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Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day / , (by Jay Shetty, 2020) -

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Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day / ,   (by Jay Shetty, 2020) -

Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day / , (by Jay Shetty, 2020) -

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Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day / , (by Jay Shetty, 2020) -
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2020
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Jay Shetty
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Jay Shetty
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upper-intermediate
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10:54:55
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128 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day / , :

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: Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day

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Introduction If you want a new idea, read an old book. attributed to Ivan Pavlov (among others) When I was eighteen years old, in my first year of college, at Cass Business School in London, one of my friends asked me to go with him to hear a monk give a talk. I resisted. Why would I want to go hear some monk? I often went to see CEOs, celebrities, and other successful people lecture on campus, but I had zero interest in a monk. I preferred to hear speakers whod actually accomplished things in life. My friend persisted, and finally I said, As long as we go to a bar afterward, Im in. Falling in love is an expression used almost exclusively to describe romantic relationships. But that night, as I listened to the monk talk about his experience, I fell in love. The figure on stage was a thirty-something Indian man. His head was shaved and he wore a saffron robe. He was intelligent, eloquent, and charismatic. He spoke about the principle of selfless sacrifice. When he said that we should plant trees under whose shade we did not plan to sit, I felt an unfamiliar thrill run through my body. I was especially impressed when I found out that hed been a student at IIT Bombay, which is the MIT of India and, like MIT, nearly impossible to get into. Hed traded that opportunity to become a monk, walking away from everything that my friends and I were chasing. Either he was crazy or he was onto something. My whole life Id been fascinated by people whod gone from nothing to somethingrags-to-riches stories. Now, for the first time, I was in the presence of someone whod deliberately done the opposite. Hed given up the life the world had told me we should all want. But instead of being an embittered failure, he appeared joyous, confident, and at peace. In fact, he seemed happier than anyone Id ever met. At the age of eighteen, I had encountered a lot of people who were rich. Id listened to a lot of people who were famous, strong, good-looking, or all three. But I dont think Id met anyone who was truly happy. Afterward, I pushed my way through the crowds to tell him how amazing he was, and how much hed inspired me. How can I spend more time with you? I heard myself asking. I felt the urge to be around people who had the values I wanted, not the things I wanted. The monk told me that he was traveling and speaking in the UK all that week, and I was welcome to come to the rest of his events. And so I did. My first impression of the monk, whose name was Gauranga Das, was that he was doing something right, and later I would discover that science backs that up. In 2002, a Tibetan monk named Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche traveled from an area just outside Kathmandu, Nepal, to the University of WisconsinMadison so that researchers could watch his brain activity while he meditated. The scientists covered the monks head with a shower caplike device (an EEG) that had more than 250 tiny wires sticking out of it, each with a sensor that a lab tech attached to his scalp. At the time of the study, the monk had accumulated sixty-two thousand hours of lifetime meditation practice. As a team of scientists, some of them seasoned meditators themselves, watched from a control room, the monk began the meditation protocol the researchers had designedalternating between one minute of meditating on compassion and a thirty-second rest period. He quickly cycled through this pattern four times in a row, cued by a translator. The researchers watched in awe; at almost the exact moment the monk began his meditation, the EEG registered a sudden and massive spike in activity. The scientists assumed that with such a large, quick bump, the monk must have changed positions or otherwise moved, yet to the observing eye, he remained perfectly still. What was remarkable was not just the consistency of the monks brain activityturning off and on repeatedly from activity to rest periodbut also the fact that he needed no warm-up period. If youre a meditator, or have at least tried to calm your brain, you know that typically it takes some time to quiet the parade of distracting thoughts that marches through your mind. Rinpoche seemed to need no such transition period. Indeed, he seemed to be able to come in and out of a powerful meditative state as easily as flipping a switch. More than ten years after these initial studies, scans of the forty-one-year-old monks brain showed fewer signs of aging than his peers. The researchers said he had the brain of someone ten years younger. Researchers who scanned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricards brain subsequently labeled him the Worlds Happiest Man after they found the highest level of gamma wavesthose associated with attention, memory, learning, and happinessever recorded by science. One monk whos off the charts may seem like an anomaly, but Ricard isnt alone. Twenty-one other monks who had their brains scanned during a variety of meditation practices also showed gamma wave levels that spiked higher and lasted longer (even during sleep) than non-meditators. Why should we think like monks? If you wanted to know how to dominate the basketball court, you might turn to Michael Jordan; if you wanted to innovate, you might investigate Elon Musk; you might study Beyonc? to learn how to perform. If you want to train your mind to find peace, calm, and purpose? Monks are the experts. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who cofounded gratefulness.org, writes, A layperson who is consciously aiming to be continuously alive in the Now is a monk. Monks can withstand temptations, refrain from criticizing, deal with pain and anxiety, quiet the ego, and build lives that brim with purpose and meaning. Why shouldnt we learn from the calmest, happiest, most purposeful people on earth? Maybe youre thinking its easy for monks to be calm, serene, and relaxed. Theyre hidden away in tranquil settings where they dont have to deal with jobs and romantic partners and, well, rush hour traffic. Maybe youre wondering, How could thinking like a monk help me here in the modern world? First of all, monks werent born monks. Theyre people from all sorts of backgrounds whove chosen to transform themselves. Matthieu Ricard, the Worlds Happiest Man, was a biologist in his former life; Andy Puddicombe, cofounder of the meditation app Headspace, trained to be in the circus; I know monks who were in finance and in rock bands. They grow up in schools, towns, and cities just like you. You dont need to light candles in your home, walk around barefoot, or post photos of yourself doing tree pose on a mountaintop. Becoming a monk is a mindset that anyone can adopt. Like most monks today, I didnt grow up in an ashram. I spent most of my childhood doing un-monk-like things. Until the age of fourteen, I was an obedient kid. I grew up in north London with my parents and my younger sister. Im from a middle-class Indian family. Like a lot of parents, mine were committed to my education and to giving me a shot at a good future. I stayed out of trouble, did well in school, and tried my best to make everybody happy. But when I started secondary school, I took a left turn. Id been heavy as a child, and bullied for it, but now I lost that weight and began playing soccer and rugby. I turned to subjects that traditional Indian parents dont generally favor, like art, design, and philosophy. All this would have been fine, but I also started mixing with the wrong crowd. I became involved in a bunch of bad stuff. Experimenting with drugs. Fighting. Drinking too much. It did not go well. In high school I was suspended three times. Finally, the school asked me to leave. Ill change, I promised. If you let me stay, Ill change. The school let me stay, and I cleaned up my act. Finally, in college, I started to notice the value of hard work, sacrifice, discipline, persistence in pursuit of ones goals. The problem was that at the time, I didnt have any goals apart from getting a good job, getting married one day, maybe having a familythe usual. I suspected there was something deeper, but I didnt know what it was. By the time Gauranga Das came to speak at my school, I was primed to explore new ideas, a new model of living, a path that veered from the one everyone (including myself) assumed I would take. I wanted to grow as a person. I didnt want to know humility or compassion and empathy only as abstract concepts, I wanted to live them. I didnt want discipline, character, and integrity to just be things I read about. I wanted to live them. For the next four years, I juggled two worlds, going from bars and steakhouses to meditation and sleeping on the floor. In London, I studied management with an emphasis on behavioral science and interned at a large consulting firm and spent time with my friends and family. And at an ashram in Mumbai I read and studied ancient texts, spending most of my Christmas and summer holidays living with monks. My values gradually shifted. I found myself wanting to be around monks. In fact, I wanted to immerse myself in the monk mindset. More and more, the work I was doing in the corporate world seemed to lack meaning. What was the point if it had no positive impact on anyone? When I graduated from college, I traded my suits for robes and joined the ashram, where we slept on the floor and lived out of gym lockers. I lived and traveled across India, the UK, and Europe. I meditated for hours every day and studied ancient scriptures. I had the opportunity to serve with my fellow monks, helping with the ongoing work of transforming an ashram in a village outside Mumbai into an eco-friendly spiritual retreat (the Govardhan Ecovillage) and volunteering with a food program that distributes over a million meals a day (Annamrita). If I can learn to think like a monk, anyone can. The Hindu monks I studied with use the Vedas as their foundational texts. (The title is from the Sanskrit word veda, meaning knowledge. Sanskrit is an ancient language thats the precursor of most of the languages spoken in South Asia today.) You could argue that philosophy began with this ancient collection of scriptures, which originated in the area that now covers parts of Pakistan and northwest India at least three thousand years ago; they form the basis of Hinduism. Like Homers epic poems, the Vedas were first transmitted orally, then eventually written down, but because of the fragility of the materials (palm leaves and birch bark!) most of the surviving documents we have are at most a few hundred years old. The Vedas include hymns, historical stories, poems, prayers, chants, ceremonial rituals, and advice for daily life. In my life and in this book, I frequently refer to the Bhagavad Gita (which means Song of God). This is loosely based on the Upanishads, writings from around 800400 BCE. The Bhagavad Gita is considered a kind of universal and timeless life manual. The tale isnt told about a monk or meant for a spiritual context. Its spoken to a married man who happens to be a talented archer. It wasnt intended to apply only to one religion or regionits for all humanity. Eknath Easwaran, spiritual author and professor who has translated many of Indias sacred texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, calls it Indias most important gift to the world. In his 1845 journal, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, I owedmy friend and I oweda magnificent day to the Bhagavat Geeta [sic]. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us. Its said that there have been more commentaries written about the Gita than any other scripture. In this book one of my goals is to help you connect with its timeless wisdom, along other ancient teachings that were the basis of my education as a monkand that have significant relevance to the challenges we all face today. What struck me most when I studied monk philosophy is that in the last three thousand years, humans havent really changed. Sure, were taller and on average we live longer, but I was surprised and impressed to find that 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. Even more impressively, monk wisdom can largely be supported by science, as well see throughout this book. 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. Albert Einstein said, If you cant explain something simply, you dont understand it well enough. When I saw how relevant the lessons I was learning were to the modern world, I wanted to dive deeper into them so that I could share them with other people. Three years after I moved to Mumbai, my teacher, Gauranga Das, told me he believed I would be of greater value and service if I left the ashram and shared what Id learned with the world. My three years as a monk were like a school of life. It was hard to become a monk, and even harder to leave. But applying the wisdom to life outside the ashramthe hardest partfelt like the final exam. Every day I am finding that the monk mindset worksthat ancient wisdom is shockingly relevant today. That is why Im sharing it. These days I still consider myself a monk, though I usually refer to myself as a former monk, since Im married, and monks arent permitted to marry. I live in Los Angeles, which people tell me is one of the world capitals of materialism, facade, fantasy, and overall dodginess. But why live in a place thats already enlightened? Now, in the world and in this book, I share my takeaways from the life Ive lived and what Ive learned. This book is completely nonsectarian. Its not some sneaky conversion strategy. I swear! I can also promise that if you engage with and practice the material I present, you will find real meaning, passion, and purpose in your life. Never before have so many people been so dissatisfiedor so preoccupied with chasing happiness. 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, sexin the end none of these things can satisfy us. Well simply seek more and more, a circuit that leads to frustration, disillusion, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and exhaustion. I like to draw a contrast between the monk mindset and what is often referred to as the monkey mind. Our minds can either elevate us or pull us down. Today we all struggle with overthinking, procrastination, and anxiety as a result of indulging the monkey mind. The monkey mind switches aimlessly from thought to thought, challenge to challenge, without really solving anything. But 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. MONKEY MINDMONK MIND Overwhelmed by multiple branchesFocused on the root of the issue Coasts in the passenger seatLives intentionally and consciously Complains, compares, criticizesCompassionate, caring, collaborative Overthinks and procrastinatesAnalyzes and articulates Distracted by small thingsDisciplined Short-term gratificationLong-term gain Demanding and entitledEnthusiastic, determined, patient Changes on a whimCommits to a mission, vision, or goal Amplifies negatives and fearsWorks on breaking down negatives and fears Self-centered and obsessedSelf-care for service MultitaskingSingle-tasking Controlled by anger, worry, and fearControls and engages energy wisely Does whatever feels goodSeeks self-control and mastery Looks for pleasureLooks for meaning Looks for temporary fixesLooks for genuine solutions Thinking like a monk posits another way of viewing and approaching life. A way of rebellion, detachment, rediscovery, purpose, focus, disciplineand service. The goal of monk thinking is a life free of ego, envy, lust, anxiety, anger, bitterness, baggage. To my mind, adopting the monk mindset isnt just possibleits necessary. We have no other choice. We need to find calm, stillness, and peace. I vividly remember my first day of monk school. I had just shaved my head but I wasnt wearing robes yet, and I still looked like I was from London. I noticed a child monkhe cant have been more than ten years oldteaching a group of five-year-olds. He had a great aura about him, the poise and confidence of an adult. What are you doing? I asked. We just taught their first class ever, he said, then asked me, What did you learn in your first day of school? I started to learn the alphabet and numbers. What did they learn? The first thing we teach them is how to breathe. Why? I asked. Because the only thing that stays with you from the moment youre born until the moment you die is your breath. All your friends, your family, the country you live in, all of that can change. The one thing that stays with you is your breath. This ten-year-old monk added, When you get stressedwhat changes? Your breath. When you get angrywhat changes? Your breath. We experience every emotion with the change of the breath. When you learn to navigate and manage your breath, you can navigate any situation in life. Already I was being taught the most important lesson: to focus on the root of things, not the leaf of the tree or symptoms of the problem. And I was learning, through direct observation, that anybody can be a monk, even if theyre only five or ten years old. When were born, the first thing we must do is breathe. But just as life gets more complicated for that newborn baby, sitting still and breathing can be very challenging. What I hope to do in this book is to show you the monk waywe go to the root of things, go deep into self-examination. It is only through this curiosity, thought, effort, and revelation that we find our way to peace, calm, and purpose. Using the wisdom I was given by my teachers in the ashram, I hope to guide you there. In the pages ahead, I will walk you through three stages of adapting to the monk mindset. First, we will let go, stripping ourselves from the external influences, internal obstacles, and fears that hold us back. You can think of this as a cleansing that will make space for growth. Second, we will grow. I will help you reshape your life so that you can make decisions with intention, purpose, and confidence. Finally, we will give, looking to the world beyond ourselves, expanding and sharing our sense of gratitude, and deepening our relationships. We will share our gifts and love with others and discover the true joy and surprising benefits of service. Along the way, I will introduce you to three very different types of meditation that I recommend including in your practice: breathwork, visualization, and sound. All three have benefits, but the simplest way to differentiate them is to know that you do breathwork for the physical benefitsto find stillness and balance, to calm yourself; visualization for the psychological benefitsto heal the past and prepare for the future; and chanting for the psychic benefitsto connect with your deepest self and the universe, for real purification. You dont have to meditate to benefit from this book, but if you do, the tools I give you will be sharper. I would go so far as to say that this entire book is a meditationa reflection on our beliefs and values and intentions, how we see ourselves, how we make decisions, how to train our minds, and our ways of choosing and interacting with people. Achieving such deep self-awareness is the purpose and reward of meditation. How would a monk think about this? That may not be a question you ask yourself right nowprobably isnt close at allbut it will be by the end of the book. PART ONE LET GO ONE IDENTITY I Am What I Think I Am It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody elses life with perfection. Bhagavad Gita 3.35 In 1902, the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley wrote: I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am. Let that blow your mind for a moment. Our identity is wrapped up in what others think of usor, more accurately, what we think others think of us. 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. If we think someone we admire sees wealth as success, then we chase wealth to impress that person. If we imagine that a friend is judging our looks, we tailor our appearance in response. In West Side Story, Maria meets a boy whos into her. Whats her very next song? I Feel Pretty. As of this writing, the worlds only triple Best Actor Oscar winner, Daniel Day-Lewis, has acted in just six films since 1998. He prepares for each role extensively, immersing himself completely in his character. For the role of Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorseses Gangs of New York, he trained as a butcher, spoke with a thick Irish accent on and off the set, and hired circus performers to teach him how to throw knives. And thats only the beginning. He wore only authentic nineteenth-century clothing and walked around Rome in character, starting arguments and fights with strangers. Perhaps thanks to that clothing, he caught pneumonia. Day-Lewis was employing a technique called method acting, which requires the actor to live as much like his character as possible in order to become the role hes playing. This is an incredible skill and art, but often method actors become so absorbed in their character that the role takes on a life beyond the stage or screen. I will admit that I went mad, totally mad, Day-Lewis said to the Independent years later, admitting the role was not so good for my physical or mental health. Unconsciously, were all method acting to some degree. 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 dont always feel comfortable, they let us maintain relationships with people we dont 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. We try to live up to what we think others think of us, even at the expense of our values. Rarely, if ever, do we consciously, intentionally, create our own values. We make life choices using this twice-reflected image of who we might be, without really thinking it through. Cooley called this phenomenon the Looking-Glass Self. We live in a perception of a perception of ourselves, and weve lost our real selves as a result. How can we recognize who we are and what makes us happy when were chasing the distorted reflection of someone elses dreams? You might think that the hard part about becoming a monk is letting go of the fun stuff: partying, sex, watching TV, owning things, sleeping in an actual bed (okay, the bed part was pretty rough). But before I took that step there was a bigger hurdle I had to overcome: breaking my career choice to my parents. By the time I was wrapping up my final year of college, I had decided what path I wanted to take. I told my parents I would be turning down the job offers that had come my way. I always joke that as far as my parents were concerned, I had three career options: doctor, lawyer, or failure. Theres no better way to tell your parents that everything they did for you was a waste than to become a monk. Like all parents, mine had dreams for me, but at least I had eased them into the idea that I might become a monk: Every year since I was eighteen Id spent part of the summer interning at a finance job in London and part of the year training at the ashram in Mumbai. By the time I made my decision, my mothers first concern was the same as any mothers: my well-being. Would I have health care? Was seeking enlightenment just a fancy way of saying sitting around all day? Even more challenging for my mother was that we were surrounded by friends and family who shared the doctor-lawyer-failure definition of success. Word spread that I was making this radical move, and her friends started saying But youve invested so much in his education and Hes been brainwashed and Hes going to waste his life. My friends too thought I was failing at life. I heard Youre never going to get a job again and Youre throwing away any hope of earning a living. When you try to live your most authentic life, some of your relationships will be put in jeopardy. Losing them is a risk worth bearing; finding a way to keep them in your life is a challenge worth taking on. Luckily, to my developing monk mind, the voices of my parents and their friends were not the most important guidelines I used when making this decision. Instead I relied on my own experience. Every year since I was eighteen I had tested both lives. I didnt come home from my summer finance jobs feeling anything but hungry for dinner. But every time I left the ashram I thought, That was amazing. I just had the best time of my life. Experimenting with these widely diverse experiences, values, and belief systems helped me understand my own. The reactions to my choice to become a monk are examples of the external pressures we all face throughout our lives. Our families, our friends, society, mediawe are surrounded by images and voices telling us who we should be and what we should do. They clamor with opinions and expectations and obligations. Go straight from high school to the best college, find a lucrative job, get married, buy a home, have children, get promoted. Cultural norms exist for a reasonthere is nothing wrong with a society that offers models of what a fulfilling life might look like. But if we take on these goals without reflection, well never understand why we dont own a home or were not happy where we live, why our job feels hollow, whether we even want a spouse or any of the goals were striving for. My decision to join the ashram turned up the volume of opinions and concerns around me, but, conveniently, my experiences in the ashram had also given me the tools I needed to filter out that noise. The cause and the solution were the same. I was less vulnerable to the noises around me, telling me what was normal, safe, practical, best. I didnt shut out the people who loved meI cared about them and didnt want them to worrybut neither did I let their definitions of success and happiness dictate my choices. It wasat the timethe hardest decision Id ever made, and it was the right one. The voices of parents, friends, education, and media all crowd a young persons mind, seeding beliefs and values. Societys definition of a happy life is everybodys and nobodys. The only way to build a meaningful life is to filter out that noise and look within. This is the first step to building your monk mind. We will start this journey the way monks do, by clearing away distractions. First, well look at the external forces that shape us and distract us from our values. Then we will take stock of the values that currently shape our lives and reflect on whether theyre in line with who we want to be and how we want to live. IS THIS DUST OR IS IT ME? Gauranga Das offered me a beautiful metaphor to illustrate the external influences that obscure our true selves. We are in a storeroom, lined with unused books and boxes full of artifacts. Unlike the rest of the ashram, which is always tidy and well swept, this place is dusty and draped in cobwebs. The senior monk leads me up to a mirror and says, What can you see? Through the thick layer of dust, I cant even see my reflection. I say as much, and the monk nods. Then he wipes the arm of his robe across the glass. A cloud of dust puffs into my face, stinging my eyes and filling my throat. He says, Your identity is a mirror covered with dust. When you first look in the mirror, the truth of who you are and what you value is obscured. Clearing it may not be pleasant, but only when that dust is gone can you see your true reflection. This was a practical demonstration of the words of Chaitanya, a sixteenth-century Bengali Hindu saint. Chaitanya called this state of affairs ceto-darpa?a-m?rjanam, or clearance of the impure mirror of the mind. The foundation of virtually all monastic traditions is removing distractions that prevent us from focusing on what matters mostfinding meaning in life by mastering physical and mental desires. Some traditions give up speaking, some give up sex, some give up worldly possessions, and some give up all three. In the ashram, we lived with just what we needed and nothing more. I experienced firsthand the enlightenment of letting go. When we are buried in nonessentials, we lose track of what is truly significant. Im not asking you to give up any of these things, but I want to help you recognize and filter out the noise of external influences. This is how we clear the dust and see if those values truly reflect you. Guiding values are the principles that are most important to us and that we feel should guide us: who we want to be, how we treat ourselves and others. Values tend to be single-word concepts like freedom, equality, compassion, honesty. That might sound rather abstract and idealistic, but values are really practical. Theyre a kind of ethical GPS we can use to navigate through life. 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, were 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. WHERE VALUES COME FROM Our values dont come to us in our sleep. We dont think them through consciously. Rarely do we even put them into words. But they exist nonetheless. Everyone is born into a certain set of circumstances, and our values are defined by what we experience. Were we born into hardship or luxury? Where did we receive praise? Parents and caregivers are often our loudest fans and critics. Though we might rebel in our teenage years, we are generally compelled to please and imitate those authority figures. Looking back, think about how your time with your parents was spent. Playing, enjoying conversation, working on projects together? What did they tell you was most important, and did it match what mattered most to them? Who did they want you to be? What did they want you to accomplish? How did they expect you to behave? Did you absorb these ideals, and have they worked for you? From the start, our educations are another powerful influence. The subjects that are taught. The cultural angle from which they are taught. The way we are expected to learn. A fact-driven curriculum doesnt encourage creativity, a narrow cultural approach doesnt foster tolerance for people from different backgrounds and places, and there are few opportunities to immerse ourselves in our passions, even if we know them from an early age. This is not to say that school doesnt prepare us for lifeand there are many different educational models out there, some of which are less restrictivebut it is worth taking a step back to consider whether the values you carried from school feel right to you. THE MEDIA MIND GAME 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. Whats 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. TRY THIS: WHERE DID YOUR VALUES COME FROM? It can be hard to perceive the effect these casual influences have on us. Values are abstract, elusive, and the world we live in constantly pushes blatant and subliminal suggestions as to what we should want, and how we should live, and how we form our ideas of who we are. 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. Example: VALUEORIGINIS IT TRUE TO ME? KindnessParent? AppearanceMediaNot in the same way WealthParentNo Good gradesSchoolInterfered with real learning KnowledgeSchool? FamilyTraditionFamily: yes, but not traditional 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 outthe 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 didnt 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 wouldnt 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 dont sit down and think about our values. We dont 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, its 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 cant address our thoughts and explore our minds when were 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 youre feeling. Second, once a month you can approximate the change that I found at the ashram by going someplace youve never been before to explore yourself in a different environment. This can be anything from visiting a park or library youve never been to before to taking a trip. Finally, get involved in something thats meaningful to youa hobby, a charity, a political cause. Another way to create space is to take stock of how we are filling the space that we have and whether those choices reflect our true values. AUDIT YOUR LIFE 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 dont match your values, and you need to do some self-examination. Time First, lets assess how you spend the time when youre not sleeping or working. Researchers have found that by the end of our lives, on average, each of us will spend thirty-three years in bed (seven years of which will be spent trying to sleep), a year and four months exercising, and more than three years on vacation. If youre a woman, youll spend 136 days getting ready. If youre a man this number drops to 46 days. These are just estimates of course, but our daily choices add up. TRY THIS: AUDIT YOUR TIME Spend a week tracking how much time you devote to the following: family, friends, health, and self. (Note that were 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. Thats a sign that you need to look very closely at that decision. Youre deciding to spend time on something that doesnt feel important to you. What are the values behind that decision? Are your earnings from your job ultimately serving your values? Media When you did your audit, no doubt a significant amount of your time was spent reading or viewing media. Researchers estimate that, on average, each of us will spend more than eleven years of our lives looking at TV and social media! Perhaps your media choices feel casual, but time reflects values. There are many forms of media, but most of us arent overdoing it on movies, TV, or magazines. Its all about devices. Conveniently, your iPhone will tell you exactly how youre using it. Under Settings, look at the screen time report for the last week and youll see how much time you spend on social media, games, mail, and browsing the Web. If you dont like what you see, you can even set limits for yourself. On Android, you can look at your battery usage under Settings, then, from the menu, choose Show full device usage. Or you can download an app like Social Fever or MyAddictometer. Money 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. What was your biggest investment this month? Which discretionary areas are costing you the most? Does your spending correspond to what matters most to you? We often have an odd perspective on whats worth it that doesnt quite make sense if you look at all your expenditures at once. I was advising someone who complained that the family was overspending on afterschool classes for the kids until she realized that she spent more on her shoes than on their music lessons. 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 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!) Its all in how you see it. When you look at a month of expenses, think about whether discretionary purchases were long- or short-term investmentsa great dinner out or a dance class? Were they for entertainment or enlightenment, for yourself or someone else? If you have a gym membership, but only went once this month and spent more on wine, you have some rethinking to do. CURATE YOUR VALUES 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. According to the Gita, these are the higher values and qualities: 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. (Notice that happiness and success are not among these values. These are not values, they are rewardsthe end gameand we will address them further in Chapter Four.) The six lower values are greed, lust, anger, ego, illusion, and envy. The downside of the lower values is that they so readily take us over when we give them space to do so, but the upside is that there are a lot fewer of them. Or, as my teacher Gauranga Das reminded us, there are always more ways to be pulled up than to be pulled down. We cant pull a set of values out of thin air and make sweeping changes overnight. Instead, we want to let go of the false values that fill the space in our lives. The ashram gave us monks the opportunity to observe nature, and our teachers called our attention to the cycles of all living things. Leaves sprout, transform, and drop. Reptiles, birds, and mammals shed their skins, feathers, fur. Letting go is a big part of the rhythm of nature, as is rebirth. We humans cling to stuffpeople, ideas, material possessions, copies of Marie Kondos bookthinking its unnatural to purge, but letting go is a direct route to space (literally) and stillness. We separate ourselvesemotionally if not physicallyfrom the people and ideas who fill up our lives, and then we take time to observe the natural inclinations that compel us. Choices come along every day, and we can begin to weave values into them. Whenever we make a choice, whether its as big as getting married or as small as an argument with a friend, we are driven by our values, whether they are high or low. If these choices work out well for us, then our values are in alignment with our actions. But when things dont work out, its worth revisiting what drove the decision you made. TRY THIS: PAST VALUES Reflect on the three best and three worst choices youve 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 Try This aboveburied 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 adventure. Now do the same thing for the future. Look at your biggest goals to see if theyre driven by other people, tradition, or media-driven ideas of how we should live. TRY THIS: VALUE-DRIVEN DECISIONS 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. FILTER OEOS, DONT BLOCK THEM Once you filter out the noise of opinions, expectations, and obligations (OEOs), you will see the world through different eyes. The next step is inviting the world back in. When I ask you to strip away outside influences, I dont want you to tune out the whole world indefinitely. Your monk mind can and must learn from other people. The challenge is to do so consciously by asking ourselves simple questions: What qualities do I look for/admire in family, friends, or colleagues? Are they trust, confidence, determination, honesty? Whatever they may be, these qualities are, in fact, our own valuesthe 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. Remember how hard it was for me to start living like a monk during my final year of college? And now, its hard for me to live in London. Surrounded by the people I grew up with and their ways of living, Im tempted to sleep in, gossip, judge others. A new culture helped me redefine myself, and another new culture helped me continue on my path. 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. A twenty-year study of people living in a Massachusetts town showed that both happiness and depression spread within social circles. If a friend who lives within a mile of you becomes happier, then the chance that you are also happy increases by 25 percent. The effect jumps higher with next-door neighbors. Who you surround yourself with helps you stick to your values and achieve your goals. You grow together. If you want to run a 2:45 marathon, you dont train with people who run a 4:45. If you want to be more spiritual, expand your practice with other spiritual people. If you want to grow your business, join a local chamber of commerce or an online group of business owners who are similarly driven toward that kind of success. If youre an overworked parent who wants to make your kids your priority, cultivate relationships with other parents who prioritize their kids, so you can exchange support and advice. Better yet, where possible, cross groups: Foster relationships with family-oriented spiritual entrepreneurs who run marathons. Okay, Im kidding, yet in todays world where we have more ways to connect than ever, platforms like LinkedIn and Meetup and tools like Facebook groups make it easier than ever to find your tribe. If youre looking for love, look in places that are value-driven, like service opportunities, fitness or sports activities, a series of lectures on a topic that interests you. If youre 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 Im getting closer to or further away from who I want to be? The answer could be clear-cut; its obvious if youre spending four hours at a time playing FIFA soccer on PS2 (not that Ive ever done that) versus engaging in meaningful interaction that improves the quality of your life. Or the answer could be more vaguea feeling like irritability or mental fuzziness after you spend time with them. It feels good to be around people who are good for us; it doesnt feel good to be around people who dont support us or bring out our bad habits. TRY THIS: COMPANION AUDIT 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? Who you talk to, what you watch, what you do with your time: all of these sources push values and beliefs. If youre just going from one day to the next without questioning your values, youll be swayed by what everyone elsefrom your family to hordes of marketing professionalswants you to think. I remind myself of the moment in the storeroom all the time. A thought comes into my mind and I ask myself, Does this fit my chosen values or those that others have selected for me? Is this dust or is it me? When you give yourself space and stillness, you can clear the dust and see yourself, not through others eyes, but from within. Identifying your values and letting them guide you will help you filter external influences. In the next chapter these skills will help you filter out unwanted attitudes and emotions. TWO NEGATIVITY The Evil King Goes Hungry It is impossible to build ones own happiness on the unhappiness of others. Daisaku Ikeda It is the summer after my third year of college. I have returned from spending a month at the ashram and am now interning for a finance firm. Im at lunch with a couple of my colleaguesweve grabbed sandwiches and brought them to the concrete courtyard in front of the building, where low walls crisscross the hardscaping and young people in suits eat speedy lunches, defrosting in the summer sun before returning to the hyper-air-conditioned building. I am a monk out of water. Did you hear about Gabe? one of my friends says in a loud whisper. The partners tore apart his presentation. That dude, another friend says, shaking his head. Hes sinking fast. I flash back to a class Gauranga Das taught called Cancers of the Mind: Comparing, Complaining, Criticizing. In the class, we talked about negative thought habits, including gossip. One of the exercises we did was keeping a tally of every criticism we spoke or thought. For each one, we had to write down ten good things about the person. It was hard. We were living together, in close quarters. Issues came up, most of them petty. The average time for a monks shower was four minutes. When there was a line at the showers, we would take bets on who was taking too long. (This was the only betting we did. Because: monks.) And though the snorers were relegated to their own room, sometimes new practitioners emerged, and we rated their snores on a scale of motorcycles: this monks a Vespa; that ones a Harley-Davidson. I went through the exercise, dutifully noting every criticism I let slip. Next to each, I jotted down ten positive qualities. The point of the exercise wasnt hard to figure outevery person was more good than badbut seeing it on the page made the ratio sink in. This helped me see my own weaknesses differently. I tended to focus on my mistakes without balancing them against my strengths. When I found myself being self-critical, I reminded myself that I too had positive qualities. Putting my negative qualities in context helped me recognize the same ratio in myself, that I am more good than bad. We talked about this feedback loop in class: When we criticize others, we cant help but notice the bad in ourselves. But when we look for the good in others, we start to see the best in ourselves too. The guy sitting next to me on the wall nudges me out of my reverie. So you think hell last? Ive lost track of what were talking about. Who? I ask. Gabehe shouldnt have been hired in the first place, right? Oh, I dont know, I say. Once Id spent time in the ashram, I became very sensitive to gossip. Id gotten used to conversations with primarily positive energy. When I first arrived back in the world, I was awkwardly silent. I didnt want to be the morality police, but I also didnt want to participate. As the Buddha advised, Do not give your attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do. I quickly figured out to say things like Oh, Im not sure or I havent heard anything. Then Id shift the conversation to something more positive. Did you hear theyve asked Max to stay on? Im psyched for him. Gossip has value in some situations: It helps society regulate what is acceptable behavior, and we often use it to see if others agree with our judgments about other peoples behavior and therefore our values. But there are kinder ways to negotiate these questions. More often, we use gossip to put others down, which can make us feel superior to them and/or bolster our status in a group. Some of my friends and colleagues stopped trying to gossip with me altogether; we had real conversations instead. Some trusted me more, realizing that since I didnt gossip with them, I wouldnt gossip about them. If there were people who thought I was just plain boring, well, I have nothing bad to say about them. NEGATIVITY IS EVERYWHERE You wake up. Your hair looks terrible. Your partner complains that youre out of coffee. On the way to work some driver whos texting makes you miss the light. The news on the radio is worse than yesterday. Your coworker whispers to you that Candace is pretending to be sick again. Every day we are assaulted by negativity. No wonder we cant help but dish it out as well as receive it. We report the aches and pains of the day rather than the small joys. We compare ourselves to our neighbors, complain about our partners, say things about our friends behind their backs that we would never say to their faces, criticize people on social media, argue, deceive, even explode into anger. This negative chatter even takes place throughout what we might consider to be a good day, and its not part of anyones plan. In my experience, nobody wakes up and thinks, How can I be mean to or about other people today? or How can I make myself feel better by making others feel worse today? Still, negativity often comes from within. We have three core emotional needs, which I like to think of as peace, love, and understanding (thanks Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello). Negativityin conversation, emotions, and actionsoften springs from a threat to one of the three needs: a fear that bad things are going to happen (loss of peace), a fear of not being loved (loss of love), or a fear of being disrespected (loss of understanding). From these fears stem all sorts of other emotionsfeeling overwhelmed, insecure, hurt, competitive, needy, and so on. These negative feelings spring out of us as complaints, comparisons, and criticisms and other negative behaviors. Think of the trolls who dive onto social media, dumping ill will on their targets. Perhaps their fear is that they arent respected, and they turn to trolling to feel significant. Or perhaps their political beliefs are generating the fear that their world is unsafe. (Or maybe theyre just trying to build a followingfear certainly doesnt motivate every troll in the world.) For another example, we all have friends who turn a catch-up phone call into an interminable vent session describing their job, their partner, their familywhats wrong, whats unfair, whats never going to change. For these people, nothing ever seems to go right. This person may be expressing their fear that bad things are going to happentheir core need for peace and security is threatened. Bad things do happen. In our lives, were all victims at some pointwhether were being racially profiled or being cut off in traffic. But if we adopt a victim mentality, were more likely to take on a sense of entitlement and to behave selfishly. Stanford psychologists took 104 subjects and assigned them to one of two groupsone told to write a short essay about a time they were bored, and the other to write about a time when life seemed unfair or when they felt wronged or slighted by someone. Afterward, the participants were asked if they wanted to help the researchers with an easy task. Those whod written about a time theyd been wronged were 26 percent less likely to help the researchers. In a similar study, participants who identified with a victim mindset were not only more likely to express selfish attitudes afterward, they were also more likely to leave behind trash and even take the experimenters pens! NEGATIVITY IS CONTAGIOUS Were social creatures who get most of what we want in lifepeace, love, and understandingfrom the group we gather around us. Our brains adjust automatically to both harmony and disagreement. Weve already talked about how we unconsciously try to please others. Well, we also want to agree with others. Research has proven that most humans value social conformity so much that theyll change their own responseseven their perceptionsto align with the group, even when the group is blatantly wrong. In the 1950s Solomon Asch gathered groups of college students and told them they were doing a vision test. The catch was that in each group, everyone was an actor except one person: the subject of the test. Asch showed participants an image of a target line first, then of a series of three lines: one shorter, one longer, and one that was clearly the same length as the target line. The students were asked which line matched the length of the target line. Sometimes the actors gave correct answers, and sometimes they purposefully gave incorrect answers. In each case, the real study participant answered last. The correct answer should have been obvious. But, influenced by the actors, about 75 percent of the subjects followed the crowd to give an incorrect response at least once. This phenomenon has been called groupthink bias. Were wired to conform. Your brain would rather not deal with conflict and debate. It would much prefer to lounge in the comfort of like-mindedness. Thats not a bad thing if were surrounded by, say, monks. But if were surrounded by gossip, conflict, and negativity, we start to see the world in those terms, just like the people who went against their own eyes in Aschs line experiment. The instinct for agreement has a huge impact on our lives. It is one of the reasons why, in a culture of complaint, we join the fray. 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. At the Bhaktivedanta Manor, the temples London outpost, there was one monk who drove me crazy. If I asked him how he was in the morning, hed tell me about how badly hed slept and whose fault it was. He complained that the food was bad, and yet there was never enough. It was relentless verbal diarrhea, so negative that I never wanted to be around him. Then I found myself complaining about him to the other monks. And so I became exactly what I was criticizing. Complaining is contagious, and hed passed it on to me. 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 hippocampusthats 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). Im not blaming every illness on negativity, but if remaining positive can prevent even one of my winter colds, Im all for it. TYPES OF NEGATIVE PEOPLE Negative behaviors surround us so constantly that we grow accustomed to them. Think about whether you have any of the following in your life: Complainers, like the friend on the phone, who complain endlessly without looking for solutions. Life is a problem that will be hard if not impossible to solve. Cancellers, who take a compliment and spin it: You look good today becomes You mean I looked bad yesterday? Casualties, who think the world is against them and blame their problems on others. Critics, who judge others for either having a different opinion or not having one, for any choices theyve made that are different from what the critic would have done. Commanders, who realize their own limits but pressure others to succeed. Theyll say, You never have time for me, even though theyre busy as well. Competitors, who compare themselves to others, controlling and manipulating to make themselves or their choices look better. They are in so much pain that they want to bring others down. Often we have to play down our successes around these people because we know they cant appreciate them. Controllers, who monitor and try to direct how their friends or partners spend time, and with whom, and what choices they make. You can have fun with this list, seeing if you can think of someone to fit each type. But the real point of it is to help you notice and frame these behaviors when they come at you. If you put everyone into the same box of negativity (Theyre so annoying!), you arent any closer to deciding how to manage each relationship. On the day I moved to the ashram with six other new monks traveling from England, they told us to think of our new home as a hospital, where we were all patients. Becoming a monk, detaching from material life, was not seen as an achievement in and of itself. It simply meant that we were ready to be admitted to a place of healing where we could work to overcome the illnesses of the soul that infected us and weakened us. In a hospital, as we all know, even the doctors get sick. Nobody is immune. The senior monks reminded us that everyone had different sicknesses, everyone was still learning, and that, just as we would not judge anyone elses health problems, we shouldnt judge someone who sinned differently. Gauranga Das repeated this advice in brief metaphorical form that we often used to remind ourselves not to harbor negative thoughts toward others: Dont judge someone with a different disease. Dont expect anyone to be perfect. Dont think you are perfect. Instead of judging negative behavior, we try to neutralize the charge, or even reverse it to positive. Once you recognize a complainer isnt looking for solutions, you realize you dont have to provide them. If a commander says, Youre too busy for me, you can say, Should we find a time that works for both of us? REVERSE EXTERNAL NEGATIVITY The categories above help us step away from the negative person in order to make clearheaded decisions about our role in the situation. The monk way is to dig to the root, diagnose, and clarify a situation so you can explain it simply to yourself. Lets use this approach to define strategies for dealing with negative people. Become an Objective Observer Monks lead with awareness. We approach negativityany type of conflict, reallyby taking a step back to remove ourselves from the emotional charge of the moment. Catholic monk Father Thomas Keating said, There is no commandment that says we have to be upset by the way other people treat us. The reason we are upset is because we have an emotional program that says, If someone is nasty to me, I cannot be happy or feel good about myself. Instead of reacting compulsively and retaliating, we could enjoy our freedom as human beings and refuse to be upset. We step away, not literally but emotionally, and look at the situation as if we are not in the middle of it. We will talk more about this distance, which is called detachment, in the next chapter. For now, Ill say that it helps us find understanding without judgment. Negativity is a trait, not someones identity. A persons true nature can be obscured by clouds, but, like the sun, it is always there. And clouds can overcome any of us. We have to understand this when we deal with people who exude negative energy. Just like we wouldnt want someone to judge us by our worst moments, we must be careful not to do that to others. When someone hurts you, its because theyre hurt. Their hurt is simply spilling over. They need help. And as the Dalai Lama says, If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them. Back Slowly Away From a position of understanding, we are better equipped to address negative energy. The simplest response is to back slowly away. Just as in the last chapter we let go of the influences that interfered with our values, we want to cleanse ourselves of the negative attitudes that cloud our outlook. In The Heart of the Buddhas Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who has been called the Father of Mindfulness, writes, Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anythinganger, anxiety, or possessionswe cannot be free. I encourage you to purge or avoid physical triggers of negative thoughts and feelings, like that sweatshirt your ex gave you or the coffee shop where you always run into a former friend. If you dont let go physically, you wont let go emotionally. But when a family member, a friend, or a colleague is involved, distancing ourselves is often not an option or not the first response we want to give. We need to use other strategies. The 25/75 Principle For every negative person in your life, have three uplifting people. I try to surround myself with people who are better than I am in some way: happier, more spiritual. In life, as in sports, being around better players pushes you to grow. I dont mean for you to take this so literally that you label each of your friends either negative or uplifting, but 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. Dont just spend time with the people you lovegrow with them. Take a class, read a book, do a workshop. Sangha is the Sanskrit word for community, and it suggests a refuge where people serve and inspire each other. Allocate Time Another way to reduce negativity if you cant remove it is to regulate how much time you allow a person to occupy based on their energy. Some challenges we face only because we allow them to challenge us. There might be some people you can only tolerate for an hour a month, some for a day, some for a week. Maybe you even know a one-minute person. Consider how much time is best for you to spend with them, and dont exceed it. Dont Be a Savior If all someone needs is an ear, you can listen without exerting much energy. If we try to be problem-solvers, then we become frustrated when people dont take our brilliant advice. The desire to save others is ego-driven. Dont let your own needs shape your response. In Sayings of the Fathers, a compilation of teachings and maxims from Jewish Rabbinic tradition, it is advised, Dont count the teeth in someone elses mouth. Similarly, dont attempt to fix a problem unless you have the necessary skills. Think of your friend as a person who is drowning. If you are an excellent swimmer, a trained lifeguard, then you have the strength and wherewithal to help a swimmer in trouble. Similarly, if you have the time and mind space to help another person, go for it. But if youre only a fair swimmer and you try to save a drowning person, they are likely to pull you down with them. Instead, you call for the lifeguard. Similarly, if you dont have the energy and experience to help a friend, you can introduce them to people or ideas that might help them. Maybe someone else is their rescuer. REVERSE INTERNAL NEGATIVITY Working from the outside in is the natural way of decluttering. Once we recognize and begin to neutralize the external negativities, we become better able to see our own negative tendencies and begin to reverse them. Sometimes we deny responsibility for the negativity that we ourselves put out in the world, but negativity doesnt always come from other people and it isnt always spoken aloud. Envy, complaint, angerits easier to blame those around us for a culture of negativity, but purifying our own thoughts will protect us from the influence of others. In the ashram our aspirations for purity were so high that our competition came in the form of renunciation (I eat less than that monk; I meditated longer than everyone else). But a monk has to laugh at himself if the last thought he has at the end of the meditation is Look at me! I outlasted them all! If thats where he arrived, then what was the point of the meditation? In The Monastic Way, a compilation of quotes edited by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, Sister Christine Vladimiroff says, [In a monastery], the only competition allowed is to outstrip each other in showing love and respect. Competition breeds envy. In the Mahabharata, an evil warrior envies another warrior and wants him to lose all he has. The evil warrior hides a burning block of coal in his robes, planning to hurl it at the object of his envy. Instead, it catches fire and the evil warrior himself is burned. His envy makes him his own enemy. Envys catty cousin is Schadenfreude, which means taking pleasure in the suffering of others. When we derive joy from other peoples failures, were building our houses and pride on the rocky foundations of someone elses imperfection or bad luck. That is not steady ground. In fact, when we find ourselves judging others, we should take note. Its a signal that our minds are tricking us into thinking were moving forward when in truth were stuck. If I sold more apples than you did yesterday, but you sold more today, this says nothing about whether Im improving as an apple seller. The more we define ourselves in relation to the people around us, the more lost we are. We may never completely purge ourselves of envy, jealousy, greed, lust, anger, pride, and illusion, but that doesnt mean we should ever stop trying. In Sanskrit, the word anartha generally means things not wanted, and to practice anartha-nivritti is to remove that which is unwanted. We think freedom means being able to say whatever we want. We think freedom means that we can pursue all our desires. Real freedom is letting go of things not wanted, the unchecked desires that lead us to unwanted ends. Letting go doesnt mean wiping away negative thoughts, feelings, and ideas completely. The truth is that these thoughts will always ariseit is what we do with them that makes the difference. The neighbors barking dog is an annoyance. It will always interrupt you. The question is how you guide that response. The key to real freedom is self-awareness. In your evaluation of your own negativity, keep in mind that even small actions have consequences. Even when we become more aware of others negativity and say, Shes always complaining, we ourselves are being negative. At the ashram, we slept under mosquito nets. Every night, wed close our nets and use flashlights to confirm that they were clear of bugs. One morning, I woke up to discover that a single mosquito had been in my net and I had at least ten bites. I thought of something the 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. Spot, Stop, Swap Most of us dont register our negative thoughts, much as I didnt register that sole mosquito. To purify our thoughts, monks talk about the process of awareness, addressing, and amending. I like to remember this as spot, stop, swap. First, we become aware of a feeling or issuewe spot it. Then we pause to address what the feeling is and where it comes fromwe stop to consider it. And last, we amend our behaviorwe swap in a new way of processing the moment. SPOT, STOP, SWAP. Spot Becoming aware of negativity means learning to spot the toxic impulses around you. To help us confront our own negativity, our monk teachers told us to try not to complain, compare, or criticize for a week, and keep a tally of how many times we failed. The goal was to see the daily tally decrease. The more aware we became of these tendencies, the more we might free ourselves from them. Listing your negative thoughts and comments will help you contemplate their origins. Are you judging a friends appearance, and are you equally hard on your own? Are you muttering about work without considering your own contribution? Are you reporting on a friends illness to call attention to your own compassion, or are you hoping to solicit more support for that friend? 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. Sometimes instead of reacting negatively to what is, we negatively anticipate what might be. This is suspicion. Theres a parable about an evil king who went to meet a good king. When invited to stay for dinner, the evil king asked for his plate to be switched with the good kings plate. When the good king asked why, the evil king replied, You may have poisoned this food. The good king laughed. That made the evil king even more nervous, and he switched the plates again, thinking maybe he was being double-bluffed. The good king just shook his head and took a bite of the food in front of him. The evil king didnt eat that night. What we judge or envy or suspect in someone else can guide us to the darkness we have within ourselves. The evil king projects his own dishonor onto the good king. In the same way our envy or impatience or suspicion with someone else tells us something about ourselves. Negative projections and suspicions reflect our own insecurities and get in our way. If you decide your boss is against you, it can affect you emotionallyyou might be so discouraged that you dont perform well at workor practicallyyou wont ask for the raise you deserve. Either way, like the evil king, youre the one who will go hungry! Stop When you better understand the roots of your negativity, the next step is to address it. Silence your negativity to make room for thoughts and actions that add to your life instead of taking away from it. Start with your breath. When were stressed, we hold our breath or clench our jaws. We slump in defeat or tense our shoulders. Throughout the day, observe your physical presence. Is your jaw tight? Is your brow furrowed? These are signs that we need to remember to breathe, to loosen up physically and emotionally. 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 dont 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 good-will. 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. When we limit our negative speech, we may find that we have a lot less to say. We might even feel inhibited. Nobody loves an awkward silence, but its worth it to free ourselves from negativity. Criticizing someone elses work ethic doesnt make you work harder. Comparing your marriage to someone elses doesnt make your marriage better unless you do so thoughtfully and productively. Judgment creates an illusion: that if you see well enough to judge, then you must be better, that if someone else is failing, then you must be moving forward. In fact, it is careful, thoughtful observations that move us forward. Stopping doesnt mean simply shunning the negative instinct. Get closer to it. Australian community worker Neil Barringham said, The grass is greener where you water it. Notice whats arousing your negativity, over there on your frenemys side of the fence. Do they seem to have more time, a better job, a more active social life? Because in the third step, swapping, youll want to look for seeds of the same on your turf and cultivate them. For example, take your envy of someone elses social whirlwind and in it find the inspiration to host a party, or get back in touch with old friends, or organize an after-work get-together. It is important to find our significance not from thinking other people have it better but from being the person we want to be. Swap After spotting and stopping the negativity in your heart, mind, and speech, you can begin to amend it. Most of us monks were unable to completely avoid complaining, comparing, and criticizingand you cant expect youll be completely cured of that habit eitherbut researchers have found that happy people tend to complain wait for it mindfully. While thoughtlessly venting complaints makes your day worse, its 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. We can be mindful of our negativity by being specific. When someone asks how we are, we usually answer, good, okay, fine, or bad. Sometimes this is because we know a truthful, detailed answer is not expected or wanted, but we tend to be equally vague when we complain. We might say were angry or sad when were offended or disappointed. Instead, we can better manage our feelings by choosing our words carefully. Instead of describing ourselves as feeling angry, sad, anxious, hurt, embarrassed, and happy, the Harvard Business Review lists nine more specific words that we could use for each one of these emotions. Instead of being angry, we might better describe ourselves as annoyed, defensive, or spiteful. Monks are considered quiet because they are trained to choose their words so carefully that it takes some time. We choose words carefully and use them with purpose. So much is lost in bad communication. For example, instead of complaining to a friend, who cant do anything about it, that your partner always comes home late, communicate directly and mindfully with your partner. You might say, I appreciate that you work hard and have a lot to balance. When you come home later than you promised, it drives me crazy. You could support me by texting me as soon as you know youre running late. When our complaints are understoodby ourselves and othersthey can be more productive. In addition to making our negativity more productive, we can also deliberately swap in positivity. One way to do this, as I mentioned, is to use our negativitylike envyto guide us to what we want. But we can also swap in new feelings. In English, we have the words empathy and compassion to express our ability to feel the pain that others suffer, but we dont have a word for experiencing vicarious joyjoy on behalf of other people. Perhaps this is a sign that we all need to work on it. Mudita is the principle of taking sympathetic or unselfish joy in the good fortune of others. If I only find joy in my own successes, Im limiting my joy. But if I can take pleasure in the successes of my friends and familyten, twenty, fifty people!I get to experience fifty times the happiness and joy. Who doesnt want that? The material world has convinced us that there are only a limited number of colleges worth attending, a limited number of good jobs available, a limited number of people who get lucky. In such a finite world, theres only so much success and happiness to go around, and 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 dont 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. Radhanath Swami is my spiritual teacher and the author of several books, including The Journey Home. I asked him how to stay peaceful and be a positive force in a world where there is so much negativity. He said, There is toxicity everywhere around us. In the environment, in the political atmosphere, but the origin is in peoples hearts. Unless we clean the ecology of our own heart and inspire others to do the same, we will be an instrument of polluting the environment. But if we create purity in our own heart, then we can contribute great purity to the world around us. TRY THIS: REVERSE ENVY Make a list of five people you care about, but also feel competitive with. Come up with at least one reason that youre envious of each one: something theyve achieved, something theyre better at, something thats 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. K?AM?: AMENDING ANGER Weve talked about strategies to manage and minimize the daily negativity in your life. But nuisances like complaining, comparing, and gossip can feel manageable next to bigger negative emotions like pain and anger. We all harbor anger in some form: anger from the past, or anger at people who continue to play a big role in our lives. Anger at misfortune. Anger at the living and the dead. Anger turned inward. When we are deeply wounded, anger is often part of the response. Anger is a great, flaming ball of negative emotion, and when we cannot let it go, no matter how we try, the anger takes on a life of its own. The toll is enormous. I want to talk specifically about how to deal with anger we feel toward other people. K?am? is Sanskrit for forgiveness. It suggests that you bring patience and forbearance to your dealings with others. Sometimes we have been wounded so deeply that we cant imagine how we might forgive the person who hurt us. But, contrary to what most of us believe, forgiveness is primarily an action we take within ourselves. Sometimes its better (and safer and healthier) not to have direct contact with the person at all; other times, the person who hurt us is no longer around to be forgiven directly. But those factors dont impede forgiveness because it is, first and foremost, internal. It frees you from anger. One of my clients told me, I had to reach back to my childhood to pinpoint why I felt unloved and unworthy. My paternal grandmother set the tone for this feeling. I realized she treated me differently because she didnt like my mother. [I had to] forgive her even though she passed on already. I realized I was always worthy and always lovable. She was broken, not I. The Bhagavad Gita describes three gunas, or modes of life: tamas, rajas, and sattva, which represent ignorance, impulsivity, and goodness. I have found that these three modes can be applied to any activityfor example, when you pull back from a conflict and look for understanding, its very useful to try to shift from rajasimpulsivity and passionto sattvagoodness, positivity, and peace. These modes are the foundation of my approach to forgiveness. TRANSFORMATIONAL FORGIVENESS Before we find our way to forgiveness, we are stuck in anger. We may even want revenge, to return the pain that a person has inflicted on us. An eye for an eye. Revenge is the mode of ignoranceits often said that you cant fix yourself by breaking someone else. Monks dont hinge their choices and feelings on others behaviors. You believe revenge will make you feel better because of how the other person will react. But when you make your vindictive play and the person doesnt have the response you fantasized aboutguess what? You only feel more pain. Revenge backfires. When you rise above revenge, you can begin the process of forgiveness. People tend to think in binary terms: You either forgive someone, or you dont forgive someone, but (as I will suggest more than once in this book) there are often multiple levels. These levels give us leeway to be where we are, to progress in our own time, and to climb only as far as we can. On the scale of forgiveness, the bottom (though it is higher than revenge) is zero forgiveness. I am not going to forgive that person, no matter what. I dont want to hurt them, but Im never going to forgive them. On this step we are still stuck in anger, and there is no resolution. As you might imagine, this is an uncomfortable place to stay. The next step is conditional forgiveness: If they apologize, then Ill apologize. If they promise never to do it again, Ill forgive them. This transactional forgiveness comes from the mode of impulsedriven by the need to feed your own emotions. Research at Luther College shows that forgiving appears to be easier when we get (or give) an apology, but I dont want us to focus on conditional forgiveness. I want you to rise higher. The next step is something called transformational forgiveness. This is forgiveness in the mode of goodness. In transformational forgiveness, we find the strength and calmness to forgive without expecting an apology or anything else in return. There is one level higher on the forgiveness ladder: unconditional forgiveness. This is the level of forgiveness that a parent often has for a child. No matter what that child does or will do, the parent has already forgiven them. The good news is, Im not suggesting you aim for that. What I want you to achieve is transformational forgiveness. PEACE OF MIND Forgiveness has been shown to bring peace to our minds. Forgiveness actually conserves energy. Transformational forgiveness is linked to a slew of health improvements including: fewer medications taken, better sleep quality, and reduced somatic symptoms including back pain, headache, nausea, and fatigue. Forgiveness eases stress, because we no longer recycle the angry thoughts, both conscious and subconscious, that stressed us out in the first place. In fact, science shows that in close relationships, theres less emotional tension between partners when theyre able to forgive each other, and that promotes physical well-being. In a study published in a 2011 edition of the journal Personal Relationships, sixty-eight married couples agreed to have an eight-minute talk about a recent incident where one spouse broke the rules of the marriage. The couples then separately watched replays of the interviews and researchers measured their blood pressure. In couples where the victim was able to forgive their spouse, both partners blood pressure decreased. It just goes to show that forgiveness is good for everyone. 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. Were no longer holding grudges. Theres less drama to deal with. 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 persons shoes. Acknowledge their pain and understand that it is why they are causing you pain. Then, write a letter of forgiveness. 1.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. Were 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 dont have to feel forgiveness. Yet. When you write it down, what youre doing is beginning to understand the pain more specifically so that you can slowly let it go. 2.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 cant 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. 3.When you are done with this letter, record yourself reading it. (Most phones can do this.) Play it back, putting yourself in the position of the objective observer. Remember that the pain inflicted on you isnt yours. Its the other persons pain. When you squeeze an orange, you get orange juice. When you squeeze someone full of pain, pain comes out. Instead of absorbing it or giving it back, if you forgive, you help diffuse the pain. FORGIVENESS IS A TWO-WAY STREET Forgiveness has to flow in both directions. None of us is perfect, and though there will be situations where you are blameless, there are also times when there are missteps on both sides of a conflict. When you cause pain and others cause you pain, its as if your hearts get twisted together into an uncomfortable knot. When we forgive, we start to separate our pain from theirs and to heal ourselves emotionally. But when we ask for forgiveness at the same time, we untwist together. This is a bit trickier, because were much more comfortable finding fault in other people and then forgiving it. Were not used to admitting fault and taking responsibility for what we create in our lives. FORGIVING OURSELVES Sometimes, when we feel shame or guilt for what weve done in the past, its because those actions no longer reflect our values. Now, when we look at our former selves, we dont relate to their decisions. This is actually good newsthe reason were hurting over our past is because weve made progress. We did the best we could then, but we can do better now. What could be better than moving forward? Were already winning. Were already crushing it. 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. When we wrap our heads around the fact that we cant undo the past, we begin to accept our own imperfections and mistakes, forgive ourselves, and, in doing so, open ourselves up to the emotional healing we all yearn for. ELEVATE The pinnacle of forgiveness, true sattva, is to wish the person who caused you pain well. I became a Buddhist because I hated my husband. Thats not something you hear every day, but Buddhist nun and author of When Things Fall Apart Pema Ch?dr?n is only kind of kidding. After her divorce, she went into a negativity spiral where she entertained revenge fantasies because of her husbands affair. Eventually, she came across the writings of Ch?gyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a meditation master who founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. In reading his work, she realized that the relationship had become like a malignant cellinstead of dying off, her anger and blame were causing the negativity of the breakup to spread. Once Ch?dr?n allowed herself to become more like a river than a rock, she was able to forgive her husband and move forward. She now refers to her ex-husband as one of her greatest teachers. If you want the negativity between yourself and another person to dissipate, you have to hope that you both heal. You dont have to tell them directly, but send the energy of well-wishing out into the air. This is when you feel most free and at peacebecause youre truly able to let go. Negativity is a natural part of life. We tease and provoke, express vulnerability, connect over shared values and fears. Its hard to find a comedy show that isnt based on negative observations. But there is a line between negativity that helps us navigate life and negativity that puts more pain out into the world. You might talk about the problems someones child is having with addiction because you are scared that it will happen to your family and hoping to avoid it. But you also might gossip about the same issue to judge the family and feel better about your own. Ellen DeGeneres sees the line clearlyin an interview with Parade magazine she said that she doesnt think its funny to make fun of people. The world is filled with negativity. I want people to watch me and think, I feel good, and Im going to make somebody else feel good today. This is the spirit in which monks have funwe are playful and laugh easily. When new monks arrived, they often took themselves too seriously (I know I did), and the senior monks would have a twinkle in their eyes when they said, Steady now, dont waste all your energy on your first day. Whenever the priest brought out the most special sacred foodwhich was sweeter and tastier than the simple food we ordinarily atethe younger monks would joke-wrestle to get to it first. And if someone fell asleep and snored during meditation, we would all glance at one another, not even trying to hide our distraction. We neednt reduce our thoughts and words to 100 percent sunshine and positivity. But we should challenge ourselves to dig to the root of negativity, to understand its origins in ourselves and those around us, and to be mindful and deliberate in how we manage the energy it absorbs. We begin to let go through recognition and forgiveness. We spot, stop, and swapobserve, reflect, and develop new behaviors to replace the negativity in our lives, always striving toward self-discipline and bliss. When you stop feeling so curious about others misfortunes and instead take pleasure in their successes, youre healing. The less time you fixate on everyone else, the more time you have to focus on yourself. Negativity, as weve discussed, often arises from fear. Next, we will explore fear itself, how it gets in our way, and how we can make it a productive part of life. THREE FEAR Welcome to Hotel Earth Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life. Buddha The epic battle of Mahabharata is about to begin. The air is thick with anticipation: Thousands of warriors finger the hilts of their swords as their horses snort and paw at the ground. But our hero, Arjuna, is terrified. He has family and friends on either side of this battle, and many of them are about to die. Arjuna, among the fiercest fighters of the land, drops his bow. The Bhagavad Gita opens on a battlefield with a warriors terror. Arjuna is the most talented archer in the land, yet fear has caused him to totally lose connection with his abilities. The same thing happens to each of us. We have so much to offer the world, but fear and anxiety disconnect us from our abilities. This is because growing up we were taught, directly or indirectly, that fear is negative. Dont be scared, our parents told us. Scaredy-cat, our friends teased. Fear was an embarrassing, humiliating reaction to be ignored or hidden. But fear has a flip side, which Tom Hanks alluded to in his commencement address at Yale University. Fear, he told the graduates, will get the worst of the best of us. The truth is, well never live entirely without fear and anxiety. Well never be able to fix our economic, social, and political climates to entirely eliminate conflict and uncertainty, not to mention our everyday interpersonal challenges. And thats okay, because fear isnt bad; its simply a warning flagyour mind saying This doesnt look good! Something might go wrong! Its what we do with that signal that matters. We can use our fear of the effects of climate change to motivate us to develop solutions, or we can allow it to make us feel overwhelmed and hopeless and do nothing as a result. Sometimes fear is a critical warning to help us survive true danger, but most of the time what we feel is anxiety related to everyday concerns about money, jobs, and relationships. We allow anxietyeveryday fearto 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. I am sitting cross-legged on the floor of a cold basement room in the monastery with twenty or so other monks. Ive been at the ashram for only a couple months.Gauranga Das has just discussed the scene in the Gita when Arjuna, the hero, is overcome by fear. It turns out that Arjunas fear makes him pause instead of charging directly into battle. Hes devastated that so many people he loves will die that day. The fear and anguish lead him to question his actions for the first time. Doing so provokes him into a long conversation about human morals, spirituality, and how life works according to Krishna, who is his charioteer. When Gauranga Das concludes his lecture, he asks us to close our eyes, then directs us to relive a fear from our past: not just imagine it but feel it in our bodiesall the sights, sounds, and smells of that experience. He tells us that its important that we not choose something minor, such as a first day at school or learning to swim (unless those experiences were truly terrifying), but something significant. He wants us to uncover, accept, and create a new relationship with our deepest fears. We start joking aroundsomeone makes fun of my overreaction to a snakeskin I came across on one of our walks. Gauranga Das acknowledges our antics with a knowing nod. If you want to do this activity properly, he says, you have to push beyond the part of your mind thats making fun of it. Thats a defense mechanism keeping you from really dealing with the issue, and thats what we do with fear. We distract ourselves from it, Gauranga Das says. You need to go past that place. The laughter fades, and I can almost feel everyones spine straighten along with my own. I close my eyes and my mind quiets down, but I still dont expect much. Im not scared of anything. Not really, I think. Then, as I drop further and further into meditation, past the noise and chatter of my brain, I ask myself, What am I really scared of? Flickers of truth begin to appear. I see my fear of exams as a kid. I knowthat probably sounds trivial. No one likes exams, right? But exams were some of my greatest anxieties growing up. Sitting in meditation, I allow myself to explore what was behind that fear. What am I really scared of? I ask myself again. Gradually, I recognize that my fear focused on what my parents and my friends would think of my scores, and of me as a result. About what my extended family would say, and how Id be compared to my cousins and pretty much everyone else around me. I dont just see this fear in my minds eye, I feel it in my bodythe tightness in my chest, the tension in my jaw, as if I am right back there. What am I really scared of? Then I start to delve into fear around the times when Id gotten in trouble at school. I was so worried that I would be suspended or expelled. How would my parents react? What would my teachers think? I invite myself to go even deeper. What am I really scared of? I see this fear around my parentsof them not getting along and of me, at a young age, trying to mediate their marriage. Of thinking, How can I please both of them? How can I manage them and make sure theyre happy? Thats when I find the root of my fear. What am I really scared of? I am afraid that I cant make my parents happy. As soon as I hit that revelation, I know Ive reached the true fear beneath all of the other fears. It is a full-body aha moment, like I sank deeper and deeper under water, pressure mounting against my chest, increasingly desperate to breathe, and when that realization hit me, my head popped up, and I gasped for air. Half an hour earlier Id been so sure I wasnt scared of anything, and suddenly I was uncovering my deepest fears and anxieties, which Id managed to hide completely from myself for years. By gently, but consistently, asking myself what I was scared of, I refused to let my mind dodge the question. Our brains are really good at keeping us from entering uncomfortable spaces. But by repeating a question rather than rephrasing it, we essentially corner our brain. Now, its not about being aggressive with ourselvesthis isnt an interrogation, its an interview. You want to ask yourself the question with sincerity, not force. Being scared of exam results was what I call a branch. As you develop your relationship with your fear, youll have to distinguish between branchesthe immediate fears that come up during your self-interviewand the root. Tracking my fear of exam results and the other branch fears that appeared led me to the root: fearing I couldnt make my parents happy. THE FEAR OF FEAR During my three years as a monk, I learned to let go of my fear of fear. Fear of punishment, humiliation, or failureand their accompanying negative attitudesno longer propel my misguided attempts at self-protection. I can recognize the opportunities that fear signals. Fear can help us identify and address patterns of thinking and behavior that dont serve us. We let our fear drive us, but fear itself is not our real problem. Our real problem is that we fear the wrong things: What we should really fear is that we will miss the opportunities that fear offers. Gavin de Becker, one of the worlds leading security experts, in The Gift of Fear calls it a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations. Often, we notice fears warning but ignore its guidance. 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. A few decades ago, scientists conducted an experiment in the Arizona desert where they built Biosphere 2a huge steel-and-glass enclosure with air that had been purified, clean water, nutrient-rich soil, and lots of natural light. It was meant to provide ideal living conditions for the flora and fauna within. And while it was successful in some ways, in one it was an absolute failure. Over and over, when trees inside the Biosphere grew to a certain height, they would simply fall over. At first, the phenomenon confused scientists. Finally, they realized that the Biosphere lacked a key element necessary to the trees health: wind. In a natural environment, trees are buffeted by wind. They respond to that pressure and agitation by growing stronger bark and deeper roots to increase their stability. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to stay in the comfortable bubble of our self-made Biospheres. We fear the stresses and challenges of change, but those stresses and challenges are the wind that makes us stronger. In 2017, Alex Honnold stunned the world when he became the first person ever to climb Freeridera nearly three-thousand-foot ascent up Yosemite National Parks legendary El Capitanentirely without ropes. Honnolds unbelievable accomplishment was the subject of the award-winning documentary Free Solo. In the film Honnold is asked about how he deals with knowing that when he free climbs, the options are perfection or death. People talk about trying to suppress your fear, he responded. I try to look at it a different wayI try to expand my comfort zone by practicing the moves over and over again. I work through the fear until its just not scary anymore. Honnolds fear prompts him to put in extensive amounts of focused work before he attempts a monumental free solo. Making his fear productive is a critical component of his training, and its propelled Honnold to the top of his climbing game and to the top of mountains. If we can stop viewing stress and the fear that often accompanies it as negative and instead see the potential benefits, were on our way to changing our relationship with fear. THE STRESS RESPONSE The first thing we need to realize about stress is that it doesnt do a good job of classifying problems. Recently I had the chance to test a virtual reality device. In the virtual world, I was climbing a mountain. As I stepped out on a ledge, I felt as scared as if I were actually eight thousand feet in the air. When your brain shouts Fear! your body cant differentiate between whether the threat is real or imaginedwhether your survival is in jeopardy, or youre thinking about your taxes. As soon as that fear signal goes off, our bodies prepare us to fight or flee, or sometimes to freeze. If we launch into this high-alert fear state too often, all of those stress hormones start to send us downhill, affecting our immune systems, our sleep, and our ability to heal. Yet studies show that being able to successfully deal with intermittent stressorssuch as managing that big work project or moving to a new houseto approach them head-on, like those trees standing up to the wind, contributes to better health, along with greater feelings of accomplishment and well-being. When you deal with fear and hardship, you realize that youre 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 whats actually worth being afraid of and whats not. 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. In order to change our relationship with fear, we have to change our perception of it. Once we can see the value that fear offers, we can change how we respond. An essential step in this reprogramming is learning to recognize our reaction pattern to fear. WORK WITH FEAR Ive mentioned that monks begin the growth process with awareness. Just as we do when facing negativity, we want to externalize our fear and take a step back from it, becoming objective observers. The process of learning to work with fear isnt just about doing a few exercises that solve everything, its about changing your attitude toward fear, understanding that it has something to offer, then committing to doing the work of identifying and trying to shift out of your pattern of distraction every time it appears. Each of the four distractions from fearpanicking, freezing, running away, and buryingis a different version of a single action, or rather, a single inaction: refusing to accept our fear. So the first step in transforming our fear from a negative to a positive is doing just that. ACCEPT YOUR FEAR To close the gap with our fear, we must acknowledge its presence. As my teacher told us, Youve got to recognize your pain. We were still seated, and he told us to take a deep breath and silently say, I see you, to our pain. That was our first acknowledgment of our relationship with fear, to breathe in and repeat, I see you, my pain. I see you, my fear, and as we breathed out, we said, I see you and Im here with you. I see you and I am here for you. Pain makes us pay attention. Or it should. When we say I see you, we are giving it the attention it is asking for. Just like a crying baby needs to be heard and held. Breathing steadily while we acknowledged our fear helped us calm our mental and physical responses in its presence. Walk toward your fear. Become familiar with it. In this way we bring ourselves into full presence with fear. When you wake up to that smoke alarm going off, you would acknowledge what is happening in the moment, and then you would get out of the house. Later, in a calmer state, you would reflect on how the fire started or where it came from. You would call the insurance company. You would take control of the narrative. That is recognizing and staying in present time with fear. TRY THIS: RATE YOUR FEAR Draw a line with zero at one end and ten at the other. Whats the worst thing you can imagine? Maybe its a paralyzing injury or losing a loved one. Make that a ten on the line. Now rate your current fear in relation to that one. Just doing this helps give some perspective. When you feel fear crop up, rate it. Where does it fall next to something thats truly scary? FIND FEAR PATTERNS Along with accepting our fear, we must get personal with it. This means recognizing the situations in which it regularly appears. A powerful question to ask your fear (again, with kindness and sincerity, as many times as necessary) is When do I feel you? After my initial work with fear at the monastery, I continued to identify all of the spaces and situations in which my fear emerged. I consistently saw that when I was worried about my exams, when I was worried about my parents, or about my performance at school or getting in trouble, the fear always led me to the same concern: how I was perceived by others. What would they think of me? My root fear influences my decision-making. That awareness now prompts me when I reach a decisive moment to take a closer look and ask myself, Is this decision influenced by how others will perceive me? In this way, I can use my awareness of my fear as a tool to help me make decisions that are truly in line with my values and purpose. Sometimes we can trace our fears through the actions we take, and sometimes its the actions were reluctant to take. One of my clients was a successful attorney, but she was tired of practicing law and wanted to do something new. She came to me because she was letting her fear stop her. What if I jump and theres nothing on the other side? she asked me. That sounded like a branch question, so I kept probing. What are you really scared of? I asked her, then gently kept asking until eventually she sighed and said, Ive spent so much effort and energy building this career. What if Im just throwing it all away? I asked again and finally we got to the root: She was afraid of failure and of being seen as less than an intelligent, capable person by others and by herself. Once she learned and acknowledged the true nature of her fear, she was on her way to recasting its role in her life, but first she needed to develop some real intimacy with it. She needed to walk into her fear. One of the problems we identified was that she had no role models. All of the attorneys she knew were still practicing full-time. She needed to see people who had successfully done some version of what she wanted to do, so I asked her to spend time getting to know former attorneys who were now working in new careers that they loved. When she did that, she not only saw that what she dreamed of was possible, she was also delighted to learn how many of those people said they were still applying skills that they had acquired and used to practice law. She wouldnt be throwing all of her hard work away after all. I also asked her to research jobs she might consider. Through that exercise, she found that many of the soft skills shed had to learn to be a successful attorney, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, were highly sought after elsewhere too. By developing that intimacy with her feargetting up close and examining what she was afraid ofshe ended up with information that left her feeling more empowered and excited about the idea of switching careers. Patterns for distracting ourselves from fear are established when were young. They are deeply ingrained, so it takes some time and effort to uncover them. Recognizing our fear patterns helps us trace fear to the root. From there we can decipher whether theres truly any cause for urgency, or whether our fear can actually lead us to recognize opportunities to live more in alignment with our values, passion, and purpose. THE CAUSE OF FEAR: ATTACHMENT. THE CURE FOR FEAR: DETACHMENT Though we are developing intimacy with our fear, we want to see it as its own entity, separate from us. When we talk about our emotions, we usually say we are that emotion. I am angry. I am sad. I am afraid. Talking to our fear separates it from us and helps us understand that the fear is not us, it is just something were experiencing. When you meet someone who gives off a negative vibe, you feel it, but you dont think that vibe is you. Its the same with our emotionsthey are something were feeling, but they are not us. Try shifting from I am angry to I feel angry. I feel sad. I feel afraid. A simple change, but a profound one because it puts our emotions in their rightful place. Having this perspective calms down our initial reactions and give us the space to examine our fear and the situation around it without judgment. When we track our fears back to their source, most of us find that theyre closely related to attachmentour 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 everythingfrom our houses to our familiesis 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, dont actually belong to them. This is just as true for the rest of us. And for manyindeed mostof us, that impermanence causes great fear. But, as I learned in the ashram, we can shift our fear to a soaring sense of freedom. Our teachers made a distinction between useful and hurtful fears. They told us that a useful fear alerts us to a situation we can change. If the doctor tells you that you have poor health because of your diet, and you fear disability or disease, thats a useful fear because you can change your diet. When your health improves as a result, you eliminate your fear. But fearing that our parents will die is a hurtful fear because we cant change the truth of the matter. We transform hurtful fears into useful fears by focusing on what we can control. We cant stop our parents from dying, but we use the fear to remind us to spend more time with them. In the words of ??ntideva, It is not possible to control all external events; but if I simply control my mind, what need is there to control other things? This is detachment, when you observe your own reactions from a distancewith your monk mindmaking decisions with a clear perspective. Theres a common misconception about detachment that Id like to address. People often equate detachment with indifference. They think that seeing things, people, and experiences as temporary or seeing them from a distance diminishes our ability to enjoy life, but thats not the case. Imagine youre driving a luxury rental car. Do you tell yourself that you own it? Of course not. You know you only have it for the week, and in some ways, that allows you to enjoy it moreyou are grateful for the chance to drive a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway because its something you wont always get to do. Imagine youre staying in the most beautiful Airbnb. Its got a hot tub, chefs kitchen, ocean views; its so beautiful and exciting. You dont spend every moment there dreading your departure in a week. When we acknowledge that all of our blessings are like a fancy rental car or a beautiful Airbnb, we are free to enjoy them without living in constant fear of losing them. We are all the lucky vacationers enjoying our stay in Hotel Earth. Detachment is the ultimate practice in minimizing fear. Once I identified my anxiety about disappointing my parents, I was able to detach from it. I realized I had to take responsibility for my life. My parents might be upset, they might notI had no control over that. I could only make decisions based on my own values. 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 lifeyour 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. Rememberyou can still fully love and enjoy your partner, your children, your home, your money, from a space of nonattachment. Its about understanding and accepting that all things are temporary and that we cant 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. What better way to accept that children eventually go off to live their own lives and call you once a week, if youre lucky? This is a lifelong practice, but as you become more and more accepting of the fact that we dont truly own or control anything, youll 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. MANAGING SHORT-TERM FEARS Detaching from your fears allows you to address them. Years ago, a friend lost his job. Jobs are security, and we are all naturally attached to the idea of putting food on the table. Right away, my friend went into panic mode. Where are we going to get money? Im never going to get hired again. Im going to have to get two or three gigs to cover our bills! Not only did he make grim predictions about the future, he started questioning the past. I should have been better at my work. I should have worked harder and longer hours! When you panic, you start to anticipate outcomes that have not yet come to pass. Fear makes us fiction writers. We start with a premise, an idea, a fearwhat will happen if Then we spiral off, devising possible future scenarios. When we anticipate future outcomes, fear holds us back, imprisoning us in our imaginations. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca observed that Our fears are more numerous than our dangers, and we suffer more in our imagination than reality. We can manage acute stress if we detach on the spot. Theres an old Taoist parable about a farmer whose horse ran away. How unlucky! his brother tells him. The farmer shrugs. Good thing, bad thing, who knows, he says. A week later, the wayward horse finds its way home, and with it is a beautiful wild mare. Thats amazing! his brother says, admiring the new horse with no small envy. Again, the farmer is unmoved. Good thing, bad thing, who knows, he says. A few days later, the farmers son climbs up on the mare, hoping to tame the wild beast, but the horse bucks and rears, and the boy, hurled to the ground, breaks a leg. How unlucky! his brother says, with a tinge of satisfaction. Good thing, bad thing, who knows, the farmer replies again. The next day, the young men of the village are called into military service, but because the sons leg is broken, he is excused from the draft. His brother tells the farmer that this, surely, is the best news of all. Good thing, bad thing, who knows, the farmer says. The farmer in this story didnt get lost in what if but instead focused on what is. During my monk training, we were taught, Dont judge the moment. I passed along the same advice to someone I advised whod lost his job. Instead of judging the moment, he needed to accept his situation and whatever came of it, focusing on what he could control. I worked with him on first slowing everything down, then acknowledging the facts of his situationhe had lost his job, period. From there he had a choice: He could panic or freeze, or he could take this opportunity to work with fear as a tool, using it as an indicator of what truly mattered to him and to see what new opportunities might arise. When I asked him what he was most afraid of, he said it was that he wouldnt be able to take care of his family. I gently urged him to be more specific. He said he was worried about money. So I challenged him to think of other ways he might support his family. After all, his wife worked, so they had some money coming in; they werent going to be out on the street. Time, he said. Now I have time to spend with my kids, taking them to and from school, helping them with their homework. And while theyre at school, Ill actually have time to look for a new job. A better one. Because he slowed down, accepted his fear, and gained clarity around it, he was able to defuse his panic and see that fear was actually alerting him to an opportunity. Time is another form of wealth. He realized that while he had lost his job, he had gained something else very valuable. Using his newfound time, he was not only more present in his kids lives, but he also ended up getting a new, better job. Reframing the situation stopped him from draining energy negatively and encouraged him to start applying it positively. Still, its hard to not judge the moment and remain open to opportunity when the unknown future spins like a whirlwind through your body and brain. Sometimes our panic or freeze responses rush ahead of us and make it difficult to suspend judgment. Lets talk about some strategies to help us amend panic and fear. Short-Circuit Fear Fortunately, a simple, powerful tool to short-circuit the panic response is always with us: our breath. Before I give a talk, when Im standing offstage listening to my introduction, Ill feel my heart beat faster and my hands getting moist. Ive coached people who perform in front of full arenas and people who present at everyday meetings, and, like the rest of us, they feel most of their fear physically. Whether its performance anxiety or social fears, such as before a job interview or attending a party, our fear manifests in the body, and these bodily cues are the first signals that fear is about to take over. Panic and freezing are a disconnect between our bodies and our minds. Either our bodies go on high alert and rush ahead of our mental processes, or our minds are racing and our bodies start to shut down. As a monk, I learned a simple breathing exercise to help realign my body and mind and stop fear from stopping me. I still use it every time Im about to give a talk to a large group, enter a stressful meeting, or go into a room full of people I dont know. TRY THIS: DONT PANIC! USE YOUR BREATH TO REALIGN BODY AND MIND Breathe to calm and relax yourself meditation: (see page 89) 1.Inhale slowly to a count of 4. 2.Hold for a count of 4. 3.Exhale slowly to a count of 4 or more. 4.Repeat until you feel your heart rate slow down. Its really that easy. You see, deep breathing activates a part of our nervous system called the vagus nerve, which in turn stimulates a relaxation response throughout our bodies. 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. See the Whole Story Breath is useful on the spot, but some fears are hard to dispel with our breath alone. When we go through a period of instability, we fear whats ahead. When we know we have a test or a job interview, we fear the outcome. 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 isnt a collection of unrelated events, its a narrative that stretches into the past and the future. We are natural storytellers, and we can use that proclivity to our detrimentto tell horror stories about possible future events. Better to try seeing our lives as a single, long, continuing story, not just disconnected pieces. When you are hired for a job, take a moment to reflect on all the lost jobs and/or failed interviews that led to this victory. You can think of them as necessary challenges along the way. When we learn to stop segmenting experiences and periods of our life and instead see them as scenes and acts in a larger narrative, we gain perspective that helps us deal with fear. TRY THIS: EXPAND THE MOMENT Think of something great that happened to you. Perhaps it was the birth of a child or getting that new job you wanted. Let yourself feel that joy for a moment. Now rewind to the events that occurred just before it. What was going on in your life before the birth of your child or before you were selected for that job? Perhaps it was months and months of trying unsuccessfully to conceive or being rejected from three other jobs youd applied for. Now try to see that narrative as a whole storya progression from the bad to the good. Open yourself to the idea that perhaps what happened during the challenging time was actually clearing the way for what youre now celebrating, or made you feel even happier about the experience that came after it. Now take a moment to express gratitude for those challenges and weave them into the story of your life. Admittedly, we do our best celebrating in hindsight. When we are actually experiencing challenges, its difficult to tell ourselves, This could end up being a good thing! But the more we practice looking in the rearview mirror and finding gratitude for the hard times weve experienced, the more we start to change our programming; the gap between suffering and gratitude gets smaller and smaller; and the intensity of our fear in the moments of hardship begins to diminish. Revisit Long-Term Fears Panic and freezing can be dealt with using breath and by reframing the circumstances, but these are short-term fear responses. It is much harder to control the two long-term strategies we use to distract us from fear: burying and running away. One of my favorite ways to understand how these strategies work involves a house on fire. Lets say you wake up in the middle of the night to your smoke detector beeping. Immediately, youre afraid, as you should bethat signal did its job, which was to get your attention. Now you smell smoke, so you gather your family and pets together and you get out of the house, right? This is fear put to its best use. But what if, upon hearing the smoke alarm, instead of quickly assessing the situation and taking the logical next steps, you hurried over to the smoke detector, removed the battery, and went back to bed? As you can imagine, your problems are about to magnify. Yet thats what we often do with fear. Instead of assessing and responding, we deny or abandon the situation. Relationships are a space where we commonly use the solution of avoidance. Lets say youre having some major conflict with your girlfriend. Rather than sitting down with her and talking about whats going on (putting out the fire), or even figuring out that you arent meant to be together (safely and calmly getting everyone out of the house), you pretend everythings fine (while the destructive fire burns on). When we deny fear, our problems follow us. In fact, theyre probably getting bigger, and bigger, and at some point something will force us to deal with them. When all else fails, pain does make us pay attention. If we dont learn from the signal that alerts us to a problem, well end up learning from the results of the problem itself, which is far less desirable. But if we face our fearwe stay, we deal with the fire, we have the tough conversationwe become stronger as a result. The very first lesson the Gita teaches us is how to handle fear. In the moments before the battle starts, when Arjuna is overcome by fear, he doesnt run from it or bury it; he faces it. In the text, Arjuna is a brave and skilled warrior, yet in this moment it is fear that causes him, for the first time, to reflect. Its often said that when the fear of staying the same outweighs the fear of change, that is when we change. He asks for help in the form of insight and understanding. In that action, he has begun to shift from being controlled by his fear to understanding it. What you run from only stays with you longer, writes the author of the novel Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, in his book Invisible Monsters Remix. Find what youre afraid of most and go live there. That day in the basement of the ashram, I opened myself to my deeply held fears about my parents. I rarely experienced panic or freeze reactions, but that didnt mean I had no fearsit meant I was pushing them down. As my teacher said, When fear is buried, its something we cling to, and it makes everything feel tight because were under this burden of things weve never released. Whether you suppress them or run away from them, your fears and your problems remain with youand they accumulate. We used to think it didnt matter if we dumped our trash in landfills without regard for the environment. If we couldnt see it or smell it, we figured it would somehow just take care of itself. Yet before regulation, landfills polluted water supplies, and even today they are one of the largest producers of human-generated methane gas in the United States. In the same way, burying our fears takes an unseen toll on our internal landscape. TRY THIS: DIVE INTO YOUR FEARS As we did at the ashram, take a deep dive into your fears. At first a few surface-level fears will pop up. Stay with the exercise, asking yourself What am I really afraid of? and larger and deeper fears will begin to reveal themselves. These answers dont usually come all at once. Typically, it takes some time to sink below the layers to the real root of your fears. Be open to the answer revealing itself over time, and maybe not even during a meditation or other focused session. You may be at the grocery store selecting avocados one day when all of a sudden it dawns on you. Thats just how we operate. Going through the processes of acknowledging fear, observing our patterns for dealing with it, addressing and amending those patterns helps us to reprogram our view of fear from something thats inherently negative to a neutral signal, or even an indicator of opportunity. When we reclassify fear, we can look past the smoke and stories to whats real, and in so doing, uncover deep and meaningful truths that can inform and empower us. When we identify our attachment-related fears and instead foster detachment, we can live with a greater sense of freedom and enjoyment. And when we channel the energy behind our fears toward service, we diminish our fear of not having enough, and feel happier, more fulfilled, and more connected to the world around us. Fear motivates us. Sometimes it motivates us toward what we want, but sometimes, if we arent careful, it limits us with what we think will keep us safe. Next we will look at our primary motivators (fear is one of four) and how we can deliberately use them to build a fulfilling life. FOUR INTENTION Blinded by the Gold When there is harmony between the mind, heart, and resolution then nothing is impossible Rig Veda In our heads we have an image of an ideal life: our relationships, how we spend our time in work and leisure, what we want to achieve. Even without the noise of external influences, certain goals captivate us, and we design our lives around achieving them because we think they will make us happy. But now we will figure out what drives these ambitions, whether they are likely to make us truly happy, and whether happiness is even the right target. I have just come out of a class where we discussed the idea of rebirth, Sa?s?ra, and now I am strolling through the quiet ashram with a senior monk and a few other students. The ashram has two locations, a temple in Mumbai and the one where I am now, a rural outpost near Palghar. This will eventually be developed into the Govardhan Ecovillage, a beautiful retreat, but for now there are just a few simple, nondescript buildings set in uncultivated land. Dry dirt footpaths divide the grasses. Here and there, monks sit on straw mats, reading or studying. The main building is open to the elements, and inside we can see monks working. As we walk, the senior monk mentions the achievements of some of the monks we pass. He points out one who can meditate for eight hours straight. A few minutes later he gestures to another: He fasts for seven days in a row. Further along, he points. Do you see the man sitting under that tree? He can recite every verse from the scripture. Impressed, I say, I wish I could do that. The monk pauses and turns to look at me. He asks, Do you wish you could do that, or do you wish you could learn to do that? What do you mean? I know by now that some of my favorite lessons come not in the classroom, but in moments like this. He says, Think about your motivations. Do you want to memorize all of the scripture because its an impressive achievement, or do you want the experience of having studied it? In the first, all you want is the outcome. In the second, you are curious about what you might learn from the process. This was a new concept for me, and it blew my mind. Desiring an outcome had always seemed reasonable to me. The monk was telling me to question why I wanted to do what was necessary to reach that outcome. THE FOUR MOTIVATIONS No matter how disorganized we might be, we all have plans. We have an idea of what we have to accomplish in the day ahead; we probably have a sense of what the year holds, or what we hope well accomplish; and we all have dreams for the future. Something motivates every one of these notionsfrom needing to pay the rent to wanting to travel the world. Hindu philosopher Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes four fundamental motivations. 1.Fear. Thakura describes this as being driven by sickness, poverty, fear of hell or fear of death. 2.Desire. Seeking personal gratification through success, wealth, and pleasure. 3.Duty. Motivated by gratitude, responsibility, and the desire to do the right thing. 4.Love. Compelled by care for others and the urge to help them. These four motivations drive everything we do. We make choices, for example, because were scared of losing our job, wanting to win the admiration of our friends, hoping to fulfill our parents expectations, or wanting to help others live a better life. Im going to talk about each motivation individually, so we get a sense of how they shape our choices. Fear Is Not Sustainable In the last chapter we talked about fear, so Im not going to dwell on it here. When fear motivates you, you pick what you want to achievea promotion, a relationship, buying a homebecause you believe it will bring you safety and security. Fear alerts and ignites us. This warning flare is usefulas we discussed, fear points out problems and sometimes motivates us. For instance, the fear of getting fired may motivate you to get organized. The problem with fear is that its not sustainable. When we operate in fear for a long time, we cant 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. The Maya of Success The second motivation is desire. This is when we chase personal gratification. Our path to adventures, pleasures, and comforts often takes the form of material goals. I want a million-dollar home. I want financial freedom. I want an amazing wedding. When I ask people to write down their goals, they often give answers describing what most people think of as success. We think that success equals happiness, but this idea is an illusion. The Sanskrit word for illusion is maya, which means believing in that which is not. When we let achievements and acquisitions determine our course, were 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 doesnt lead to happiness. Jim Carrey once said, I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that its not the answer. The illusion of success is tied not just to income and acquisitions but to achievements like becoming a doctor or getting a promotion or memorizing the scriptures. My desire in the story aboveto be able to recite every verse from the scriptureis the monks version of material desire. Like all of these wants, my ambition was centered around an external outcomebeing as impressively learned as that other monk. American spiritual luminary Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC, writes, As long as we keep attaching our happiness to the external events of our lives, which are ever changing, well always be left waiting for it. Once, as a monk, I visited a temple in Srirangam, one of the three major holy cities in South India. I came upon a worker high up on a scaffold applying gold powder to the intricate details on the temples ceiling. Id never seen anything like it, and I stopped to watch. As I gazed upward, a dusting of gold floated down into my eyes. I hurried from the temple to rinse my eyes, then returned, keeping a safe distance this time. This episode felt like a lesson torn from the scriptures: Gold dust is beautiful, but come too close, and it will blur your vision. The gilt that is used on temples isnt solid goldits mixed into a solution. And, as we know, it is used to cover up stone, to make it look like solid gold. Its maya, an illusion. In the same way, money and fame are only a facade. Because our search is never for a thing, but for the feeling we think the thing will give us. We all know this already: We see wealthy and/or famous people who seem to have it all, but who have bad relationships or suffer from depression, and its obvious that success didnt bring them happiness. The same is true for those of us who arent rich and famous. We quickly tire of our smartphones and want the next model. We receive a bonus, but the initial excitement fades surprisingly fast when our lives dont really improve. We think that a new phone or a bigger house will make us feel somehow bettercooler or more satisfiedbut instead find ourselves wanting more. Material gratification is external, but happiness is internal. When monks talk about happiness, they tell the story of the musk deer, a tale derived from a poem by Kabir, a fifteenth-century Indian mystic and poet. The musk deer picks up an irresistible scent in the forest and chases it, searching for the source, not realizing that the scent comes from its own pores. It spends its whole life wandering fruitlessly. In the same way we search for happiness, finding it elusive, when it can be found within us. Happiness and fulfillment come only from mastering the mind and connecting with the soulnot from objects or attainments. Success doesnt guarantee happiness, and happiness doesnt require success. They can feed each other, and we can have them at the same time, but they are not intertwined. After analyzing a Gallup survey on well-being, Princeton University researchers officially concluded that money does not buy happiness after basic needs and then some are fulfilled. While having more money contributes to overall life satisfaction, that impact levels off at a salary of around $75,000. In other words, when it comes to the impact of money on how you view the quality of your life, a middle-class American citizen fares about as well as Jeff Bezos. Success is earning money, being respected in your work, executing projects smoothly, receiving accolades. Happiness is feeling good about yourself, having close relationships, making the world a better place. More than ever, popular culture celebrates the pursuit of success. TV shows aimed at adolescents focus more on image, money, and fame than in the past. Popular songs and books use language promoting individual achievement over community connection, group membership, and self-acceptance. Its no surprise that happiness rates have consistently declined among Americans adults since the 1970s. And it doesnt just boil down to income. In an interview with the Washington Post, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development and an editor of World Happiness Report, points out: While the average income of people around the world definitely affects their sense of well-being, it doesnt explain all that much, because other factors, both personal and social, are very important determinants of well-being. Sachs says that while generally American incomes have risen since 2005, our happiness has fallen, in part because of social factors like declining trust in the government and our fellow Americans, and weaker social networks. Duty and Love If fear limits us and success doesnt satisfy us, then youve probably already guessed that duty and love have more to offer. We all have different goals, but we all want the same things: a life full of joy and meaning. Monks dont seek out the joy partwe arent looking for happiness or pleasure. Instead, we focus on the satisfaction that comes from living a meaningful life. Happiness can be elusiveits hard to sustain a high level of joy. But to feel meaning shows that our actions have purpose. They lead to a worthwhile outcome. We believe were leaving a positive imprint. What we do matters, so we matter. Bad things happen, boring chores must get done, life isnt all sunshine and unicorns, but it is always possible to find meaning. If you lose a loved one and someone tells you to look for the positive, to be happy, to focus on the good things in your lifewell, you might want to punch that person. But we can survive the worst tragedies by looking for meaning in the loss. We might honor a loved one by giving to the community. Or discover a new gratitude for life that we pass on to those who have supported us. Eventually, the value that we see in our actions will lead to a sense of meaning. In the Atharva Veda it says, Money and mansions are not the only wealth. Hoard the wealth of the spirit. Character is wealth: good conduct is wealth; and spiritual wisdom is wealth. Purpose and meaning, not success, lead to true contentment. When we understand this, we see the value of being motivated by duty and/or love. When you act out of duty and love, you know that you are providing value. The more we upgrade from trying to fulfill our selfish needs to doing things out of service and love, the more we can achieve. In her book The Upside of Stress, author Kelly McGonigal says that we can better handle discomfort when we can associate it with a goal, purpose, or person we care about. For example, when it comes to planning a childs birthday party, a parent might be more than willing to endure the unpleasantness of staying up late. The pain of lost sleep is offset by the satisfaction of being a loving mother. But when it comes to working late at a job that same woman hates? She is miserable. We can take on more when were doing it for someone we love or to serve a purpose we believe in rather than from the misguided idea that we will find happiness through success. 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 intentionallywith a clear sense of why what we do matterslife has meaning and brings fulfillment. Intention fills the car with gas. THE WHY LADDER Fear, desire, duty, and love are the roots of all intentions. In Sanskrit the word for intention is sankalpa, and I think of it as the reason, formed by ones own heart and mind, that one strives for a goal. To put it another way, from your root motivation you develop intentions to drive you forward. Your intention is who you plan to be in order to act with purpose and feel that what you do is meaningful. So if Im motivated by fear, my intention might be to protect my family. If Im motivated by desire, my intention might be to gain worldwide recognition. If Im motivated by duty, my intention might be to help my friends no matter how busy I am. If Im motivated by love, my intention might be to serve where I am most needed. There are no rules attaching certain intentions to certain motivations. You can also perform service to make a good impression (desire, not love). You can support your family out of love, not fear. You can want to get rich in order to serve. And none of us has just one motivation and one intention. I want us to learn how to make big and small choices intentionally. Instead of forever climbing the mountain of success, we need to descend into the valley of our true selves to weed out false beliefs. To live intentionally, we must dig to the deepest why behind the want. This requires pausing to think not only about why we want something, but also who we are or need to be to get it, and whether being that person appeals to us. Most people are accustomed to looking for answers. Monks focus on questions. When I was trying to get close to my fear, I asked myself What am I afraid of? over and over again. When Im trying to get to the root of a desire, I start with the question Why? This monkish approach to intention can be applied to even the worldliest goals. Heres a sample goal Ive chosen because its something we never would have contemplated in the ashram and because the intention behind it isnt obvious: I want to sail solo around the world. Why do you want to sail around the world? It will be fun. Ill get to see lots of places and prove to myself that Im a great sailor. It sounds like your intention is to gratify yourself, and that you are motivated by desire. But, what if your answer to the question is: It was always my fathers dream to sail around the world. Im doing it for him. In this case, your intention is to honor your father, and you are motivated by duty and love. Im sailing around the world so I can be free. I wont be accountable to anyone. I can leave all my responsibilities behind. This sailor intends to escapehe is driven by fear. Now lets look at a more common want: My biggest want is money, and heres Jay, probably about to tell me to become kind and compassionate. Thats not going to help. Wanting to be rich for the sake of being rich is fine. Its firmly in the category of material gratification, so you cant expect it to give an internal sense of fulfillment. Nonetheless, material comforts are undeniably part of what we want from life, so lets get to the root of this goal rather than just dismissing it. Wealth is your desired outcome. Why? I dont ever want to have to worry about money again. Why do you worry about money? I cant afford to take the vacations I dream about. Why do you want those vacations? I see everyone else on exotic trips on social media. Why should they get to do that when I cant? Why do you want what they want? Theyre having much more fun than I have on my weekends. Aha! So now we are at the root of the want. Your weekends are unfulfilling. Whats missing? I want my life to be more exciting, more adventurous, more exhilarating. Okay, your intention is to make your life more exciting. Notice how different that is from I want money. Your intention is still driven by the desire for personal gratification, but now you know two things: First, you can add more adventure to your life right now without spending more money. And second, you now have the clarity to decide if thats something you want to work hard for. If a person went up to my teacher and said, I just want to be rich, my teacher would ask, Are you doing it out of service? His reason for asking would be to get to the root of the desire. If the man said, No, I want to live in a nice house, travel, and buy whatever I want. His intention would be to have the financial freedom to indulge himself. My teacher would say, Okay, its good that youre honest with yourself. Go ahead, make your fortune. Youll come to service anyway. It may take you five or ten years, but youll get to the same answer. Monks believe that the man wont be fulfilled when he finds his fortune, and that if he continues his search for meaning, the answer will always, eventually, be found in service. Be honest about what your intention is. The worst thing you can do is pretend to yourself that youre acting out of service when all you want is material success. 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 youll find that what you are ultimately searching for is an internal feeling (happiness, security, confidence, etc.). Or maybe youll find that youre 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 somethinglike adventurethat you can start working on right away? Once youre doing that, the external wants will be more available to youif they still matter at all. TRY THIS: A QUESTION MEDITATION Take a desire you have and ask yourself why you want it. Keep asking until you get to the root intention. Common answers are: To look and feel good Security Service Growth Dont negate intentions that arent good, just be aware of them and recognize that if your reason isnt love, growth, or knowledge, the opportunity may fulfill important practical needs, but it wont feel emotionally meaningful. Were most satisfied when we are in a state of progress, learning, or achievement. SEEDS AND WEEDS As monks, we learned to clarify our intentions through the analogy of seeds and weeds. When you plant a seed, it can grow into an expansive tree that provides fruit and shelter for everyone. Thats what a broad intention, like love, compassion, or service, can do. The purity of your intention has nothing to do with what career you choose. A traffic officer can give a speeding ticket making a show of his power, or he can instruct you not to speed with the same compassion a parent would have when telling a child not to play with fire. You can be a bank teller and execute a simple transaction with warmth. But if our intentions are vengeful or self-motivated, we grow weeds. Weeds usually grow from ego, greed, envy, anger, pride, competition, or stress. These might look like normal plants to begin with, but they will never grow into something wonderful. If you start going to the gym to build a revenge body so your ex regrets breaking up with you, youre planting a weed. You havent properly addressed what you want (most likely to feel understood and loved, which would clearly require a different approach). Youll get strong, and reap the health benefits of working out, but the stakes of your success are tied to external factorsprovoking your ex. If your ex doesnt notice or care, youll still feel the same frustration and loneliness. However, if you start going to the gym because you want to feel physically strong after your breakup, or if, in the course of working out, your intention shifts to this, youll get in shape and feel emotionally satisfied. Another example of a weed is when a good intention gets attached to the wrong goal. Say my intention is to build my confidence, and I decide that getting a promotion is the best way to do it. I work hard, impress my boss, and move up a level, but when I get there, I realize theres another level, and I still feel insecure. External goals cannot fill internal voids. No external labels or accomplishments can give me true confidence. I have to find it in myself. We will talk about how to make internal changes like this in Part Two. THE GOOD SAMARITANS Monks know that one cant plant a garden of beautiful flowers and leave it to thrive on its own. We have to be gardeners of our own lives, planting only the seeds of good intentions, watching to see what they become, and removing the weeds that spring up and get in the way. In a 1973 experiment called From Jerusalem to Jericho, researchers asked seminary students to prepare short talks about what it meant to be a minister. Some of them were given the parable of the Good Samaritan to help them prep. In this parable, Jesus told of a traveler who stopped to help a man in need when nobody else would. Then some excuse was made for them to switch to a different room. On their way to the new room, an actor, looking like he needed help, leaned in a doorway. Whether a student had been given materials about the Good Samaritan made no difference in whether the student stopped to help. The researchers did find that if students were in a hurry they were much less likely to help, and on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way! The students were so focused on the task at hand that they forgot their deeper intentions. They were presumably studying at seminary with the intention to be compassionate and helpful, but in that moment anxiety or the desire to deliver an impressive speech interfered. As Benedictine monk Laurence Freeman said in his book Aspects of Love, Everything you do in the day from washing to eating breakfast, having meetings, driving to work watching television or deciding instead to read everything you do is your spiritual life. It is only a matter of how consciously you do these ordinary things LIVE YOUR INTENTIONS Of course, simply having intentions isnt enough. We have to take action to help those seeds grow. I dont believe in wishful manifesting, the idea that if you simply believe something will happen, it will. We cant sit around with true intentions expecting that what we want will fall into our laps. Nor can we expect someone to find us, discover how amazing we are, and hand us our place in the world. Nobody is going to create our lives for us. Martin Luther King Jr., said, Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war. When people come to me seeking guidance, I constantly hear, I wish I wish I wish I wish my partner would be more attentive. I wish I could have the same job but make more money. I wish my relationship were more serious. We never say, I wish I could be more organized and focused and could do the hard work to get that. We dont vocalize what it would actually take to get what we want. I wish is code for I dont want to do anything differently. Theres an apocryphal story about Picasso that perfectly illustrates how we fail to recognize the work and perseverance behind achievement. As the tale goes, a woman sees Picasso in a market. She goes up to him and says, Would you mind drawing something for me? Sure, he says, and thirty seconds later hands her a remarkably beautiful little sketch. That will be thirty thousand dollars, he says. But Mr. Picasso, the woman says, how can you charge me so much? This drawing only took you thirty seconds! Madame, says Picasso, it took me thirty years. The same is true of any artistic workor, indeed, any job thats done well. The effort behind it is invisible. The monk in my ashram who could easily recite all the scriptures put years into memorizing them. I needed to consider that investment, the life it required, before making it my goal. When asked who we are, we resort to stating what we do: Im an accountant. Im a lawyer. Im a housewife/househusband. Im an athlete. Im a teacher. Sometimes this is just a useful way to jump-start a conversation with someone youve just met. But life is more meaningful when we define ourselves by our intentions rather than our achievements. If you truly define yourself by your job, then what happens when you lose your job? If you define yourself as an athlete, then an injury ends your career, you dont know who you are. Losing a job shouldnt destroy our identities, but often it does. Instead, if we live intentionally, we sustain a sense of purpose and meaning that isnt tied to what we accomplish but who we are. If your intention is to help people, you have to embody that intention by being kind, openhearted, and innovative, by recognizing peoples strengths, supporting their weaknesses, listening, helping them grow, reading what they need from you, and noticing when it changes. If your intention is to support your family, you might decide that you have to be generous, present, hardworking, and organized. If your intention is to live your passion, maybe you have to be committed, energetic, and truthful. (Note that in Chapter One we cleared out external noise so that we could see our values more clearly. When you identify your intentions, they reveal your values. The intentions to help people and to serve mean you value service. The intention to support your family means you value family. Its not rocket science, but these terms get thrown around and used interchangeably, so it helps to know how they connect and overlap.) Living your intention means having it permeate your behavior. For instance, if your goal is to improve your relationship, you might plan dates, give your partner gifts, and get a haircut to look better for them. Your wallet will be thinner, your hair might look better, and your relationship may or may not improve. But watch what happens if you make internal changes to live your intention. In order to improve your relationship, you try to become calmer, more understanding, and more inquisitive. (You can still go to the gym and get a haircut.) If the changes you make are internal, youll feel better about yourself and youll be a better person. If your relationship doesnt improve, youll still be the better for it. DO THE WORK 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 dont succeed quicklyor ever? The monk who asked me why I wanted to learn all of the scripture by heart didnt want me to be mesmerized by the superpowers of other monks and to seek those powers out of vanity. He wanted to know if I was interested in the workin the life I would live, the person I would be, the meaning I would find in the process of learning the scriptures. The focus is on the process, not the outcome. The Desert Fathers were the earliest Christian monks, living in hermitage in the deserts of the Middle East. According to these monks, We do not make progress because we do not realize how much we can do. We lose interest in the work we have begun, and we want to be good without even trying. If you dont care deeply, you cant go all in on the process. Youre not doing it for the right reasons. You can reach your goals, get everything you ever wanted, be successful by anyones terms, only to discover you still feel lost and disconnected. But if youre in love with the day-to-day process, then you do it with depth, authenticity, and a desire to make an impact. You might be equally successful either way, but if youre driven by intention, you will feel joy. TRY THIS: ADD TO-BES TO YOUR TO-DOS Alongside your to-do list, try making a to-be list. The good news is youre not making your list longerthese are not items you can check off or completebut the exercise is a reminder that achieving your goals with intention means living up to the values that drive those goals. EXAMPLE 1 Lets say my goal is to be financially free. Heres 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: Disciplined Focused Passionate EXAMPLE 2 Lets 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 partners day and feelings And if you have a clear and confident sense of why you took each step, then you are more resilient. Failure doesnt mean youre worthlessit means you must look for another route to achieving worthwhile goals. Satisfaction comes from believing in the value of what you do. ROLE MODELS The best way to research the work required to fulfill your intention is to look for role models. If you want to be rich, study (without stalking!) what the rich people you admire are being and doing, read books about how they got where they are. Focus especially on what they did at your stage, in order to get where they are now. You can tour an entrepreneurs office or visit an expats avocado ranch and decide its what you want, but that doesnt tell you anything about the journey to get there. Being an actor isnt about appearing on screen and in magazines. Its about having the patience and creativity to perform a scene sixty times until the director has what she wants. Being a monk isnt admiring someone who sits in meditation. Its waking up at the same time as the monk, living his lifestyle, emulating the qualities he displays. Shadow someone at work for a week and youll gain some sense of the challenges they face, and whether those are challenges you want to take on. In your observations of people doing the work, its worth remembering that there can be multiple paths to achieve the same intention. For example, two people might have helping the earth as an intention. One could do it through the law, working with the nonprofit Earthjustice; the other could do it through fashion, like Stella McCartney, who has helped popularize vegan leather. In the next chapter well talk about tapping into the method and pursuit that fits you best, but this example shows that if you lead with intention, then you open up the options for how to reach your goal. And, as we saw with the example of sailing around the globe, two identical acts can have very different intentions behind them. Lets say two people give generous donations to the same charity. One does it because she cares deeply about the charity, a broad intention, and the other does it because he wants to network, a narrow intention. Both donors are commended for their gifts. The one who truly wanted to make a difference feels happy and proud and a sense of meaning. The one who wanted to network only cares whether he met anyone useful to his career or social status. Their different intentions make no difference to the charitythe gifts do good in the world either waybut the internal reward is completely different. It should be said that no intentions are completely pure. My charitable acts might be 88 percent intended to help people and 8 percent to feel good about myself and 4 percent to have fun with my other charitable friends. Theres 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 arent happy at all, its because they did it with the wrong intention. LETTING GO TO GROW The broadest intentions often drive efforts to help and support other people. Parents working overtime to put food on the table for their families. Volunteers devoting themselves to a cause. Workers who are motivated to serve their customers. We sense these intentions from the people we encounter, whether its the hairdresser who really wants to find a style that suits you or the doctor who takes the time to ask about your life. Generous intentions radiate from people, and its a beautiful thing. Time and again we see that if were doing it for the external result, we wont be happy. With the right intention, to serve, we can feel meaning and purpose every day. 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 dont 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. Breathwork helps you understand that your way is uniqueand thats as it should be. MEDITATION BREATHE The physical nature of breathwork helps drive distractions from your head. Breathwork is calming, but it isnt always easy. In fact, the challenges it brings are part of the process. Im sitting on a floor of dried cow dung, which is surprisingly cool. Its not uncomfortable, but its not comfortable. My ankles hurt. I cant keep my back straight. God, I hate this, its so difficult. Its been twenty minutes and I still havent cleared my mind. Im supposed to be bringing awareness to my breath, but Im thinking about friends back in London. I sneak a peek at the monk closest to me. Hes sitting up so straight. Hes nailing this meditation thing. Find your breath, the leader is saying. I take a breath. Its slow, beautiful, calm. Oh, wait. Oh okay. Im becoming aware of my breath. Breathing in breathing out Oh Im there Okay, this is cool This is interesting Okay. This Works Wait, Ive an itch on my back Breathing in breathing out. Calm. My first trip to the ashram was two weeks long, and I spent it meditating with Gauranga Das every morning for two hours. Sitting for that long, often much longer, is uncomfortable and tiring and sometimes boring. Whats worse, unwanted thoughts and feelings started drifting into my head. I worried that I wasnt sitting properly and that the monks would judge me. In my frustration, my ego spoke up: I wanted to be the best meditator, the smartest person at the ashram, the one who made an impact. These werent monk-like thoughts. Meditation definitely wasnt working the way I had thought it would. It was turning me into a bad person! I was shocked and, to be frank, disappointed to see all the unresolved negativity inside myself. Meditation was only showing me ego, anger, lust, painthings I didnt like about myself. Was this a problem or was it the point? I asked my teachers if I was doing something wrong. One of them told me that every year the monks meticulously cleaned the Gundicha Temple in Puri, checking every corner, and that when they did it, they visualized cleaning their hearts. He said that by the time they finished, the temple was already getting dirty again. That, he explained, is the feeling of meditation. It was work, and it was never done. Meditation wasnt making me a bad person. I had to face an equally unappealing reality. In all that stillness and quiet, it was amplifying what was already inside me. In the dark room of my mind, meditation had turned on the lights. In getting you where you want to be, meditation may show you what you dont want to see. Many people run from meditation because they find it difficult and unpleasant. In the Dhammapada the Buddha says, As a fish hooked and left on the sand thrashes about in agony, the mind being trained in meditation trembles all over. But the point of meditation is to examine what makes it challenging. There is more to it than closing your eyes for fifteen minutes a day. It is the practice of giving yourself space to reflect and evaluate. By now Ive had many beautiful meditations. Ive laughed, Ive cried, and my heart has felt more alive than I knew possible. The calming, floating, quiet bliss comes eventually. Ultimately, the process is as joyous as the results. BREATHWORK FOR THE BODY AND MIND As youve probably noticed, your breathing changes with your emotions. We hold our breath when were concentrating, and we take shallow breaths when were nervous or anxious. But these responses are instinctive rather than helpful, meaning that to hold your breath doesnt really help your concentration, and shallow breathing actually makes the symptoms of anxiety worse. 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. For millennia, yogis have practiced breathing techniques (called pr?n?y?ma) to do things like stimulate healing, raise energy, and focus on the present moment. The Rig Veda describes breath as the path beyond the self to consciousness. It states that breath is the life, like ones own son, or as Abbot George Burke (also known as Swami Nirmalananda Giri) describes it, the extension of our inmost life. In the Mah?satipa??h?na Sutta, the Buddha described ?n?p?nasati (which roughly translated means mindfulness of breathing) as a way to gain enlightenment. Modern science backs up the effectiveness of pr?n?y?ma for myriad effects including improving cardiovascular health, lowering overall stress, and even improving academic test performance. The meditations I present here and elsewhere in the book are universally used in therapy, coaching, and other meditation practices throughout the world. When you align with your breath, you learn to align with yourself through every emotioncalming, centering, and de-stressing yourself. 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 youre holding your breath. You dont need to be in a relaxing space in order to meditate (though it is obviously helpful and appropriate when you are new to meditation). You can do it anywherein the bathroom at a party, when getting on a plane, or right before you make a presentation or meet with strangers. TRY THIS: BREATHWORK Here are powerful breathing patterns that I use every day. They can be used as needed to either induce focus or increase calm. BREATHWORK PREPARATION For the calming and energizing breathing exercises I describe below, begin your practice with the following steps. 1.Find a comfortable positionsitting in a chair, sitting upright with a cushion, or lying down 2.Close your eyes 3.Lower your gaze (yes, you can do this with your eyes closed) 4.Make yourself comfortable in this position 5.Roll back your shoulders 6.Bring your awareness to Calm Balance Ease Stillness Peace Whenever your mind wanders just gently and softly bring it back to Calm Balance Ease Stillness Peace 7.Now become aware of your natural breathing pattern. Dont force or pressure your breath, just become aware of your natural breathing pattern. At the ashram we were taught to use diaphragmatic breathing. To do so, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest, and: Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth When you inhale, feel your stomach expand (as opposed to your chest) When you exhale, feel your stomach contract Continue this in your own pace, at your own time When you inhale, feel that you are taking in positive, uplifting energy When you exhale, feel that you are releasing any negative, toxic energy 8.Lower your left ear to your left shoulder as you breathe in and bring it back to the middle as you breathe out. 9.Lower your right ear to your right shoulder as you breathe in and bring it back to the middle as you breathe out. 10.Really feel the breath, with no rush or force, in your own pace, at your own time Breathe to calm and relax yourself Do this after youve done the breathwork preparation above: Breathe in for a count of 4 through your nose in your own time at your own pace Hold for a count of 4 Exhale for a count of 4 through your mouth Do this for a total of ten breaths. Breathe for energy and focus (kapalabhati) Do this after youve done the breathwork preparation above: Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 Then exhale powerfully through your nose for less than a second (You will feel a sort of engine pumping in your lungs.) Breathe in again through your nose for a count of 4 Do this for a total of ten breaths. Breathe for sleep Breathe in for 4 seconds Exhale for longer than 4 seconds Do this until you are asleep or close to it. PART TWO GROW FIVE PURPOSE The Nature of the Scorpion When you protect your dharma, your dharma protects you. Manusmriti 8:15 From the outside, being a monk looks like its fundamentally about letting go: the baldness, the robes, stripping away distractions. In fact, the asceticism was less a goal than it was a means to an end. Letting go opened our minds. We spent our days in service; which was also designed to expand our minds. In the course of this service, we werent supposed to gravitate to our favorite ways to serve, but rather to help out wherever and however it was needed. To experience and emphasize our willingness and flexibility, we rotated through various chores and activities instead of choosing roles and becoming specialists: cooking, cleaning, gardening, caring for the cows, meditating, studying, praying, teaching, and so on. It took some work for me to truly see all activities as equalI much preferred to study than to clean up after the cowsbut we were told to see society as the organs of a body. No one organ was more important than another; all of them worked in concert, and the body needed them all. In spite of this equitable coexistence, it became clear that each of us had natural affinities. One might be drawn to tending the animals (not me!), another might take pleasure in cooking (again, not me, Im an eat-to-live kind of guy), another might get great satisfaction from gardening. We undertook such a breadth of activities that, although we didnt indulge our particular passions, we could observe and reflect on where they lay. We could experiment with new skills, study them, see how improving them made us feel. What did we like? What felt natural and fulfilling? Why? If something, like cleaning up after the cows, made me uncomfortable, instead of turning away, I pushed myself to understand the feelings that lay at the root of my discomfort. I quickly identified my hatred for some of the most mundane chores as an ego issue. I thought them a waste of time when I could be learning. Once I admitted this to myself, I could explore whether cleaning had anything to offer me. Could I learn from a mop? Practice Sanskrit verse while planting potatoes? In the course of my chores, I observed that mop heads need to be completely flexible in order to get into every space and corner. Not every task is best served by something sturdy like a broom. To my monk mind, there was a worthwhile lesson in that: We need flexibility in order to access every corner of study and growth. When it came to planting potatoes, I found that the rhythm of it helped me remember verse, while the verse brought excitement to the potatoes. Exploring our strengths and weaknesses in the self-contained universe of the ashram helped lead each of us to our dharma. Dharma, like many Sanskrit terms, cant be defined by a single English word, though to say something is your calling comes close. My definition of dharma is an effort to make it practical to our lives today. I see dharma as the combination of varna and seva. Think of varna (also a word with complex meanings) as passion and skills. Seva is understanding the worlds needs and selflessly serving others. When your natural talents and passions (your varna) connect with what the universe needs (seva) 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. In the first part of this book we talked about becoming aware of and letting go of the influences and distractions that divert us from a fulfilling life. Now well rebuild our lives around our guiding values and deepest intentions. This growth begins with dharma. Two monks were washing their feet in a river when one of them realized that a scorpion was drowning in the water. He immediately picked it up and set it upon the bank. Though he was quick, the scorpion stung his hand. He resumed washing his feet. The other monk said, Hey, look. That foolish scorpion fell right back in. The first monk leaned over, saved the scorpion again, and was again stung. The other monk asked him, Brother, why do you rescue the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting? Because, the monk answered, to save it is my nature. The monk is modeling humilityhe does not value his own pain above the scorpions life. But the more relevant lesson here is that to save is so essential to this monks nature that he is compelled and content to do it even knowing the scorpion will sting him. The monk has so much faith in his dharma that he is willing to suffer in order to fulfill it. DISCOVERING DHARMA It is my first summer at the ashram. Ive cleaned bathrooms, cooked potato curry, harvested cabbages. Ive washed my own clothes by hand, which is not an easy choreour robes have as much material as bedsheets, and to scrub out food or grass stains would have qualified as a CrossFit workout of the day. One day Im scrubbing pots with the gusto of an overeager apprentice when a senior monk comes up to me. Wed like you to lead a class this week, he says. The topic is this verse from the Gita: Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps, and whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues. I agree to do it, and as I return to scrubbing I think about what Ill say. I understand the basic gist of the scripturewe teach by example. It taps into my understanding that who you are is not what you say, but how you behaveand it reminds me of a quote often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words. Many of the other monks, like me, didnt enter the ashram at age five. Theyve been to mainstream schools, had girlfriends and boyfriends, watched TV and movies. They wont have trouble grasping the meaning of the verse, but Im excited to figure out how I can make it feel fresh and relevant to their experiences outside the ashram. The aging computers in our library have an excruciatingly slow internet connection. Im in India, in the middle of nowhere, and it seems like every image takes an hour to download. After having done research on the speedy computers of a college library, I find the wait painful. But I know that, over in the kitchen, my fellow monks are patiently waiting for water to boil. As theyre doing, I try to respect the process. During my research, I become fascinated by the psychology of communication. I find studies by Albert Mehrabian showing that 55 percent of our communication is conveyed by body language, 38 percent is tone of voice, and a mere 7 percent is the actual words we speak. (Thats a general guideline, but even in situations where those percentages shift, the fact remains that most of our communication is nonverbal.) I lose myself in exploring how we convey our messages and values, analyzing the communication styles of various leaders, and figuring out how it all adds up to be relevant in our lives. Among others, I read about Jane Goodall, who never intended to become a leader. She first entered the wilds of Tanzania to study chimpanzees in 1960, but her research and ongoing work have significantly redefined conservation, attracted women to her field, and inspired hundreds of thousands of young people to get involved in conservation. Our class gathers in a medium-sized room. I take my place on an elevated, cushioned seat, and the students sit on cushions in front of me. I dont see myself as above them in any way, except for my elevated seat. We monks have already learned that everyone is always simultaneously a student and a teacher. When I finish giving my talk, Im pleased with how its gone. I enjoyed sharing the ideas as much as I enjoyed researching them. People thank me, telling me that they appreciated the examples and how I made the ancient verse feel relevant. One or two ask me how I preparedtheyve noticed how much work I put into it. As I bask in the glow of my satisfaction and their appreciation, I am beginning to realize my dharmastudying, experimenting with knowledge, and speaking. Everyone has a psychophysical nature which determines where they flourish and thrive. Dharma is using this natural inclination, the things youre 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. If were only excited when people say nice things about our work, its a sign that were not passionate about the work itself. And if we indulge our interests and skills, but nobody responds to them, then our passion is without purpose. If either piece is missing, were not living our dharma. When people fantasize about what they want to do and who they want to be, they dont often investigate fully enough to know if it suits their dharma. People think they want to be in finance because they know its lucrative. Or they want to be a doctor because its respected and honorable. But they move forward with no idea whether those professions suit themif they will like the process, the environment, and the energy of the work, or whether theyre any good at it. EVERYTHING YOU ARE There are two lies some of us hear when were growing up. The first is Youll never amount to anything. The second is You can be anything you want to be. The truth is You cant be anything you want. But you can be everything you are. A monk is a traveler, but the journey is inward, bringing us ever closer to our most authentic, confident, powerful self. There is no need to embark on an actual Year-in-Provence-type quest to find your passion and purpose, as if its a treasure buried in some distant land, waiting to be discovered. Your dharma is already with you. Its always been with you. Its woven into your being. If we keep our minds open and curious, our dharmas announce themselves. Even so, it can take years of exploration to uncover our dharma. One of our biggest challenges in todays world is the pressure to perform big, right now. Thanks to the early successes of folks like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Snapchat cofounder Evan Spiegel (who became the youngest billionaire in the world at age twenty-four), along with celebs such as Chance the Rapper and Bella Hadid, many of us feel that if we havent found our calling and risen to the top in our fields in our twenties, weve failed. Putting all of this pressure on people to achieve early is not only stressful, it can actually hinder success. According to Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard, in his book Late Bloomers, the majority of us dont hit our stride quite so early, but societys focus on academic testing, getting into the right colleges, and developing and selling an app for millions before you even get your degree (if you dont drop out to run your multimillion-dollar company) is causing high levels of anxiety and depression not only among those who havent conquered the world by age twenty-four, but even among those whove already made a significant mark. Many early achievers feel tremendous pressure to maintain that level of performance. But, as Karlgaard points out, there are plenty of fantastically successful people who hit their strides later in life: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrisons first novel, wasnt published until she was thirty-nine. And after a ten-year stint in college and time spent working as a ski instructor, Dietrich Mateschitz was forty before he created blockbuster energy drink company Red Bull. Pay attention, cultivate self-awareness, feed your strengths, and you will find your way. And once you discover your dharma, pursue it. OTHER PEOPLES DHARMA The Bhagavad Gita says that its better to do ones own dharma imperfectly than to do anothers perfectly. Or, as Steve Jobs put it in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Your time is limited, so dont waste it living someone elses life. In his autobiography, Andre Agassi dropped a bombshell on the world: The former worlds number one tennis player, eight-time grand slam champion, and gold medal winner didnt like tennis. Agassi was pushed into playing by his father, and though he was incredible at the game, he hated playing. The fact that he was tremendously successful and made loads of money didnt matter; it wasnt his dharma. However, Agassi has transitioned his on-court success into his true passioninstead of serving aces, hes now serving others. Along with providing other basic services for children in his native Nevada, the Andre Agassi Foundation runs a K-12 college preparatory school for at-risk youth. Our society is set up around strengthening our weaknesses rather than building our strengths. In school, if you get three As and a D, all the adults around you are focused on that D. Our grades in school, scores on standardized tests, performance reviews, even our self-improvement effortsall highlight our insufficiencies and urge us to improve them. But what happens if we think of those weaknesses not as our failures but as someone elses dharma? Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, wrote, It is trust in the limits of the self that makes us open and it is trust in the gifts of others that makes us secure. We come to realize that we dont have to do everything, that we cant do everything, that what I cant do is someone elses gift and responsibility. My limitations make space for the gifts of other people. Instead of focusing on our weaknesses, we lean into our strengths and look for ways to make them central in our lives. Here are two important caveats: First, following your dharma doesnt mean you get a free pass. When it comes to skills, you should lean into your strengths. But if your weaknesses are emotional qualities like empathy, compassion, kindness, and generosity, you should never stop developing them. Theres no point in being a tech wizard if youre not compassionate. You dont get to be a jerk just because youre skilled. Second, a bad grade in school doesnt mean you get to ditch the subject altogether. We have to be careful not to confuse inexperience with weakness. Some of us live outside our dharma because we havent figured out what it is. It is important to experiment broadly before we reject options, and much of this experimentation is done in school and elsewhere when were young. My own dharma emerged from some experiences I found extremely unpleasant. Before I taught that class at the ashram, I had a distaste for public speaking. When I was seven or eight years old, I took part in a school assembly where kids shared their cultural traditions. My mother dressed me as an Indian king, wrapping me in an ill-fitting sari-like getup that did nothing for my awkward body. The minute I walked on stage, kids started to laugh. I cant carry a tune for the life of me, and when I started to sing a prayer in transliterated Sanskrit, they lost it. I wasnt even two minutes in, and five hundred kids and all the teachers were laughing at me. I forgot the lyrics and looked down at the sheet in front of me, but I couldnt read the words through my tears. My teacher had to walk out onto the stage, put her arm around me, and lead me away as everyone continued to laugh. It was mortifying. From that moment, I hated the stage. Then, when I was fourteen, my parents forced me to attend a public speaking/drama afterschool program. Three hours, three times a week, for four years gave me the skills to stand up on stage, but I had nothing to talk about and took no pleasure in it. I was and still am shy, but that public speaking course changed my life because once that skill connected to my dharma, I ran with it. After my first summer at the ashram ended, I was not yet a full-time monk. I returned to college and decided to try my hand at teaching again. I set up an extracurricular club called Think Out Loud, where every week people would come to hear me speak on a philosophical, spiritual, and/or scientific topic, and then wed discuss it. The topic for the first meeting was Material Problems, Spiritual Solutions. I planned to explore how as humans we experience the same challenges, setbacks, and issues in life, and how spirituality can help us find the answer. Nobody showed up. It was a small room, and when it stayed empty, I thought, What can I learn from this? Then I carried onI gave my talk to the empty room with my full energy, because I felt the topic deserved it. Ever since then I have been doing the same thing in one medium or anotherstarting a conversation about who we are and how we can find solutions to our daily challenges. For the next meeting of Think Out Loud, I did a better job of distributing flyers and posters, and about ten people showed up. The topic for my second attempt was the same, Material Problems, Spiritual Solutions, and I opened the discussion by playing a clip of the comedian Chris Rock doing a bit about how the pharmaceutical industry doesnt really want to cure diseasesit actually wants us to have a prolonged need for the medications that it produces. I tied this to a discussion of how we are looking for instant fixes instead of doing the real work of growth. Ive always loved drawing from funny and contemporary examples to relate monk philosophy to our daily lives. Think Out Loud did just that every week for the next three years of college. By the time I graduated, the club had grown to one hundred people and become a weekly three-hour workshop. Weve all got a special genius inside of us, but it may not be on the path that opens directly before us. There may be no visible path at all. My dharma was not in one of the job tracks that were common at my school but rather in the club that I founded there after a chance assignment at the ashram hinted at my dharma. Our dharmas dont hide, but sometimes we need to work patiently to recognize them. As researchers Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool underscore in their book Peak, mastery requires deliberate practice, and lots of it. But if you love it, you do it. Picasso experimented with other forms of art but kept painting as his focus. Michael Jordan did a stint at baseball, but basketball was where he really thrived. Play hardest in your area of strength and youll achieve depth, meaning, and satisfaction in your life. ALIGN WITH YOUR PASSION In order to unveil our dharma, we have to identify our passionsthe activities we both love and are naturally inclined to do well. Its clear to anyone who looks at the Quadrants of Potential that we should be spending as much time as possible at the upper right, in Quadrant Two: doing things that were both good at and love. But life doesnt always work out that way. In fact, many of us find ourselves spending our careers in Quadrant One: working on things that were good at, but dont love. When we have time to spare, we hop over to Quadrant Four to indulge the hobbies and extracurriculars that we love, even though we never have enough time to become as good at them as we would like. Everyone can agree that we want to spend as little time as possible in Quadrant Three. Its super-depressing to hang out there, doing things we dont love and arent good at. So the question is: How can we move more of our time toward Quadrant Two: doing things we are good at and love? (Youll notice that I dont discuss the quadrants in numerical order. This is because Quadrants One and Four both offer half of what we want, so it makes sense to discuss them first.) Quadrant One: Good at, but Dont Love Getting from here to Quadrant Two is easier said than done. Say you dont love your job. Most of us cant just leap into a job we love that miraculously comes with a generous salary. A more practical approach is to find innovative ways to move toward Quadrant Two within the jobs that we already have. What can you do to bring your dharma where you are? When I first left the ashram, I took a consulting job at Accenture, a global management consulting firm. We were constantly dealing with numbers, data, and financial statements, and it quickly became clear that a talent for Excel was essential in order to excel in my position. But Excel was not my thing. In spite of my efforts, I couldnt force myself to get better at it. I just wasnt interested. As far as I was concerned, it was worse than mucking out the cow stalls. So, while I continued to do my best, I thought about how I could demonstrate what I was good at. My passion was wisdom and tools for life like meditation and mindfulness, so I offered to teach a mindfulness class to my working group. The lead managing director loved the idea, and the class I gave was popular enough that she asked me to speak about mindfulness and meditation at a company-wide summer event for analysts and consultants. I would speak in front of a thousand people at Twickenham Stadium, the home stadium of Englands national rugby team. When I got to the stadium, I found out that my turn at the podium was sandwiched between words from the CEO and Will Greenwood, a rugby legend. I sat in the audience listening to the lineup, thinking Crap, everyones going to laugh at me. Why did I agree to this? All the other speakers were at the top of their fields and so articulate. I started to have second thoughts about what I had planned to say and how to deliver it. Then I went through my breathing exercises, calmed myself down, and two seconds before I went on stage, I thought, Just be yourself. I would do my own dharma perfectly instead of trying to do anyone elses. I went up, did my thing, and afterward the response couldnt have been better. The director who had organized it said, Ive never heard an audience of consultants and analysts stay so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Later, she invited me to teach mindfulness all across the company in the UK. This was a tipping point for me. I saw that I hadnt just spent three years of my life learning some weird monk-only philosophy that was irrelevant outside the ashram. I could take all my skills and put them into practice. I could actually fulfill my dharma in the modern world. P.S. I still dont know how to use Excel. 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. Leonardo DiCaprio hasnt given up acting or producing, yet he also directs significant energy toward environmental advocacy because its part of his dharma. A corporate assistant might volunteer to do design work; a bartender can run a trivia contest. I worked with a lawyer whose true passion was to be a baker on The Great British Bake Off. That goal felt unrealistic to her, so she got a group of her colleagues obsessed with the show, and they started Baking Mondays, where every Monday someone on her team brought in something theyd made. She still worked just as hard and performed well at a job that she found slightly tedious, but bringing her passion to the water cooler made her team stronger and made her feel more energized throughout the day. If you have two kids and a mortgage and cant quit your job, do as the lawyer did and find a way to bring the energy of your dharma into the workplace, or look for ways to bring it into other aspects of your life like your hobbies, home, and friendships. Also, consider why you dont love your strengths. Can you find a reason to love them? I often encounter people working corporate jobs who have all the skills required to do good work, but they find the work meaningless. The best way to add meaning to an experience is to look for how it might serve you in the future. If you tell yourself: Im learning how to work in a global team, or Im getting all the budgeting skills Ill need if I open a skate shop one day, then you can nurture a passion for something that may not be your first choice. Link the feeling of passion to the experience of learning and growth. Psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski from the Yale School of Management and colleagues studied hospital cleaning crews to understand how they experienced their work. One crew described the work as not particularly satisfying and not requiring much skill. And when they explained the tasks they performed, it basically sounded like the job description from the personnel manual. But when the researchers talked to another cleaning crew, they were surprised by what they heard. The second group enjoyed their work, found it deeply meaningful, and described it as being highly skilled. When they described their tasks, the reason for the distinction between the crews started to become clear. The second crew talked not just about typical custodial chores, but also about noticing which patients seemed especially sad or had fewer visitors and making a point to start a conversation or check in on them more often. They related incidents where they escorted elderly visitors through the parking structure so they wouldnt get lost (even though the custodians technically could have gotten fired for that). One woman said she periodically switched the pictures on the walls among different rooms. When asked if this was part of her job, she replied, Thats not part of my job. But thats part of me. From this study and subsequent research, Wrzesniewski and her colleagues created the phrase job crafting to describe what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience, and thriving. According to the researchers, we can reengineer our tasks, relationships, or even just how we perceive what we do (such as custodians thinking of themselves as healers and ambassadors). The intention with which we approach our work has a tremendous impact on the meaning we gain from it and our personal sense of purpose. Learn to find meaning now, and it will serve you all your life. Quadrant Four: Not Good at, but Love When our passions arent lucrative, we de-prioritize them. Then we feel frustrated that we love an activity but cant do it well or frequently enough to fully enjoy it. The surest route to improving skills is always time. Can you use coaching, take courses, or get training to improve at what you love? Impossible, you say. If I had time to do that, believe me, I would. We will talk about how to find nonexistent time in the next chapter, but for now I will say this: Everyone has time. We commute or we cook or we watch TV. We may not have three hours, but we have ten minutes to listen to a podcast or learn a new technique from a YouTube video. You can do a lot in ten minutes. Sometimes when we tap into our dharma, it carves out the time for us. When I first started making videos, I worked on them after I got home from my corporate job. Five hours a day, five days a week, I focused on editing five-minute videos. For a long time, the return-on-investment was pitiful, but I wasnt willing to write myself off before trying to make the most of my skill. In the years since, Ive seen people monetize the weirdest things. Spend any amount of time on Etsy, and youll be amazed at how many people have found ways to make money off their passions. However, if the world is sending you a very strong message that it wont pay for or does not otherwise need or want your passion, then fine. Accept that. Theres a critical need for soccer in the world, but theres no need for me to play soccer. Still, the soccer matches I organized at Accenture were the highlight of my week. If its not your dharma, it can still give you joy. Quadrant Three: Not Good at, Dont Love Do whatever you can to crawl out of this soul-sucking quadrant. You will always have unpleasant chores, but they shouldnt 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. And remember, just because you dont like it doesnt mean nobody likes it. Can you work out a trade with a friend or colleague, where you take on each others least favorite tasks? If you cant offload the chore, remember the lesson I learned at the ashramevery task is an essential organ. None is less important than the others, and none of us is too important to do any chore. If you think youre too good for something, you succumb to the worst egotistical impulses, and you devalue anyone who does that chore. When youre satisfied in your dharma, you can, without envy or ego, appreciate others who are good at another skill. I have great respect for people who can do Excel, I just dont want to do it myself. When I encounter doctors or soldiers or people in any number of other careers, I think, Thats extraordinary. Its amazing. But its not me. TRY THIS: IDENTIFY YOUR QUADRANT OF POTENTIAL You may have been doing this exercise in your head as you read about the Quadrants of Potential. Nonetheless, I want you to go through the exercise of acknowledging how close you are to living your dharma today. Do you like your job? Do you love your job? Are you good at your job? Do other people need and appreciate your work? Is your greatest skill or passion outside your work? What is it? Do you dream of making it your work? Do you think this is an attainable dream? Do you think there might be ways you could bring your passion to your work? Write down any ideas you have for bringing your passion to the universe. Quadrant Two: Vedic Personality We want to live in Quadrant Two, where we spend our time using our talents to do what we love. If we arent there, we examine the problem the monk wayinstead of looking at specific skills youve developed and specific activities that you love, we look beyond them, to their roots. The Bhagavad Gita contemplates dharma by dividing us into four personality typeswhat it calls varnas. There are four varnas, and knowing your varna tells you your nature and competence. In relatively recent history (during the nineteenth century), when British leaders imposed their own rigid class system on Indian society, the varnas emerged as the basis for the caste system. Though castesa hierarchy of job categorieswere based on the varnas, this is a misinterpretation of the text. Im not talking about the caste system hereI believe that all of us are equal; we just have different talents and skills. My discussion of the varnas is about how to harness these skills and talents to live to your fullest potential. The different personality types are meant to work together in a community, like the organs in a bodyall essential and none superior to the others. Varnas arent determined by birth. Theyre meant to help us understand our true nature and inclinations. Youre not creative just because your parents are. No one varna is better than another. We all seek different types of work, fun, love, and service. There is no hierarchy or segregation. If two people are both acting in their best dharma, living for the service of others, then neither is better than the other. Is a cancer researcher better than a fireman? TRY THIS: THE VEDIC PERSONALITY TEST This simple test is not an absolute determination of your personality type, but it will help as you seek out your dharma. See the appendix for The Vedic Personality Test. THE VARNAS The four varnas are the Guide, the Leader, the Creator, and the Maker. These labels arent directly tied to specific jobs or activities. Sure, certain activities bring us pleasure because they fulfill our dharma, but there are many different ways to live in our dharma. A Guide, as you will see on page 112, is compelled to learn and share knowledgeyou could be a teacher or a writer. A Leader likes to influence and provide, but that doesnt mean you have to be a CEO or a lieutenantyou could be a school principal or shop manager. A Creator likes to make things happenthis could be at a start-up or in a neighborhood association. A Maker likes to see things tangibly being builtthey could be a coder or a nurse. Remember the gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattvaignorance, impulsivity, and goodness. For each of the varnas I describe what their behavior looks like in each guna mode. We strive toward sattva through letting go of ignorance, working in our passion, and serving in goodness. The more time we spend in sattva, the more effective and fulfilled we become. Creators Originally: merchants, businesspeople Today: marketers, salespeople, entertainers, producers, entrepreneurs, CEOs Skills: brainstorming, networking, innovating Make things happen Can convince themselves and others of anything Great at sales, negotiation, persuasion Highly driven by money, pleasure, and success Very hardworking and determined Excel in trade, commerce, and banking Always on the move Work hard, play hard Mode of Ignorance Become corrupt and sell things with no value / Lie, cheat, steal to sell something Beaten down by failure Burned out, depressed, moody, due to overwork Mode of Impulse Status-driven Dynamic, charismatic, and captivating Hustler, goal-oriented, tireless Mode of Goodness Use money for greater good Create products and ideas that make money but also serve others Provide jobs and opportunities for others Makers Originally: artists, musicians, creatives, writers Today: social workers, therapists, doctors, nurses, COOs, heads of human resources, artists, musicians, engineers, coders, carpenters, cooks Skills: inventing, supporting, implementing Mode of Ignorance Depressed by failure Feel stuck and unworthy Anxious Mode of Impulse Explore and experiment with new ideas Juggle too many things at the same time Lose focus on expertise and care; focus more on money and results Mode of Goodness Driven by stability and security Generally content and satisfied with the status quo Choose meaningful goals to pursue Work hard but always maintain balance with family commitments Best right-hand man or woman Lead team gatherings Support those in need Highly skilled at manual professions Connections Makers and Creators complement each other Makers make Creators focus on detail, quality, gratitude, and contentment Creators help Makers think bigger, become more goal-oriented Guides Originally and today: teachers, guides, gurus, coaches, mentors Skills: learning, studying, sharing knowledge, and wisdom A coach and a mentor no matter what role they play Want to bring out the best in the people in their life Value knowledge and wisdom more than fame, power, money, security Like having space and time to reflect and learn Want to help people find meaning, fulfillment, and purpose Like to work alone Enjoy intellectual pursuits in their spare timereading, debate, discussion Mode of Ignorance Dont practice what they preach Dont lead by example Struggle with implementation Mode of Impulse Love to debate and destroy others arguments Use knowledge for strength and power Intellectually curious Mode of Goodness Use knowledge to help people find their purpose Aspire to better themselves in order to give more Realize knowledge is not theirs to use alone, but that they are here to serve Leaders Originally: kings, warriors Today: military, justice, law enforcement, politics Skills: governing, inspiring, engaging others Natural leaders of people, movements, groups, and families Directed by courage, strength, and determination Protect those who are less privileged Led by higher morals and values and seek to enforce them across the world Provide structures and frameworks for the growth of people Like to work in teams Great at organization, focus, and dedication to a mission Mode of Ignorance Give up on change due to corruption and hypocrisy Develop a negative, pessimistic viewpoint Lose moral compass in drive for power Mode of Impulse Build structures and frameworks for fame and money, not meaning Use their talents to serve themselves not humanity Focus on short term goals for themselves Mode of Goodness Fight for higher morals, ethics, and values Inspire people to work together Build long-term goals to support society Connections Guides and Leaders complement each other Guides give wisdom to Leaders Leaders give structure to Guides 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. When I look at my Guide tendencies, it makes sense to me that I succeed when I focus on strategy. Creators and Makers are better at implementation, so Ive surrounded myself with people who can help me with that. A musician might be a Maker, driven by security. In order to succeed, they might need to be surrounded by strategists. Invest in your strengths and surround yourself with people who can fill in the gaps. When you know your varnayour passion and skillsand you serve with that, it becomes your dharma. TRY THIS: REFLECTED BEST-SELF EXERCISE 1.Choose a group of people who know you wella diverse mix of people youve worked with, family, and friends. As few as three will work, but ten to twenty is even better. 2.Ask them to write down a moment when you were at your best. Ask them to be specific. 3.Look for patterns and common themes. 4.Write out a profile of yourself, aggregating the feedback as if it werent about you. 5.Think about how you can turn your best skills into action. How can you use those skills this weekend? In different circumstances or with different people? TEST-DRIVE YOUR DHARMA The Vedic Personality Test helps you begin to see your varna, but just like a horoscope, it cant tell you whats going to happen tomorrow. Its up to you to test these varnas in the real world through exploration and experimentation. If your varna is Leader, try to take on that role at work, or by organizing your kids birthday party. Do you genuinely take joy in the process? Think about the level of awareness we have when we eat something. We immediately do a sense check and decide if we like it, and we wouldnt have trouble rating it on a scale of one to ten if asked to do so. Furthermore, we might have different feelings about it the next day. (When I have my favorite chocolate brownie sundae on a Sunday night, I feel pretty happy about it, but by Monday morning I no longer think it was the best thing in the world to put in my body.) With both immediate and long-term reflection, we form nuanced opinions about whether we want to make that food part of our regular diet. All of us do this with food, we do it when we leave a movie theater (Did you like it?), and some of us do it on Yelp. But we dont think to measure our compatibility with and taste for how we spend our time. 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 were going to do to refine our understanding of our varna. The first and most critical question to ask when youre exploring your varna is: Did I enjoy the process? TRY THIS: KEEP AN ACTIVITY JOURNAL 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. Test the description of your varna against your experience to pinpoint what you enjoyed about it. Instead of saying, I love taking pictures, find the root of it. Do you like helping families put together a Christmas card that makes them proud? (Guide) Do you like to document human struggles or other meaningful situations in order to promote change? (Leader) Or do you love the technical aspects of lighting, focus, and developing film? (Maker) As monks, every time we completed an activity or thought exercise like the ones in this book, we asked ourselves questions: What did I like about that? Am I good at it? Do I want to read about it, learn about it, and spend a lot of my time doing it? Am I driven to improve? What made me feel comfortable or uncomfortable? If I was uncomfortable, was it in a positive waya challenge that made me growor a negative way? This awareness gives us a much more nuanced view of where we thrive. Instead of sending us on one and only one path, that awareness opens us to new ways we can put our passions to use. EMBRACE YOUR DHARMA Our heads might try to convince us that weve only ever made the best choices, but our true natureour passion and purposeisnt in our heads, its in our hearts. In fact, our heads often get in the way of our passions. Here are some of the excuses that we use to close our minds: Im too old to start my own business. It would be irresponsible of me to make this change. I cant afford to do this. I already know that. Ive always done it this way. That way wont work for me. I dont have time. Past beliefs, false or self-deceiving, sneak in to block our progress. Fears prevent us from trying new things. Our egos get in the way of learning new information and opening ourselves to growth. (More on this in Chapter Eight.) And nobody ever has time for change. But miracles happen when you embrace your dharma. Growing up, Joseph Campbell had no model of a career that fit his diverse interests. As a child in the early 1900s, he became fascinated by Native American culture and studied everything he could about it. During college, he became entranced with the rituals and symbols of Catholicism. While studying abroad, his interests expanded to include the theories of Jung and Freud, and he developed an interest in modern art. Back at Columbia, Campbell told his dissertation advisors that he wanted to blend ancient stories about the Holy Grail with ideas in art and psychology. They rejected that idea. He abandoned work on his thesis and in 1949 found a job teaching literature at Sarah Lawrence College, which he held for thirty-eight years. Meanwhile, he published hundreds of books and articles, and did a deep dive into ancient Indian mythology and philosophy. But it was in The Hero with a Thousand Faces that he first discussed his groundbreaking ideas about what he called the heros journeya concept that established Campbell as one of the foremost authorities on mythology and the human psyche. As someone who followed his dharma, its no surprise that Joseph Campbell is the original source of the advice Follow your bliss. He wrote, Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat, Chit, Ananda. The word Sat means being. Chit means consciousness. Ananda means bliss or rapture. I thought, I dont know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I dont know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being. I think it worked. If you follow your bliss, he said, doors will open for you that wouldnt have opened for anyone else. Protective instincts hold us back or steer us toward practical decisions (Campbell did teach literature for thirty-eight years), but we can see past them and follow our dharma if we know what to look for. DHARMA IS OF THE BODY Instead of listening to our minds, we must pay attention to how an idea or activity feels in our bodies. First, when you visualize yourself in a process, do you feel joy? Does the idea of it appeal to you? Then, when you actually do the activity, how does your body respond? When youre in your element, you can feel it. 1.Alive. For some people, being in their dharma means they feel a calm, confident satisfaction. For others, there is a thrill of joy and excitement. In either case, you feel alive, connected, with a smile on your face. A light comes on. 2.Flow. In dharma, there is a natural momentum. You feel like youre in your lane, swimming with the current, instead of struggling through a resistant surf. When you are truly aligned, there is a sense of flowyou come out of your own head and lose track of time. 3.Comfort. In your dharma, you dont feel alone or out of place, no matter who comes or goes or where you are physically; where you are feels right, even if the place where you feel right is traveling the world. I dont like the feeling of danger, but I have a friend who loves fast cars and Jet Skis. The dangerthe worst-case scenariois the same for both of us, but for him it is worth it, or the danger itself is a joy. On stage, Im in my element, but someone else would shut down. 4.Consistency. If you have a great time snorkeling on vacation, that doesnt mean snorkeling, or being on vacation for that matter, is your dharma. Being in your dharma bears repeating. In fact, it gets better the more you do it. But a single event is a clue to what energy you like, when and how you feel alive. 5.Positivity and growth. When were aware of our own strengths, were more confident, we value others abilities more, and we feel less competitive. The inclination to compare yourself to others may not go away completely, but it shrinks because you only compare yourself to people within your area of expertise. Rejection and criticism dont feel like assaults. They feel like information that we can accept or reject, depending on whether they help us move forward. DHARMA IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY Once you have a sense of your dharma, its up to you to set up your life so that you can live it. Were not always going to be in a place or a situation where others recognize our dharma and bend over backward to help us fulfill it. As we all have experienced at one time or another, bosses dont always tap into their employees potential. If youre reading this chapter thinking My manager needs to understand dharmathen shell give me the promotion, youve missed the point. We will never live in an idyllic world where everyone constantly lives their dharma, with occasional pauses for their bosses to call and ask if theyre truly fulfilled. It is our responsibility to demonstrate and defend our dharma. The Manusmriti says that dharma protects those who protect it. Dharma brings you stability and peace. When we have the confidence to know where we thrive, we find opportunities to demonstrate that. This creates a feedback loop. When you safeguard your dharma, you constantly strive to be in a place where you thrive. When you thrive, people notice, and you reap rewards that help you stay in your dharma. Your dharma protects your joy and your sense of purpose and helps you grow. STRETCH YOUR DHARMA A person who isnt living their dharma is like a fish out of water. You can give the fish all the riches in the world, but it will die unless its returned to the water. Once you discover your dharma, strive to play that role in every aspect of your life. Follow your passion in the workplace. Take up community issues using the same skill set. Be in your dharma with your family, in sports, in relationships, during days out with friends. If my dharma is to be a leader, Im probably the one who should be planning the family holidays. I will feel meaning in that role. But if Im a leader and Im not playing that role, Ill feel insignificant and frustrated. Perhaps you are thinking, Jay, it makes no sense to stick to your dharma. Everyone knows that you should push yourself. Try new things. Venture out of your comfort zone. Though your dharma is your natural state, its range is further than your comfort zone. For instance, if your dharma is to be a speaker, you can go from an audience of ten to an audience of a hundred, scaling the size of your impact. If you speak to students, you can start speaking to CEOs. Its also important to stretch your dharma. Im not the most outgoing person in the world, but I go to events and meetings because I know connecting with people serves my purpose. Going against your dharma is a bit like roller skating. You feel off-balance, slightly out of control, and exhausted afterward. But the more you understand yourself, the more solid your footing. You can consciously skate off in a new direction for a higher purpose. Understanding your dharma is key to knowing when and how to leave it behind. Our dharmas evolve with us. A British expat, Emma Slade, lived in Hong Kong, where she worked as an investor for a global bank managing accounts worth more than a billion dollars. I loved it, says Slade. It was fast, it was exciting. I ate balance sheets for breakfast. Then in September 1997, Slade was on a business trip in Jakarta, Indonesia, when an armed man pushed a gun into her chest, robbed her, and held her hostage in her hotel room. She says that as she lay cowering on the floor, she learned the value of a human life. Fortunately, police arrived before Slade was physically harmed. Later, when police officers showed her a photograph of the man slumped against the hotel wall surrounded by spatters of blood, Slade was shocked to feel sadness and compassion for him. That feeling stuck with her and led her to pursue the question of her real purpose. Slade quit her job and began exploring yoga and the nature of mind. In 2011, she traveled to Bhutan, where she met a monk who left an indelible impression on her (been there!). In 2012, she became a Buddhist nun, and Slade (now also known as Pema Deki) felt shed finally found peace. Yet that feeling of compassion shed felt for the man who attacked her returned, and Slade realized she needed to do something to put her compassion into action. So in 2015 she founded a UK-based charity called Opening Your Heart to Bhutan, which seeks to meet the basic needs of people in rural areas of East Bhutan. Though she found fulfillment in becoming a nun, it was never her dharma to sit in a cave and meditate for the rest of her life. She now deploys her financial acumen in a way that serves herself and others more richly. Says Slade, The skills of old have been very useful in bringing me now a very meaningful and happy life. Slade compares her experience to the lotus flower, which begins in the mud then grows upward through the water as it seeks light. In Buddhism, the lotus represents the idea that the mud and muck of lifes challenges can provide fertile ground for our development. As the lotus grows, it rises through the water to eventually blossom. The Buddha says, Just like a red, blue, or white lotusborn in the water, grown in the water, rising up above the waterstands unsmeared by the water, in the same way Iborn in the world, grown in the world, having overcome the worldlive unsmeared by the world. Jakarta was my mud, Slade says in her TEDx Talk, but it was also the seed of my future development. Remember the whole equation of dharma. Dharma isnt 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. As Ive said, monks believe that you should be willing to do whatever is needed when theres a higher purpose (and monks live this fully), but if youre not a monk the way to see it is that the pleasure you feel in doing your passion should equal how much others appreciate it. If others dont think youre effective, then your passion is a hobby, which can add richness to your life. This doesnt mean every activity outside your dharma is a waste of time. For all of us there are activities in life that are competence-building and activities that are character-building. When I was first asked to give talks, I built competence in my dharma. But when I was asked to take out the trash, it built my character. To build your competence without regard for character is narcissistic, and to build character without working on skills is devoid of impact. We need to work on both in order to serve our souls and a higher purpose. Knowing your purpose and fulfilling it is easier and more fruitful when you use your time and energy wisely every day. In the next chapter we will talk about how to get the best start to your day and how to follow through from there. SIX ROUTINE Location Has Energy; Time Has Memory Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. the Dalai Lama There are twelve of us, maybe more, sleeping on the floor, each on a thin yoga-type pad, covered by a simple sheet. The walls of the room are made of packed cow dung that feels like rough plaster and gives the place a not-unpleasant earthy smell. The unfinished stone floors are worn smooth, but a far cry from memory foam. There are no finished windows in this buildingwere in an interior room that keeps us dry in the rainy season and has plenty of doors for ventilation. Although I sleep here every night, there is no particular space that I consider mine. We steer clear of ownership hereno possessions, no material attachments. Right now the room is dark as a cave, but from the tenor of the birds outside, our bodies know that its 4 a.m.time to wake up. Were due at collective prayers in half an hour. Without speaking a word, we move to the locker room, some of us showering, some of us pulling on our robes. We wait in line to brush our teeth at one of the four communal sinks. No one from the outside world is witness to our activity, but if they were, they would see a group of seemingly well-rested men, all of whom appear perfectly content to be getting up at this early hour. It wasnt always that easy. Every morning my brain, desperate to remain shut down just a little bit longer, thought of a different excuse for why I should sleep in. But I pushed myself to adopt this new routine because I was committed to the process. The fact that it was hard was an important part of the journey. Eventually, I learned the one infallible trick to successfully getting up earlier: I had to go to sleep earlier. That was it. Id spent my entire life pushing the limits of each day, sacrificing tomorrow because I didnt want to miss out on today. But once I finally let that go and started going to sleep earlier, waking up at four became easier and easier. And as it became easier, I found that I could do it without the help of anyone or anything besides my own body and the natural world around it. This was a revelatory experience for me. I realized I had never in my life begun my day without being startled in one way or another. When I was a teenager, my morning summons came in the form of my mother screaming Jay, wake up! from downstairs. In later years, an alarm clock performed the same thankless task. Every day of my life had begun with a sudden, jarring intrusion. Now, however, I was waking up to the sounds of birds, trees rustling in the wind, a stream of water. I woke to the sounds of nature. At last I came to understand the value in it. The point of waking up early wasnt to torture usit was to start the day off with peace and tranquility. Birds. A gong. The sound of flowing water. And our morning routine never varied. The simplicity and structure of ashram mornings spared us from the stressful complexity of decisions and variation. Starting our days so simply was like a mental shower. It cleansed us of the challenges of the previous day, giving us the space and energy to transform greed into generosity, anger into compassion, loss into love. Finally, it gave us resolve, a sense of purpose to carry out into the day. In the ashram, every detail of our life was designed to facilitate the habit or ritual we were trying to practice. For example, our robes: When we rose, we never had to think about what to wear. Like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Arianna Huffington, all of whom have been known to have their own basic uniforms, monks simplify their clothing so as not to waste energy and time on dressing for the day. We each had two sets of robesone to wear and one to wash. In similar fashion, the early morning wake-up was designed to launch the day in the right spirit. It was an ungodly hour, yet it was spiritually enlightening. I would never wake up that early, you may be thinking. I cant think of a worse way to start the day. I understand that perspective since I used to feel the same way! But lets take a look at how most people currently start their day: sleep researchers say 85 percent of us need an alarm clock to wake up for work. When we wake up before our bodies are ready, the hormone melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep, is usually still at work, which is one of the reasons we grope for the snooze button. Unfortunately, our productivity-driven society encourages us to live like this. Maria Popova, a writer whos best known as the curator of Brain Pickings, writes, We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. Then, once weve woken up after too little sleep, nearly a quarter of us do something else that starts us out on the second wrong foot of the daywe reach for our cell phones within one minute of waking up. Over half of us are checking messages within ten minutes. A majority of people go from out cold to processing mountains of information within minutes every morning. There are only six cars that can go from zero to sixty miles per hour in under two seconds. Like most cars, humans are not built for that kind of sudden transition, mentally or physically. And the last thing you need to do when youve just woken up is to stumble straight into tragedy and pain courtesy of news headlines or friends venting about gridlock on their commute. Looking at your phone first thing in the morning is like inviting one hundred chatty strangers into your bedroom before youve showered, brushed your teeth, fixed your hair. Between the alarm clock and the world inside your phone, youre immediately overwhelmed with stress, pressure, anxiety. Do you really expect yourself to emerge from that state and have a pleasant, productive day? In the ashram, we started each morning in the spirit of the day we planned to have, and we trained ourselves to sustain that deliberateness and focus all day long. Sure, thats all fine and good if your daily schedule involves prayer, meditation, study, service, and chores, but the outside world is more complex. EARLY TO RISE Here is my first recommendation: Wake up one hour earlier than you do now. No way! you say. Why would I want to wake up any earlier than I do right now? I dont get enough sleep as it is. Besides, yuck! But hear me out. None of us wants to go to work tired and then get to the end of the day feeling like we could have done more. The energy and mood of the morning carries through the day, so making life more meaningful begins there. Were used to waking up just before we have to get to work, or to a class, or to a workout, or to shuttle children off to school. We leave ourselves just enough time to shower, eat breakfast, pack up, etc. But having just enough time means not having enough time. You run late. You skip breakfast. You leave the bed unmade. You cant take the time to enjoy your shower, brush your teeth properly, finish your breakfast, or put everything away so youll return to a tidy home. You cant do things with purpose and care if you have to speed through them. When you start the morning with high pressure and high stress, youre programming your body to operate in that mode for the rest of the day, through conversations, meetings, appointments. Waking up early leads to a more productive day. Successful businesspeople are already onto this. Apple CEO Tim Cook starts his day at 3:45 a.m. Richard Branson is up at 5:45. Michelle Obama rises at 4:30. But its important to note that while lots of high-impact people rise early, theres also a movement among top executives to reclaim sleep. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos makes it a priority to get eight hours of sleep every night, saying that less sleep might give you more time to produce, but the quality will suffer. So if youre going to rise early, you need to turn in at an hour that allows you to get a full nights rest. Life gets more complicated if you have kids or a night job, so if these or other circumstances make the idea of waking up an hour earlier unfathomable, dont despair. Start with manageable increments (see the Try This below). And notice I didnt name a specific time for you to get up. Im not asking for 4 a.m. The hour doesnt even have to be earlythe goal is to give you enough time to move with intention and do things completely. That spirit will carry through the day. Create a time cushion at the beginning of the day or youll spend the rest of the day searching for it. I guarantee you will never find that extra time in the middle of the day. Steal it from your morning sleep and give that sleep back to yourself at night. See what changes. TRY THIS: EASE INTO AN EARLIER WAKE-UP This week, wake up just fifteen minutes earlier. Youll probably have to use an alarm, but make it a gentle one. Use low lighting when you first wake up; put on quiet music. Dont pick up your phone for at least those bonus fifteen minutes. Give your brain this time to set a tone for the day ahead. After one week of this, roll your wake time back another fifteen minutes. Now you have half an hour that is all yours. How will you choose to spend it? You might take a longer shower. Sip your tea. Go for a walk. Meditate. Spend a moment cleaning up after yourself before you step out the door. At night, turn off the TV and phone and get in bed whenever you feel the first twinge of fatigue. FOUND TIME Once youve created space in the morning, it is yours alone; nobody else controls how you use it. Given how much of our time is controlled by our obligationsjob, family, etc.this free time is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. You might go about your ordinary routine, but feel the space and leisure created by more time. Maybe you have time to make your own coffee instead of grabbing it en route. You can have a conversation over breakfast, read the paper, or use your newfound time to exercise. If you have a meditation, you can start the day with a gratitude visualization practice. Maybe, as health experts are fond of recommending, youll park further from work to add a bit of a walk to your morning. When you create the space, youll realize it fills with what you lack most of all: time for yourself. 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. (See Chapter Nine.) 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. (More about sound meditation at the end of Part 3.) 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. THE EVENING ROUTINE At the ashram, I learned that the morning is defined by the evening. Its natural for us to treat each morning like a new beginning, but the truth is that our days circle on themselves. You dont set your alarm in the morningyou set it the night before. It follows that if you want to wake up in the morning with intention, you need to start that momentum by establishing a healthy, restful evening routineand so the attention weve given the mornings begins to expand and define the entire day. There is no way you have time to wake up one hour earlier, but how often do you switch on the TV, settle on one show or another, and end up watching until past midnight? You watch TV because youre unwinding. Youre too tired to do anything else. But earlier sleep time can put you in a better mood. Human growth hormone (HGH) is kind of a big deal. It plays a key role in growth, cell repair, and metabolism, and without it we might even die sooner. As much as 75 percent of the HGH in our bodies is released when we sleep, and research shows that our highest bursts of HGH typically come between 10 p.m. and midnight, so if youre awake during those hours, youre cheating yourself of HGH. If you have a job that goes past midnight, or little kids who keep you up, feel free to ignore me, but waking up before the demands of your day begin should not be at the expense of good sleep. If you spent that ten to midnight getting real rest, it wouldnt be so hard to find those hours in the morning. In the ashram, we spent the evenings studying and reading and went to sleep between eight and ten. We slept in pitch darkness, with no devices in the room. We slept in T-shirts and shorts, never in our robes, which carried the energy of the waking day. Morning sets the tone of the day, but a well-planned evening prepares you for morning. In an interview on CNBCs Make It, Instagram Shark Tank star Kevin OLeary 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 youre tackling first will simplify your morning. You wont have to push or force your mind when its just warming up. (And, bonus, those tasks wont keep you up at night if you know youre going to handle them.) Next, find your version of a monks robe, a uniform that youll put on in the morning. I have a bigger selection of clothes now, and to my wifes 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 youre 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, youll have squandered that energy. Settle into patterns and make decisions the night before, and youll have a head start on the morning and will be better able to make focused decisions throughout the day. Finally, consider what your last thoughts are before going to sleep. Are they This screen is going blurry, Id better turn off my phone or I forgot to wish my mother Happy Birthday? Dont program yourself to wake up with bad energy. Every night when Im falling asleep, I say to myself, I am relaxed, energized, and focused. I am calm, enthusiastic, and productive. It has a yoga-robot vibe when I put it on paper, but it works for me. I am programming my mind to wake up with energy and conviction. The emotion you fall asleep with at night is most likely the emotion youll wake up with in the morning. A STONE ON THE PATH The goal of all this preparation is to bring intentionality to the entire day. The moment you leave your home, there will be more curveballs, whatever your job may be. Youre going to need the energy and focus you cultivated all morning. Monks dont just have morning routines and nighttime routines; we use routines of time and location every moment of the day. Sister Joan Chittister, the Benedictine nun Ive already mentioned, says, People living in the cities and suburbs can make choices about the way they live, though most of them dont see that, because they are conditioned to be on the go all the time. Imagine for a moment what America would look like, imagine the degree of serenity wed have, if laypeople had something comparable to the daily schedule of the cloistered life. It provides scheduled time for prayer, work, and recreation. Routines root us. The two hours I spend meditating support the other twenty-two hours of my day, just as the twenty-two hours influence my meditation. The relationship between the two is symbiotic. TRY THIS: VISUALIZATION FOR TOMORROW Just as an inventor has to visualize an idea before building it, we can visualize the life we want, beginning by visualizing how we want our mornings to be. After you do breathwork to calm your mind, I want you to visualize yourself as your best self. Visualize yourself waking up in the morning healthy, well rested, and energized. Imagine the sunlight coming through the windows. You get up, and as your feet touch the ground, you feel a sense of gratitude for another day. Really feel that gratitude, and then say in your mind, I am grateful for today. I am excited for today. I am joyful for today. See yourself brushing your teeth, taking your time, being mindful to brush every tooth. Then, as you go into the shower, visualize yourself feeling calm, balance, ease, stillness. When you come out of the shower, because you chose what you were going to wear the night before, its not a bother to dress. Now see yourself setting your intentions, writing down, My intention today is to be focused. My intention today is to be disciplined. My intention today is to be of service. Visualize the whole morning again as realistically as you can. You may add some exercise, some meditation. Believe it. Feel it. Welcome it into your life. Feeling fresh, feeling fueled. Now visualize yourself continuing the day as your best self. See yourself inspiring others, leading others, guiding others, sharing with others, listening to others, learning from others, being open to others, their feedback and their thoughts. See yourself in this dynamic environment, giving your best and receiving your best. Visualize yourself coming home at the end of the day. Youre tired, but youre happy. You want to sit down and rest, but youre grateful for whatever you have: a job, a life, family, friends, a home. You have more than so many people. See yourself in the evening; instead of being on your phone or watching a show, you come up with new ideas to spend that time meaningfully. When you visualize yourself getting into bed at a good time, see yourself looking up and saying, Im grateful for today. I will wake up tomorrow feeling healthy, energized, and rested. Thank you. Then visualize yourself scanning throughout your body and thanking each part of your body for helping you throughout the day. When youre ready, in your own time, at your own pace, slowly and gently open your eyes. Note: Life messes up your plans. Tomorrow is not going to go as you visualize it. Visualization doesnt change your life, but it changes how you see it. You can build your life by returning to the ideal that you imagined. Whenever you feel that your life is out of alignment, you realign it with the visualization. In the ashram we took the same thirty-minute walk on the same path at least once a day. Every day the monk asked us to keep our eyes open for something different, something wed never before seen on this walk that we had taken yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Spotting something new every day on our familiar walk was a reminder to keep our focus on that walk, to see the freshness in each routine, to be aware. Seeing something is not the same as noticing it. Researchers at UCLA asked faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Psychology whether they knew the location of the nearest fire extinguisher. Only 24 percent could remember where the closest one was, even though, for 92 percent of the participants, a fire extinguisher was just a few feet from where they filled out the survey (which was usually their own office or a classroom they frequently visited). One professor didnt realize that there was a fire extinguisher just inches from the office hed occupied for twenty-five years. Truly noticing whats around us keeps our brains from shifting to autopilot. At the ashram we were trained to do this on our daily walk. I have taken this walk for hundreds of days now. It is hot, but not unpleasant in my robes. The forest is leafy and cool, the dirt path feels soothing underfoot. Today a senior monk has asked us to look for a new stone, one that we have never noticed before. I am slightly disappointed. For the past week or so weve been asked to look for a new flower every day, and yesterday I lined up an extra one for today, a tiny blue flower cupping a drop of dew that seemed to wink at me as if it were in on my plan. But no, our leader is somehow onto me and has switched things up. And so the hunt is on. Monks understand that routine frees your mind, but the biggest threat to that freedom is monotony. People complain about their poor memories, but Ive heard it said that we dont have a retention problem, we have an attention problem. By searching for the new, you are reminding your brain to pay attention and rewiring it to recognize that theres something to learn in everything. Life isnt as certain as we assume. How can I advocate both for establishing routines and seeking out novelty? Arent these contradictory? But it is precisely doing the familiar that creates room for discovery. The late Kobe Bryant was onto this. The basketball legend had started showing his creative side, developing books and a video series. As Bryant told me on my podcast, On Purpose, 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 dont have structure, youre 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. This approach leads to delight in small things. We tend to anticipate the big events of life: holidays, promotions, birthday parties. We put pressure on these events to live up to our expectations. But if we look for small joys, we dont have to wait for them to come up on the calendar. Instead they await us every day if we take the time to look for them. And Ive found it! Here, a curious orange-y stone that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere since yesterday. I turn it over in my palm. Finding the stone isnt the end of our discovery process. We observe it deeply, describe the color, the shape, immerse ourselves in it in order to understand and appreciate it. Then we might describe it again to be sure weve experienced it fully. This isnt an exercise, its real. A deep experience. I smile before returning it to the edge of the path, half-hidden, but there for someone else to find. To walk down the same old path and find a new stone is to open your mind. CHEW YOUR DRINKS AND DRINK YOUR FOOD Monk training wasnt just about spotting the new. It was about doing familiar things with awareness. One afternoon a senior monk told us, Today we will have a silent lunch. Remember to chew your drinks and drink your food. What does that mean? I asked. We dont 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: SAME OLD, SAME NEW Look for something new in a routine that you already have. What can you spy on your commute that you have never seen before? Try starting a conversation with someone you see regularly but havent ever engaged. Do this with one new person every day and see how your life changes. If a monk can be mindful of a single sip of water, imagine how this carries through to the rest of daily life. How can you rediscover the everyday? When you exercise, can you see the route that you run or feel the rhythms of the gym differently? Do you see the same woman walking her dog every day? Could you greet her with a nod? When you shop for food, can you take the time to choose the perfect appleor the most unusual one? Can you have a personal exchange with the cashier? In your physical space, how can you look at things freshly? There are articles all around our homes and our workspaces that we have put out because they please us: photos, knickknacks, art objects. Look at yours closely. Are these a true reflection of what brings you joy? Are there other favorites that deserve a turn in the spotlight and inject some novelty into your familiar surroundings? Add flowers to a vase or rearrange your furniture to find new brightness and purpose in familiar possessions. Simply choosing a new place for incoming mail can change it from clutter to part of an organized life. We can awaken the familiarity of home by changing things up. Have music playing when your partner comes home if thats something you dont usually do. Or vice versa, if you usually put on music or a podcast when you get home, try silence instead. Bring a strange piece of fruit home from the store and put it in the middle of the dinner table. Introduce a topic of conversation to your dinner companions or take turns reporting three surprising moments in the day. Switch the lightbulb to a softer or clearer light. Flip the mattress. Sleep on the wrong side of the bed. Appreciating the everyday doesnt even have to involve change so much as finding value in everyday activities. In his book At Home in the World, the monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes, To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you arent doing them. If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert or a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert or my tea when I finally have them. Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane. TRY THIS: TRANSFORM THE MUNDANE Even a task as quotidian as doing the dishes can transform if you let it. Allow yourself to be in front of the sink, committed to a single task. Instead of putting on music, focus all your senses on the disheswatch their surfaces go from grimy to clean, smell the dish soap, feel the steam of the hot water. Observe how satisfying it is to see the sink go from full to empty. There is a Zen koan that says, Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. No matter how much we grow, we are never free of daily chores and routines, but to be enlightened is to embrace them. The outside may look the same, but inside you are transformed. EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAY Weve talked about taking an ordinary, familiar moment and finding new ways to appreciate it. To take that presence to another level, we try to string these moments together, so that were not picking and choosing certain walks or dishwashing episodes to make specialwere elevating our awareness of every moment, at every moment. Were all familiar with the idea of being in the moment. Its not hard to see that if youre running a race, you wont be able to go back and change how fast you ran at Mile 2. Your only opportunity to succeed is in that moment. Whether you are at a work meeting or having dinner with friends, the conversations you have, the words you chooseyou wont ever have another opportunity just like that one. In that moment you cant change the past, and youre deciding the future, so you might as well be where you are. K?lid?sa, the great Sanskrit writer of the fifth century, wrote, Yesterday is 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 may all agree that living in the present makes sense, but the truth is that were only willing to have selective presence. Were willing to be present at certain timesduring a favorite show or a yoga class, or even during the mundane task weve chosen to elevatebut we still want to be distracted when we choose to be distracted. We spend time at work dreaming about going on a beach vacation, but then, on the beach, long-awaited drink in hand, were annoyed to find that we cant stop thinking about work. Monks learn that these two scenarios are connected. A desired distraction at work bleeds into unwanted distraction on vacation. Distraction at lunch bleeds into the afternoon. We are training our minds to be where we physically arent. If you allow yourself to daydream, you will always be distracted. Being present is the only way to live a truly rich and full life. LOCATION HAS ENERGY It is easier to see the value of being present throughout an ordinary day, and easier to be truly present if you understand and appreciate the benefits that routine has to offer. Routines arent just about actions; theyre also about the locations in which those actions take place. Theres a reason people study better in libraries and work better in offices. New York City imparts its hustle and bustle, while LA makes you feel laid back. Each environmentfrom the biggest city to the smallest corner of a roomhas its own particular energy. Every location gives off a different feeling, and your dharma thrivesor faltersin specific environments. We are constantly experiencing a range of activities and environments, but we dont pause to contemplate which ones most appeal to us. Do you thrive in busy environments or in solitude? Do you like the safety of cozy nooks or spacious libraries? Do you prefer to be surrounded by stimulating artwork and music, or does uncluttered simplicity help you concentrate? Do you like to bounce ideas off others or to get feedback after completing a job? Do you prefer familiarity or a change of scenery? Having this self-awareness serves your dharma. It means that when you step into a job interview, you have a better sense of how you will perform at this job and whether its a good match. It means that when you plan a date, you can choose a space where you will be most comfortable. When you imagine different careers within your skill set, you know which ones are best suited to your sensibilities. 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? The more your personal spaces are devoted to single, clear purposes, the better they will serve you, not just in the fulfillment of your dharma but in your mood and productivity. Just as the room where we monks slept was designed for nothing but sleep, so every place in the ashram was devoted to a single activity. We didnt read or meditate where we slept. We didnt work in the refectory. In the world outside an ashram, to watch Netflix and/or eat in your bedroom is to confuse the energy of that space. If you bring those energies to your bedroom, it becomes harder to sleep there. Even in the tiniest apartment, you can dedicate spaces to different activities. Every home should have a place to eat. A place to sleep. A sacred space that helps you feel calm and a space that feels comforting when you are angry. Create spaces that bring you the energy that matches your intention. A bedroom should have few distractions, calm colors, soft lighting. Ideally, it should not contain your workspace. Meanwhile, a workspace should be well lit, uncluttered, and functional, with art that inspires you. When you identify where you thrive, focus on expanding those opportunities. If youre drawn to the energy of a nightclub in your leisure time, would you do better in a career that is equally vibrant? If youre a rock musician but you thrive in quiet, then maybe you should be composing music instead of performing. If you have the perfect job working from home, but you prefer the activity of an office, look to move your work to a caf? or shared workspace. The point is to be aware about where you thrive, where youre at your best, and to figure out how to spend the most time in that place. Of course, we are all obligated to do activities we dont like in environments that arent idealespecially workand weve all experienced the negative energies that these activities generate. With elevated awareness, we understand what has made us impatient, stressed, or drained, and develop guidelines for what living in our dharma, in the right environment, with the right energy, would look like. This should be the long-term goal. Sound Design Your Life Your location and your senses speak to each other. This is most obvious when we think about the sounds that we encounter every day. In monk life the sounds we hear relate directly to what we are doing. We wake up to birds and winds. We hear chanting as we walk into a meditation. There is no painful noise. But the modern world is getting louder. Planes howl overhead, dogs bark, drills whine. Were subjected to uncontrollable noise all day. We think were ignoring the honk and clatter of daily life, but all of it adds to our cognitive load. The brain processes sound even when we dont consciously hear it. At home, many of us retreat to silence, so we live in the extremes of silence and noise. Instead of tuning out the noise in your lifesound design it. Start by picking the best alarm tone in the world. Begin the day with a song that makes you happy. On your way to work, listen to a beloved audiobook, a favorite podcast, or your go-to playlist. Choose sounds that make you feel happier and healthier, the better to replicate the highly curated life in an ashram. TIME HAS MEMORY When we tailor our locations for specific purposes, were better able to summon the right kind of energy and attention. The same is true for time. Doing something at the same time every day helps us remember to do it, commit to it, and do it with increasing skill and facility. If youre accustomed to going to the gym every morning at the same time, try going in the evening for a change and youll see what a challenge it is. When we do something at the same time every day, that time keeps that memory for us. It holds the practice. It saves the space. When you want to incorporate a new habit into your routine, like meditating or reading, dont make it more difficult by trying to do it whenever you have a free moment. Slot it into the same time every day. Even better, link the new practice to something thats already a habit. A friend of mine wanted to incorporate daily yoga into her schedule so she laid a mat right next to her bed. She literally rolled out of bed and into her yoga practice. Marrying habits is a way of circumventing excuses. Location has energy; time has 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 and natural. SINGLE-TASKING Time and location help us maximize the moment, but there is one essential component to being wholly present in that moment: single-tasking. Studies have found that only 2 percent of us can multitask effectively; most of us are terrible at it, especially when one of those tasks requires a lot of focus. When we think were multitasking, whats usually happening is that were shifting rapidly among several different things, or serial tasking. This fragmented attention actually erodes our ability to focus, so doing just one thing at a time without distraction becomes harder. Researchers from Stanford University took a group of students and divided them into two groupsthose who frequently switch among multiple streams of media (checking email, social media, and headline news, for instance) and those who dont. They put the groups through a series of attention and memory tasks, such as remembering sequences of letters and focusing on certain colored shapes while ignoring others, and the media multitaskers consistently performed poorly. They even did worse on a test of task-switching ability. To make single-tasking easier for myself, I have no tech zones and times. My wife and I dont use tech in the bedroom or at the dining table, and try not to between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. I try to practice single-tasking with mundane tasks in order to strengthen the habit. I used to brush my teeth without thought. They were white enough; they looked great. But then the dentist told me that Id damaged my gums. Now I spend four seconds on each tooth. I count in my head, one, two, three, four, which gives me something to do. Im still spending the same amount of time brushing my teeth, but Im doing it in a more effective way. If I think about business when Im brushing my teeth or in the shower, it doesnt feel nourishing and energizing, and I dont take care with my gums. When youre brushing, just brush. When youre showering, just shower. We dont have to be focused like a laser beam on every task every time. Its okay to listen to music while cleaning the bathroom or talk with your partner while eating together. Just as some instruments sound great together, certain habits complement each other. But single-tasking as much as possible keeps your brain in the habit of focusing on one thing at a time, and you should pick certain routines where you always single-task, like walking the dog, using your phone (one app at a time!), showering, or folding the laundry, in order to build the skill. GOING ALL THE WAY Routines become easier if youve done something immersively. If you want to bring a new skill into your life, I recommend that you kick it off with single-pointed focus for a short period of time. If I play Ping-Pong every day for an hour, Im definitely going to be better at it. If you want to start a daily meditation, a weeklong meditation retreat will give you a strong base on which to build. Throughout this book I suggest many changes you can make to your life. But if you try to change everything at the same time, they will all become small, equal priorities. 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 on to the next. Monks try to do everything immersively. Our lunches were silent. Our meditations were long. We didnt do anything in just five minutes. (Except for showering. We werent showering immersively.) We had the luxury of time, and we used it to single-task for hours on end. That same level of immersion isnt possible in the modern world, but the greater your investment, the greater your return. If something is important, it deserves to be experienced deeply. And everything is important. We all procrastinate and get distracted, even monks, but if you give yourself more time, then you can afford to get distracted and then refocus. In your morning routine, having limited time means that youre one phone call or spilled coffee away from being late to work. If youre frustrated with learning a new skill, understanding a concept, or assembling a piece of Ikea furniture, your instinct will be to pull away, but go all in and youll accomplish more than you thought possible. (Even the Hemnes dresserallegedly Ikeas most difficult build.) As it turns out, periods of deep focus are also good for your brain. When we switch tasks compulsively (like the multitaskers who showed poor memory and focus in the Stanford study), it erodes our ability to focus. We overstimulate the dopamine (reward) channel. Thats also the addiction pathway, so we are compelled to stimulate it more and more to get the same feel-good hit, and that leads to more and more distraction. But ultimately, ironically, the feel-good of dopamine bums us outtoo much dopamine can keep our bodies from making and processing serotonin, the contentment chemical. If youve ever spent the day jumping on and off calls, in and out of meetings, ordering this book from Amazon and checking that thread on Snapchat, you know that feeling of exhaustion you have at the end of it all? Its a dopamine hangover. When we allow ourselves to have immersive experiencesthrough meditation, focused periods of work, painting, doing a crossword puzzle, weeding a garden, and many other forms of contemplative single-taskingwere not only more productive, we actually feel better. There are plenty of magazine articles and phone apps that encourage you to meditate for five minutes a day. Im not against that, but Im also not surprised if it does nothing for you. In our culture, it is commonplace to devote five to ten minutes to one daily practice or another, but the truth is you achieve very little in five minutes. Ive had more than one friend complain to me: Jay, Ive been meditating for five minutes a day for seven months and its not working. Imagine you were told you could spend five minutes a day for a whole month with someone you were attracted to. At the end of the month youd still barely know them. You definitely wouldnt be in love. Theres a reason we want to talk to someone all night when were falling in love. Maybe sometimes its even the other way around: We fall in love because we talked to someone all night. The ocean is full of treasures, but if you swim on the surface, you wont see them all. If you start a meditation practice with the idea that you can instantly clear your mind, youll soon learn that immersion takes time and practice. When I began to meditate, it took me a good fifteen minutes to settle physically and another fifteen to settle down the mental chatter. Ive been meditating for one to two hours a day for thirteen years, and it still takes me ten minutes to switch off my mind. Im not saying you have to meditate two hours a day for thirteen years to get the benefit. Thats not the point. I have confidence that any process can work if you do it immersively. After you break the barrier and commit yourself wholly, you start experiencing the benefits. You lose track of time. The feeling of being fully engaged is often so rewarding that when its time to stop, you want to return to the experience. I recommend using immersive experience as a kickoff or reinvigoration for a regular practice. To my friend who was frustrated with his five minutes-a-day meditation practice, I said, I get it. Time is tough to find, but if you feel like youre not getting enough from it, try taking an hour-long class. Then return to your ten-minute practice. You might find it has become more powerful. If you want, you could try a daylong retreat. I talked to him about falling in love, how eventually you arent compelled to stay up all night anymore because youve gotten to know the person. Five minutes goes a lot further when youre married. I told him, Maybe you and meditation could use a romantic getaway. Routines are counterintuitiveinstead of being boring and repetitive, doing the same tasks at the same time in the same place makes room for creativity. The consistent energy of location and memory of time help us be present in the moment, engaging deeply in tasks instead of getting distracted or frustrated. Build routines and train yourself as monks do, to find focus and achieve deep immersion. Once we quell our external distractions, we can address the most subtle and powerful distractions of all, the voices inside our heads.

  • Mans Search for Meaning /     (by Viktor E. Frankl, 1946) -   Mans Search for Meaning /
  • Thumbelina /  (Disney, 2014)    Thumbelina /
  • Mulan /  (Disney, 2012)    Mulan / (Disney, 2012)
  • The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts /   :    (by Gary Chapman, 2010) -   The Five Love Languages: The

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