British-Indian Jay Shetty, who became a global phenomenon with his motivational videos, is out with a new book, where he dares to find the root of happiness
Shetty shares videos for his 27 million-strong Facebook community, he also runs a popular podcast, On Purpose with Jay Shetty
The name Jay Shetty first popped up on our Facebook timeline three years ago, when a friend shared a video. The short video starred a bunch of actors, including Shetty, dramatising a slice-of-life scene, aimed at doing just one thing: Teaching people to become better human beings. In a matter of months, Shetty, who was still a fledgling life coach then, had built a strong, global viewership that sought his wisdom, inspired by the teachings of his guru, Gauranga Das.
Shetty has come a long way since. While he still shares videos for his 27 million-strong Facebook community, he also runs a popular podcast, On Purpose with Jay Shetty. His just released self-help book, Think Like A Monk (Thorsons, HarperCollins India), is already a No. 1 bestseller with glowing blurbs by friends from his fraternity, including Deepak Chopra and Robin Sharma. "None of this was planned," says Shetty, in an early morning telephonic chat from his Los Angeles home.
"When I started, I thought I was going to do a full-time job and make videos in the evening and on the weekends. I never imagined that anyone would even watch or listen to anything I created. The book became more real, when I started to get messages from people, who were following me, saying that they wanted to hear more about my experiences and thoughts. That planted the seed. I was patient till I felt that I was really ready to put pen to paper."
Long before Shetty gained attention for his motivational videos, he was just another rebellious teen. Raised in north London, he remembers "mixing with the wrong crowd, experimenting with drugs, fighting, and drinking too much." "In high school, I was suspended three times," he writes in the book. Life, he says, took a turn for the better, when as an 18-year-old, he was dragged by a friend to listen to Das, on the assurance that the two would hit the bar soon after. "Until then, I had met people who were rich, famous, beautiful and attractive, knowledgeable and smart, but I had not met anyone who was truly happy. The monk exuded some joy and purpose in life, and was speaking about how the goal of life was to use the talent and skills in the service of others. That really struck a chord with me," he recalls.
After graduating from college, Shetty traded his suits for robes, and left for Mumbai, joining Das's efforts to transform an ashram in Wada, Palghar, into a high-end, eco-friendly spiritual retreat.
"Every day, we would wake up at 4 am, and have cold showers. We slept on the floor and did everything from meditation, studying, taking care of animals to farming the land. That experience was so different from growing up in London. What it built in me was adaptability and resilience. While doing philanthropic work, we were also doing a lot of internal work. I became more aware of my real passion."
It's what eventually compelled him to give up living like a monk, three years later. "The more I began to understand myself, the more I realised that I wasn't meant to be a monk. I wanted to be in a world, where I would have more impact. My teachers felt the same," says Shetty, confessing that the transition wasn't an easy one. "It was actually a very difficult and pressure-filled moment [for me], because when I moved back to London, I was completely surrounded by the noise again, and reminded by people that I hadn't made it as a monk. I heard a lot of 'I told you so.' I also had absolutely no means to take care of myself, and on top of that, I was not getting any jobs, because, surprise surprise, no one wants a person with 'monk' on his resume."
The book is peppered with personal experiences that shaped Shetty's journey. At the same time, it hopes to serve as a guide to finding meaning and purpose, whether in our intentions, relationships or daily routine, by distinguishing between the "monkey mind"—a mind that "switches aimlessly from thought to thought, challenge to challenge, without really solving anything"—and the monk mind. "While writing this book, I was thinking about all the questions I would receive on social media, whether it was dealing with overthinking and procrastination, or stress. I turned to monk wisdom, the practical habits and transformation strategies, which would help people let go of their past and their pain, and lead them to a life of service and joy. The [end] goal should not be happiness. The practise should be to look for meaning and purpose in our life, and most of all service. That's what makes people happier." Shetty has also dedicated chapters to meditation, chanting and breathing techniques. Think Like A Monk is heavily indexed, with links and notes on writers and books, which Shetty found resourceful, when putting his thoughts together.
Like with all successful people, Shetty has had his share of controversy, with comedienne Nicole Arbour accusing him of not crediting quotable wisdom. Any criticism, he has received in the past, has been carefully addressed. "One of the most beautiful principles I learnt, was when I did an interview with Simon Sinek. He spoke about how early in his career, when he was receiving a lot praise and criticism, he would spend time, transforming his critics into believers. He soon realised that in that time, he had ended up neglecting the people who had positive beliefs about him. He learnt that responding to the positivity was much more important," says Shetty, adding, "I make an attempt every day to respond to the positive comments on my page. When it comes to criticism, I look internally to what in that negativity acts as feedback, and helps me improve myself."
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