Think Like a Monk
Back when I first started seeing Jay Shetty popping up in my YouTube recommendations I would think to myself....who the heck is this guy?! and I wouldn't end up watching it. I completely slept on this book for a long time too...I saw it many times on my journey but I didn't give it a chance. My problem is that I literally judged the book by its cover. I thought, this guy looks nothing like a monk and he's probably writing a book about it and really isn't about that life. I was wrong...and me coming to this realization was an opportunity for me to reflect and grow. I've gained so much from this book that I would have missed out on had I stuck with my preconceived notions.
Let me be clear. I've read this book 4 times now and I love Jay Shetty. He's on my list of high impact people.
This book will plant some seeds of change in your mind. In time, if you nurture and cultivate some of these concepts your mindset will inevitably start towards shift peace, calm and purpose.
The good thing about this book is that it's not telling you to run off to an ashram and denounce all of your possessions. No. It's real life stuff for you to apply in this society we live in. This is not a book review or anything of that nature. These are simply notes I made as I was reading along, combined with my thoughts and connections to other books.
Breathwork, Visualization and Sound
Clearance of the Impure Mirror of the Mind
Mudita and the Theater of Happiness
The Journey Home, a book by Radhanath Swami
Life isn't a Collection of Unrelated Events
Happiness Is Internal (The Musk Deer)
Meditation will show you what you don't want to see
At Home in the World a book by Thich Nhat Hanh
Jay talks about if first day at the ashram when he saw a 10 year old monk teaching a bunch of 5 year old monks. He asks the 10 year old monk what he was teaching the younger monks. He explained that he was teaching them how to breathe because it is the only thing that stays with you from the moment you are born until the day you die. Everything in your life can change. Your breath with always stays with you. We experience every emotion with a change in our breath. What happens when you get angry? What happens when you're nervous? Your breath changes. When you learn to navigate your breath, you can navigate any situation in life. This is a monk lesson...go to the root of things, go into deep self examination. With this curiosity, thought, effort, and revelation you can find peace, calm and purpose.
Breathwork, Visualization and Sound
Three types of meditation:
Breathwork is for the physical benefits. To find stillness and balance and to calm yourself.
Visualization for the phycological benefits. To heal the past and prepare for the future.
Chanting for the physic benefits. To connect to your deeper self and the universe for real purification.
It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else life with perfection. Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 3, Verse 35
Clearance of the Impure Mirror of the Mind
Your identity is a mirror covered in dust. When you first look in the mirror, the truth of who you are and what you value is obscured. Clearing it might be unpleasant, the dust may burn your eyes and make you sneeze and cough but only once the dust is gone can you see your true reflection. Caitanya, a Bengali saint, called this state of affairs ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanam, or clearance of the impure mirror of the mind. Removing distractions that prevent us from focusing on what matters most which is finding meaning in life by mastering physical and mental desires. What might this actually look like in real life? I take this to mean many things but when you live your life in a relative unawareness you live at the whims of your own compulsions. These compulsions can make you feel like you're not in control and can end up making you unhappy. An example of this is fasting: if you're used to eating compulsively once you fast for a while you realize the amount of control food has over you. When you transcend that hunger it feels quite liberating. Another example is silencing self doubt, we often times don't let our true potential flourish because we doubt yourself back into a "comfortable/ familiar" state. Many traditions give up sex, worldly possessions ...etc. These can be sources of bondage. Other things I can think of right off the top of my head are mobile usage, gaming and pornography...when you find yourself stuck in a brainless loop of compulsions growing more anxious and unhappy then it is time to contemplate clearing the mirror of your mind.
The Time Your Job Requires
If the amount of time that your job requires exceeds how important it is to you then that's a sign that you need to look very closely at that decision. You're deciding to spend time on something that doesn't feel important to you. What are the values behind that decision? Are your earnings from that job ultimately serving your value? I believe this part will resonate with many people. Even if you don't experience it on a personal level, there is likely someone in your life that comes to mind when you think of that. This is not saying that you have to love your job, but your job should serve you and support your values.
When someone wrongs you, you don't have to act compulsively and retaliate. You can step away.
A persons true nature can be obscured by clouds but like the sun...it's always there. Clouds can overcome any of us. This is understanding without judgement.
If you can, help others. If you cannot do that, at least don't harm them - Dali Lama
Back slowly away. From a position of understanding we are better equipped to deal with negative energy.
Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free. - Thich Nhat Hanh
Mudita and the Theater of Happiness
Mudita is the principal of taking unselfish joy in the good fortune of others. If you only take joy from your own successes then you are limiting your joy. If you can find pleasure in the success of your friends and family then you can experience more joy. Who wouldn't want that?
The material work tells us that there are limited number of good things. It's a concept of a finite world where there is only so much happiness and success to go around. Whenever someone else experiences them then your chances decrease. Monks believe that when it comes to happiness and joy there is always a seat with your name on it. You don't need to worry about someone else taking your place. In the theater of happiness there is no limit. Everyone who wants to partake in mudita can watch the show. There are unlimited seats so there is no fear of missing out.
The Journey Home, a book by Radhanath Swami
Jay mentions The Journey Home, a book by Radhanath Swami. It is the next on my list of books to read. I plan on savoring this book because I know it will be full of wisdom.
Jay asks Radhanath Swami, How do you stay peaceful and be a positive force in a world where there is so much negativity? To which he responds:
"There is toxicity all around us but the true origin is in people's hearts. Unless we clean the ecology of our heart and inspire others to do the same we will be an instrument of polluting the environment. But if we can create purity in our own heart we can contribute great purity to the world around us."
A few decades ago scientists conducted an experiment in the Arizona desert called Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 was a big dome with purified water and air and was supposed to provide ideal conditions for plants to flourish however, once trees grew to a certain height they would always fall over and collapse. The biosphere left a key element necessary for the trees health, wind. In nature trees respond to wind by getting stronger to increase their stability. This is a good analogy for life and how we handle fear and try to protect ourselves. But these challenges are the wind that makes us stronger.
I Am to I Feel
When we talk about our emotions...we usually say that we ARE that emotion. We say I AM sad. I AM angry. But these things are not us. Emotions are just something that we are experiencing but they are not us. Shift from I AM to I FEEl. I feel sad. I feel angry. It puts emotions in their rightful place. Having this perspectives calms down our initial reactions and gives us space to examine our fear and the situation around it without judgement. We can trace a lot of fear back to attachment and our need to own and control things. We hold on to our ideas about ourselves, our material possessions and standard of living that we think define us. We want it to be one thing when it is clearly another. This is monkey mind thinking. A monk mind practices detachment. They realize that everything, including our families, is borrowed. Clinging to temporary things gives them power of us. They becomes sources of pain and fear. When we accept the temporary nature of everything we can express gratitude for being able to borrow them for sometime.
Detachment and Indifference
Detachment is not indifference. Seeing things, people and experiences as temporary or at distance diminishes our ability to enjoy life. But this is not true. When you go to a vacation resort you know that it is not yours and that it is temporary in nature. You don't spend every moment in fear losing it. You appreciate and enjoy it even more. All of our blessing are like this. We are free to enjoy them without constant fear of losing them. We are all vacationers enjoying their stay on Hotel Earth.
We feel fear and anxiety physically. Jay suggests using the breath to realign body and mind.
This is something that I also encountered in Yoga With Adrienne's 30 Day Breath Journey. Its called box breathing. Inhale to a count of 4. hold for a count of 4. Exhale to a count of 4.
Deep breathing activates the vagus nerve which stimulates a relaxation response throughout our body. This is like flipping a switch from sympathetic(fight flight flee) to parasympathetic (rest and digest)nervous system.
Life isn't a Collection of Unrelated Events
Breath is useful on the spot but there are certain fears that are hard to overcome with just breathing. When we go through periods of instability, we fear what's ahead. We fear outcomes. In the moment we cant see the complete picture but when the stressful period passes we never look back to learn from the experience. Life isn't a collection of unrelated events. Its a narrative that stretches into the past and the future. We let our imaginations conjure up some scary stuff about future events. Its better to look at your life as a single, long containing story....not disconnected pieces. When I look at who I am now... I reflect on my periods of sadness, failures and struggles as leading up to this. They were absolutely necessary and I am grateful for that.
Arjun from the Bhagavad Gita
The first lesson that the Bhagavad Gita teaches is how to handle fear. Before the battle starts, Arjun is overcome by fear but he doesn't run from it or burry it. He faces it. He is a skilled warrior but fear causes him to reflect. When the fear of staying the same outweighs the fear of change ...that is when we change. He asked for help in the form of insight and understanding. He beings to shift from being controlled by his fear to understanding it.
Happiness Is Internal (The Musk Deer)
The story goes that a musk deer picks up a beautiful scent in the forest. He spends his whole life chasing the source of scent through the forest not realizing that the beautiful scent is actually coming from him. This is how we are with happiness. We spend out whole life searching for happiness not realizing that the source is within us. Happiness and fulfillment come only from mastering the mind and connecting with the soul...not from objects or attainments. Success doesn't guarantee happiness. Happiness doesn't require success. They are not intertwined.
Not Joy but Meaning
We all have different goals but we all want the same things: a life full of joy and meaning. Monks are not seeking joy they are seeking the satisfaction that comes from leading a meaningful life. To feel meaning is to show that your actions have purpose. They lead to a worthwhile outcome. They believe that they are leaving a positive imprint. What they do matter. So we matter. Bad things happen but it is always possible to find meaning.
Follow the Why
Most people are looking for answers. Monks focus on questions. When trying to get to the root of a fear, ask yourself "what am I afraid of?" over and over. When trying to get to the root of a desire, ask yourself "Why?" and then follow the why. Example: If someone wants to get rich just have a lot of money and be able to do whatever the heck they want, that's fine. It is a material gratification so you can't expect it to provide internal fulfillment. Monks believe that he will not find the fulfillment he seeks after attaining his fortune. If he continues his search for a meaning...the answer will always eventually end up in service. It might take longer for people to get there but it will always end in service.
The worst thing that you could do is pretend that you're acting out a service and what you really want is material success. Sometimes you need to sit with a "why" for a day or a week.
Seeds and Weeds
You can clarify your intention by using the analogy of seeds and weeds. When you plant to seed it can turn into an expansive tree that could provide fruit and shelter. That's what a broad intention like love compassion and service can do. The purity of your intention has nothing to do with the career you choose.
Weeds usually grow from the ego and greed, envy, anger, pride, competition or stress. They might look like normal plants to begin with but they will never grow into something wonderful.
Another example of a weed is when a good intention is matched with the wrong goal. An example of this is when you want to build your confidence and you think that you can do this by getting a promotion. When you get that promotion you will still feel empty. External goals cannot fill internal voids.
You have to be gardeners of your own life. Only the seeds of good intentions watching to see what they become and removing the weeds that spring up along the way.
It's not just about having good intentions and hoping that things will manifest for us. No one will create our lives for us.
Those who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war. - Martin Luther King Jr.
Meditation will show you what you don't want to see. Many people find it uncomfortable. In the Dhammapada, Buddha says "As a fish hooked and left in the sand thrashes around in agony, The mind being trained in meditation trembles all over." The point is to examine what makes it so difficult. It is the process of giving yourself space to reflect and evaluate.
It's a portable tool that you can use to shift your energy on the fly. For millennia Yogi's have used breathing practices called pranayam to do things like stimulate healing, raise energy, and focus on the present moment. In the Rig Veda it describes breath as the extension of our innermost life and it describes breath as the path to beyond the self to consciousness.
Dharma Dharma can basically be thought of as your "calling." There is no real direct translation from Sanskrit to English. It is the combination of varna and seva. Varna is passion and skills. Seva is understanding the world's needs and selflessly serving others. When your natural talents and passions connect with what their universe needs and become your purpose you are living in your Dharma. When you spend your time and energy living in your Dharma you have the satisfaction of using your best abilities and doing something that matters to the world. Living in your Dharma is a certain route to fulfillment.
Two monks were washing their feet in the river when one of them realized that a scorpion was drowning in the water. He immediately picked it up and set it on the bank. He was quick but it still stung him. He resumed washing his feet. The other monk said
"Hey, Look! The foolish scorpion fell right back in the water."
The first monk went back into the water and saved the scorpion and it stung him again. The other monk asked him...
"Brother, why do you save him when you know it's his nature to sting."
"Because," the other monk answered "To save it is my nature."
The monk is modeling humility. He is not valuing his own pain over the life of the scorpion. To save is the monk's nature. He is compelled to do it even knowing that the scorpion will sting him. The monk has so much faith in his dharma that he is willing to suffer to fulfill it.
Monks understand that routine frees your mind but the biggest threat to that freedom is monotony. By searching for the you're reminding the brain to pay attention and rewiring it to realize that there is something to learn in everything. Doing the familiar creates room for discovery... which seems kind of contradictory.
A lot of the time creativity comes from structure. When you have those parameters in structure then within that you can be creative. If you don't have structure that you're just aimlessly doing stuff. Rules and routine ease cognitive burden. So we have bandwidth with for creativity. Structure enhances spontaneity and discovery reinvigorates the routine. This approach facilitates the light in small things. Small joys await us every day. You don't have to be looking forward to the next event or the weekend or your next vacation.
Visualize your best self every morning. Visualize yourself waking up in the morning healthy, while rested and energized. Feel the sense of gratitude for another day. Say, in your mind, I'm grateful for today. I am excited for today. I am joyful for today. Visualize your morning routine but be calm, balanced, ease and stillness. See yourself setting intentions for the day, writing down intention today is to be focused. My intention today is to be disciplined. My intention today is to be of service. Visualize yourself continuing the day as your best self. The entire day. End it with a few minute body scan meditation. Thanking every part of your body for helping you throughout the day. Then slowly and gently open your eyes.
Visualization doesn't change your life but it changes how you see it.
I don't practice these things in the exact same way / in the same order but I have experimented with them prior to reading about it in this book. I feel the sense of gratitude for another day and I feel happy and motivated to get out there and go for my morning walk and meditation. I haven't tried visualizing my entire day but I do visualize life issues that I find to be more complex. I especially do this for creative projects...but I don't believe this is what Jay is referring to. My point is that there is certainly value to visualizing. I think in life we all experiment with setting an intention for the day...but ironically I don't think we do it with intention. I think we've all woken up and said something like "Today, I am going to exercise" or "Today, I am going to eat clean" or "Today, I will not procrastinate" I think these sort of things are done with some sort of end goal in mind. If the same thing is done consciously and with intention then you will arrive at what Jay is talking about.
At Home in the World by Thich Nhat Hanh
Appreciating everyday doesn't even need to involve tremendous change in you life. You simply need to find value in everyday activities. In his book At Home in the World by Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
"To my mind the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them. If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have desert or a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert/tea when I finally have it. Each thought and each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light no boundary exist between the sacred and the profane."
This is the same idea of people who unhappily work at their jobs but dream of being on vacation.
But when they are on vacation, they are unable to enjoy because they are stressed about work.
Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.
No matter how much you grow you are never free of daily chores and routine. But to be enlightened is to embrace them. Your outside may look the same but on the inside you are transformed.
Kālidāsa, the great Sanskrit writer of the 5th century wrote: "Yesterday it's but a dream tomorrow is only a vision but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope."
We all think that being in the present moment makes a lot of sense but the truth is that we are selective in when we choose to be in the moment. For example, when you're watching your favorite show or video on YouTube. But we still want to be distracted when we choose to be distracted. It's like when you spend time at work dreaming about a beach vacation. But then when you're on the beach with a drink in your hand all you can think about is work. These two scenarios are connected. A desired distraction at work bleeds into an unwanted distraction on vacation. Being present is the only way to live a truly rich and full life.
Location has energy
Routines are not just about actions. They are about the locations in which those actions take place. Each location has a different energy and your dharma thrives or falters in specific environments. We don't ever contemplate which environments appeal to us. The more your personal spaces are devoted to single clear purposes the better they will serve you. Not just in that fulfillment of your dharma but also your mood and productivity.
If you work where you sleep then you're confusing the energies of that space. You will have trouble sleeping. Create spaces that create energy that matches your intention. Be aware of where you thrive and where you are at your best and how to spend the most time in that place.
Sound Design your Life
The modern world is getting louder. We're subjected to uncontrollable noise all day. All of these things add to our cognitive load. The brain is processing sound even when we don't consciously hear it. Wake up to the best soundtrack you can think of. On the way to work listening to your favorite book or a podcast. Or a playlist and she sounds that make you happy.
This is something I do. I wake up to cardinal sounds instead of a jarring alarm. When I walk, I enjoy the sounds of the trees and river, at other times I will listen to books and podcasts. I love learning something when I am walking, driving or just chillin. Makes me happy.
Time has Memory
Doing something at the same time everyday helps you commit to it. The time keeps the memory for us. It saves the space. If you're trying to fit meditation into your life slotted into the same time every day not when you have a free chance. Link this practice to something you already do.
Location has energy time has memory memory.
If you do something at the same time every day it becomes easier and natural. If you do something in the same space every day it becomes easier than natural.
Our mind is only in present time for about 3 seconds at a time. Other than that our brains are thinking forward and backwards. Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of How Emotions Are Made says that most of the time your brain is not reacting to events in the world. It is constantly predicting what is going to happen next.
Think about your senses as paths to the mind. Most of our lives are governed by what we see, smell, hear, touch and taste. The monkey mind is reactive but the monk mind is proactive.
Our senses transport our mind away from where we want it to be. Don't tease your own senses. Don't set yourself up for failure.
A monk doesn't spend time in a strip club.
We want to minimize the minds reactive tendencies and the easiest way to do that is to allow the intellect to proactively steer the senses away from stimuli that can make the mind react in ways that are hard to control. It's up to the intellect to know when you are vulnerable.
Within reason, remove unwanted sensory triggers from your home. As you do picture of yourself removing them from your mind. You can never remove all senses and all triggers. And you don't want to do that either. The goal isn't to silence the mind. You want to figure out the meaning of the thought. That is what helps us let go. But temporarily while you're strengthening your relationship with your mind you can take steps to avoid triggering places and people by adjusting what you see, listen to, read and absorb. From a monks perspective the greatest power is self-control...to train the mind and energy to focus on your dharma.
When you fast you detach from the body and all the time you spend tending to its demands. When you remove eating, you can get let go of hunger and satiety, pain and pleasure failure and success. You redirect your energy to focus on the mind. You can use this energy to study, research, make notes. Fasting becomes a creative. time, free of distractions. Fasting is a physical challenge driven by intellect.
Some tasks build competence and some tasks build character.
Doing an activity that is mentally unchallenging frees space for introspection and reflection. It is worthwhile after all.
Keep the Ego in Check
There are two things to try to remember and two things to try to forget.
Two things to try to remember: The bad we've done to others. Our egos are forced to remember our imperfections and regrets. Which keeps us grounded
The good others have done for us. We feel humbled by the need for others and our gratitude for the gifts that we've received.
Two things to try to forget:
Good we've done for others because this will grow our egos.
The bad others have done to us. Harboring anger and grudges keeps Us focused on ourselves.
Sometimes you need to look beyond the moment at the bigger picture of the person's experience. Are they exhausted? frustrated? Are they making improvements from where they once were. Everyone has a story and sometimes the ego chooses to ignore that. I'm not sure if it was from this section of the book buy Jay tells a story about how one of the senior monks was diving a teaching and some of the student monks were whispering to each other for the entire time. Jay knew the the senior monk could hear it and he wondered why he didnt say anything to them. Jay found it disrespectful. His teacher said to him "You're looking at how they are behaving today. I am looking at how far they've come." He was remembering at the good they've done and forgetting the bad. He didn't take their behavior as a reflection of himself or of the respect they had for him. He took a longer view that had nothing to do with himself.
Council (Sadhu, Sastra, Guru)
Cultivate small groups of council around specific areas. Make sure you choose the right people for the right challenge. Get your advice from different sources who all want the best for you....but who offer different perspectives. Those who care most about your emotional health which are often friends and family serving as gurus. Those who encourage your intellectual growth and experience which could be mentors or teachers serving as sadhus. Those who share your values and intentions which are religious guides and or scientific facts serving as shastras.
Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya
This mantra was chanted before reading spiritual texts as a reminder to feel grateful those who made these scriptures exist. We can use this chant in a similar way to feel grateful for the teachers and sages who have brought us insight and guidance.
Monk with a Leaky Bucket
There's a story about a monk who carried water from a well into buckets. One of which had holes in it. He did this every day without repairing the bucket. One day someone asked him why he continued to carry the leaky bucket. The monk pointed out that the side of the path where he carried the full bucket was barren. But on the other side of the path where the bucket had leaked beautiful wild flowers had flourished. He said "My imperfection has brought in beauty to those around me."
Salt is the Pain of Life
I really enjoyed this story:
"What brings you to me?" asked and old wise woman of the young man that stood before her.
"I see joy and beauty around me but from a distance." The young man said.
"My own life is full of pain."
The wise woman was silent. She slowly poured a cup of water for the sad young man and handed it to him. Then she handed him a bowl of salt.
"Put some in the water" she said.
The young man originally took a small pinch of salt.
The old woman said "Take more... take a handful." Looking skeptical, the young man took a handful of salt and put it in his cup. The old woman gestured with her head instructing the young man to drink. He took a sip of water, made a face, and spat it onto the dirt floor.
"How was it?" the old woman asked?
The young man said "Thanks, but no thanks."
The old woman smiled knowingly. She then handed the young man the bowl of salt and led him to a nearby lake. The water was clear and cold.
"Now put a handful of salt in the lake" she said.
The young man did as he was instructed. And the salt dissolved into the water.
"Have a drink" the old woman said.
The young man knelt at the bank and slurped from his hands. When he looked up the old woman again asked, "How was it?"
"Refreshing!" said the young man.
"Could you taste the salt?" asked the wise woman.
"Not at all." he replied.
The old woman also took a drink from the lake.
She said "The salt is the pain of life. It is constant. If you put it in a small glass it tastes bitter.
If you put it in a lake you can't taste it. Expand your senses expand your world. And the pain will diminish. Don't be the glass become the lake."
Taking a broader view helps us minimize our pain and appreciate what we have. We can directly access this broader view by giving.
Remember the trees in biosphere 2 that lacked roots that enable the tree to withstand wind? Redwood trees are another story. They are famously tall and you would think that they need very deep roots to survive but their roots are shallow. What gives the trees resilience is that thier roots spread widely. Redwoods best thrive in groves interweaving in their roots so the strong and weak together withstand the forces of nature.