Penn State’s Living Deliberately Course


From our recent trips to some religious sites in Nepal and India, I came back home inspired by the self-discipline of many Hindu priests. After doing some quick research, I found that that fasting and observing silence, the two popular religious practices appealed to me the most. They seem to be practiced across many religious groups, and are also supported by scientific evidence to offer therapeutic health and well-being.

The CNBC Make it reporter Megan Sauer took a two-day vow of silence after taking the University of Pennsylvania’s monk class, officially known as Living Deliberately taught by Justin McDaniel. Prof. McDaniel is a humanities professor who claimed to have practiced as a monk for nearly a year at the age of 21.

The course, formally called Living Deliberately, requires its 14 students to “observe a code of silence, abstain from using all electronic communications and limit their spending to $50 a week” for one month, according to the university’s website. The class often has 300 people on its waitlist.

Justin McDaniel (source: CNBC)

I thought I learn more about the course and see if it’s useful for my lifestyle.

McDaniel told CNBC that his class is meant to be like a shock therapy, where his students practice mindfulness by spending about a month with fewer distractions and become aware of their physical surroundings and emotions.

McDaniel recommends following three practices everyone can try at home:

1. Digital Cleanse

  • Citing some monk believes, McDaniel says, that fewer decisions make oneself available for religious epiphanies.
  • Break from social media also have psychological benefits. For example, a recent research from UK showed that a seven-day break from Twitter and TikTok reduced depression and anxiety to a small test group.
  • An another 2021 study showed “a correlation between less screen time and better sleep quality and reported well-being”.
  • Less time on your phone provides opportunities to meet real people.

I always tell my students that the difference in a lot of things in life is dealing with 30 seconds of discomfort. What if you got in an elevator or onto the subway with someone else and didn’t immediately pull out your phone?

– Prof. McDaniel

2. Practicing Single-tasking

  • McDaniel told CNBC “doing one thing at a time is the best way to stay present. How often do we take walks without making a phone call, or eat a snack without watching TV, or exercise without listening to a podcast?”
  • “Allowing yourself to do one thing at a time helps you notice your surroundings and thoughts
  • According to 2019 Stanford University study, people who media multitask have shorter attention spans and memories than people who regularly practice “single task”.

You have to learn how to be bored. Or sit with feelings of anger or sadness or loneliness without crowdsourcing your emotions to your friends.

– Prof. McDaniel

3. Do Nothing

  • According to CNBC, McDaniel and his children practice everyday sitting or walking 30-minutes, without music, television, or calling a friend.
  • “For that half hour, you can’t read, you can’t learn, you can’t listen to music. You just have to sit with your thoughts and breathe and look at your surroundings,” McDaniel added.
  • McDaniel’s goal is reportedly to teach his students that mental health does not mean being happy all the time. “Instead, his goal is to help students get less afraid of being sad and more confident in their ability to navigate complex emotions.”

It’s not about changing your life or changing religion or finding the right yoga teacher. The point is, if there is a point, listening to yourself rant or feeling your heartbeat and not judging it. You acknowledge a passing feeling of stress without answering why or how to solve it.

It’s like the Daoist conception of water. If you throw dirt in the water, and you just wait, the dirt settles at the bottom and the water remains clear.

– Prof. McDaniel

Both the Prof. McDaniel course and Megan’s experience are both inspiring and motivating. I am looking forward to learning more about Megan’s experience and how it might help me plan my weekly silence routine.

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Notes: The contents of this posts is adopted from CNBC’s Ivy League professor of ultra-popular ‘monk class’: These 3 changes can make you more resilient than most, by Megan Sauer.