10% Happier by Dan Harris
Best for: People who find meditation interesting but maybe aren’t ready to jump into reading the Dalai Lama’s works just yet.
In a nutshell: TV journalist has panic attack on air; tries to do something about it.
“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy.”
“Acceptance is not passivity. Sometimes we are justifiably displeased. What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react.’
“Perhaps ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this useful?’”
Why I chose it: Over the holidays I was visiting my parents, and they often have morning news on. Mr. Harris was on promoting his newest book. I was about to move across the world, so decided that maybe a thick hardcover wasn’t the best purchase; then I saw this one (which is a few years old) and picked it up instead.
Review: I’ve meditated before. I’ve read books on Buddhism and mindfulness and meditation. I even have a little meditation timer. My partner meditates. I haven’t done it in awhile, so this seemed like a good idea for what has ended up being some of the most stressful weeks of my life.
Mr. Harris has worked for ABC news for years, hosting at times the weekend edition of Good Morning America, as well as reporting segments for the national evening news. He also had a panic attack on TV one time, which led him to reevaluate how he was living his life.
Turns out that part of that panic attack was related to cocaine use (hello!), but also by his constant need to be in his thoughts. So he took the opportunities alloted to him as a journalist to research more about meditation and mindfulness, interviewing folks like Eckard Tolle, Depak Chopra, and even the Dalai Lama himself. This book is the story both of how he overcame his skepticism as well as how meditation has helped him in his life.
I appreciated how Mr. Harris was upfront about his faults and flaws, and didn’t act as though meditation fixed all the things in his life immediately, or even ever. In fact, his overall premise is that it can help you be about 10% happier. That seems reasonable. I also appreciated that he did look at the religious aspect of it, but there were definitely some moments where I wondered if this was the equivalent of the 20-something white woman who decides to teach yoga without really investigating the history behind it. Is this another example of white westerners picking and choosing things from other cultures without properly respecting them? I’m not sure.
That said, I’ve meditated a bit since I moved 7000 miles from home last week. It’s been exhausting, stressful, and at times a bit scary (I mean turning my cats over to cargo at 3AM, knowing we wouldn’t see them again for at least 24 hours was horrible), but as we’ve faced unforeseen challenges (who knew that it’s extraordinarily difficult to internationally wire money from credit unions ?) I’ve mostly been able to sort of keep my shit kind of together by taking to heart some ideas from this book. Especially the “is this useful” concept. Yes, I can be worried about a lot of things, but once I’ve done what I can do, that worry is only giving me a headache and/or stomachache. It was useful in helping me to be careful in the steps I took, but now it’s just a literal pain.
So am I going to meditate every day? Maaaaaybe. Maybe not.