Jay Shetty has a story he wants you to hear. He tells it on speaking tours, when people come on his podcast, or when he goes on chat shows like Ellen or Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk. Now he’s written a book – a combination of memoir and self-help advice called How To Think Like A Monk – which begins with the same tale.
Here it is: an 18-year-old Shetty is at Cass Business School in London. He’s obsessed with the rags-to-riches stories of CEOs and self-made entrepreneurs, and spends all his free time watching them give talks at the university. One day, his friend tells him there’s going to be a talk by a monk. Shetty is apathetic, but he agrees to go if his friend promises they can go to the pub afterwards. This monk, a man called Gauranga Das, is the exact opposite of what Shetty values at the time. He’s an old Indian man in robes who has shunned material wealth and status. But his speech is so captivating, his selflessness so life-changing, that Shetty talks to him afterwards, then follows him round the UK on his speaking tour, spends his next few summers in an ashram in Mumbai, and ends up training to become a monk himself, turning down graduate job offers.
It’s a classic origin story – the kind of eureka moment that tech startups like to tell about their founders. And though Shetty isn’t a tech CEO, he’s definitely building a brand. Since leaving the ashram, he’s become a kind of influencer-cum-life-coach who promotes wisdom and self-help advice to 3.5m YouTube subscribers, 6m Instagram followers and a Facebook audience of more than 27m. Facebook is where he started. More than a few of his followers are mega celebrities. He provides much of this advice for free. But he also offers coaching to LA clients, and an online course that costs $390 and comes with the vague promise that it might “increase daily happiness by 60%”.
“I want to help people find stillness, purpose, peace and clarity in their daily life, by adopting the mindset monks have developed over thousands of years,” Shetty tells me over Zoom from his sun-dappled LA bedroom. I can immediately see why people are willing to pay for an hour of his time. Shetty hasn’t lost his London accent since moving to the US in 2016, and there’s something irresistibly disarming about someone talking about meditation and higher purpose in the down-to-earth tones of a Sky Sports pundit. “I want to show people that thinking like a monk isn’t just about being still and calm, it’s actually a lot more about seeing patterns and connections; seeing things in mainstream culture that remind you of wisdom.”
Much of Shetty’s advice is well-trodden and benign. He talks about regular meditation. He suggests using visualisation to help control fear and realise goals. He thinks you should make an audit of your time, spending and media use in order to check you’re prioritising the right areas of your life.
But where Shetty differs is his unusual combination of monastic teachings and embrace of the free market. Shetty tells me he’s committed to the “beautiful theme of conscious capitalism”. He often speaks at business conferences, where he tells CEOs they should only make products they’d let their kids use. I’m not against the idea of a mogul monk. But I do question the idea that we can change our lives simply by changing our thinking or demonstrating compassion. That’s fine for the person whose small gripes are getting in the way of enjoying life. But is it useful advice for the young black man afraid when he sees the police, or someone having their disability benefit taken away, or the sexual assault victim paralysed by their trauma? Are those people supposed to “achieve transformational forgiveness” to feel better?
“That’s beautiful, I love where you’re taking this,” says Shetty. “I ultimately feel like these principles are the guiding principles that will give us the world we want. It’s just that sometimes compassion doesn’t always mean hugs and kisses and embraces. Compassion can sometimes mean having someone learn a lesson. The key to compassion is that it’s for the greater good. It’s being fuelled not by ego or by a trend. Compassion is not just a word to be thrown around, it should fuel the energy with which we do things. Mandela, Martin Luther King – these people were powered by compassion.”
Shetty was not always so even-tempered. He grew up in Wood Green, north London. His parents were non-practising Hindus and Shetty had a mildly rebellious childhood – experimenting with drugs, fighting and drinking too much. “I was lost at that time; I really didn’t know what I valued. The troublemaking wasn’t fun – it was full of fear and guilt.”
When Shetty was 10, his father began questioning his job in the city and experimenting with different kinds of spirituality. At the time, Shetty found his dad’s search for big answers something of an annoying mid-life crisis, but he now feels it planted seeds of interest in alternative lifestyles that flourished after his brush with the monk.
When he returned from the ashram, Shetty moved back in with his parents and lived a hybrid life that combined city jobs and motivational speaking with meditation. When Arianna Huffington spotted one of his motivational talks and gave him a spirituality show on HuffPo, things started to take off.
Shetty’s life since then, at least from the outside, seems like a contradiction. His career is built on sharing concepts of dharma and transformational forgiveness, but he does so by earning a living from YouTube ads and interviewing celebrities such as Khloé Kardashian and Rob Lowe on his podcast. In the book, he offers advice for people who feel they’re spending too much time on social media, and warns against our tendency to “contrive a dishonest version of ourselves in order to appear more knowledgeable”. Yet that’s surely what he’s doing, as a vlogger and celebrity guru. Wouldn’t the monks think he’d got it all wrong?
“The way I look at that is: I came to the understanding that I wasn’t a monk for life,” he says. “Living as a monk was like going to school and the seven years after were like the exam. I’m now living my highest purpose. I use social media, video and content to connect with people, but it was never about getting a million likes. It was, ‘How do I share this wisdom online?’ If you’re a monk or an Instagram influencer, ego is there within all of us, so monitoring your ego and thinking like a monk is what I’d have to do either way.”
But, I say, it can feel a bit rich to hear from someone who has the things many of us desire – money, fame, recognition for their work – that we’ll only be happy if we stop focusing on those things.
“I think that’s the mistake of anyone who doesn’t read the book properly,” he says pointedly, the Zen aura slipping for just a moment. “I’m not trying to get people to shift away from their material desires. If someone came to me and said they wanted to be the richest person in the world, I’d ask why they want it. If it was just to buy nice houses and cars, I’d tell them, go for it, you’ll be successful but you won’t be happy. I’m not limiting anyone’s material desires. What I’m saying is, you’re probably more likely to get there if your intention is more than just the money.”
Shetty makes it clear in the book that he is a former monk. These days he’s married and enjoys a consumerist lifestyle – though he doesn’t drink or eat meat. Does he miss the blowouts of his youth ? “I have plenty of things in my life that allow me to let go: the biggest plant-based burger I can have, for example. My life is thrilling enough that I don’t need to look for any extra thrill. I get such a buzz from telling stories.”
Most people experience Shetty through his social media channels, which are different to the rest of his output. On YouTube, much of his content involves dramatised reenactments of parables – some taken from Hindu teachings, others the kind of bumper-sticker inspirational quotes you might see a relative share on Facebook. His most recent video is titled “BEFORE You Take Your Life For Granted, WATCH THIS”. It’s a saccharine five-minute drama about a girl called Karen who argues with her father about what time she has to be home. She then goes to visit her (young, blonde, beautiful) friend in hospital who has cancer. The dying friend reminds her she doesn’t know how lucky she is. “This cancer is probably going to kill me Karen… you don’t know how to be grateful for what you have!”
These are moral tales told with Hallmark production values. But Shetty’s real-life personality, I tell him, seems completely out of step with the earnestness of his social media channels. I could happily imagine going to the pub with him, whereas the YouTube videos I find humourless and a bit manipulative.
“It’s hard for someone to communicate everything they are in four minutes,” he replies calmly. “Imagine if I had to make a decision about you in three minutes; you couldn’t possibly show me all of who you are. When you see one of my videos, yes, that’s a part of who I am. But that’s just one part. When you listen to the podcast, when you read the book, you kind of get a 360-degree view. Alicia Keys said on my podcast, when I asked her for one rule she would make for the world: ‘I’d want everyone to meet and spend time with someone before they formed an opinion about them.’ What if we just took a bit longer to form opinions about people, and really experience them? How amazing would the world be?”
It’s a polished answer, said with a smile, that flips things subtly back to my prejudices. What does it say about me that I judged him on his videos?
The self-improvement industry in the US is estimated to be worth $13.2bn by 2022. Those kinds of rewards and absolutely no regulation mean that not everyone in the space has the audience’s best interests at heart. Books like The Secret, adored by millions, encourage vulnerable people to “manifest” changes through positive thinking alone which, as the self-help blogger Mark Manson points out, can lead people to “take on risky business ventures or investments, ignore red-flag behaviours from a romantic partner, deny personal problems or health issues”.
How are viewers supposed to recognise what is good advice and what isn’t, in such a bustling marketplace?
“It’s hard in any industry where things get oversaturated,” Shetty says. “But how can a viewer decide what’s right for them? Test it! You may watch something that I put out and think, ‘Jay’s not really for me, he doesn’t speak in my kind of language.’ That’s the beauty of mindfulness being taught by different people from different walks of life. It’s like saying, ‘When I go down the pasta aisle there’s just so many companies trying to sell me pasta.’ Yeah, you’ve got to test them! Choice can be debilitating but that’s because we don’t test things enough.”
Before we part, I want to come back to the issue of the clash between political movements like Black Lives Matter and the wellness industry. I thought his answer was soft before, I say. Structural racism can’t just be “compassioned” away. Can these kinds of philosophies rise to these bigger challenges?
“I have to quote a beautiful statement from MLK. It’s literally the answer to this question. He said: ‘Those who love peace need to learn to organise themselves as much as those who love war.’ That’s the difference. Sometimes when we believe in love and compassion, it leads us to be unorganised because we just think that love and compassion will solve everything. We need sincerity and strategy that changes the world. If someone is sincere but not strategic there will be no change. If someone is strategic but not sincere the change won’t always be for the greater good. That’s the balance that we need. If we get both of those right, wow, the world will change.”
For the first time, I feel like he is offering some truly useful advice. I don’t think I’ll be subscribing to the YouTube channel any time soon, but just like Shetty all those years ago, I do feel a little less cynical after talking to a monk.
Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day, by Jay Shetty (Harper Thorsons, £16.99), is out now. Buy it for £14.78 at guardianbookshop.com
My difficult son is using his new baby to manipulate me | Family
The dilemma My son, with whom I’ve had a very difficult relationship, recently had a baby. After a lovely and hopeful beginning where he seemed to be softening, he’s returned to his old habits of saying and doing deeply hurtful things with every visit or text.
His son is my first grandchild and, of course, such a joy, but it’s not possible to experience the happiness of the baby while receiving such abuse and hatred from him. He’s said in the past that he behaves this way because of his mental illness, which I understand to be anxiety, but I find it is a very selective illness that comes out only at me.
His father and I divorced recently and the family is fairly shredded. I’d hoped the baby would give us something loving to focus on, but my son’s behaviour is making things worse. I’ve done everything I can to be supportive in the midst of all my own life changes (new house, new city, new job, single after 30 years of marriage). I let them have a home birth in my house. I’ve visited with food, given them money, helped them move… all normal parent things. But neither has expressed any gratitude. I’m feeling they’re using the baby to manipulate me. I want to be a proper grandmother. It is heartbreaking.
Mariella replies Step back. I can feel the drama of your emotions from here and it’s not helpful. As you say, a first grandchild is a happy event and might seem an ideal opportunity to bring you closer together. But, just as having a baby won’t resolve long-term issues between parents, neither will it provide the reset button on your relationship with your son. A newborn should enter the world unencumbered by responsibilities, but so much of what goes wrong in early childhood is as a result of the expectations that are heaped on them.
We tend to see babies as any number of things aside from themselves: the offer of new beginnings, distractions from unfulfilled ambitions, bonding for bad relationships, opportunities to reinvent our own miserable childhoods or press repeat on happier adventures in youth. None of this is a fair or functional expectation from a new addition to the species whose only duty should be to make themselves priority number one and grow up to realise their full potential without the juggernaut of past family baggage.
I’m not unsympathetic to your desires, but it sounds as if you need to do a lot of work before unimpeded access to your grandchild becomes an earned right. You mention your son’s mental illness as though it were a side-show. But by neither sympathising nor trying to understand it you are ensuring nothing will change. Suggesting it’s less credible because you feel it’s entirely directed as you is a failure to understand what your son is struggling with. It’s those we rely on most or have the strongest connection to (no matter how dysfunctional) who often bear the brunt of our unhappiness. From one angle your son’s bad behaviour could signify how much emotional investment he has in your relationship and how frustrated he is that it seems unrequited or unavailable in a way he recognises.
The arrival of your grandson has been a catalyst that has revived old issues. Now it’s about how you handle things that will define your future relationship with your grandchild and also, importantly, with your adult child. My sense is that there’s a lot riding on your ability to press reset and change the dynamics of your mother-and-son relationship. That doesn’t mean you should put up with abuse and if you feel that his behaviour goes beyond what is acceptable you need to withdraw from his life and seek professional help – perhaps from an organisation such as Mind (mind.org.uk).
You mention you’ve also had a lot to deal with in your life and I can understand you may feel under emotional siege, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to demand compassion, and let’s not forget that your son won’t be unscathed by his parents’ divorce. The position you find yourself in is down to the luxury of having choices; whether they’ve been good or bad is irrelevant. What matters is you are now at a watershed moment in your life and how you proceed will depend partly on leaving the past behind. As the brilliant author Shirley Hazzard observes in one of her searing short stories: “One doesn’t really profit from experience, one simply learns to predict the next mistake.”
You say that you feel your grandson is being used to manipulate you, but I have a niggling feeling it may be you placing over-onerous expectations on the child’s arrival. Your son has had a baby – now it’s up to you to ensure your relationship with him becomes one where your presence in their lives is a gift and not a chore. One of the few pleasures of increased maturity is the chance to precipitate change with the help of accrued wisdom. It’s takes two to tango I agree, but it’s also true that someone has to make the first move.
Period weight gain: Why it happens and why you must not worry about it
There is no need to worry about water weight gain during the period. It is quite normal. You just need to stay away from eating unhealthy, sugar and fat-laden food items. The weight gain caused due to overeating is permanent and you have to make extra effort to lose those extra kilos. Here are a few things that you can do during the period to stay healthy.
Drink more water: Drink enough water throughout the week. This will help to maintain the electrolyte level in the body and prevent your body from conserving fluids.
Eat fiber-rich foods: Eating fiber-rich foods can prevent constipation, which is common during this time. Fiber will help in easy movement of bowel and prevent you from overeating.
Reduce salt intake: Eating too much salt during this time can increase water retention and make you feel more bloated. So, avoid excessive salt intake as much as possible.
Exercises: It is absolutely alright to exercise during the period. Even if you choose to perform low-impact exercises, it is alright. Do not skip it.
5 signs COVID-19 has impacted your heart
Chest pain, as a symptom is something associated both with declining lung function, shortness of breath as well as heart damage.
In the case of COVID-19, viral multiplication and spread can deprive the vital organs, such as the heart of healthy oxygenated blood, which can damage the heart muscles and result in chest pain, or angina.
Chest pain is also considered to be one of the first signs of a heart attack. It can be discomforting, feel like experiencing a squeezing or tugging pain around your chest and neck.
In some cases, extreme, pulsating chest pain and fluctuating heart rate can also result in fainting spells.
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