Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

This is a book with an unusual title.

I have noticed "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" sometime back. I have resisted reading it because of two reasons: 1) It is fictional (I prefer non-fiction) and 2) It has an unusual title which in some way, is cheesy.

I finally got my hand on it and I realised that I was the one being cheesy. The book has taught me much.

The author, Robin Sharma, has chosen to share meaningful life tips through a fable. It is about a successful lawyer, Julian Mantle, who initially leads a hectic schedule and is guided by money, power and prestige.

Julian later suffers a heart attack and the near-death experience transforms him. He sells his possession (which includes his Ferrari, of course), goes to India to seek a more meaningful existence and returns a changed man. Julian shares what he has learnt with one of his former associates, John and the fable is told from the perspective of his associate.

In the fable, Julian gives John (and the readers) practical advice on how changing daily habits can help us achieve more.

Broadly, the book covers seven Virtues of Enlightening Learning, which Julian reveals to John one at a time and presented in separate chapters. Each of these 'Virtues' entails a set of concepts and habits to develop.

1. Master your mind
2. Follow your purpose
3. Practice kaizen
4. Live with discipline
5. Respect your time
6. Selflessly serve others
7. Embrace the present

I find the advice from this book both inspiring and confusing.

Some of the concepts are not new to me but I have learnt to appreciate it from a different perspective. I often hear comments that books of this genre often say the same thing but in different ways. There is nothing wrong with that.

When I see the same thing from varying perspective, I learn to smoothen the rough edges that are left behind by previous views. Put it simply, each time I read about the same thing from a different author, I learn different ways to achieve the same thing. Very often, little tips help me achieve something big.

Over time, I have developed some of my habits on my own thinking that they might help me. Seeing that the same thing is being said by different authors gives me the confidence that I am doing the right thing. The power of endorsement is great and it makes me want to do more with such habits.

The advice can be confusing because the author is drawing quite a fine line between each concept. Some of them sound repetitive. It is a 'story book' that I would have to read over and over again to grasp the concepts shared.

For example, under the first virtue "Master Your Mind", five habits can be developed:

Habit 1:
Learn to see the positive in every circumstance. Do not judge events as “good” or “bad”, but experience them, celebrate them and learn from them.

Habit 2:
With the use of a fresh rose, find a quiet place and stare at the heart of the rose. Focus on the petals, folds, texture etc. Free up other thoughts as they come to you. Start with 5 minutes a day and learn to stretch it to 20. This is the way to your oasis of peace.

Habit 3:
Every day, spend 10 minutes to reflect your day, and on how to can improve your next day.

Habit 4:
Opposition thinking: Take every negative thought that comes into your mind and turn it into a positive one. Be conscious of your thoughts. It is easy to have negative thoughts invading your mind but it is also easy to have them replaced with positive ones. Instead of being moody, focus your energy on being cheery.

Habit 5:
Secret of the lake: Your vision can be powerful. Take a few deep breaths and relax and envision your dreams becoming a reality. Picture vivid images of what you want to become and they will become reality.

The above five habits can be a hefty load, especially if they are new to you and we are merely talking about the first virtue. As the book is written in the style of a fable, the habits in each virtue are weaved into the story, rather than being listed clearly. In this aspect, the summary page at the end of each chapter does help a great deal.

Even though the book carries lots of big ideas on how you can change your habits (and therefore your lives), you need not swallow them whole. For me, I find it more practical and manageable to pick and choose some and practise on one or two of the ideas at a time.

My life may not be as out-of-balance as Julian's at this moment but I am not about to wait till it happens. This book teaches me many very useful ideas, some of which so simple that they hurt.

We tend to dismiss a piece of advice which appears commonsensical because we do not believe that something so simple can be so powerful. That is the problem that many of us have. I have since learnt to give due respect to common sense.

While it can be confusing to distill the essence from the story, I could not imagine the book being written like an instruction manual. We cannot prescribe changes to anyone. Unless our understanding is changed, mindless application of any instruction in a book will not do much. When told in a story, the author helped to provide more insights and meaning to the recommended rituals.

I would recommend this book to those of you who are looking for some guidance in your change journey.

Verdict: A book of great wisdom.

See an earlier review of another book by the same author : "Who will cry when you die?"

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