I’ve been under a fair bit of stress lately. Nearly a year into self-employment, work has become steadier, sometimes more than steady. Although I love it, I’ve finally come to understand why people yearn to meditate. With my mind racing with mostly unproductive worries and nags, I’ve been thinking that I should try mediation to calm the tumult and find ‘flow’ again.
The problem has been finding a guide to meditation that isn’t complete granola claptrap. I loaded Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now onto my Kindle but gave up almost immediately. His meanings were almost completely opaque to me, and I didn’t have to fortitude to stick through it. So when Dan Harris popped up on The Colbert Report (where he was a more eloquent guest than most on the show) to promote his book 10% Happier, I figured I’d give it a try.
Writing the above paragraphs, I’ve come to appreciate Dan Harris’ book a little bit more. It’s hard to write about mediation without sounding like a complete asshole. Dan gave it a fair shot, and his book was useful, though I never felt entirely compelled by his voice.
Journalist/News Anchor, extrovert, and work-a-holic Dan Harris becomes intrigued by meditation, and seeks to cut through the hippy-dippy bullshit in search of something more practical that he can apply to his daily life. He journeys, he stumbles, but eventually manages to create a mediation practice that fits within, and enhances his life. He says it makes him ‘about 10% happier’.
What I liked
This isn’t a life-hacking book. I was afraid that I was in for another Tim Ferris wank-fest, but I was pleasantly surprised by Harris’ respect for the subject matter. Although Harris doesn’t become a Buddhist, he explores Buddhism, and the role of meditation therein with care, and ultimately decides that while the spiritual aspect of Buddhism isn’t for him, the mechanics of mediation are useful to him. From what I know of Buddhism as a whole, this is absolutely kosher (though correct me if I’m wrong).
I like that Harris clung to his misgivings about Eckhart Tolle (whom he finds a bit too whack-a-doodle) and Deepak Chopra (whom he considers to be insincere), and sought meditation practitioners and teachers whose practise is more deeply rooted in ‘the real world’. In his words:
“After months of swimming against the riptide of bathos and bullshit peddled by the self-help subculture, it was phenomenally refreshing to see the ego depicted with wry wit.”
He frequently mentions that meditation has a terrible marketing issue in that its most vocal advocates are a bit too crunchy and/or otherworldly for the mainstream. He suggests several works for further reading which are rooted in science rather than mysticism, for folks who would prefer to read about meditation from that viewpoint.
I also found the chapter on ‘hiding the zen’ to be useful. Although I’m blogging about it, one’s self-help forays aren’t always what you’d like discussed in the public sphere. It’s nice to be able to slip under the radar as a meditator without showing your ‘woo woo-ness’ in public.
What I didn’t like
I’ll be honest, Harris is not someone I’d like to hang out with. While I enjoyed his journey from bro-ish asshole to a more self-aware being, I couldn’t really relate on a personal level. Honestly, even a redeemed Harris seems like a bit of an asshole to me.
I also wasn’t too interested in the extensive personal narrative. While I appreciate it was important to illustrate his journey, I believe it could have been edited more thoroughly. As a non-USA reader, I had never heard of the guy, and don’t really care about the internal politics of USA news networks.
Moreover, Harris’ writing is serviceable, but his forays into poetic description most often fall flat. Take this one, for example:
“With the Klonopin on board you could have marched an army of crazed chimps armed with nunchucks and ninja stars into my apartment and I would have remained calm.”
His asides often devolve to a Barney Stinson meets College Bro level of sophistication
“The real mindfuck, though, was this: almost as soon as he said something brilliant, he would say something else that was totally ridiculous”
While other paragraphs head almost into (the much maligned) Eckhart Tolle territory — behold:
“Failure to recognize thoughts for what they are — quantum bursts of psychic energy that exist solely in your head — is primordial human error”
Harris is very much an extrovert. Throughout the book I found myself thinking that although I have never really meditated, I have already mastered some of the techniques he mentions. I think it comes down to the fact that I am an introvert and am very comfortable within my own mind — I know how to observe my thoughts and emotions and ‘lean in’ to them, responding rather than reacting. I get the sense that for an extrovert, the inner mind can be a scary and alien landscape, and that a large part of Harris’ journey is simply getting to know his inner mind.
Overall, this book was a useful start for my foray into meditation, though I’ll need to do a lot more reading, I think. This is the book for the everyman, and I’d like to gain a more academic insight.
While the tone was a bit too alpha-male and bro-ish for me, I appreciated the practical look at meditation.
Bonus points for a relatively obscure Simpsons reference.