you can make your daily number go down. The goal is zero.
The Bhagavad Gita refers to the austerity of speech, saying that we should only speak words that are truthful, beneficial to all, pleasing, and that don’t agitate the minds of others. The Vaca Sutta, from early Buddhist scriptures, offers similar wisdom, defining a well-spoken statement as one that is “spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of goodwill.” Remember, saying whatever we want, whenever we want, however, we want, is not freedom. Real freedom is not feeling the need to say these things.
Mudita is the principle of taking sympathetic or unselfish joy in the good fortune of others.
The material world has convinced us that there are only a limited number of colleges worth attending, a limited number of good jobs available, and a limited number of people who get lucky. In such a finite world, there’s only so much success and happiness to go around; whenever other people experience them, your chances of doing so decrease. But monks believe that when it comes to happiness and joy, there is always a seat with your name on it. In other words, you don’t need to worry about someone taking your place. In the theater of happiness, there is no limit. Everyone who wants to partake in mudita can watch the show. With unlimited seats, there is no fear of missing out.
TRY THIS: ASK FOR AND RECEIVE FORGIVENESS
In this exercise we try to untangle the knot of pain and/or anger created by conflict. Even if the relationship is not one you want to salvage or have the option of rebuilding, this exercise will help you let go of anger and find peace. Before you start, visualize yourself in the other person’s shoes. Acknowledge their pain and understand that it is why they are causing you pain. Then, write a letter of forgiveness.
- List all the ways you think the other person did you wrong. Forgiving another person honestly and specifically goes a long way toward healing the relationship. Start each item with “I forgive you for…” Keep going until you get everything out. We’re not sending this letter, so you can repeat yourself if the same thing keeps coming to mind. Write everything you wanted to say but never had a chance. You don’t have to feel forgiveness. Yet. When you write it down, what you’re doing is beginning to understand the pain more specifically so that you can slowly let it go.
- Acknowledge your own shortcomings. What was your role, if any, in the situation or conflict? List the ways you feel you did wrong, starting each with the phrase “Please forgive me for…” Remember you can’t undo the past, but taking responsibility for your role will help you understand and let go of your anger toward yourself and the other person.
TRY THIS: FORGIVE YOURSELF
The exercise above can also be used to forgive yourself. Starting each line with “I forgive myself for… ,” list the reasons you feel angry at or disappointed in yourself. Then read it out loud or record it and play it for yourself. Bring out the objective observer, and find understanding for yourself, letting go of the pain.
Chapter 3: Fear
From the fear meditation I described above, I came away with the idea that we have four different emotional reactions to fear: We panic, we freeze, we run away, or we bury it, as I had buried my anxiety about my parents. The first two are shorter-term strategies, while the second two are longer-term, but all of them distract us from the situation and prevent us from using our fear productively.
When we track our fears back to their source, most of us find that they’re closely related to attachment—our need to own and control things. We hold on to ideas we have about ourselves, to the material possessions and standard of living that we think define us, to the relationships we want to be one thing even if they are clearly another. That is the monkey mind thinking. A monk mind practices detachment. We realize that everything—from our houses to our families—is borrowed. Clinging to temporary things gives them power over us, and they become sources of pain and fear. But when we accept the temporary nature of everything in our lives, we can feel gratitude for the good fortune of getting to borrow them for a time. Even the most permanent of possessions, belonging to the most wealthy and powerful, don’t actually belong to them. This is just as true for the rest of us. And for many—indeed most—of us, that impermanence causes great fear. But, as I learned in the ashram, we can shift our fear to a soaring sense of freedom.
TRY THIS: AUDIT YOUR ATTACHMENTS
Ask yourself: “What am I afraid of losing?” Start with the externals: Is it your car, your house, your looks? Write down everything you think of. Now think about the internals: your reputation, your status, your sense of belonging? Write those down too. These combined lists are likely to be the greatest sources of pain in your life—your fear of having these things taken away. Now start thinking about changing your mental relationship with those things so that you are less attached to them. Remember—you can still fully love and enjoy your partner, your children, your home, your money, from a space of nonattachment. It’s about understanding and accepting that all things are temporary and that we can’t truly own or control anything, so that we can fully appreciate these things and they can enhance our life rather than be a source of griping and fear.
Chapter 4: Intention
Hindu philosopher Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes four fundamental motivations.
- Fear. Thakura describes this as being driven by “sickness, poverty, fear of hell or fear of death.”
- Desire. Seeking personal gratification through success, wealth, and pleasure.
- Duty. Motivated by gratitude, responsibility, and the desire to do the right thing.
- Love. Compelled by care for others and the urge to help them.
Once you know the why behind the want, consider the work behind the want. What will it take to get the nice house and the fancy car? Are you interested in that work? Are you willing to do it? Will the work itself bring you a sense of fulfillment even if you don’t succeed quickly—or ever?
TRY THIS: ADD TO-BE’S TO YOUR TO-DO’S
Alongside your to-do list, try making a to-be list. The good news is you’re not making your list longer—these are not items you can check off or complete—but the exercise is a reminder that achieving your goals with intention means living up to the values that drive those goals. EXAMPLE 1 Let’s say my goal is to be financially free. Here’s my to-do list:
- Research lucrative job opportunities requiring my skill set
- Rework CV, set up informational meetings to identify job openings
- Apply for all open positions that meet my salary requirements
But what do I need to be? I need to be:
EXAMPLE 2 Let’s say I want to have a fulfilling relationship. What do I need to do?
- Plan dates
- Do nice things for my partner
- Improve my appearance
But what do I need to be?
- More calm
- More understanding
- More inquisitive about my partner’s day and feelings
Part 2: Grow
Chapter 5: Purpose
Chapter 6: Routine
TRY THIS: A NEW MORNING ROUTINE
Every morning make some time for:
- Thankfulness. Express gratitude to someone, some place, or something every day. This includes thinking it, writing it, and sharing it.
- Insight. Gain insight through reading the paper or a book, or listening to a podcast.
- Meditation. Spend fifteen minutes alone, breathing, visualizing or with sound.
- Exercise. We monks did yoga, but you can do some basic stretches or a workout.
Thankfulness. Insight. Meditation. Exercise. T.I.M.E. A new way to put time into your morning.
Morning sets the tone of the day, but a well-planned evening prepares you for morning. In an interview on CNBC’s Make It, Instagram Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary said that before he goes to sleep he writes down three things he wants to do the next morning before he talks to anyone besides his family. Take his cue and before you go to sleep, figure out the first things you want to achieve tomorrow. Knowing what you’re tackling first will simplify your morning. You won’t have to push or force your mind when it’s just warming up. Next, find your version of a monk’s robe, a uniform that you’ll put on in the morning. I have a bigger selection of clothes now, and to my wife’s relief none of them are orange robes, but I favor similar sets of clothes in different colors. The point is to remove challenges from the morning. Insignificant as they may seem, if you’re spending your morning deciding what to eat, what to wear, and what tasks to tackle first, the accumulating choices complicate things unnecessarily. Christopher Sommer, a former US National Team gymnastics coach, with forty years’ experience, tells his athletes to limit the number of decisions they have to make because each decision is an opportunity to stray from their path. If you spend your morning making trivial decisions, you’ll have squandered that energy. Settle into patterns and make decisions the night before, and you’ll have a head start on the morning and will be better able to make focused decisions throughout the day. The emotion you fall asleep with at night is most likely the emotion you’ll wake up with in the morning.
As Kobe Bryant told me, having a routine is critical to his work. “A lot of the time, creativity comes from structure. When you have those parameters and structure, then within that you can be creative. If you don’t have structure, you’re just aimlessly doing stuff.” Rules and routines ease our cognitive burden so we have bandwidth for creativity. Structure enhances spontaneity. And discovery reinvigorates the routine.
CHEW YOUR DRINKS AND DRINK YOUR FOOD We don’t take the time to consume our food properly,” the monk said. “When you drink your food, grind the solids into liquid. When you chew your drink, instead of gulping it down take each sip as if it is a morsel to be savored.
TRY THIS: ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS
For every environment where you spend time this week, ask yourself the following questions. If possible, ask them right after the experience, then again at the end of the week.
- What were the key features of the space?
- Quiet or loud?
- Big or small?
- Vibrant or plain?
- In the center of an active space or removed?
- Close to other people or isolated?
- How did I feel in this space: productive? relaxed? distracted?
- Did the activity I was doing fit well with the place where I was doing it?
- Was I in the best mindset for what I set out to do?
- If not, is there another place where I am more comfortable accomplishing what I planned?
To make single-tasking easier for myself, I have “no tech” zones and times. My wife and I don’t use tech in the bedroom or at the dining table, and try not to between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Chapter 7: The Mind
Meditation is an important tool that allows us to regulate sensory input, but we can also train the mind by building the relationship between the child and the adult mind. When a parent says, “Clean your room,” and the child doesn’t, that’s like your monk mind saying, “Change your course,” and the monkey mind saying, “No thanks, I’d rather listen to loud music on my headphones.” If the parent gets angry at the child and says, “I told you to clean your room! Why haven’t you done it yet?” the child retreats further. Eventually, the child may follow orders, but the exchange hasn’t built a connection or a dialogue. The more a frustrated parent and petulant child do battle, the more alienated from each other they feel. When you are fighting an internal battle, your monkey mind is an adversary. View it as a collaborator, and you can move from battle to bond, from rejected enemy to trusted friend. A bond has its own challenges—there can still be disagreement—but at least all parties want the same outcome. In order to reach such a collaboration, our intellect must pay closer attention to the automatic, reactive patterns of the mind, otherwise known as the subconscious.
TRY THIS: WAKE UP THE SUBCONSCIOUS
Write down all the noise you hear in your mind on a daily basis. Noise that you know you don’t want to have. This should not be a list of your problems. Instead, write the negative, self-defeating messages your mind is sending you, such as:
- You’re not good enough.
- You can’t do this.
- You don’t have the intelligence to do this.
These are the times when the charioteer is asleep at the wheel.”
Chapter 8: Ego
There is a meme that shows Warren Buffett and Bill Gates standing side by side. The caption reads, “$162 Billion in one photo and not a Gucci belt in sight.” I have nothing against Gucci belts, but the point is that if you are satisfied with who you are, you don’t need to prove your worth to anyone else. To contemplate the difference between yourself and your persona, think about the choices you make when you’re alone, when there’s nobody to judge you and nobody you’re trying to impress. Only you know whether you choose to meditate or watch Netflix, to take a nap or go for a run, to wear sweatpants or designer threads. Only you know whether you eat a salad or a column of Girl Scout cookies. Reflect on the you who emerges when nobody else is around, no one to impress, no one with something to offer you. That is a glimpse into who you truly are. As the aphorism goes, “You are who you are when no one is watching.”
The moment you feel like you have arrived, you’re starting the journey again. This paradox is true for many things: If you feel safe, that’s when you’re most vulnerable; if you feel infallible, that’s when you’re at your weakest. André Gide said, “Believe those who search for the truth; doubt those who have found it.” Too often when you do good, you feel good, you live well, and you start to say, “I got this,” and that’s when you fall. If I sat here and said I had no ego, that would be a complete lie. Overcoming your ego is a practic,e not an accomplishment.
Part 3: Give
Chapter 9: Gratitude
TRY THIS: EVERYDAY GRATITUDE PRACTICES
Morning gratitude. Take a moment right there in bed, flip over onto your belly, put your hands in prayer, and bow your head. Take this moment to think of whatever is good in your life: the air and light that uplift you, the people who love you, the coffee that awaits you. Meal gratitude. One in every nine people on earth do not have enough food to eat every day. That’s nearly 800 million people. Choose one meal of the day and commit to taking a moment before you dig in to give thanks for the food. Take inspiration from Native American prayers or make up your own. If you have a family, take turns offering thanks.
Don’t judge the moment. As soon as you label something as bad, your mind starts to believe it. Instead, be grateful for setbacks. Allow the journey of life to progress at its own pace and in its own roundabout way. The universe may have other plans in store for you.
TRY THIS: GRATITUDE IN HINDSIGHT
Think of one thing that you weren’t grateful for when it first happened. Your education? Someone who taught you? A friendship? Is there a project that stressed you out? A responsibility for a family member that you resented? Or choose a negative outcome that is no longer painful: a breakup, a layoff, unwanted news. Now take a moment to consider in what way this experience is worthy of your gratitude. Did it benefit you in an unexpected way? Did the project help you develop new skills or earn a colleague’s respect? Was your relationship with the family member forever improved by your generosity? Think of something unpleasant that is going on right now, or that you anticipate. Experiment with anticipating gratitude for an unlikely recipient.
Chapter 10: Relationships
We tend to expect every person to be a complete package, giving us everything we need. This is setting the bar impossibly high. It’s as hard to find that person as it is to be that person. The four types of trust will help us keep in mind what we can and can’t expect from them. Even your partner can’t provide care, character, competence, and consistency in all ways at all times. Care and character, yes, but nobody is competent in all things, and though your partner should be reliable, nobody is consistently available in the way you need them. We expect our life partner to be our everything, to “complete us” (thanks, Jerry Maguire), but even within that deep and lifelong union, only you can be your everything.
“With friends or colleagues, get into the habit of asking yourself, What can I offer first? How can I serve? Am I a teacher, a peer, or a student? Which of the four Cs do I give to this person? We form more meaningful relationships when we play to our strengths and, like Swami, don’t offer expertise that we don’t have.”
TRY THIS: REFLECT ON TRUST
Pick three diverse people in your life—perhaps a colleague, a family member, and a friend—and decide which of the four Cs they bring to your life. Be grateful for that. Thank them for it.
A well-known poem by Jean Dominique Martin says, “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” These three categories are based on how long that relationship should endure. One person might enter your life as a welcome change. Like a new season, they are an exciting and enthralling shift of energy. But the season ends at some point, as all seasons do. Another person might come in with a reason. They help you learn and grow, or they support you through a difficult time. It almost feels like they’ve been deliberately sent to you to assist or guide you through a particular experience, after which their central role in your life decreases. And then there are lifetime people. They stand by your side through the best and worst of times, loving you even when you are giving nothing to them. When you consider these categories, keep in mind the circle of love. Love is a gift without any strings attached.
Build and reinforce trust every day by:
- Making and fulfilling promises (contractual trust)
- Giving those you care about sincere compliments and constructive criticism; going out of your way to offer support (mutual trust)
- Standing by someone even when they are in a bad place, have made a mistake, or need help that requires significant time (pure trust)
TRY THIS: ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
Tell the important people in your life how you like to receive love. When we don’t tell people what we want, we expect them to read our minds and often judge them for failing to do so. This week, be more genuine in asking people for help rather than waiting for them to predict what you want.
- Think of a complaint you have about a loved one’s behavior. (But don’t look too hard for faults! If nothing springs to mind, that’s a great sign and you should skip this exercise.)
- Dig to the root of the problem. Where is the real dissatisfaction? You might find that your need corresponds to loving exchanges. Do you want more time to share and connect? (conversation) Do you feel unappreciated? (gifts) Do you want more support? (food or other acts of service)
- Articulate it without criticism. Say, “This is what would make me feel more loved and appreciated,” instead of “You do this wrong. In this way you give a companion a path to connection, which is easier for them and more likely to fulfill you.
Chapter 11: Service