Mind & Body

How to ‘weed’ your mind to reduce stress, according to ex-Buddhist monk Jay Shetty

Author, podcaster and former monk Jay Shetty reveals why meditation and “weeding” your thoughts can help you lead a less stressful life.

You lived as a full-time monk for three years. What is the most important lesson you learnt in that time?

That the single most powerful thing we can do to change our lives is also the thing that changes others’ lives and the world, and that’s to serve.

There’s a verse in [Hindu scripture] The Bhagavad Gita that reads, “The ignorant work for their own profit… the wise work for the welfare of the world.” That doesn’t mean we can’t have dreams and possessions. It’s OK to enjoy life in a variety of ways, but I believe our greatest profit comes from serving others.

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Meditation and mindfulness are a big part of your new book, Think Like A Monk. What advice do you have for people who struggle with these practices?

When you do them regularly, it actually becomes easier, so stick with it. If you can start building time for some mindful moments, that will make a huge difference. Sit outside on your balcony, go for a walk or just sit on your bed for five minutes and challenge yourself to notice one new thing in your immediate surroundings. Take in the details and be present with what you are noticing.

We’re living in a time of uncertainty – how would a monk handle this anxiety?

It’s a common misconception that monks are so detached that they don’t feel anxiety or any emotions. Monks feel all kinds of feelings. The difference is that they are trained to trace those feelings to the root and not react based on the initial experience of those feelings. I learnt to make fear my friend instead of trying to ignore it. We learn that, yes, some aspects of fear are not helpful, but some are.

Sometimes there are lessons that anxiety is alerting us to, and if we stop burying it, we can trace those feelings to their root and address what’s really there.

What activities should people be doing regularly to improve their wellbeing?

This will come as no surprise, but I would say to have a daily meditation practice. Beyond that, I would say to get a sufficient amount of sleep because we know from science that sleep is not only when we recover, it’s also when we get smarter.

Then I would say to cultivate self-awareness. Spend time identifying your values, and learning what motivates you and makes you tick. Question your “why” for what you’re doing – from “Why am I stopping to buy coffee?” to “Why do I live where I live?”It’s about taking yourself off of auto-pilot, which is a place our brains love to go.

How do you look after your own mental health?

As monks, we used a tool I describe in the book called “weeds and seeds” to clarify our intention. The idea is that when you plant a seed, it can grow into a tree that can provide something beautiful for others: shade, shelter and fruit. A broad intention such as love, compassion or service is a seed.

A self-motivated intention is a weed. Weeds often come from things like envy, anger, pride or ego. If I think of my mind as a garden, I know that I have to be a mindful gardener – I have to pull out the weeds and allow only those things that come from my good intentions to really take root and grow.

Think Like A Monk ($32.99, HarperCollins) is out now.