Where Can I Live Like a Monk for A While?
My iPhone is my worst enemy and my job is destroying me—where can I live like a monk for a bit while I repair my damaged soul?
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Let’s begin with a real-life parable. In the early 1990s, Gadadhara Pandit Dasa was living the good life of a Beverly Hills college kid. But when his family’s jewelry business failed, rather than regroup in status-obsessed L.A., Pandit, as he’s known, and his parents moved to Bulgaria to take advantage of the country’s fledgling post-Communist economy. They launched an import business and downsized to a one-bedroom apartment—a far cry from their old six-bedroom house in Los Angeles. The riches to rags turn shocked the 21-year-old. “I found myself walking around like a zombie,” he says. “I was lost.”
Distraught, the India-born Hindu turned to his religion’s main spiritual guidebook, the Bhagavad Gita. “It was my first time really reading the Gita,” he says. “It soothed my soul and gave me a satisfaction I had never experienced before, even when I had money.” Bolstered by the tenets of the text, Pandit eventually moved to a monastery in India, where he worked, meditated, and realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Today, Pandit lives in a monastery in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (of all places). In addition to his monastic duties, he lectures at Columbia University and New York University and also serves as the Hindu chaplain for both schools. He has given TED Talks on mediation and earlier this year released a memoir, Urban Monk: Exploring Karma, Consciousness and the Divine.
Pandit’s story proves him uniquely suited to address ennui in the digital age. After all, we’re talking about a monk who lives in Manhattan and has a Facebook account. For rat-racers weary of the LinkedIn grind, Pandit suggests a retreat. On the secular-spiritual front, he likes the Omega Institute, which hosts upscale yoga and meditation-based “Rejuvenation Retreats” at its campuses in Costa Rica and the Hudson Valley.
He also recommends Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centeres. Similar to Omega but with an overtly Hindu message, Sivananda runs camps around the world to soothe the soul—at least temporarily. And that’s the operative word here: temporarily. Spiritual escapism is nice, but the challenge, says Pandit, is staying balanced in our day-to-day lives. He advises taking time in the morning or evening for meditation. “Find a quiet place, sit still and breath in through your nose,” he says. “Hold it, then slowly exhale, focusing on the breath. Do this ten times.”
The idea behind any mediation, says the Urban Monk, is to nourish the mind by blocking out distractions and honing in on a single element, whether it’s a mantra or your breath or your heartbeat. “Stress starts in the mind—that’s the problem center,” Pandit says. “And like your body, your mind needs to be nourished.”