A Modern Monk’s Guide To Happiness

Photo credit: Steve Ullathorne

Utterly at ease on a sofa tucked in a corner in The Electric in Notting Hill - despite the dramatic burnt orange robes - it’s clear that Thubten Gelong is a thoroughly modern monk. Thubten grew up in Cambridge, his mother is actor Indira Joshi (currently playing Mariam Ahmed in Eastenders) and like his mum, he pursued a career in acting after he finished his degree in English at Oxford. It was during a trip to New York that he had a mental collapse, suffering from severe anxiety, emotional turmoil and stress. Bedridden for two months it was at this point in his life he realised he had to change. In a bid to improve his health, he accompanied a friend to a Tibetan Monastery in Scotland and after four days, decided to become a Buddhist monk. 

Since then Thubten’s life has been utterly different. Driven by the success of his own rehabilitation his mission has been to help as many people as possible to find happiness. And rather than ignoring the perils of our fast-paced info-drenched lifestyles, in his recent book - A monk’s Guide To Happiness: Meditation In The 21st Century - he chattily explains exactly how to navigate the modern perils of endless social media, disastrous dating and WhatsApp group fallouts. For anyone who has ever tried meditation but has given up or believes in the power of mindfulness but hasn’t quite got around to trying it yet, this is a must-read. 

Here he tells us some of his words of wisdom...


Happiness is possible for everyone - no matter what your circumstances are.
The most unhappy people I've met are in LA and some of the happiest people I've met live in mud-hut villages in Zimbabwe. If you're seeking happiness, you're always going to be seeking happiness, and you'll never find it. I have seen people living incredibly challenged lives who have managed to rise above their circumstances. They are living proof that whatever’s happening externally in your life, your reactions are something you can change and that you are in control of. It’s about understanding your own mind and learning to transform that. You have to understand that only you have the power to control your negative thinking.


Stop searching for the quick fix.
Nowadays our quest for happiness is too often it’s about a quick hit. We’re caught up in the kind of consumerism that’s designed to make us want more. When I first emerged from our four-year retreat in 2009, the smartphone revolution had just happened. Suddenly people were over-controlled by incentive targeted information based online internet searches. I could see how enslaved people had quickly become. The thing with all this information is that it makes us exhausted and anxious because we can't get away from it. My mission is to make people realise that a quick fix won’t work and as more and more people become aware of things like mindfulness I can see that true happiness is possible for everyone.


Remember that social media isn’t all bad.
I do think it's possible to use social media and to be deeply involved in the modern world. I believe that social media can be used to share positive messages. That's what #TOGETHERBAND is doing. But there are simple things we can do, such as having some time off and having the occasional digital detox. Turn off notifications. Do things that limit the sense of invasion. My main approach is to meditate every morning.


Meditation is worthwhile even if you’re short of time
I'm not saying that everyone has time to sit around meditating. Everyone can find time for microscopic meditation. Literally standing on the tube and feeling the ground on your feet. Standing and waiting to cross the road and being aware of your body. Sitting at your desk and being aware of the sensation of sitting, feeling the chair under your body for small moments many times a day. Just doing little things with awareness throughout the day keeps you plugged into that calm.


Here’s how to deal with falling out someone
Most of our stresses are based around interaction with others. When we try to forgive others, one of the main things that stops us is thinking ‘I don't want them to get away with it.’ But if you're walking around holding onto hurt and anger, they have got away with it. If you forgive, they haven't because you've dropped the burden. People that hurt you might not really mean it – they're just caught up in their own stress. They could be struggling or having issues at home. You don't need to take it personally. So I think meditation - regular meditation - helps you to transform your reactions to life.


Harnessing emotions = happiness
Emotion is positive but we need to learn to be less controlled by our emotions; choose them, rather than them choosing us. To feel joy, to feel loved, to feel excitement, to feel happiness, and compassion – those are emotions that we can cultivate. Sometimes people think anger is a great motivator to get things done, but I think compassion is much stronger. For example, in the climate change discussion, the people who have the most powerful voices are the ones who are not demonizing the enemy but are actually creating understanding and communication.

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