I just finished 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris, and it was a game changer. Like the majority of people seeking calm and clarity, meditation is certainly on my radar. I even tried to do it for 30 days straight, remember? While my initial attempt was a weak, failed effort for sure, this book rekindled my respect for the practice.
I love the fact that Dan comes at the topic from a hater’s perspective. He isn’t a Buddhist or a zen master. He’s actually a bit of a self-absorbed prick. As a popular newscaster, he ends up covering a series of intense stories, which had a more severe impact than he realized and led to an infamous panic attack during a live news broadcast.
What followed, over the course of several years, was his pursuit of a little bit of peace, patience and control. He was trying to be less of a prick. The prescription that seemed to deliver – much to his shock – was meditation. Following the progression of his practice and facts from the perspectives of some of the most recognizable figures in that sphere was fascinating. Along with mindful pauses, the idea is to stop living for fruitless, empty endeavors, and be in the beauty and absoluteness of the present. I’m so guilty of this: I wake up at 5:40 so I can shower, so I can get the girls ready, so I can get JoJo on the bus, so I can pull analytics before the 8:30 meeting, so I can write the article, so I can get lunch in time for the next meeting, so I can … It’s a hamster wheel that leads to exhaustion and frustration, with no satisfied conclusion or feelings of attainable joy. The people turn into a blur in your peripheral rather than the beautiful objects of purpose they are. This book is a convincing proposal for a more intentional life.
But by the last chapter, Dan, while undoubtedly a devoted champion for the practice, doesn’t make any unreasonable claims. Meditation isn’t a magic pill or fountain of youth. It does, however, make him about 10% happier, he decides. But think about what the world would be like if everyone was just 10% happier. Seems like it’s worth a closer look.
Here are some of my favorite quotes, but don’t cheat yourself. Read the whole thing:
“But it was in this moment, lying in bed late at night, that I first realized that the voice in my head—the running commentary that had dominated my field of consciousness since I could remember—was kind of an asshole.”
“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”
“If you stay in the moment, you’ll have what is called spontaneous right action, which is intuitive, which is creative, which is visionary, which eavesdrops on the mind of the universe.”
“Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control. If you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can. When you are wisely ambitious, you do everything you can to succeed, but you are not attached to the outcome—so that if you fail, you will be maximally resilient, able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fray. That, to use a loaded term, is enlightened self-interest.”
“What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react.’ In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.”
“Marturano recommended something radical: do only one thing at a time. When you’re on the phone, be on the phone. When you’re in a meeting, be there. Set aside an hour to check your email, and then shut off your computer monitor and focus on the task at hand. Another tip: take short mindfulness breaks throughout the day. She called them ‘purposeful pauses.’ So, for example, instead of fidgeting or tapping your fingers while your computer boots up, try to watch your breath for a few minutes. When driving, turn off the radio and feel your hands on the wheel. Or when walking between meetings, leave your phone in your pocket and just notice the sensations of your legs moving. ‘If I’m a corporate samurai,’ I said, ‘I’d be a little worried about taking all these pauses that you recommend because I’d be thinking, ‘Well, my rivals aren’t pausing. They’re working all the time.’’ ‘Yeah, but that assumes that those pauses aren’t helping you. Those pauses are the ways to make you a more clear thinker and for you to be more focused on what’s important.”
“Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won’t last.”
“May you be happy. May you be safe and protected from harm. May you be healthy and strong. May you live with ease.”