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Overview of the Book
Personal narrative, metaphor, scientific investigations, and the advice of numerous monastic literature come together in Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day. The goal of Shetty’s writing is to have the reader adopt the mentality of a monk. This involves practising gratitude and acts of service, as well as letting go of negative emotions, pride, and anxiety. Before applying his talents in social media and business, Shetty spent three years as a practising monk at an ashram in India. Now he offers life coaching, as well as courses on themes like finding one’s calling and establishing productive routines, on his famous podcast, On Purpose. He applies his life’s lessons to guiding millennials and others in the modern world toward more purposeful and rewarding lives. With the release of Think Like a Monk in 2020, readers will be led on a path away from the fleeting pleasures and immediate gratifications that characterise modern life, and toward a deeper, more meaningful way of being in the world.
In the first section, “Let Go,” Shetty encourages his readers to look inward and ignore external influences like the media in order to discover what is truly important to them. Developing a monk’s mentality begins with this (7). To that end, he encourages his readers to rid themselves of any self- or other-critical thoughts. Criticizing others in public attracts that same negativity back to the critic, whereas surrounding oneself with upbeat people and ideas increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. For example, Shetty compares bad thoughts and words to mosquitoes, saying, “Even the smallest of them can steal us of our peace” (32). He proposes the “spot, stop, and swap” strategy instead (45). One “sees” (identifies) the negative thought or action, “pauses” (halts) to think about it, and “realigns” (redirects) toward the positive (swaps it). Shetty says that the way to inner calm is through forgiving oneself and others.
In order to participate in life and benefit from all it has to offer, one must also overcome their fears. We fear the stresses and challenges of change, but those stressors and struggles are the wind that makes us stronger, which is a profound shift in perspective (50). His main point is that the best way to overcome fear is to treat it like any other emotion: by watching it objectively from a safe distance so that you may take calculated action rather than react rashly. Although it might serve as an initial spur to action and hasten the decision-making process, fear is ultimately unsustainable as a driving force. Purpose and meaning, not achievement, lead to true contentment; Shetty urges his reader to move above fear and financial gratification to these higher aspirations in order to build clear and permanent intentions (71). And Shetty informs his readers that duty and caring for others, rather than merely personal achievement, are the means by which they might discover their purpose and meaning in life.
Part 2 of Shetty’s essay focuses on the development that comes from releasing attachments. In particular, he encourages his readers to discover their dharma, or “your calling,” (94) in order to live a more meaningful life. One’s dharma can be found, ideally, when one combines their interests and abilities in a way that also serves others. Shetty presents a Vedic Personality Test in his Appendix and outlines the many types of varnas (personality types) in Chapter 5 to enable readers better understand themselves and their potential dharma. Shetty maintains that “[d]harma isn’t only enthusiasm and skills. Dharma is one’s calling to help other people. Your enthusiasm is self-centered. People are the focus of your life’s work (122). Shetty writes extensively about how important it is to give back to others if you want your life to have purpose. Routine can be helpful in one’s pursuit of dharma, and he discusses its importance. Although it may seem paradoxical, routine really encourages one to live in the present and fosters innovation. It is important, as Shetty writes, that his readers “[b]uild routines and train yourself as monks do, to develop focus and achieve profound immersion” (144). Shetty often cites early rising and meditation as means of maintaining perspective.
Shetty tells his readers that, like a muscle in their body, their mind needs to be trained, especially if they aspire to adopt the monastic way of thinking. It is recommended that the reader develop the “monk mind,” characterised by maturity, attention, self-control, and reason, rather than the “monkey mind,” which is immature and impulsive and flits aimlessly from branch to branch. When the mind is trained to take charge rather than the senses, the path ahead becomes more distinct. You can develop a monk’s mind by practising mindfulness, compassion for oneself and others, and acceptance of the here and now. Detachment, Shetty argues, is essential for gaining “fresh clarity and perspective” (171). Building self-confidence involves putting aside selfish motivations, therefore learning to detach from outcomes is essential. To paraphrase Shetty, “the terrible we’ve done to others and the good others have done for us” should be remembered, while “the good we’ve done for others and the bad others have done to us” should be forgotten (184-85). It’s a great way to put pride aside and focus on helping others.
In Part 3, Shetty shows that “Giving” is the most important step toward finding one’s meaning, purpose, and happiness. His message to his readers is to incorporate “genuine, focused thankfulness into our lives every day” (205). Expressing appreciation not only makes you happier, it also has positive effects on your body and mind. Shetty emphasises the significance of being thankful on a daily basis for whatever one has been given in life. How to connect with others in meaningful ways through giving and receiving love, gratitude, and service is the topic of his talk (241). Connecting with others on a deep level requires active listening and an openness to sharing one’s own experiences. Shetty also emphasises the importance of learning to love oneself before finding true love with another else.
Shetty concludes that service to others is “The Highest Purpose” (256). One of India’s holiest writings, the Bhagavad Gita, “sees the whole world as a kind of school, an education system intended to make us grasp one truth: We are obligated to serve, and only in serving can we be happy,” he says (257). Giving back to one’s community is good for one’s health on many levels. Shetty gives detailed instructions on how to serve and when and when to do so, noting that everyone has something to give and that there is always an opportunity to do good.
Shetty includes many “TRY THIS” exercises and meditations throughout the book to help his readers on their path to inner calm and meaningful work. He hopes his words will motivate his listeners to take some sort of action; the time to find significance is now, and it will vary from person to person. “[w]e don’t want to arrive at the end of our days knowing that we haven’t lived a purposeful, service-based, meaningful existence,” Shetty writes as a last warning (279). Therefore, it is in the reader’s best interest to get going right away.
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