Monday, May 4, 2009
The Monk who sold his Ferrari
I found this review a bit tough. I am sending it off now to the BCAS for publication in their journal (PS: It got published in the June edition). Review is below.
Title: The Monk who sold his Ferrari
Author: Robin SharmaPrice: INR 185
Publication: Jaico Books
Much has been written about this book and I am not surprised. You can either like this book or hate it, but you cannot ignore it. Before I begin this review, I must honestly admit that I am skeptical of self-help books which harp about “Leaving things to the forces of the Universe”. Yet, if one reads such books with an open mind, there are lessons that one can adopt, even as one chooses to ignore certain things that don’t make practical sense. The Monk who sold his Ferrari is one such book. I can almost call it spiritual pop. But, yes, who says that you do not have the freedom to pick and choose and adopt those ideas that do make practical sense and can turn your life for the better?
This book begins with the story of Julian Mantle, a successful lawyer who quite simply suffers a burn-out. He survives a heart attack, drops out of the rat race, sells his possessions – including his Ferrari and sets off on a journey (albeit to India) to find out life’s true meaning. Years later when he returns and meets his former associate, another advocate, he is a changed man – both physically and mentally. He has learned some valuable lessons from mythical Himalayan sages which he shares with his former associate (and the readers).
Julian tells his former associate a parable. How can a garden, a lighthouse, a sumo wrestler, a pink wire cable, a shiny gold stopwatch, fresh yellow roses and a winding path of diamonds be interlinked? Well they are.
Much as I hated the naïve dialogue in this book between Julian and his former associate, the best part of this book are the action steps provided at the end of each chapter. Now let us turn to the mysterious objects and find out how they are linked and how they can make our life more meaningful.
The Garden: The garden, in this book is the symbol of the mind. The key lies to banish all negative thoughts, to concentrate on definite meaningful objectives and to remove inner turbulence. Like most other such books, this chapter adds, find your real purpose in life then act on it. It even suggests that you can take risks and give up your profession for something you truly love. I guess, this is not always possible, even as one can try and attain a work-life balance through some sacrifices on the work front and find time for their passions, be it music or painting or writing or family time.
The gems that one can take away from this chapter is to learn to focus on the present, to keep negative thoughts at bay, imagine yourself as you want to be and to run your own race.
Practical tips: “A worrisome thought is like an embryo. It starts off small but grows and grows. Soon it takes on a life of its own”, explains Julian. He wears a necklace around his neck. Whenever, he is unable to shake off a negative thought, he removes one bead and puts it away in a cup. This reminds me of the “Worry dolls” traditionally made in Guatemala. According to folklore, the doll is thought to worry in the person’s place, when placed under the pillow at night. This permits a person to sleep peacefully and wake up without their worries, which have been taken away by the dolls during the night. Yes, this habit of banishing negative thoughts is worth a try, because endless worrying saps energy, it prevents us from focusing on our dreams and attaining it.
The Lighthouse: “The purpose of life is a life of purpose” says Julian. Clearly defined priorities and goals in every aspect of your life will serve a role similar to that played by a lighthouse, offering you guidance and refuge when the seas become rough. You should clearly know what aims you wish to achieve over the course of your life, be they material, emotional physical or spiritual and you must then manifest this vision into reality by consistent action.
From a practical point of view, this begins with goal setting. Julian says that accomplishing little feats will prepare us for realising the big ones. There is nothing wrong with mapping out a full range of small goals in the process of planning your bigger roles. Above all, he says: Stay spirited, joyful and curious.
Practical tips: Julian explains the steps as below
Step 1: Have a clear vision of your outcome;
Step 2: Create positive pressure to keep you inspired (something as simple as telling your best friend that you want to lose 5 kgs by the end of the month so that he/she can encourage you towards this goal);
Step 3: Set precise doable timelines to your goals;
Step 4: Commit you goal to paper. Prepare a “Dream Book”. You can have different sections for different goals – viz: physical fitness, financial, personal empowerment, relationship/social, spiritual. Fill it with pictures of things you desire, of people whom you wish to emulate;
Step 5: Stay with your goal for the first twenty-one days and soon it will become a habit (for example: an early morning walk).
The Sumo Wrestler: The Sumo wrestler is a constant reminder of the power of kaizen, the Japanese word for self-expansion and progress. Here the key take away is that we must learn to live out of our comfort zone to realise our fullest potential. “The only limits on your life are those that you set for yourself. When you dare to get out of the circle of your comfort and explore the unknown you begin to liberate your true human potential” says Julian. This chapter then goes on to explain ten rituals of radiant living – from spending some time everyday in solitude, to vegetarianism, to getting up early, to reading.
Practical tips: I think the concept of stepping out of your comfort zone is an important point. It could be something as simple as conquering one’s fear of public speaking. It need not be something as drastic as giving up your career to pursue something else. Even as the author says, that if you truly believe that an alternate career will bring you joy, go for it. Thus identify your fears, chalk out how you can conquer them and work on them everyday. For example, if you are scared of public speaking, join a study circle which also includes several of your friends, participate actively in that, and then move on to a wider audience.
A pink wire cable: The sumo wrestler had donned a pink wire cable. It denotes the power of self control and discipline in building a richer, happier and more enlightened life. Alone, each strand of wire is very weak. But a cable which comprises of several strands of wires is tough and strong. To build up an iron will it is essential to routinely perform tiny acts and build up an abundance of inner strength. Inner strength enables you to tackle whatever life throws your way.
Practical tips: Start up doing the things that you know you must be doing, or which are good for you, but you find it difficult to do. Like waking up early and going for that morning walk. Small victories lead to larger victories. Once a bench mark has been attained, raise the benchmark higher. Soon you will be doing things you never knew you were capable of doing with an energy you never knew you possessed.
A shiny gold stop watch: This was a symbol of our most important commodity – time. Time mastery in short is life mastery. Julian reiterated the well known phrase that: 80 per cent of the results we achieve in life come from only 20 per cent of the activities that occupy our time. Julian called for a holistic system of time management that encompassed not only life at the work place, but life per se. He advised that we should keep away from time thieves who for flimsy reasons eat into our time. It is also essential to simplify our life and to savour each and every moment as if today will be our last day.
Practical tips: Time management may sometimes necessitate saying -No. When someone calls for an idle chat while you want to finish your report, learn to say No. When dragged in all directions, prioritise. Keep time for yourself, for your family. Build a time table which includes everything, not just the client appointment, but the trip to the doctor, or the parent-teachers meeting. What is high priority is something you alone can decide for yourself, use time judiciously; after all, no one has more than 24 hours a day.
Fresh yellow roses: A Chinese proverb says: A little bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gave you roses. When you practice random acts of kindness daily, you enrich yourself. Think less of yourself as an individual and more as a member of the universe to which you belong. Julian brought out the true meaning of belongingness or inclusiveness and friendship in this chapter.
Practical tips: Cultivate richer relationships. How about taking the new joinee to the lunch room? Or helping the technically challenged colleague to help fix the printer? Or volunteer at the local NGO during your spare time? In short, help others smile, and they shall smile back at you.
A winding path of diamonds: This signified ‘enlightened living’. Julian explained that: Happiness is a journey. We can either marvel at the diamonds along the way or can keep running all day chasing that elusive pot of god at the end of the rainbow that ultimately reveals itself to be empty. In other words, we need to live in the now!
Practical tips: Practice gratitude and live in the now. Perhaps you could keep a journal where you note down daily whatever you have been grateful for during the course of that day. The size of your car, or your house, or for that matter your bank balance cannot buy you happiness. The size of the gratitude that you experience everyday can.
Although I cannot give this book my highest rating, Julian in one of the chapters says: “You need not apply every strategy to make your life work. Try the techniques and use those that feel right to you”. This makes a lot of sense, even as not everything in this book does.
You may well ask, what was the reason for brining in the Sumo wrestler or the pink wire cable, or for that matter the lighthouse? Well, these were just mind clues. The more bizarre a clue, greater are you likely to remember it, and perhaps even practice it. So take those baby steps, towards a better YOU.