Monk Mode – Pain Is Inevitable. Suffering Is a Choice.

Monk Mode – Pain Is Inevitable. Suffering Is a Choice.


I want you to try something for a second.


Open your right hand. Now use your left hand and pinch the index finger of your right hand hard enough to sense the pain.


How do you feel?


Do you feel confused? Do you feel angry? Do you feel scared? Do you feel alert? Do you feel alive?


You know, sometimes all it takes to shift our focus from frivolous and ordinary tasks to something deeper is some pain.


Before reading this article, you were most probably occupied with some other article or social media. Now, I have your attention.


Pain has mainly two forms. It can be either the driver of change and a reminder that our life isn’t exactly close to what we envisioned it to be. Or it can be a devastating force that leaves us powerless and reduces our ability to objectively evaluate our self-worth.


The former is empowering. The latter is weakening. Your interpretation of pain says a lot about your character and how much you have invested in this interpretation.


Regardless of which form you decide to embrace, pain will inevitably lead to a change in your present state. That change will create an imbalance in your rationale and undoubtedly lead to the initiation of decision-making processes.


Pain is a tool. It is a tool used consciously and unconsciously by many agents in most facets of your life. It is a very effective motivator that can influence specific choices that you make and affect areas that you decide to be part of.


This lucid realization might elicit mixed feelings within you, but at the same time it can empower your sense of self-awareness.


Pain is an omnipresent force. You can’t avoid it, but you can definitely manage it.


This management is not a matter of luck. It is a matter of introspection and making use of one of the most powerful tools you will ever encounter.


This tool is called monk mode.


Enter Monk mode


The word monk derives from the Greek word monakhos, which means alone. A monk is a person who voluntarily decides to isolate himself from mainstream society and embrace an ascetic mode of being.


Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures and the pursuit of spiritual goals. It is the abrasion of an impulse-dominated state and the immersion in a reality characterized by self-control and balance.


Monks have been practicing asceticism mainly for religious purposes. Their aversion towards contemporary societal values led them to asceticism as the only way to escape human nature and achieve theosis, or union with God. For God is the manifestation of spirituality and enlightenment.


In our modern epoch, monk mode has been introduced as a way to describe our attempt to hedge ourselves from ongoing external stimuli.


Our proclivity to exposing ourselves to a plethora of situations, opinions, and activities leads to mental disorientation and lack of control over our emotional state.


As I mentioned in my “Primal Living and modern Parallels” article, we weren’t really ready to embrace the luxuries and possibilities of the modern world. We are still primal creatures with a well-defined set of needs and characteristics. When those are not met, we revert to unorthodox behaviors.


That’s why monk mode becomes imperative nowadays.


Monk mode is a mental state that allows the individual to assume control over his or her mental well-being and eventually augment his value in an attempt to revamp his life conditions.


The monk mode framework requires inquisitive analysis and the best way to execute this analysis is to divide the framework into the following areas:


  • Destroying Self-delusion
  • Initiating Observer State
  • Assuming Formlessness
  • Utilizing Exposure

Destroying self-delusion


Lack of self-delusion is the first and probably the most defining characteristic of a person who has successfully internalized monk mode.


Self-delusion is defined as the inability of the individual to objectively evaluate his or her strengths and weaknesses and pursue ambitious and tangible goals.


It can occur due to many reasons but the most relevant one is the absence of introspection and self-honesty. The idea you have about yourself is affected by biases, remorse, and brainwashing. You are a malleable entity that can be molded according to how prone you are to external influence. People will throw at you different life interpretations and you will unavoidably espouse some and reject some.


This dynamic adoption of influences has its roots in your childhood and your upbringing. Your intellect and the degree of self-reliance you have accumulated over the years will dictate your ability to think critically and properly assess external views.


Becoming fixated on outdated patterns and modes of thinking will inevitably impede your attempt to reach monk mode. That is because a person in monk mode is capable of readapting his views and beliefs according to well-evaluated knowledge.


Self-delusion has two sides. The one side refers to the delusion of superiority and the other side refers to the delusion of inferiority. They have been both cautiously scrutinized by various psychologists and are usually coined as superiority and inferiority complex. 1


Both complexes result in neurotic behaviors that aim to disorient the individual and lead him or her to disastrous attitudes and habits. A person in monk mode feels neither superior nor inferior to others. He or she sees others as actors in a common movie theme who are given different roles and tools to achieve life pursuits.


Proper evaluation of those roles and tools is what epitomizes the idea of monk mode. Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses. Most of us are unaware of them because we never tried to identify them.


Do an IQ test, a social intelligence test, an emotional intelligence test.


Review the “The big five personality traits” and try to nourish the areas that hinder your potential.


Destroy the delusion of “follow your passion and dreams” and be pragmatic.


Learn to follow your skills and if you lack skills in a certain area, have the tenacity to pursue them for as long as they can serve you.


This evaluation is what will eventually efface self-delusion and give rise to self-mastery.


Initiating Observer State


Wikipedia, in this article, suggests an exhaustive list of cognitive biases we all suffer from to some extent. Biases are also called mental noise since they contribute to the cacophonous mumbling of society.


Take a look at the Dunning-Kruger effect for instance which suggests that unskilled individuals tend to overestimate their abilities and skilled individuals tend to underestimate their abilities. Or the bandwagon effect, which is synonymous to groupthink and describes the tendency of individuals to do and believe things within a group because many other people do the same. Or the confirmation bias – the tendency to search for information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. Or the framing effect – drawing different conclusions from the same information according to how the information is presented.


By reading through the list carefully and forming a concrete understanding of how all these biases affect your perception, allows you to read between the lines of reality.


A person in monk mode is capable of performing regular self-checks with regards to his ability to observe and evaluate. Observer state is the detachment from ego and the adoption of a bias-free mindset. 2 Think of it as a form of “awake” lucid dreaming. You become aware of your “dream” and you are able to assume partial control over it.


Another interesting analogy is to try and view yourself as an anthropologist. The role of an anthropologist is to watch others in their natural state without letting their own thoughts and feelings disrupt their observation. The only difference is that you need to be an observer of both yourself and others while being an astutely aware member of interactions.


I like to refer to that state as a delicate mixture of pure emotional and social awareness.


Another important point to consider when assuming observer mode is that there is no such thing as acceptable universal moral truth. There are just perceptions and different interpretations of reality and morality. Jonathan Haidt, explains reflects on a similar idea in “The Righteous Mind“:


“If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you.”


Robert Greene reinforces a similar point in “Mastery“:


“People around you, constantly under the pull of their emotions, change their ideas by the day or by the hour, depending on their mood. You must never assume that what people say or do in a particular moment is a statement of their permanent desires.”


Assuming Formlessness


The formlessness assertion has been broached by two highly influential figures in the personal development sphere – Bruce Lee and Robert Greene.


Bruce Lee mentioned it in his legendary interview here:



And Robert Greene suggests formlessness as one of his 48 laws of power.


Formlessness is nothing more than adaptation. It is the natural state of man since the Darwinian evolutionary theory suggests that evolution favors the survival of the fittest – species adaptable to change.


In a world headed towards more diversity and multiculturalism, formlessness becomes imperative. With monk mode, a person neither seeks to follow the ways of the ancients nor establishes any fixed standard for all times but examines the things of his age and then prepares to deal with them. Formlessness concerns mainly behavioral adaptation, mobility, and strategy.


Behavioral adaptation – Nothing is certain and no law is fixed. Human nature is wired to adapt in order to survive. It is what it is and thinking that a person can exhibit constantly congruent behaviors is a delusion. Thereby, accepting that notion can allow room for formlessness to thrive. Don’t take anything personally and shape your behavior according to the circumstance. Be nice when people respect niceness and be assertive when people respect assertiveness. Be willing to step back for a noble cause and be willing to contend immorality when you encounter it. Match body language to encourage rapport. Be enthusiastic in high-energy environments and be smooth when you try to negotiate. Conceal most of your intentions and favor anonymity when your image is threatened.


Mobility – A place is as good as its people and the services it can offer. In monk mode, a person tries to reduce external disruptions to a minimum. If the place you decide to call home or the people involved in that place do not serve your purpose, you need to be able to migrate at a moment’s notice. That includes jobs, relationships, studies, and even governments. Do your due diligence before you decide to step into a new territory and be ready to step away when conditions are not favorable anymore. Embrace essentialism and reduce your possessions to a core set of items that can support mobility.


Strategy – Most great strategists stress the importance of the element of surprise. Surprise is ingrained in formlessness. A strategy needs to be unpredictable and movements need to be unexpected. Most armies, countries, and businesses failed because they were predictable and allowed room for preparedness from their competitors. Additionally, a formless entity encourages creativity through innovation and expression of new ideas. Society will grant power to such entities because society craves newness. Conservative ideologies and strategies, despite the safety they elicit in times of panic and despair, they eventually get substituted by something more progressive that serves the natural urge for evolution.


Utilizing Exposure



Monk mode, although it requires a certain amount of isolation in order to allow space for introspection to flourish, thrives with exposure.


When you spend the majority of your time isolated within the barriers of your comfort zone, you become conspicuous and weak. Interaction with the “real world” is inevitable and isolation just makes this interaction more rigid.


Humans are social animals and that is a characteristic that can’t be ignored. The feeling of contentment you experience within a tribe is bequeathed to you from your primal forefathers. Even if you don’t enjoy interplay with diverse figures, monk mode is what will make this interplay more manageable.


Isolation and exposure can both inflict mental pain, but, if you think about it, isolation can be more destructive. Robert Greene, in “The 48 laws of power” gives the example of Jacopo da Pontormo who was commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici the frescoes for the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. Pontormo isolated himself and avoided human contact for 11 years because he was afraid that his ideas would be stolen. He died before completing the whole assignment, but the effects of isolation in his mind were even depicted in his creations:


“loss of proportion, an obsession with detail combined with an inability to see the larger picture, a kind of extravagant ugliness that no longer communicates,”


as Greene suggests.


Another example that showcases the disastrous effects of isolation is Friedrich Nietzsche. In 1889, at age 44, Nietzsche suffered a collapse and a complete loss of his mental faculties. He died one year later. Nietzsche wasn’t the most socially adept person. His aversion towards human nature led him to isolation. This isolation, in turn, led him to madness.


Instead of aspiring to an idealistic view of the world, monk mode aims towards absolute acceptance of human nature. Relationships are hard, but it is this hardship that allows us to improve our ability to co-exist.


Become better at evaluating who you are and who is a good match for you. Harness your social intelligence, partake in social activities, and use observer mode to evaluate people’s responses and intentions.


In Closing


Monk mode is, without doubt, one of the most challenging pursuits. Many want to reach it but few espouse the mandatory pain and practice required.


Stepping out of your comfort zone, suppressing your ego, becoming an observer and adapting your behavior might feel agonizing at first.


The thing is that remaining stagnant and perpetuating harmful habits and practices is equally agonizing and shows lack of self-ownership.


Learn to own the idea of yourself and use monk mode as a tool to manifest that idea into reality.


Monk mode is a process. It is a process that requires exposure. There is no better way to test yourself and harness that exposure than the “30 Challenges – 30 Days – Zero Excuses” workbook.


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And for those who prefer a more visual representation of my ideas, here is my video essay on the topic:


Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos