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[1 of 5] Think Like a Monk, Introduction, Chapters One and Two, by Jay R. Shetty (2020)

Author: Jay R. Shetty

Shetty, Jay R. “Introduction, Chapter One: Identity, Chapter Two: Negativity.” Think like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day, Simon & Schuster, Inc, ..New York, NY, 2020, pp. 1–57.

For my wife, who is more monk than I will ever be

pages 5-14, read by the author


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 who’d actually accomplished things in life.

My friend persisted, and finally I said, “As long as we go to a bar afterward, I’m 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 saron 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 he’d been a student at IIT Bombay, which is the MIT of India and, like MIT, nearly impossible to get into. He’d 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 I’d been fascinated by people who’d gone from nothing to something—rags-to-riches stories. Now, for the first time, I was in the presence of someone who’d deliberately done the opposite. He’d 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 I’d ever met. At the age of eighteen, I had encountered a lot of people who were rich. I’d listened to a lot of people who were famous, strong, good-looking, or all three. But I don’t think I’d met anyone who was truly happy.

Afterward, I pushed my way through the crowds to tell him how amazing he was, and how much he’d 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 Wisconsin–Madison so that researchers could watch his brain activity while he meditated. The scientists covered the monk’s head with a shower cap–like 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 designed—alternating 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 monk’s brain activity—turning “o” and “on” repeatedly from activity to rest period—but also the fact that he needed no “warm-up” period. If you’re 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 ipping a switch. More than ten years after these initial studies, scans of the forty-one-year-old monk’s 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 Ricard’s brain subsequently labeled him “the World’s Happiest Man” after they found the highest level of gamma waves—those associated with attention, memory, learning, and happiness—ever recorded by science. One monk who’s o the charts may seem like an anomaly, but Ricard isn’t 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 Beyoncé 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, 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 shouldn’t we learn from the calmest, happiest, most purposeful people on earth? Maybe you’re thinking it’s easy for monks to be calm, serene, and relaxed. They’re hidden away in tranquil settings where they don’t have to deal with jobs and romantic partners and, well, rush hour traffic. Maybe you’re wondering, How could thinking like a monk help me here in the modern world?

First of all, monks weren’t born monks. They’re people from all sorts of backgrounds who’ve chosen to transform themselves. Matthieu Ricard, “the World’s 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 nance and in rock bands. They grow up in schools, towns, and cities just like you. You don’t 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 didn’t 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. I’m 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. I’d 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 don’t 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.

“I’ll change,” I promised. “If you let me stay, I’ll 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 one’s goals. The problem was that at the time, I didn’t have any goals apart from getting a good job, getting married one day, maybe having a family—the usual. I suspected there was something deeper, but I didn’t 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 didn’t want to know humility or compassion and empathy only as abstract concepts, I wanted to live them. I didn’t 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 that’s 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 Homer’s 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 800–400 BCE. The Bhagavad Gita is considered a kind of universal and timeless life manual. The tale isn’t told about a monk or meant for a spiritual context. It’s spoken to a married man who happens to be a talented archer. It wasn’t intended to apply only to one religion or region—it’s for all humanity. Eknath Easwaran, spiritual author and professor who has translated many of India’s sacred texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, calls it “India’s most important gift to the world.” In his 1845 journal, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “I owed— my friend and I owed—a 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.” It’s 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 monk— and 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 haven’t really changed. Sure, we’re taller and on average we live longer, but I was surprised and impressed to nd 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 we’ll 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 can’t explain something simply, you don’t 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 I’d 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 ashram—the hardest part—felt like the final exam. Every day I am finding that the monk mindset works—that ancient wisdom is shockingly relevant today. That is why I’m sharing it.

These days I still consider myself a monk, though I usually refer to myself as a “former” monk, since I’m married, and monks aren’t 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 that’s already enlightened? Now, in the world and in this book, I share my takeaways from the life I’ve lived and what I’ve learned. This book is completely nonsectarian. It’s not some sneaky conversion strategy. I swear! I can also promise that if you engage with and practice the material I present, you will nd real meaning, passion, and purpose in your life.

Never before have so many people been so dissatisfied—or 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, sex—in the end none of these things can satisfy us. We’ll simply seek more and more, a circuit that leads to frustration, disillusion, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and exhaustion.

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.

“Thinking like a monk” posits another way of viewing and approaching life. A way of rebellion, detachment, rediscovery, purpose, focus, discipline—and 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 isn’t just possible —it’s 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 wasn’t wearing robes yet, and I still looked like I was from London. I noticed a child monk—he can’t have been more than ten years old—teaching 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 you’re 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 stressed—what changes? Your breath. When you get angry—what 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 they’re only ve or ten years old.

When we’re born, the rst 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 way—we go to the root of things, go deep into self-examination. It is only through this curiosity, thought, eort, 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 benets 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 benefits— to find stillness and balance, to calm yourself; visualization for the psychological benefits—to heal the past and prepare for the future; and chanting for the psychic benefits—to connect with your deepest self and the universe, for real purification.

You don’t 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 meditation—a reaction 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 now—probably isn’t close at all—but it will be by the end of the book.


pages 15-31, read by the author


I Am What I Think I Am

It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s 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 us—or, 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 who’s into her. What’s her very next song? “I Feel Pretty.”

As of this writing, the world’s only triple Best Actor Oscar winner, Daniel Day-Lewis, has acted in just six lms since 1998. He prepares for each role extensively, immersing himself completely in his character. For the role of Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, he trained as a butcher, spoke with a thick Irish accent on and o the set, and hired circus performers to teach him how to throw knives. And that’s 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 he’s 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, we’re 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 don’t always feel comfortable, they let us maintain relationships with people we don’t 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.

fRarely, 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 we’ve lost our real selves as a result. How can we recognize who we are and what makes us happy when we’re chasing the distorted reflection of someone else’s 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. There’s 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 I’d spent part of the summer interning at a nance job in London and part of the year training at the ashram in Mumbai. By the time I made my decision, my mother’s rst concern was the same as any mother’s: 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 you’ve invested so much in his education” and “He’s been brainwashed” and “He’s going to waste his life.” My friends too thought I was failing at life. I heard “You’re never going to get a job again” and “You’re 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; nding 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 didn’t come home from my summer nance 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, media—we 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, nd a lucrative job, get married, buy a home, have children, get promoted. Cultural norms exist for a reason—there 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, we’ll never understand why we don’t own a home or we’re not happy where we live, why our job feels hollow, whether we even want a spouse or any of the goals we’re 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 didn’t shut out the people who loved me—I cared about them and didn’t want them to worry—but neither did I let their definition of success and happiness dictate my choices. It was—at the time—the hardest decision I’d ever made, and it was the right one.

The voices of parents, friends, education, and media all crowd a young person’s mind, seeding beliefs and values. Society’s definition of a happy life is everybody’s and nobody’s. 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, we’ll 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 they’re in line with who we want to be and how we want to live.


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 can’t 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-darpaṇa-mārjanam, 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 most—nding 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. I’m 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. They’re 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, we’re 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.


Our values don’t come to us in our sleep. We don’t 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 gures. 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 doesn’t encourage creativity, a narrow cultural approach doesn’t 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 doesn’t prepare us for life—and there are many different educational models out there, some of which are less restrictive—but it is worth taking a step back to consider whether the values you carried from school feel right to you.


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 oine. What’s 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.

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 out—the 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t sit down and think about our values. We don’t like to be alone with our own thoughts. Our inclination is to avoid silence, to try to ll 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, it’s 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 can’t address our thoughts and explore our minds when we’re 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 you’re feeling. Second, once a month you can approximate the change that I found at the ashram by going someplace you’ve never been before to explore yourself in a different environment. This can be anything from visiting a park or library you’ve never been to before to taking a trip. Finally, get involved in something that’s meaningful to you—a hobby, a charity, a political cause.

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.


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 don’t match your values, and you need to do some self-examination.


First, let’s assess how you spend the time when you’re 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 you’re a woman, you’ll spend 136 days getting ready. If you’re a man this number drops to 46 days. These are just estimates of course, but our daily choices add up.


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 aren’t overdoing it on movies, TV, or magazines. It’s all about devices. Conveniently, your iPhone will tell you exactly how you’re using it. Under Settings, look at the screen time report for the last week and you’ll see how much time you spend on social media, games, mail, and browsing the Web. If you don’t 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.


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 what’s “worth it” that doesn’t 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!” )

It’s all in how you see it. When you look at a month of expenses, think about whether discretionary purchases were long- or short-term investments—a 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.


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 sacrice, 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 rewards—the end game—and 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 can’t 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 ll 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 stuff—people, ideas, material possessions, copies of Marie Kondo’s book— thinking it’s unnatural to purge, but letting go is a direct route to space (literally) and stillness. We separate ourselves—emotionally if not physically—from the people and ideas who ll 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 it’s 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 don’t work out, it’s worth revisiting what drove the decision you made.

Take a close look at your answers to the Try This above—buried 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 they’re driven by other people, tradition, or media-driven ideas of how we should live.


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 don’t 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 values—the very landmarks we should use to guide ourselves through our own lives.

When you are not alone, surround yourself with people who t well with your values. It helps to nd 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, it’s hard for me to live in London. Surrounded by the people I grew up with and their ways of living, I’m 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 don’t 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 you’re 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, I’m kidding, yet in today’s 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 you’re 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 you’re not sure where others fit in relation to your values, ask yourself a question: When I spend time with this person or group, do I feel like I’m getting closer to or further away from who I want to be? The answer could be clear-cut; it’s obvious if you’re spending four hours at a time playing FIFA soccer on PS2 (not that I’ve ever done that) versus engaging in meaningful interaction that improves the quality of your life. Or the answer could be more vague—a 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 doesn’t feel good to be around people who don’t support us or bring out our bad habits.

Who you talk to, what you watch, what you do with your time: all of these sources push values and beliefs. If you’re just going from one day to the next without questioning your values, you’ll be swayed by what everyone else—from your family to hordes of marketing professionals—wants 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.

pages 32-57, read by the author


The Evil King Goes Hungry

It is impossible to build one’s 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. I’m at lunch with a couple of my colleagues—we’ve 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. “He’s 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 monk’s 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 monk’s a Vespa; that one’s 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 wasn’t hard to figure out—every person was more good than bad—but 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 can’t 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 he’ll last?”

I’ve lost track of what we’re talking about. “Who?” I ask. “Gabe—he shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, right?” “Oh, I don’t know,” I say.

Once I’d spent time in the ashram, I became very sensitive to gossip. I’d gotten used to conversations with primarily positive energy. When I first arrived back in the world, I was awkwardly silent. I didn’t want to be the morality police, but I also didn’t 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, I’m not sure…” or “I haven’t heard anything.” Then I’d shift the conversation to something more positive. “Did you hear they’ve asked Max to stay on? I’m 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 people’s 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 didn’t gossip with them, I wouldn’t gossip about them. If there were people who thought I was just plain boring, well, I have nothing bad to say about them.


You wake up. Your hair looks terrible. Your partner complains that you’re out of coffee. On the way to work some driver who’s 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 can’t 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 it’s not part of anyone’s 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). Negativity—in conversation, emotions, and actions—often 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 emotions—feeling 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 aren’t 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 they’re just trying to build a following—fear certainly doesn’t 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 family— what’s wrong, what’s unfair, what’s 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 happen—their core need for peace and security is threatened.

Bad things do happen. In our lives, we’re all victims at some point—whether we’re being racially profiled or being cut off in traffic. But if we adopt a victim mentality, we’re 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 groups—one 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 who’d written about a time they’d 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!


We’re social creatures who get most of what we want in life—peace, love, and understanding—from the group we gather around us. Our brains adjust automatically to both harmony and disagreement. We’ve 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 they’ll change their own responses—even their perceptions—to 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.

We’re 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. That’s not a bad thing if we’re surrounded by, say, monks. But if we’re 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 Asch’s 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 temple’s London outpost, there was one monk who drove me crazy. If I asked him how he was in the morning, he’d tell me about how badly he’d 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 he’d 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 hippocampus— that’s 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). I’m not blaming every illness on negativity, but if remaining positive can prevent even one of my winter colds, I’m all for it.


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 they’ve made that are different from what the critic would have done.
  • Commanders, who realize their own limits but pressure others to succeed. They’ll say, “You never have time for me,” even though they’re 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 can’t 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 t 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 (“They’re so annoying!”), you aren’t 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 else’s health problems, we shouldn’t 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: Don’t judge someone with a different disease. Don’t expect anyone to be perfect. Don’t 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 isn’t looking for solutions, you realize you don’t have to provide them. If a commander says, “You’re too busy for me,” you can say, “Should we find a time that works for both of us?”


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. Let’s use this approach to dene strategies for dealing with negative people.

Become an Objective Observer

Monks lead with awareness. We approach negativity—any type of conflict, really —by taking a step back to remove ourselves from the emotional charge of the moment. 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, I’ll say that it helps us find understanding without judgment. Negativity is a trait, not someone’s identity. A person’s 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 wouldn’t want someone to judge us by our worst moments, we must be careful not to do that to others. When someone hurts you, it’s because they’re 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 Buddha’s 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 anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we 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 coee shop where you always run into a former friend. If you don’t let go physically, you won’t 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 rst 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 don’t 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. Don’t just spend time with the people you love—grow 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 can’t 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 don’t exceed it.

Don’t 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 don’t take our brilliant advice. The desire to save others is ego-driven. Don’t 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, “Don’t count the teeth in someone else’s mouth.” Similarly, don’t attempt to x 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 you’re 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 don’t 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.


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 doesn’t always come from other people and it isn’t always spoken aloud. Envy, complaint, anger—it’s 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 that’s 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 Vladimiro 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 re and the evil warrior himself is burned. His envy makes him his own enemy.

Envy’s catty cousin is Schadenfreude, which means taking pleasure in the suffering of others. When we derive joy from other people’s failures, we’re building our houses and pride on the rocky foundations of someone else’s imperfection or bad luck. That is not steady ground. In fact, when we nd ourselves judging others, we should take note. It’s a signal that our minds are tricking us into thinking we’re moving forward when in truth we’re stuck. If I sold more apples than you did yesterday, but you sold more today, this says nothing about whether I’m 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t mean wiping away negative thoughts, feelings, and ideas completely. The truth is that these thoughts will always arise—it is what we do with them that makes the difference. The neighbor’s 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, “She’s always complaining,” we ourselves are being negative. At the ashram, we slept under mosquito nets. Every night, we’d close our nets and use ashlights 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 don’t register our negative thoughts, much as I didn’t 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 issue—we spot it. Then we pause to address what the feeling is and where it comes from—we stop to consider it. And last, we amend our behavior—we swap in a new way of processing the moment. SPOT, STOP, SWAP.


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 friend’s appearance, and are you equally hard on your own? Are you muttering about work without considering your own contribution? Are you reporting on a friend’s illness to call attention to your own compassion, or are you hoping to solicit more support for that friend?

Sometimes instead of reacting negatively to what is, we negatively anticipate what might be. This is suspicion. There’s 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 king’s 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-blued. The good king just shook his head and took a bite of the food in front of him. The evil king didn’t 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 emotionally—you might be so discouraged that you don’t perform well at work—or practically—you won’t ask for the raise you deserve. Either way, like the evil king, you’re the one who will go hungry!


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 we’re 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 don’t 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 it’s worth it to free ourselves from negativity. Criticizing someone else’s work ethic doesn’t make you work harder. Comparing your marriage to someone else’s doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 what’s arousing your negativity, over there on your frenemy’s 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, you’ll want to look for seeds of the same on your turf and cultivate them. For example, take your envy of someone else’s 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 signicance not from thinking other people have it better but from being the person we want to be.


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 criticizing—and you can’t expect you’ll be completely cured of that habit either—but researchers have found that happy people tend to complain… wait for it… mindfully. While thoughtlessly venting complaints makes your day worse, it’s been shown that writing in a journal about upsetting events, giving attention to your thoughts and emotions, can foster growth and healing, not only mentally, but also physically.

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 we’re angry or sad when we’re 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 can’t 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 you’re running late.” When our complaints are understood—by ourselves and others—they 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 negativity— like envy—to 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 suer, but we don’t have a word for experiencing vicarious joy—joy 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, I’m limiting my joy. But if I can take pleasure in the successes of my friends and family—ten, twenty, fifty people!—I get to experience fifty times the happiness and joy. Who doesn’t 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 nite world, there’s 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 don’t 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 people’s 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.”


We’ve 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.

Kṣamā 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 can’t 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 it’s 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 don’t 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 dierently because she didn’t 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 activity—for example, when you pull back from a conflict and look for understanding, it’s very useful to try to shift from rajas—impulsivity and passion—to sattva—goodness, positivity, and peace. These modes are the foundation of my approach to 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 ignorance—it’s often said that you can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else. Monks don’t 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 doesn’t have the response you fantasized about—guess 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 don’t 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 don’t want to hurt them, but I’m 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 I’ll apologize. If they promise never to do it again, I’ll forgive them. This transactional forgiveness comes from the mode of impulse—driven 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 don’t 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 nd 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, I’m not suggesting you aim for that. What I want you to achieve is transformational forgiveness.


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, there’s less emotional tension between partners when they’re 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. We’re no longer holding grudges. There’s less drama to deal with.


Forgiveness has to ow 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, it’s 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 we’re much more comfortable finding fault in other people and then forgiving it. We’re not used to admitting fault and taking responsibility for what we create in our lives.


Sometimes, when we feel shame or guilt for what we’ve done in the past, it’s because those actions no longer reflect our values. Now, when we look at our former selves, we don’t relate to their decisions. This is actually good news—the reason we’re hurting over our past is because we’ve made progress. We did the best we could then, but we can do better now. What could be better than moving forward? We’re already winning. We’re already crushing it.

When we wrap our heads around the fact that we can’t 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.


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.” That’s not something you hear every day, but Buddhist nun and author of When Things Fall Apart Pema Chödrön is only kind of kidding. After her divorce, she went into a negativity spiral where she entertained revenge fantasies because of her husband’s affair. Eventually, she came across the writings of Chögyam 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 cell—instead of dying o, her anger and blame were causing the negativity of the breakup to spread. Once Chödrön 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 don’t 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 peace—because you’re truly able to let go.

Negativity is a natural part of life. We tease and provoke, express vulnerability, connect over shared values and fears. It’s hard to nd a comedy show that isn’t 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 someone’s 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 clearly—in an interview with Parade magazine she said that she doesn’t think it’s funny to make fun of people. “The world is filled with negativity. I want people to watch me and think, ‘I feel good, and I’m going to make somebody else feel good today.’ ” This is the spirit in which monks have fun—we 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, don’t waste all your energy on your rst day.” Whenever the priest brought out the most special sacred food—which was sweeter and tastier than the simple food we ordinarily ate—the 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 needn’t 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 swap—observe, 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, you’re healing.

The less time you fixate on everyone else, the more time you have to focus on yourself.

Negativity, as we’ve 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.



plant trees under whose shade: Paraphrase of Nelson Henderson from Wes Henderson, Under Whose Shade: A Story of a Pioneer in the Swan River Valley of Manitoba (Ontario, Canada: W. Henderson & Associates, 1986).

In 2002, a Tibetan monk named Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche: Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (New York: Penguin Random House, 2017); Antoine Lutz, Lawrence L. Greischar, Nancy B. Rawlings, Matthieu Ricard, and Richard J. Davidson, “Long-Term Meditators Self-Induce High-Amplitude Gamma Synchronicity During Mental Practice,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101, no. 46 (November 16, 2004): 16369–16373,

scans of the forty-one-year-old monk’s brain showed fewer signs of aging than his peers’: Goleman and Davidson, Altered Traits.

Researchers who scanned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard’s brain: Frankie Taggart, “This Buddhist Monk Is the World’s Happiest Man,” Business Insider, November 5, 2012.; Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body (New York: Penguin Random House, 2017); Antoine Lutz, Lawrence L. Greischar, Nancy B. Rawlings, Matthieu Ricard, and Richard J. Davidson, “Long-Term Meditators Self-Induce High-Amplitude Gamma Synchronicity During Mental Practice,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101, no. 46 (November 16, 2004): 16369–16373,

Twenty-one other monks: Taggart, “This Buddhist Monk” and Lutz et al., “Long-Term Meditators.” even during sleep: Fabio Ferrarelli, Richard Smith, Daniela Dentico, Brady A. Riedner, Corinna Zennig, Ruth M. Benca, Antoine Lutz, Richard J. Davidson, and Guilio Tononi, “Experienced Mindfulness Meditators Exhibit Higher Parietal-Occipital EEG Gamma Activity During NREM Sleep,” PLoS One 8, no. 8 (August 28, 2013): e73417,

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk: David Steindl-Rast, i am through you so i: Reflections at Age 90 (New York: Paulist Press, 2017), 87.

“India’s most important gift to the world”: And general background on Vedic times from The Bhagavad Gita, introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran (Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press, 2007), 13–18.

“I owed—my friend and I owed”: Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, translation, introduction, and afterword by Barbara Stoler Miller (New York: Bantam Dell, 1986), 147.


“I am not what I think I am”: Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 152.

six lms since 1998: Daniel Day-Lewis lmography, IMDb, accessed November 8, 2019,

“I will admit that I went mad, totally mad”: Chris Sullivan, “How Daniel Day-Lewis’s Notorious Role Preparation Has Yielded Another Oscar Contender,” Independent, February 1, 2008,

the words of Chaitanya: Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya, 20.21.

The foundation of virtually all monastic traditions: “Social and Institutional Purposes: Conquest of the Spiritual Forces of Evil,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed November 8, 2019,

Our inclination is to avoid silence: Timothy D. Wilson, David A. Reinhard, Erin C. Westgate, Daniel T. Gilbert, Nicole Ellerbeck, Cheryl Hahn, Casey L. Brown, and Adi Shaked, “Just Think: The Challenges of the Disengaged Mind,” Science 345, no. 6192 (July 4, 2014): 75–77, doi: 10.1126/science.1250830.

spend thirty-three years in bed: Gemma Curtis, “Your Life in Numbers,” Creative Commons, accessed November 15, 2019,

looking at TV and social media: Ibid.

According to the Gita, these are the higher values and qualities: Verses 16.1–5 from The Bhagavad Gita, introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran (Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press, 2007), 238–239.

A twenty-year study of people living in a Massachusetts town: James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis, Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study,” BMJ 337, no. a2338 (December 5, 2008), doi:


As the Buddha advised: Verse 4.50 from The Dhammapada, introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran (Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press, 2007), 118.

Stanford psychologists took 104 subjects: Emily M. Zitek, Alexander H. Jordan, Benoît Monin, and Frederick R. Leach, “Victim Entitlement to Behave Selshly,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98, no. 2 (2010): 245–255, doi: 10.1037/a0017168.

In the 1950s Solomon Asch: Eliot Aronson and Joshua Aronson, The Social Animal, 12th edition (New York: Worth Publishers, 2018).

We’re wired to conform: Zhenyu Wei, Zhiying Zhao, and Yong Zheng, “Neural Mechanisms Underlying Social Conformity,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7 (2013): 896, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00896.

even people who report feeling better after venting: Brad J. Bushman, “Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (June 1, 2002), doi: 10.1177/0146167202289002.

Studies also show that long-term stress: Robert M. Sapolsky, “Why Stress Is Bad for Your Brain,” Science 273, no. 5276 (August 9, 1996): 749–750, doi: 10.1126/science.273.5276.749.

Catholic monk Father Thomas Keating said: Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love 20th Anniversary Edition: The Way of Christian Contemplation (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2012).

“Letting go gives us freedom”: Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation (New York: Harmony, 1999).

“Don’t count the teeth”: Arthur Jeon, City Dharma: Keeping Your Cool in the Chaos (New York: Crown Archetype, 2004), 120.

Sister Christine Vladimiro says: Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, eds., The Monastic Way: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living: A Book of Daily Readings (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007), 183.

Competition breeds envy: William Buck, Mahabharata (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2004), 341.

The Vaca Sutta, from early Buddhist scriptures: Thanissaro Bhikku, trans., “Vaca Sutta: A Statement,”, accessed November 11, 2019,

writing in a journal about upsetting events: Bridget Murray, “Writing to Heal: By Helping People Manage and Learn from Negative Experiences, Writing Strengthens Their Immune Systems as Well as Their Minds,” Monitor on Psychology 33, no. 6 (June 2002): 54.

the Harvard Business Review lists nine more specic words: Susan David, “3 Ways to Better Understand Your Emotions,” Harvard Business Review, November 10, 2016,


#FollowTheReader with Jay Shetty, HuPost, November 7, 2016, v=JW1Am81L0wc.

The Bhagavad Gita describes three gunas: Verse 14.5–9 from The Bhagavad Gita, introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran (Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press, 2007), 224–225.

Research at Luther College: Loren L. Toussaint, Amy D. Owen, and Alyssa Cheadle, “Forgive to Live: Forgiveness, Health, and Longevity,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 35, no. 4 (August 2012), 375– 386. doi: 10.1007/s10865-011-9632-4.

Transformational forgiveness is linked: Kathleen A. Lawler, Jarred W. Younger, Rachel L. Piferi, Rebecca L. Jobe, Kimberly A. Edmondson, and Warren H. Jones, “The Unique Eects of Forgiveness on Health: An Exploration of Pathways,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 28, no. 2 (April 2005): 157– 167, doi: 10.1007/s10865-005-3665-2.

sixty-eight married couples agreed: Peggy A. Hannon, Eli J. Finkel, Madoka Kumashiro, and Caryl E. Rusbult, “The Soothing Eects of Forgiveness on Victims’ and Perpetrators’ Blood Pressure,” Personal Relationships 19, no. 2 (June 2012): 279–289, doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01356.x.

“I became a Buddhist because I hated my husband”: Pema Chödrön, “Why I Became a Buddhist,”

Sounds True, February 14, 2008,; Pema Chödrön, “How to Let Go and Accept Change,” interview by Oprah Winfrey, Super Soul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey Network, October 15, 2014.

Ellen DeGeneres sees the line clearly: Anne-Marie O’Neill, “Ellen DeGeneres: ‘Making People Feel Good Is All I Ever Wanted to Do,’ ” Parade, October 27, 2011,

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