The monk teachings talk about forgiveness, energy, intentions, living with purpose, and other topics in ways that are as resonant today as they must have been when they were written.
For millennia, monks have believed that meditation and mindfulness are beneficial, that gratitude is good for you, that service makes you happier, and more that you will learn in this book. They developed practices around these ideas long before modern science could show or validate them.
Our culture and media feed us images and concepts about who and what we should be, while holding up models of accomplishment and success. Fame, money, glamour, sex—in the end none of these things can satisfy us. We’ll simply seek more and more, a circuit that leads to frustration, disillusion, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and exhaustion.
We can elevate to the monk mindset by digging down to the root of what we want and creating actionable steps for growth. The monk mindset lifts us out of confusion and distraction and helps us find clarity, meaning, and direction.
Not only is our self-image tied up in how we think others see us, but most of our efforts at self-improvement are really just us trying to meet that imagined ideal.
The foundation of virtually all monastic traditions is removing distractions that prevent us from focusing on what matters most—finding meaning in life by mastering physical and mental desires.
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.
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.
Write down some of the values that shape your life. Next to each, write the origin. Put a checkmark next to each value that you truly share.
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.
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.
When we tune out the opinions, expectations, and obligations of the world around us, we begin to hear ourselves.
Spend a week tracking how much time you devote to the following: family, friends, health, and self. (Note that we’re leaving out sleeping, eating, and working. Work, in all its forms, can sprawl without boundaries. If this is the case for you, then set your own definition of when you are officially” at work and make extra work” one of your categories.) The areas where you spend the most time should match what you value the most. Say the amount of time that your job requires exceeds how important it is to you. 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 your job ultimately serving your values?
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.
Like time, you can look at the money you spend to see the values by which you live. Exclude necessities like home, dependents, car, bills, food, and debt. Now look at your discretionary spending.
Doing a self-audit tells you the values that have crept into your life by default. The next step is to decide what your values are and whether your choices are in alignment with them. Contemplating monk values may help you identify your own. Our teachers at the ashram explained that 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.
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?
For the next week, whenever you spend money on a nonnecessity or make a plan for how you will spend your free time, pause, and think: What is the value behind this choice? It only takes a second, a flash of consideration. Ideally, this momentary pause becomes instinctive, so that you are making conscious choices about what matters to you and how much energy you devote to it.
Every time you move homes or take a different job or embark on a new relationship, you have a golden opportunity to reinvent yourself. Multiple studies show that the way we relate to the world around us is contagious.
Who you surround yourself with helps you stick to your values and achieve your goals. You grow together.
If you’re not sure where others fit in relation to your values, ask yourself a question: When I spend time with this person or group, do I feel like I’m getting closer to or further away from who I want to be?
Over the course of a week, make a list of the people with whom you spend the most time. List the values that you share next to each person. Are you giving the most time to the people who align most closely with your values?
And the more negativity that surrounds us, the more negative we become. We think that complaining will help us process our anger, but research confirms that even people who report feeling better after venting are still more aggressive post-gripe than people who did not engage in venting.
Instead of judging negative behavior, we try to neutralize the charge, or even reverse it to positive. Once you recognize a complainer isn’t looking for solutions, you realize you don’t have to provide them.
Monks lead with awareness. We approach negativity—any type of conflict, really—by taking a step back to remove ourselves from the emotional charge of the moment.
I encourage you to purge or avoid physical triggers of negative thoughts and feelings. If you don’t let go physically, you won’t let go emotionally.
Aim for the feeling that at least 75 percent of your time is spent with people who inspire you rather than bring you down. Do your part in making the friendship an uplifting exchange. Don’t just spend time with the people you love—grow with them.
The more we define ourselves in relation to the people around us, the more lost we are.
Most of us don’t register our negative thoughts. First, we become aware of a feeling or issue—we spot it. Then we pause to address what the feeling is and where it comes from—we stop to consider it. And last, we amend our behavior—we swap in a new way of processing the moment. SPOT, STOP, SWAP.
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.
While thoughtlessly venting complaints makes your day worse, it’s been shown that writing in a journal about upsetting events, giving attention to your thoughts and emotions, can foster growth and healing, not only mentally, but also physically.
Make a list of five people you care about, but also feel competitive with. Come up with at least one reason that you’re envious of each one: something they’ve achieved, something they’re better at, something that’s gone well for them. Did that achievement actually take anything away from you? Now think about how it benefitted your friend. Visualize everything good that has come to them from this achievement. Would you want to take any of these things away if you could, even knowing that they would not come to you? If so, this envy is robbing you of joy. Envy is more destructive to you than whatever your friend has accomplished. Spend your energy transforming it.
Giving and receiving forgiveness both have health benefits. When we make forgiveness a regular part of our spiritual practice, we start to notice all of our relationships blossoming. We’re no longer holding grudges. There’s less drama to deal with.
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.
We allow anxiety—everyday fear—to hold us back by blocking us from our true feelings. The longer we hold on to fears, the more they ferment until eventually they become toxic.
If we learn how to recognize what fear can teach us about ourselves and what we value, then we can use it as a tool to obtain greater meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives. We can use fear to get to the best of us.
If we can stop viewing stress and the fear that often accompanies it as negative and instead see the potential benefits, we’re on our way to changing our relationship with fear.
When you deal with fear and hardship, you realize that you’re capable of dealing with fear and hardship. This gives you a new perspective: the confidence that when bad things happen, you will find ways to handle them. With that increased objectivity, you become better able to differentiate what’s actually worth being afraid of and what’s not.
This is a lifelong practice, but as you become more and more accepting of the fact that we don’t truly own or control anything, you’ll find yourself actually enjoying and valuing people, things, and experiences more, and being more thoughtful about which ones you choose to include in your life.
The simple act of controlled breathing is like flipping a switch that shifts our nervous system from the sympathetic, or fight-flight-freeze, state to the parasympathetic, or rest-and-digest, state, allowing our mind and body to get back in synch.
If we don’t learn from the signal that alerts us to a problem, we’ll end up learning from the results of the problem itself, which is far less desirable. But if we face our fear—we stay, we deal with the fire, we have the tough conversation—we become stronger as a result
Fear motivates us. Sometimes it motivates us toward what we want, but sometimes, if we aren’t careful, it limits us with what we think will keep us safe.
The problem with fear is that it’s not sustainable. When we operate in fear for a long time, we can’t work to the best of our abilities. We are too worried about getting the wrong result. We become frantic or paralyzed and are unable to evaluate our situations objectively or to take risks.
When we let achievements and acquisitions determine our course, we’re living in the illusion that happiness comes from external measures of success, but all too often we find that when we finally get what we want, when we find success, it doesn’t lead to happiness.
Happiness and fulfillment come only from mastering the mind and connecting with the soul—not from objects or attainments. Success doesn’t guarantee happiness, and happiness doesn’t require success. They can feed each other, and we can have them at the same time, but they are not intertwined.
Monks don’t seek out the joy part—we aren’t looking for happiness or pleasure. Instead, we focus on the satisfaction that comes from living a meaningful life. Happiness can be elusive—it’s hard to sustain a high level of joy. But to feel meaning shows that our actions have purpose.
When we perform work with the conviction that what we do matters, we can live intensely. Without a reason for moving forward, we have no drive. When we live intentionally—with a clear sense of why what we do matters—life has meaning and brings fulfillment.
When you follow the whys, keep digging. Every answer provokes deeper questions. Sometimes it helps to sit with a question in the back of your mind for a day, even a week. Very often you’ll find that what you are ultimately searching for is an internal feeling (happiness, security, confidence, etc.). Or maybe you’ll find that you’re acting out of envy, not the most positive emotion, but a good alert to the need you are trying to fill. Be curious about that discovery. Why are you envious? Is there something—like adventure—that you can start working on right away? Once you’re doing that, the external wants will be more available to you—if they still matter at all.
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.
If you have a clear and confident sense of why you took each step, then you are more resilient. Failure doesn’t mean you’re worthless—it means you must look for another route to achieving worthwhile goals. Satisfaction comes from believing in the value of what you do.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with cloudy or multifaceted intentions. We just need to remember that the less pure they are, the less likely they are to make us happy, even if they make us successful. When people gain what they want but aren’t happy at all, it’s because they did it with the wrong intention.
Living intentionally means stepping back from external goals, letting go of outward definitions of success, and looking within. Developing a meditation practice with breathwork is a natural way to support this intention. As you cleanse yourself of opinions and ideas that don’t make sense with who you are and what you want, I recommend using breathwork as a reminder to live at your own pace, in your own time.
In getting you where you want to be, meditation may show you what you don’t want to see.
Controlled breathing, on the other hand, is an immediate way to steady yourself, a portable tool you can use to shift your energy on the fly.
Once or twice a day, I suggest setting aside time for breathwork. Additionally, breathwork is such an effective way to calm yourself down that I use it, and suggest others use it, at points throughout the day when you feel short of breath or that you’re holding your breath.
Everyone has a psychophysical nature which determines where they flourish and thrive. Dharma is using this natural inclination, the things you’re good at, your thrive mode, to serve others. You should feel passion when the process is pleasing and your execution is skillful. And the response from others should be positive, showing that your passion has a purpose. This is the magic formula for dharma.
Passion + Expertise + Usefulness = Dharma.
Pay attention, cultivate self-awareness, feed your strengths, and you will find your way. And once you discover your dharma, pursue it.
Instead of making a huge career change, you can try my approach: look for opportunities to do what you love in the life you already have. You never know where it might lead.
The best way to add meaning to an experience is to look for how it might serve you in the future.
Do whatever you can to crawl out of this soul-sucking quadrant. You will always have unpleasant chores, but they shouldn’t be the biggest part of your life. If at all possible, you should work toward outsourcing the chores in this category. Hurt the pocket, save the mind.
We want to live in Quadrant Two, where we spend our time using our talents to do what we love. If we aren’t there, we examine the problem the monk way—instead of looking at specific skills you’ve developed and specific activities that you love, we look beyond them, to their roots.
The four varnas are the Guide, the Leader, the Creator, and the Maker.
The point of the varnas is to help you understand yourself so you can focus on your strongest skills and inclinations. Self-awareness gives you more focus.
Invest in your strengths and surround yourself with people who can fill in the gaps. When you know your varna—your passion and skills—and you serve with that, it becomes your dharma.
When we get in the habit of identifying what empowers us, we have a better understanding of ourselves and what we want in life. This is exactly what we’re going to do to refine our understanding of our varna.
Take note of every activity you take part in through the course of a few days. Meetings, walking the dog, lunch with a friend, writing emails, preparing food, exercising, spending time on social media. For every activity, answer the two questions fundamental to dharma: Did I enjoy the process? Did other people enjoy the result? There are no right or wrong answers. This is an observation exercise to amplify your awareness.
Remember the whole equation of dharma. Dharma isn’t just passion and skills. Dharma is passion in the service of others. Your passion is for you. Your purpose is for others. Your passion becomes a purpose when you use it to serve others. Your dharma has to fill a need in the world.
Between the alarm clock and the world inside your phone, you’re immediately overwhelmed with stress, pressure, anxiety. Do you really expect yourself to emerge from that state and have a pleasant, productive day?
The energy and mood of the morning carries through the day, so making life more meaningful begins there.
When you start the morning with high pressure and high stress, you’re programming your body to operate in that mode for the rest of the day.
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.
Rules and routines ease our cognitive burden so we have bandwidth for creativity. Structure enhances spontaneity. And discovery reinvigorates the routine.
Create spaces that brings you the energy that matches your intention.
The point is to be aware about where you thrive, where you’re at your best, and to figure out how to spend the most time in that place.
Change happens with small steps and big priorities. Pick one thing to change, make it your number one priority, and see it through before you move to the next.
The more we can evaluate, understand, train, and strengthen our relationship with the mind, the more successfully we navigate our lives and overcome challenges.
Identify the ways you’re making progress, and you will begin to see, feel, and appreciate the value of what you are doing.
Use the awareness of what deep pain really is to keep smaller disruptions in persepective.
Recording yourself puts you in an observer mindset, making you deal more objectively with yourself.
When anxious thoughts arise, instead of indulging them, we respond with compession. It’s about observing your feelings without judging them.
The Gita defines detachment as doing the right thing for its own sake, because it needs to be done, without worrying about success or failure.
Fasting and the other austerities that monks practice remind us that we can bear greater hardship than we thought possible, that we can overcome the demands of the senses with self-control and resolve.
If we work every day to cleanse our thoughts, gently redirecting the ones that don’t serve us, then our minds are pure and calm, ready for growth.
Reflect on the you who everges 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.
When we bluff our way through life, pretending to be who we are not, we end up looking worse than we truly are.
If you inspire special treatment, it is because people appreciate you, but when you demand or feel entitled to it, you looking for respect that you haven’t earned.
Instead of ego’s all or nothing, humility allows us to understand our weaknesses and want to improve.
The two tings to remember are the bad we’ve done to others and the good others have done for us.
Remembering your mistakes and forgetting your achievements restrains the ego and increases gratitude - a simple effective recipe for humility.
Humility comes from accepting where you are without seeing it as a reflection of who you are. Then you can use your imagination to find success.
Using visualization, we can revisit the past, editing the narrative we tell ourselves about our history.
Everyone visualizes in daily life. Meditation is an opportunity to make this inclination deliberate and productive. Past or future, big or small, you can use visualization to extract the energy from a situation and bring it into your reality.
Gratitude has been linked to better mental health, self-awareness, better relationships, and a sense of fulfillment.
Even if your life isn’t perfect, build your gratitude like a muscle. If you train it now, it will only strengthen over time.
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.
The love we give out comes back to us from a variety of sources, and, in a more general sense, whatever we put out will come back to us.
1.png Use the four types of trust to understand why you are attracted to a person and whether you are likely to connect as a friend, a colleagure, or a romantic partner.
In order to find diversity, we have to be open to new connections. Part of growing up - at any age - is accepting that our family of origin may never be able to give us all that we need.
When we equate likability or appeal with trust, we set ourselves up for huge disappointment. It is better to have neutral trust than to trust someone for the wrong reasons or to trust them blindly.
When we learn to love and understand ourselves and have true compassion for ourselves, then we can truly love and understand another person.
If you don’t know what you want, you’ll send out the wrong signals and attract the wrong people. If you aren’t self-aware, you’ll look for the wrong qualities and choose the wrong people.
When you are aware of what is important to each other, then you can figure out how much you’re willing to adapt. Ideally, each of you is striving to live in your own dharma. In the best of relationships, you get there together.
In every relationship you have the opportunity to set the level of joy you expect and the level of pain you’ll accept.
Seeing the purpose of life to be sense gratification—making ourselves feel good—leads to pain and dissatisfaction. Seeing it as service leads to fulfillment.
Studies show that when we pursue compassionate goals”—those aimed at helping others or otherwise helping to make the world a better place—we’re less likely to have symptoms of anxiety and depression than when we focus on improving or protecting our own status or reputation.
When you serve, it’s hard to be lonely. In most scenarios, you have to go out into the world to help other people.
Service gives you a broad view of all that you have.
When you serve, you see that the world needs what you have to offer.
Helping others tells you that you’re making a difference in the world. You have a sense of meaning and purpose.
While we should never avoid helping others when we see their need, we can and should develop a sense of what sorts of service we’re best at and focus our attention on them.
Sound meditations allow us to connect with our souls and the universe through words and song.
Anything that connects you to the energy or idea you want to cultivate in your life can be effective. I recommend adding a mantra to your morning and/or evening meditation practice. It is beautiful to wake up or go to sleep listening to the sound of your own voice chanting.