Imagine you spent your college summers in a robe, meditating for hours upon hours a day. Imagine at 22, you decided to give up your desire for money as opposed to following your desire to make it. Imagine shaving your head, living out of a gym locker, and waking up at 4 am to take cold showers on a daily basis. Imagine doing this for three years. Imagine leaving this life and moving back in with your parents with not a dollar to your name. Imagine learning about the world for the next nine months. And then imagine sharing your wisdom with the world. This is how a millennial monk, Jay Shetty, got to where he is today.
As a monk, Jay committed himself to personal growth as well as leading a life of service for others. Although he left the robes and formal practicing at age 25, he has still spent the last few years serving others by revealing how they can use monk wisdom in order to be more present, more focused, more relaxed, and lead better lives. One such trait that monks stress is the relinquishing of the ego.
In Jay’s book Think Like A Monk, he shares a nugget he learned about how to absolve the self from the ego. He reveals that there are two things we must always remember and two we must always forget in order to live free of ego.
Two Things to Remember
1. The Bad We’ve Done to Others
“What have I done? Oh, what have I done?” I can’t pinpoint an exact movie, but I can envision a variety of different characters contemplating how they mistreated or hurt somebody and being remorseful of their actions. This is because it’s difficult to forget the bad we’ve done to others, and it’s important to not let these experiences fade from our memories. We mustn’t harp on them, but we must always know they’re there.
Shetty writes that by focusing on the bad we’ve done to others our egos are forced to remember our imperfections and regrets. This keeps us grounded. When our egos take over and wish to gloat about how great we are, these memories will bring us back to earth and make us realize that we have wronged like everyone else.
Turns out, remembering the bad is not as difficult as you may think. Have you ever wondered why it’s easier to remember the embarrassing time you wet the bed than it is to remember all the times you didn’t? According to Laura Carstensen from Stanford University, as a whole, humans notice negative things more than positive ones. It has evolutionary and adaptive value, noticing the scary lion more so than the carrot by its giant paw.
But we create our own memories. They’re fallible and we can perceive them however we so choose. So, when considering what you have done to others in your life, make sure to frame those memories so you do not forget what you did wrong. It will always remind you that you are fallible as well.
2. The Good Others Have Done for Us
At the beginning of The Greatest Showman, a young PT Barnum is living on the streets committing minor thefts for food. When a small bread robbery goes wrong leaving him with nothing to eat, Barnum is surprised by a hand offering an apple. When he takes the apple and looks up at who is offering it to him, he is even more surprised to see an almost completely covered woman with a deformed face. Because of this encounter, it is clear that Barnum never forgot the people who may have looked a little different who were a part of his life. This inspired him to start showcasing these amazing people in the circus.
When we remember the good others have done for us, we feel humbled by our need for others. Shetty understands that when we always remember the good that’s been done for us, we have a heightened sense of gratitude for the gifts we have received.
In a Thai commercial called “Giving” created by director Thanonchai Sornsriwichai for the phone company True Move, (spoiler alert) a little boy is caught stealing groceries for his sick mother. A man pays for the groceries and is seen continuing to give people things later on in life. Fast forward 30 years and this man is in the hospital, unable to pay his medical bills. However, the man’s daughter is stunned in all the best ways that her medical bills are zero. It turns out the boy her dad helped so long ago became a doctor and successfully performed and paid for the entire surgery.
(P.S. Try watching this video without crying.)
Two Things We Must Always Forget
1. The Good We’ve Done for Others
Shetty explains that when we do something good for other people, we should do it without expecting anything in return. Doing it for the memory of performing good is not an authentic contribution. If we fixate on and are impressed by our own good deeds, our egos grow. We are proud of what we achieved and can always come back to this whenever we feel we have wronged.
I think about this all the time. I get such a rush, such a sense of euphoria when I help other people, that I sometimes think I do it more for me than the other person. I consider myself to be selfishly selfless. But if I forget about the good I’ve done for others, then I can better act with a genuine desire to help them as opposed to making me feel better about myself.
Serving others is as important as food and sex. In Evan Carmichael’s research for his book, Built to Serve, functional MRI’s on people’s brains revealed that serving others hit the same part of the brain as food and sex. In other words, we are hardwired to give, so remembering every single time we gave would be the equivalent of remembering every time we at a hamburger. It’s not necessary, so serve because it’s natural, not because you want to impress others.
2. The Bad Others Have Done to Us
Shetty bluntly states that we need to let go of the bad that others have done to us. We cannot hold grudges; we cannot be spiteful. Rather, we must forgive and move forward. It’s important to note here that we don’t have to be best friends with the person who wronged us, but by letting go of their actions, we are able to better focus on ourselves and our healing instead of taking a broader perspective.
Growing up playing sports, my dad always used to tell me to be the bigger man. I was to take the high road, not fight or talk back if anybody started with me. By doing so I was able to play my own game as opposed to the one others were trying to trick me into playing.
One popular forgiveness researcher, Charlotte van Oyen Witvilet asked people to think about somebody who had mistreated them in the past. While they thought about this person, she monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, facial muscle tension, and sweat gland activity. She found that when people recalled a grudge, their physical arousal soared. “Their blood pressure and heart rate increased, and they sweated more. Ruminating about their grudges was stressful, and subjects found the rumination unpleasant. It made them feel angry, sad, anxious, and less in control.”
Witvilet also asked her subjects to try to empathize with their offenders or imagine what it would be like to forgive them. When they tried this, their physical arousal decreased. Thus, forgiveness actually boosted their well-being.
Imagine making videos on YouTube that are watched by millions. Imagine being discovered by Arianna Huffington from The Huffington Post, and being offered a hosting position on HuffPost Lifestyle in New York City. Imagine creating your own agency and working with the largest brands in the world like Google, Coca-Cola, and Facebook. Imagine writing a book and starting one of the most listened to podcasts, interviewing celebrities from around the world about how they live a life of meaning and purpose. This is where Jay Shetty is now.
Shetty’s advice to think like a monk when it comes to diminishing the ego is important because we never want to get too proud of our own accomplishments. It places an emphasis on serving other people, and by doing so we can create a much greater, less egotistical world.
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