10% Happier – by Dan Harris
Date read: 2/27/18. Recommendation: 8/10.
If you're skeptical of meditation and mindfulness, this book was written for you. Harris questions everything and cuts through the inane and fanciful self-help industry–including the likes of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. Instead, he focuses on practicality and offers a more rational approach. Harris entertains through his personal narrative, while discussing the importance of concepts like impermanence, insecurity, and the power of negative thinking. Each of these elements play a role in cultivating mindfulness–an ability to recognize what's happening in your mind right now without getting carried away by it. For Harris, despite his skepticism, this was the difference in becoming a less stressed, and more secure, collected version of himself.
See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.
I was always hurtling headlong through the day, checking things off my to-do list, constantly picturing completion instead of calmly and carefully enjoying the process.
Some of the only times I could recall being fully present were when I was in a war zone or on drugs.
"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 quit right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is a continuous stress." -Eckhart Tolle
I envied Ted [Haggard]–and not in a patronizing, I-wish-I-were-stupid enough-to-believe-this-stuff way...I had read the research showing that regular churchgoers tended to be happier, in part because having a sense that the world is infused with meaning and that suffering happens for a reason helped them deal more successfully with life's inevitable humiliations.
The Buddha's main thesis was that in a world where everything is constantly changing, we suffer because we cling to things that won't last.
Unlike many of the faiths I'd come across as a religion reporter, the Buddha wasn't promising salvation in the form of some death defying dogma, but rather through the embrace of the very stuff that will destroy us. The route to true happiness, he argued, was to achieve a visceral understanding of impermanence, which would take you off the emotional roller coaster and allow you to see your dramas and desires through a wider lens.
Dr. Mark Epstein (psychiatrist and practicing Buddhist) developed an immediate and abiding interest in the dharma, which resonated with him after a lifelong struggle with feelings of emptiness and unreality, and questions about whether he really mattered.
Epstein et al. argued that the only way to tame the monkey mind, to truly glimpse the impermanence and defeat our habitual tendency toward clinging, was to meditate.
3 instructions to meditation:
1) Sit comfortably
2) Feel the sensations of your breath as it goes in and out
3) Whenever your attention wanders, just forgive yourself and gently come back to the breath.
My [meditation] efforts began to bear fruit...I started to be able to use the breath to jolt myself back to the present moment–in airport security lines, waiting for elevators, you name it.
The net effect of meditation, plus trying to stay present during my daily life, was striking. It was like anchoring myself to an underground aquifer of calm.
Mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now without getting carried away by it.
I spent so much time, as one Buddhist writer put it, "drifting unaware on a surge of habitual impulses."
Buddhist analogy – Picture the mind like a waterfall, they said: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall.
If anything, mindfulness brought you closer to your neuroses, acting as a sort of Doppler radar, mapping your mental microclimates, making you more insightful, not less. It was the complete opposite of the reckless hope preaches by the self-helpers. It was the power of negative thinking.
What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, "respond" rather than simply "react."
It's not that we can't enjoy the good stuff in life or strive for success. They key is to not get carried away by desire; we need to manage it with wisdom and mindfulness. [Joseph Goldstein]
The slipping away is the whole point. Once you've achieved choiceless awareness, you see so clearly how fleeting everything is. Impermanence is no longer theoretical.
The Buddha's signature pronouncement–"Life is suffering"–is the source of a major misunderstanding...The Pali word dukkha doesn't actually mean "suffering"...What he really meant is something like, "Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won't last."
As Goldstein points out, "How often are we waiting for the next pleasant hit of...whatever? The next meal or the next relationship or the next latte or the next vacation, I don't know. We just live in anticipation of the next enjoyable thing that we'll experience."
"Hedonic adaptation" – When good things happen, we bake them very quickly into our baseline expectations, and yet the primordial void goes unfilled.
"But when you find yourself running through your trip to the airport for the seventeenth time, perhaps ask yourself the following question: Is this useful?" -Joseph Goldstein
"Is this useful?" It's okay to worry, plot, plan, he's saying–but only until it's not useful anymore.
Until we look directly at our minds we don't really know "what our lives are about."
How do you translate that into your daily life? When you start to lose your hair, or when somebody you love dies, or when your favorite baseball starts to not be so good anymore, you don't suffer?
"I would say that the amount of suffering in those situations has diminished enormously. It's not that I have different feelings, but I don't identify and attach to them–or make them a huge drama. You allow your emotions to come through with ease." -Joseph Goldstein
What's the worst case scenario? I lose my job? I still have a wife who loves me–and the only person that can ruin that is me. *That's insight because you're not clinging to success so seriously.
The point of getting behind the waterfall wasn't to magically solve all of your problems, only to handle them better, by creating space between stimulus and response.
We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these "if only" thoughts, and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.
The brain, the organ of experience, through which our entire lives are led, can be trained. Happiness is a skill.
"Practice of compassion is ultimately benefit to you. So I usually describe: we are selfish, but be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish." -Dalai Lama
*Don't be nice for the sake of it, he was saying. Do it because it would redound to your own benefit.
Wisdom of insecurity: the "security" for which I had been striving was an illusion. If everything in this world was in constant decay, why expend so much energy gnashing my teeth over work?
There's a reason why they call Buddhism "advanced common sense"; it's all about methodically confronting obvious-but-often-overlooked truths.