Practical Self Development Advice From A Monk

Alex Boswell

It starts with being honest with yourself

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Back before the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world, I attended a workshop called ‘Living For You’ that was held by my local Hare Krishna group as part of their ‘Mindful Mondays’ weekly event. It involved some mantra meditation, storytelling, and crucially some takeaway advice that could apply to pretty much anyone.

Before I get into that though, the monk giving the talk told us a short story that relates to the advice, and it struck a chord with me.

The Monk at The River

A monk had been traveling through India to gain some spiritual knowledge and decided to spend six months meditating in a cave somewhere in the north, living off of berries and water.

When the six months were up, he left his cave in search of the nearest settlement but came across the river Ganges. It was the hottest day he had ever experienced, and he was incredibly thirsty. Being a gratuitous person, he knelt next to the river giving thanks to God for all the good in the world.

He then notices a silhouette against the sun. It takes a few moments, but he realizes that it’s a large bird of prey. Looking around, he notices that he’s the only other living thing in sight for miles. He figures what will happen, will happen, and he will just pray. The bird slowly circles its way down, getting closer to the Monk with each pass. Suddenly he hears an almighty crash, looking up he doesn’t see anything, not even the bird. A few moments pass.

Then the bird soars out of the river with a great fish between its talons and flies away.

The Monk thinks to himself, “what lesson can be learned from this?”.
He realizes the fish must have been swimming quite close to the surface for the bird to have seen it. It’s likely then that if the fish had been swimming a little bit deeper it wouldn’t have experienced this fate.

He compares this to the human experience of life. If one lives in the shallows, you’re more likely to get picked off by all the negativity and superficial dramas that life puts your way. If you swim deeper though, living intentionally with meaning, you’re far less likely to get picked off by the proverbial bird of prey.

The Take-Away

“Great, nice story, but how does that help me?” I hear you ask.

According to the monk giving the talk, it starts with being honest with yourself.

Ask yourself, who am I? This question doesn’t mean what you do, like being a writer or a customer service specialist. Who is that which provides your inner monologue, that narration in your head from day-to-day?

Asking yourself this question regularly, I suppose it doesn’t matter what answer you come up with, encourages you to think more profoundly than what is happening on the surface. If it’s the case that you don’t like the answer you come up with, this alone can be motivation for change, but then how do you know what to change?

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A Quick Exercise

Get a piece of paper and pen, or use a notation app, and write down these five words:

  • Recreation
  • Health
  • Profession
  • Relationships
  • Mission

Next to each one, rate how good you feel about your current experience of each one out of 10.

For clarity; recreation refers to how much fun you’re generally having, health refers to your overall health and wellbeing. The profession is your working life, and relationships can apply to friendships as well as family or a spouse. Lastly, mission refers to how much you feel you have a purpose in life, a ‘mission’ to accomplish.

Doing this exercise is meant to show you where you put your time and energy. If one or two are quite high and others are low, this indicates that you are giving parts of your life a lot more effort than other things that are just as important. We should be trying to seek a more balanced outlook.

When I did this exercise, it looked like this:

  • Recreation = 3
  • Health = 8
  • Profession = 6
  • Relationships = 2
  • Mission = 5

Looking at this, I can see that I prioritize my health and working life far greater than having fun and building relationships. My life mission is also still a bit unclear to me, but I know I want to help people. So I’ve figured that perhaps lately I’ve been more selfish than I realized, these things I’ve prioritized only benefit me. So for the chance of richer life experience, I’ll be moving ahead by looking closer at my relationships, which will likely influence my time having fun as well.

Think about where you put your time and energy, ask yourself more profound questions. Answers to your self-development needs will likely flow from there.

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