Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

As we all know, 2020 has been a year filled with lots of downs. From Australia burning to a pandemic that has affected billions of people, we sit and think rather negatively about the world. Yet, there is a way of turning these negative feelings into something a lot more positive and a lot more fulfilling.  Let me bring in Jay Shetty and his Think Like a Monk book.

A former monk from North London has written this New York Times bestseller, and it has changed my life and many others’ for the better. Before you think this book is about shaving your head, wearing robes 24/7, and meditating all the time you are entirely wrong! Think Like a Monk is a book that I recommend everyone to read, especially to those who feel lost in this complicated world. The book speaks of so many fundamental skills that we lack as a society.

In the first chapter that talks about identity, Jay uses a profound metaphor that was offered to him by Gauranga Das. This monk takes Jay into a storeroom and shows him a mirror covered in dust. Gauranga says to Jay “what can you see”; Jay responds by saying that he could not see anything. However, when Gauranga wipes the dust off this mirror, then Jay could see his reflection. What this monk then says is the most important lesson to take away:

“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 obscure. Clearing may not be pleasant, but only when that dust is gone can you see your true reflection.”

We have constructed ourselves not through the values that we think belong to ourselves but through other people’s values, as represented by the dust covering the mirror. These values range from purely materialistic to values that are echoed by society. In that way, for us to feel our true self, we must strip away everything external that is holding us back. This lesson is just one of the many lessons that Jay offers in this book. Others include reducing negative thoughts via the “Spot, Stop, Swap” principle, detaching from your ego and my favourite lesson of all: discovering your dharma.

The way Jay defines dharma is via this equation: “passion + expertise + usefulness= dharma”. You can have a passion for something, such as politics, but it cannot be your dharma if you do not have the expertise in the subject. Additionally, it needs to be useful for other people. What this means is that you can be the most passionate and driven person in your field, but that is all for nothing if you are acting purely for yourself and not for the service of others. These three elements are very crucial, and without them, your dharma is incomplete; that is when your life becomes purposeless.  We live in a hyper-individualistic world whereby we only focus on serving our own interests. Yet to be purposeful, we must find a passion that we are truly experts on, whilst helping others through this passion and expertise.   

I am passionate about politics and journalism, but for this to be my dharma, I need expertise and for this to be useful. To do that I am pursuing an undergraduate degree in politics and IR and will then do a master’s in journalism. However, I am not doing this for the sake of a paycheck or to feel better about myself. I am doing this because sharing knowledge and sharing stories is something that other people will find useful; I thrive upon being that sharer of knowledge.  

Other than showcasing some crucial lessons for us to learn, Jay offers some exercises to do that are very thought-provoking. The “Vedic personality test” is one of these exercises in the book. It first lets you answer 20 questions with different responses – you have to choose which letters best represent you. After answering the 20 questions, you then count the number of times you picked a particular response. For example, if you chose the letter “A” the highest number of times then you are a guide. If you choose the letter “B” the most times you are a leader. If you pick the letter “C” the most, you are a creator. The letter “D” means you are a maker.

What this article hopes to do is to help people understand that regardless of the amount of negative energy that is out there in the world, we can truly harness this energy and use it for good.

Not only that, but I hope this article makes you want to read Jay Shetty’s book and be on your way to thinking like a monk from 2021 onwards.