A couple years ago I was promoting my book, The Universe Has Your Back, and was super late for an on camera interview. I rushed in, sat down, camera was about to roll and I looked up into the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. I’m like, “What…?” You can instantly see the kindness in this man’s eyes the moment you look at his face. We hit it off right away..riffing about all of our spiritual beliefs and connections to the Universe. I knew that day this is a person I would collaborate with in many ways.
His name is Jay Shetty.
I got to sit down again with Jay, but this time I was interviewing him about his gorgeous new book, Think Like a Monk. If you’re not familiar with his work … about four years ago, he blew up on the Internet as a beautiful thought leader and the voice of inspiration for people throughout the world, through YouTube videos, social media and his world-renowned podcast (where I had the privilege to participate). This all originated from a young guy saying, “You know what? I’m going to go spend three years being a monk.”
Born and raised in London, Jay grew up with the usual kind of trajectory that most of us on—go to school, get a degree, get a good job, settle down and get married. He joked in our interview, “I grew up where I could either be a doctor, a lawyer, or a failure. Those were my three options.” Then, at the age of 18, he met a monk. This completely opened up his mind to new ideas, alternative paths, and things he would never have considered before. “If someone had told me that I was going to grow up and be a monk, I would have laughed at them, probably while drinking a bottle of alcohol or something like that,” he said. But after graduating from university, he turned down all the corporate jobs and became a monk. That’s when he learned the insights, techniques, tools and principles that he knew could benefit so many people. He returned to London and began his mission to serve people and share the wisdom he had gained.
Jay is a testament to living and fulfilling your purpose; and that when you follow what you are being called to bring forth in your own authentic and innovative ways, your message has a movement behind it.
Below are six inspirational lessons he spoke about during our beautiful conversation.
You can watch our talk below, and also keep reading for some of my favorite highlights!
Learn to Breathe
I remember my first day of monk school. I’d just shaved my head and was wearing robes. You could still tell that I was from London and didn’t quite fit in. A lot of kids become monks fairly early in life, as early as age five. I saw a group of five-year-old monks being trained by an eleven-year-old monk.
After the class, I went up to the teacher (the eleven-year-old) and asked, “What was going on there?” He said, “Oh, that’s their first day of school.” I asked what he taught them, and he said, “Well, what did you learn on your first day of school?” I told him the ABCs or one, two, threes … how to count. He told me that on the first day, they are taught how to breathe. I said, “What do you mean? You teach them how to breathe?” He said, “Yeah. We teach them how to breathe because the only thing that stays with you from the moment you’re born to the moment you die is your breath.”
“Think about it,” he said. “What changes when you’re happy? Your breath. What changes when you’re sad? Your breath. What changes when you’re crying or deeply in pain? Your breath. What changes when you’re ecstatic? Your breath.” And even now, I’ve been thinking that we use breath in our language, too. We say, “That’s breathtaking” or “That took my breath away.” Or we say, “Wait, let me just catch my breath. Let me just grab a breath.” He explained that breath is deeply intertwined with all our emotions. So if we learn to navigate our breath, and if we learn to understand our breath, then we can truly understand our emotions and understand life.
Develop a Sight, Scent, Sound Meditation Practice
I think one of the simplest things I’d say to anyone who doesn’t meditate is to create a few rituals with sight, scent and sound that enable you to understand what these senses mean and to be present with them.
First thing in the morning, 80 percent of us look at our phones before we look at our partners or our children, and it’s the last thing we see at night, after we look at our partners and our children. The first thing you see in the morning is really, really important. How many of you know that when you look at cloudy skies, it affects your mind? If you look at news notifications and negativity, it affects your mind. Imagine waking up and the first thing you see is a prayer, a quote or an affirmation (like Gabby’s beautiful cards). That’s going to fill your mind with joy and peace, and is a meditation in and of itself. Waking up, reading an affirmation or a quote to yourself, and just being present with it (even for 30 seconds)—that is a beautiful way to start the practice of being present and meditation through sight.
Scent is one of my favorites. There’s a reason we all feel calm and relaxed in a spa, and that’s because they have sandalwood, eucalyptus and lavender. I really believe that if you’re feeling anxious throughout the day, carry around a little essential oil and just breathe in for a second and inhale the scent. You’ll feel the scent do all the magical work. That will begin your process of meditation, because it’s making you present through scent.
Then finally, there’s sound. As monks, we sound design our lives through nature—like water or natural sounds of birds. You can recreate that today from a Spotify playlist or an Apple playlist, whichever you want. Waking up or going to sleep to the right vibrations and frequencies is how you meditate through sound.
Just being present with sights, scents and sounds is the beginning of meditation. That’s where I would start. Then, of course, the book goes deeper.
T-I-M-E: 4 Key Habits to Do Every Day
Everyone is always asking, “What are the habits I need every day?” When I really looked at the monk practice, there were four key habits that we have to do every day. You can do these for five minutes each, or you can do them for 15 minutes each depending on how much time you have. The acronym is T-I-M-E.
T is for Thankfulness
Now, what I love about gratitude and thankfulness is that it’s scientifically proven to boost your mood and even affects your immune system. This isn’t just some fluffy idea … it’s real. When I looked into the research, it’s just about experiencing thankfulness. When you express it to someone in a personalized, specific and focused way, it should come from the heart. When you’re conscious of it, you can do it better.
I is for Inspiration
Everyone always says, “Oh, Jay, I don’t feel motivated today.” That’s like saying, “I don’t feel hungry today,” so you don’t eat anything all day. You need motivation. You consume motivation. It’s weird that we know we have to consume food to stay energized, but we don’t realize we have to consume motivation to stay inspired.
So every day, what are you doing? For me, it’s simple. Literally, if you just read a paragraph of a book you love every day—that’s all you need.
M is for Meditation
Start to develop your sight, scent and sound meditation practice.
E is for Exercise
Monks do a lot of yoga. We do a lot of walking. I’m a big believer that, whether it’s dance parties or a virtual workout with your friend, some sort of movement is essential. I’ll be honest with you: I don’t enjoy the gym. But I exercise every day because I know that it makes me feel good, and I feel better after I do it.
Switch Off the Noise
Do you know the biggest step we can all take? It’s something we’ve all had forced on us at one time or another but may not have made the most of: stillness and solitude.
There’s two types of noise—the noise around us and the noise inside of us.
- Switch off the noise around you. That’s why stillness, solitude and space are so important—because you can’t make your mind up about something if you’re constantly surrounded by everyone else’s opinions, expectations and obligations.
- Switch off your own noise. It’s not necessarily about switching it off or turning it off. It’s actually about understanding it. When you look at your garden, you may think, “Oh, I don’t like those weeds. Let me just ignore them.” But actually, if you’re smart, you’ll find the trail of the weed, locate where it starts, and then pull it out at its roots.
You can distance yourself from the noise outside, but the noise inside needs to be uprooted. Therefore, stillness and solitude are huge. The forced stillness of the pandemic allowed me to see so much more clearly what I wanted to improve in many areas of my life. You think you’re mindful and think you understand, but then you get forced to slow down. Then you’re like, “Wait a minute … I have missed out on so much because I’ve been moving so fast.”
How a Monk Lives in Challenging Times
After you’ve made sure you’re giving yourself love and support, I’d say the most important thing is to ask yourself how you can extend yourself to serve others. The only way to feel certainty is through service. You have to look beyond, because when you start to look beyond, you get perspective, gratitude, build a human bond, and you can get a great connection with someone new in your life.
Service keeps you from being lonely; it sparks new relationships, and it gives you gratitude and perspective. Whether that means starting a charity that raises millions or delivering groceries to the next-door neighbor—both are service. It’s not about big or small, it’s about doing something.
Visualize Your Future to Help You Now
Try a forward-future meditation. Here’s what I would love to ask everyone to do:
When you get some time, visualize the year 2030, 2040, or 2050, however far out you want to go. Visualize your children in history class at school, and they’re learning about the year 2020. Their assignment from their teacher is to ask their parents (or their grandparents), “What did you do in 2020?” Imagine and visualize your child running up to you at dinner that night saying, “You were alive in 2020, what did you do?”
Whatever answer you give them in your visualization of the future tells you what you need to do right now. You don’t want to wait 20 years, be faced with that question, and then say, “Crap! I didn’t do anything.” You can actually answer the question in your mind right now and start today—and you will never have to regret how you spent 2020. It doesn’t matter what it is, only that you felt you did something in 2020 that was worthwhile. When you tell your grandchildren and your children that, they’ll be able to go to school and speak about you with pride and joy.
Everyone, go and pick up Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day. There is so much wisdom within the pages. I know it will inspire you.