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Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-To Book (English Edition) The Case for MeditationIf you had told me as recently as a few years ago that I would someday become a traveling evangelist for meditation, I would have coughed my beer up through my noseIn , I had a panic attack while delivering the news, live, on ABCs Good Morning America Being a masochist, I asked our research department to tell me exactly how many people were watching They came back with the vastly reassuring number ofmillion If you are in the mood for a nice dose of schadenfreude, you can readily find the whole clip on YouTube Just search for panic attack on live TV, and it will pop right up Which is awesome for me In the wake of my nationally televised freak out, I learned something evenembarrassing the entire episode had been caused by some phenomenally stupid behavior in my personal life After spending years covering war zones for ABC News as an ambitious and idealistic young reporter, I had developed an undiagnosed depression For months I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and felt as if I had a permanent, low grade fever Out of desperation, I began self medicating with recreational drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy My drug use was short lived and intermittent If youve ever seen the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, in which the characters are pounding Quaaludes every five minutesit was nothing like that However, my consumption was enough, according to the doctor I consulted after the panic attack, to artificially raise the level of adrenaline in my brain, exacerbating my baseline anxiety and priming me to have my very public meltdownThrough a strange and circuitous series of events, the panic attack ultimately led me to embrace a practice I had always dismissed as ridiculous For most of my life, to the extent that Id ever even considered meditation, I ranked it right alongside aura readings, Enya, and the unironic use of the word namaste Further, I figured my racing, type A mind was way too busy to ever be able to commune with the cosmos And anyway, if I got too happy, it would probably render me completely ineffective at my hypercompetitive jobTwo things changed my mindThe first was the scienceIn recent years, there has been an explosion of research into meditation, which has been shown toReduce blood pressureBoost recovery after the release of the stress hormone cortisolImprove immune system functioning and responseSlow age related atrophy of the brainMitigate the symptoms of depression and anxietyStudies also show meditation can reduce violence in prisons, boost productivity in the workplace, and improve both behavior and grades for school childrenThings really get interesting when you look at the neuroscience In recent years, neuroscientists have been peering into the heads of meditators, and theyve found that the practice can rewire key parts of the brain involved with self awareness, compassion, and resiliency One study from the Harvard Gazette found that just eight weeks of meditation resulted in measurable decreases in gray matter density in the area of the brain associated with stressThe science is still in its early stages and the findings are preliminary I worry that it has provoked a certain amount of irrational exuberance in the media Meditation can cure halitosis and enable you to dunk on a regulation hoop However, when you aggregate the most rigorous studies, they strongly suggest that daily meditation can deliver a long list of health benefitsThe research has catalyzed a fascinating public health revolution, with the ancient practice of meditation catching on among corporate executives, athletes, US marines, and entertainers, including the rapperCent That man got shot nine times I believe he deserves some peace of mindThe second thing I learned that changed my mind about meditation is that it does not necessarily entail a lot of the weird stuff I feared it mightContrary to popular belief, meditation does not involve folding yourself into a pretzel, joining a group, or wearing special outfits The word meditation is a little bit like the word sports there are hundreds of varieties The type of meditation well be teaching here is called mindfulness meditation, which is derived from Buddhism but does not require adopting a belief system or declaring oneself to be a Buddhist In defense of Buddhism, by the way, it is often practiced not as a faith but as a set of tools to help people leadfulfilled lives in a universe characterized by impermanence and entropy One of my favorite quotes on the matter is Buddhism is not something to believe in, but rather something to do In any event, what were teaching here is simple, secular exercise for your brain To give you a sense of exactly how simple it is, here are the three step instructions for beginning meditation You dont actually have to do this right now Ill bring in a ringer soon Sit comfortably Its best to have your spine reasonably straight, which may help prevent an involuntary nap If you want to sit on the floor in the lotus position, go for it If not, just sit in a chair, as I do You can close your eyes or, if you prefer, you can leave them open and adjust your gaze to a neutral point on the ground Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and out Pick a spot where its most prominent your chest, your belly, or your nostrils Youre not thinking about your breath, youre just feeling the raw data of the physical sensations To help maintain focus, you can make a quiet mental note on the in breath and out breath, like in and out The third step is the key As soon as you try to do this, your mind is almost certainly going to mutiny Youll start having all sorts of random thoughts, such as Whats for lunch Do I need a haircut What was Casper the Friendly Ghost before he died Who was the Susan after whom they named the lazy Susan, and how did she feel about it No big deal This is totally normal The whole game is simply to notice when you are distracted, and begin again And again And againEvery time you catch yourself wandering and escort your attention back to the breath, it is like a biceps curl for the brain It is also a radical act youre breaking a lifetimes habit of walking around in a fog of rumination and projection, and you are actually focusing on whats happening right nowI have heard from countless people who assume that they could never meditate because they cant stop thinking I cannot say this frequently enough the goal is not to clear your mind but to focus your mindfor a few nanoseconds at a timeand whenever you become distracted, just start again Getting lost and starting over is not failing at meditation, it is succeedingI think this pernicious clear the mind misconception stems in part from the fact that meditation has been the victim of the worst marketing campaign for anything ever The traditional art depicting meditation, while often beautiful, can be badly misleading It usually shows practitioners with beatific looks on their faces Examples abound in Buddhist temples, airport spas, and in this picture of a man in a loincloth I found on the InternetBased on my own practice, this image better captures the experience of meditation Meditation can be difficult, especially at the beginning Its like going to the gym If you work out and youre not panting or sweating, youre probably cheating Likewise, if you start meditating and find yourself in a thought free field of bliss, either you have rocketed to enlightenment or you have diedThe practice does get easier the longer you keep at it, but even after doing it for years, I get lost all the time Heres a random sample of my mental chatter during a typical meditation session InOutMan, I am feeling antsy Whats the Yiddish term my grandmother used to use for that Shpilkes RightWords that always make me giggle ointment, pianistWait, what Come on, man Back to the breathInOutLikes baked goodsDislikes fedoras, dream sequences, that part in techno songs where the French accordion kicks inDude Come OnInOutInAlternative jobs papal nuncio, interpretive dancer, working double time on the seduction lineYou get the ideaSo why put yourself through this Meditation forces you into a direct collision with a fundamental fact of life that is not often pointed out to us we all have a voice in our heads The reason the above looks amateurish and slightly creepy is that I drew it, but bear with me When I talk about the voice in your head, Im not referring to schizophrenia or anything like that Im talking about your internal narrator Its sometimes called your ego The Buddha had a cool name for it the monkey mindHere are some key attributes of the voice in my head I suspect they will sound familiarIts often fixated on the past and future, at the expense of whatever is happening right now The voice loves to plan, plot, and scheme Its always making lists or rehearsing arguments or drafting tweets One moment it has you fantasizing about some halcyon past or Elysian future Another moment youre ruing old mistakes or catastrophizing about some not yet arrived events As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, Some of the worst things in my life never even happenedThe voice is insatiable The default mental condition for too many human beings is dissatisfaction Under the sway of the ego, nothing is good enough Were always on the hunt for the next dopamine hit We hurl ourselves headlong from one cookie, one promotion, one party to the next, and yet a great many of us are never fully sated How many meals, movies, and vacations have you enjoyed And are you done yet Of course notThe voice is unrelievedly self involved We are all the stars of our own movies, whether we cast ourselves as hero, victim, black hat, or all three True, we can get temporarily sucked into other peoples stories, but often as a means of comparing ourselves to them Everything ultimately gets subordinated to the one plotline that matters the Story of MeIn short, the voice in my headand perhaps also yourscan be an assholeTo be fair, our internal narrator is not all bad It is capable of brilliance, humor, and compassion It is also extremely useful when designing irrigation systems and composing piano sonatas Nevertheless, when I bother to listen, most of what I hear inside is rather obnoxious I am not alone in this I have a friend, a fellow meditator, who jokes that when he considers the voice in his head, he feels like hes been kidnapped by the most boring person alive, who says the same baloney over and over, most of it negative, nearly all of it self referentialWhen you are unaware of this ceaseless inner talkfest, it can control and deceive you The egos terrible suggestions often come to the party dressed up as common sense You should eat that entire sleeve of Oreos youve had a hard dayGo ahead, you have every right to make the wisecrack that will ruin the next forty eight hours of your marriageYou dont need to meditate Youll never be able to do it anywayOne of the things that most powerfully drew me to meditation was the realizationmany years after the fact, sadlythat the voice in my head was responsible for the most mortifying moment of my life my on air panic attack It was because of my ego that I went off to war zones without considering the psychological consequences, was insufficiently self aware to recognize my subsequent depression, and then blindly self medicatedI began my meditation practice slowly, with just five to ten minutes a day, which is what I recommend everyone aim for at the start And, frankly, if you only find time for one minute a day, you can count that as a win Muchon this soon For me, the first sign that meditation was not a waste of time came within weeks, when I started to overhear my wife, Bianca, at cocktail parties telling friends that I had become less of a jerkInternally, I pretty quickly began to notice three primary benefits, in ascending order of importanceCalmThe act of stepping out of my daily busyness for a few minutes and simply breathing often injected a dose of sanity into my hectic day It served to interrupt, if only briefly, the current of mindlessness that often carried me along The issue of calmness is a bit tricky, though Many people are drawn to meditation because they want to relax, but they end up disappointed because the ever declaiming ego keeps butting in or because itches and knee pain arise While meditation can often be calming, its best not to go into it expecting to feel a certain way And, importantly, even if an individual meditation session isnt mellow, Ive found that the net effect of having a daily practice is that, overall, my emotional weather is significantly balmier FocusWe live in an era defined by whats been called omni connectivity Many of us are beset by emails, texts, status updates, and push notifications It can leave us feeling frayed and frazzled In my job, I actually have other peoples voices piped directly into my head, and I have to get the facts straight, on short notice, in front of large audiences I found that the daily exercise of trying to focus on one thing at a timemy breathand then getting lost and starting again and again, and again helped me stay on task during the course of my day Studies show theyou meditate, the better you are at activating the regions of the brain associated with attention and deactivating the regions associated with mind wandering MindfulnessThis rather anodyne sounding word has become quite buzzy of late There are now countless books and articles on mindful eating, mindful parenting, mindful sex, mindful dishwashing, mindful yarn bombing, mindful conjugation of verbs in Esperanto, and on and on The media fuss has, at times, turned this down to earth, universally accessible concept into an impossibly precious thing, and provoked a not entirely unjustified backlash And yet, if you can get past the breathless headlines and press releases, mindfulness is an enormously useful skillIt is a rich, ancient term with lots of meanings, but heres my personal definition Mindfulness is the ability to see whats happening in your head at any given moment, so that you dont get carried away by itAs an example, imagine youre driving down the road and someone cuts you off How does that moment go for you, usually If youre like me, you may feel a big blast of anger, which is normal But then you might automatically act on that anger, honking, and cursing, and so on Theres no buffer between the stimulus and your reflexive reactionIf youre intrigued by meditation but dont know how to beginor youve benefited from meditation in the past but need help to get started again, Dan Harris has written the book for you Well researched, practical, and crammed with expert advice, its also an irreverent, hilarious page turnerGretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness ProjectThe ABC News anchor, a defender of worrying who once had an anxiety attack on air, offers a hilarious and stirring account of his two steps forward one step back campaign to sort useless rumination from constructive anguish via mindfulness, along with invaluable suggestions for following in his footsteps O The Oprah Magazine If your mind has a mind of its own, this is the book for you With humor, generosity, and devastating candor, Dan Harris makes meditation make sense This is news we can all useMark Epstein, MD, author of Advice Not Given A Guide to Getting Over Yourself and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart A gold mine of wise guidance for fidgety skeptics and experienced meditators alikeWith Dans humorous, self revelatory style and incisive questioning and Jeffs down to earth, transforming wisdom, this book addresses the common obstacles people face as they begin and deepen their meditation practice Highly recommendedJoseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness A Practical Guide to Awakening Part romp, part travelogue, part meditation manual, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics takes us along for the journey as Dan Harris and meditation teacher Jeff Warren traverse the country We discover meditating police officers, moms, media figures, and the meditator on the street literally, as they open a pop up meditation booth Dan discovers some things about himself as well This book is fun, instructive, timely, and immensely helpfulSharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness and Real Love

About the Author: Dan Harris

Is a well known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How To Book (English Edition) book, this is one of the most wanted Dan Harris author readers around the world.

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