7 Steps to Developing a Monk Mindset and Creating Inner Calm
Let's face it, the stress of life is not something that we can easily overcome, especially when we feel we are stuck on the hamster wheel of life. I've often heard people say, "I just want a break from life for one day." And the events and state of affairs in the world over the past few years has, in many ways, compounded our stress.
Though in one way, we got a taste of what it was like to slow down, as we were forced to do in the pandemic. Many of us had time to contemplate our purpose and what we want to do with our life. We had time to ponder what was most important to us. In another way, it caused immeasurable stress in the form of financial, career and family stress. We had to worry about keeping ourselves and our families safe. We had to deal with long periods of solitude and isolation. We worried about whether we could provide for ourselves and our families. It was a lot.
Incidences of mental illness increased significantly across the globe and the impact has been devastating for some. People felt as if they had no control over everything that was going on around them, which caused a ton of internal distress.
What is the answer? How do we manage the stressors of life and not get taken on a roller coaster ride of fear, anxiety, frustration and chaos?
Easy. Think like a monk.
When people think of monks, they often picture men in robes meditating all day long without any contact of interaction or connection with the outside world. they are seen as beings living in a protected environment, without any troubles. They are seen as calm, smiling, happy, and seemingly unaware of and disconnected from the chaos in the world around them. And while monks do wear robes and meditate for a large portion of their days (on average about 3-6 hours of seated meditation), they are quite connected with and aware of all that is going on in the world. They have just learned a way of operating that allows them to remain centered, choose their responses, and determine their actions, which leads to a calm and balanced inner energy.
They are not obsessed with the Internet, they are instead focused on the "inner net," their internal web of experiences, sensations, and thoughts. This awareness allows them to be reflective in nature and by default, more in control of their emotions and behaviors. But how do they do this? How does one begin to create that inner calm? Can a layperson create a peaceful inner landscape? Do we have to meditate for 6 hours a day to have a the same experience of equanimity? The simple answer is no.
Monks engage in a series of daily practicies that are actually quite easy to recreate in your own life. You don't have to reinvent your entire life, and move to the mountains of Indonesia to feel more at peace. Here are six things you can do to learn how to think like a monk and be more at ease, less reactive and more content in your life.
Begin your day as the monks do to create success. This is an easy morning routine that I follow. It makes a world of difference in my day. You don't have to spend hours on each one either. It is someting that can be done in a relatively short amount of time, though a monk might suggest otherwise, so that you really get the full benefit of the practice. But even 30 minutes each morning in this state can help prepare you for a great day.
Before we begin, the purpose of a morning routine is not about productivity. It’s about intention. It is a way to train your mind. Now, the outcome might be more productivity, inner peace and stability, but that is not the goal. Though it is what usually happens as a result of operating in an intentional way. Being thoughtful and mindful allows you to become more aware of how you think and feel. It makes you more aware of your assumptions, expectations and ultimately your behaviors. Harnessing that awareness is empowering and freeing, because then you can take charge of how you want to show up to your day. It clears a pathway.
When the mind is bright and stable, it is more healthy. And when it is in that state, you are automatically more productive, inspired, motivated and positive. From that comes relaxation and a letting go because the events/happenings around you no longer control you. You are able to separate yourself from them and choose a different path. This choosing is a way to get results from your day.
This morning routine is a way to train your mind so you can develop wisdom and teach yourself to become aware of your thoughts and habits and then change them to continuously improve and change your life. The main idea here is to do activities where you are not thinking of the past or the future in order to get your mind still and centered. The morning is the perfect, sacred time to do this because you are coming out of a deep sleep and generally have less going on in your head.
STEP 1: Breath, Center and Be Still: Before you even get out of bed, lay on your back, keep your eyes closed and take at least 3 deep breaths while focusing on nothing but the breath - centering your concentration on the mind, body, breath connection. This stills the mind and activates a part of the brain that is responsible for logical and rational thought (your pre-frontal cortex).
STEP 2: Be Grateful: We are not guaranteed 5 seconds ago, nor can we be certain that we have 5 seconds from now. So, come from a place of gratitude for each day you wake up. Each day is a brand new day. Everything in the past is gone and today is another chance to develop yourself and to do more good in the world. Think of at least three things that you are grateful upon waking up each morning. You cannot feel angry and grateful at the same time. You cannot feel anxious and grateful at the same time. So think of these things to get your mind into a positive mindest each morning.
STEP 3: Chanting and Meditation: In the morning the mind has not interacted with the outside world yet, so focusing on this inward attention helps you keep a still mind throughout the day. Chant first, then meditate. Find a video or audio with meditative chanting and follow along for a few minutes. Then follow by meditating. There are many different types of meditation; silent seated, music, mantra, walking, etc. Find one that works for you and meditate each morning, starting with 3-5 minutes, and working your way up to 30 minutes if you can. It is optimal to do at least 20 minutes each day. All the chaos, emotions, heaviness, stories, and thoughts settle down. This grounding process helps cultivate new, pure energy. It clears your vision and makes you focused, grounded and productive.
STEP 4: Make Your Bed. Develop habits that add order and functionality to your day. Making your bed in a mindful way to help you increase your focus and attention to detail. When doing this task, and focus solely on each step, it can help train and purify your mind. This will help you prep yourself for the day. It also gives you a neat and tidy space to retreat to at the end of your day, increasing the likelyhood that you can feel more positively about your nightime routine as well.
STEP 5: Do an Act of Generosity: Each morning think about a way that you can give back and do something good for someone else, and give of your time. Doing so gets you out of your own head and our tendency to over-focus on needless worries and rumination. It can also give you a sense of community and eliminate greed. It can be as simple as putting a quarter in a jar and knowing that at the end of the week, month or year, you will donate that money. Or you can make sure to say something kind to a family member, give a hug, make someone breakfast, or take a pet for a walk. It can be something you already do or some small task that you add to your day. Whatever you choose, giving back gives you a more rich sense of kindness and compassion. That behavior has energy, just as negative behaviors have negative energy. The act of kindness spreads positive feelings to others, making them feel good, and also role models to encourage others to pay it forward.
STEP 6: Set Intentions For Your Day – Each morning, think about what would make you feel successful, not just monetarily or give you power or attention, but rather, in a way that feeds your purpose and what you wish to accomplish in your life. What are your passions? What goals have you desired to accomplish, but have yet to complete or even start? What would feed your soul and bring you true joy? But a word of caution. Do your best to also accept exactly where you are right now. We are always exactly where we need to be, and have all that we need, in order to do all that we need to do. Remember that by accepting where you are now, and who you are now, you are feeding a positive mindset that gives you the energy to also create the life you want and approach each day with focus and determination.
Step 7: Think About Barriers: After you have set your intentions, think about what could potentially get in your way and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. Take a step back, and think about people, things or even patterns of self-talk that could deflate your energy, get in your way and hold you back from achieving your goals. If you can think of a potential barrier, then you can consider a way to combat it as well. You can be mindful in your approach so that you don't get triggered, taken by surprise or thrown off course. You can come up with a plan or preferred way to respond if/when those barriers arise. There may, however, be other events that come up which you did not think about. Even still, you can say to yourself in the morning, "If something comes up today that gets in my way, I will remain calm, I will reflect in the moment with control and determine my best response. I am in control of my destiny."
If you are able to practice these steps every morning, I guarantee that you will begin to notice a shift in your energy, focus and well-being. Your mindset will begin to change and with each passing day, you will be more aligned with your purpose, more calm in your thinking and have greater contentment, happiness and emotional control throughout your day.