We are all searching for ways to reduce stress and find peace, especially in a year as challenging as this one. Few people understand how to do that quite like Jay Shetty, a social media superstar and host of the #1 podcast On Purpose, who distills the timeless wisdom he learned as a monk into practical steps anyone can take every day to live a less anxious, more meaningful life. In this special excerpt from his new book Think Like a Monk (available now from Simon & Schuster, a ViacomCBS company), Shetty shares three ways to opt out of the media mind game and create space for reflection.
As a monk, I learned early on that our values are influenced by whatever absorbs our minds. We are not our minds, but the mind is the vehicle by which we decide what is important in our hearts. The movies we watch, the music we hear, the books we read, the TV shows we binge, the people we follow online and offline. What’s on your news feed is feeding your mind. The more we are absorbed in celebrity gossip, images of success, violent video games, and troubling news, the more our values are tainted with envy, judgment, competition, and discontent.
Observing and evaluating are key to thinking like a monk, and they begin with space and stillness. For monks, the first step in filtering the noise of external influences is a material letting go. I had three stints visiting the ashram, graduated college, then officially became a monk. After a couple months of training at the Bhaktivedanta Manor, a temple in the countryside north of London, I headed to India, arriving at the village ashram in the beginning of September 2010. I exchanged my relatively stylish clothes for two robes (one to wear and one to wash). I forfeited my fairly slick haircut for . . . no hair; our heads were shaved. And I was deprived of almost all opportunities to check myself out—the ashram contained no mirrors except the one I would later be shown in the storeroom. So we monks were prevented from obsessing over our appearance, ate a simple diet that rarely varied, slept on thin mats laid on the floor, and the only music we heard was the chants and bells that punctuated our meditations and rituals. We didn’t watch movies or TV shows, and we received limited news and email on shared desktop computers in a communal area.
Nothing took the place of these distractions except space, stillness, and silence. When we tune out the opinions, expectations, and obligations of the world around us, we begin to hear ourselves. In that silence I began to recognize the difference between outside noise and my own voice. I could clear away the dust of others to see my core beliefs.
I promised you I wouldn’t ask you to shave your head and don robes, but how, in the modern world, can we give ourselves the space, silence, and stillness to build awareness? Most of us don’t sit down and think about our values. We don’t like to be alone with our own thoughts. Our inclination is to avoid silence, to try to fill our heads, to keep moving. In a series of studies, researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard asked participants to spend just six to fifteen minutes alone in a room with no smartphone, no writing instruments, and nothing to read. The researchers then let them listen to music or use their phones. Participants not only preferred their phones and music, many of them even chose to zap themselves with an electric shock rather than be alone with their thoughts. If you go to a networking event every day and have to tell people what you do for a living, it’s hard to step away from that reduction of who you are. If you watch Real Housewives every night, you start to think that throwing glasses of wine in your friends’ faces is routine behavior. When we fill up our lives and leave ourselves no room to reflect, those distractions become our values by default.
We can’t address our thoughts and explore our minds when we’re preoccupied. Nor does just sitting in your home teach you anything. There are three ways I suggest you actively create space for reflection. First, on a daily basis I recommend you sit down to reflect on how the day went and what emotions you’re feeling. Second, 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. Finally, get involved in something that’s meaningful to you—a hobby, a charity, a political cause.
Discover ways to train your mind for peace and purpose every day in ‘Think Like a Monk’ by Jay Shetty.
Want more? Listen to this clip from the audiobook edition of Think Like A Monk, read by the author.
Excerpted from Think Like A Monk by Jay Shetty. Copyright © 2020 by Jay R. Shetty. Used with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Simon & Schuster is a property of ViacomCBS.