From USA TODAY, April 2, 2014
Thanks for this, Dan… (Please see ABC newsman Dan Harris' interview in USA TODAY below where he talks about his meditation practice and announces the publication of his new book,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. ) And no, meditation isn’t just for people who live in yurts or collect crystals or listen to Cat Stevens… LOL! I particularly like your reference to wresting down the mind being like holding a live fish in your hand, and that it’s an extremely difficult thing to do because there's this constant yammering narrator that is wanting, not wanting, judging, comparing ourselves to other people, thinking about the future and past. Well said.
For those unfamiliar with the term, it's often referred to the “monkey mind”. “Mind monkey” or “monkey mind”, from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin'en, literally meaning “heart-mind-monkey", is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable". It’s a term that’s more widely and recently been used in reference to the incessant chatter that goes on in our heads which can, and does, drive us nuts - if left unchecked.
Like a monkey jumping from branch to branch, the mind is capable of producing 100,000 thoughts per day (80% of which are negative, by the way) making it tough to find a little peace. With all the newfangled distractions we have today, that monkey is more like King Kong on crack, crashing around in our brain 24/7. The good news is, just like Dan found out, no matter how busy the mind is and how distant the prospect of finding inner peace seems, it’s always right here, right under our noses. But how to access it?
We’ve all heard the expression, "What you resist persists." So it is with the monkey mind: Resist it and it goes stronger, embrace it and it will dissolve. Meditation, or just letting the thoughts float by with eyes closed, breathing deeply, without judgment, is the way to dissolve the monkey mind.
So back to Dan. He says that it was actually the science behind meditation that got him to give it a go… He says he’s 10% happier now that he’s a 100% believer in the power of meditation. Congrats, Dan! Thanks for sharing with USA TODAY, and I hope you sell TRILLIONS of copies of your new book, 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 Renata Duma, Founder, MEDITATIONWORKSforSTRESS.com
Here's the full article from USA TODAY:
As co-anchor of Nightline and weekend editions of Good Morning America, ABC newsman Dan Harris is proud to call himself a professional skeptic. Meditation was one of the things he used to be skeptical about.
"I always thought meditation was uniquely ridiculous and annoying. It was for people who live in yurts or collect crystals or listen to Cat Stevens," he says. "I am definitely not cut from that cloth."
And yet, after a years-long quest that took him to self-help gurus, spiritual leaders and brain scientists, Harris took up meditation. He's now written a book extolling its life-changing power. It's called 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.
He spoke with USA TODAY contributor Kim Painter.
Q: About a decade ago, you had some life problems that culminated in an on-air panic attack. How did that lead to your interest in meditation?
A: After 9/11, I spent many years covering wars overseas. When I came home, I got depressed and did a really stupid thing, which is that I self-medicated with recreational drugs, including cocaine and Ecstasy. While I wasn't doing it at work and I definitely wasn't doing it while I was on the air, I later learned from my doctor that (the drugs) primed me to have a panic attack on Good Morning America. It was extremely embarrassing, and that realization of what a moron I'd been kind of set me off on this strange journey.
Q: What finally turned you to meditation?
A: The science. It does everything from lowering your blood pressure to boosting your immune system. … It can produce significant changes in your brain, like doing neurosurgery on yourself, in a positive way. It was hard to resist that. And, I was told by people I respected that this was the best way to deal with that voice in our heads that can yank us around so much.
Q: Explain for the layperson: What is this meditation thing?
A: When I say meditation, I'm talking about mindfulness meditation. It's completely secular. There's nothing to join, no dues to pay. It is, in essence, a form of exercise for your brain. It has three very simple steps. One, sit down with your spine straight and close your eyes. Second, try to notice where the feeling of your breath is most prominent, and try to focus on what it feels like every time it comes in and goes out. And the third step is the key. Your mind is going to start wandering like crazy. Every time that happens, every time you catch your mind wandering, forgive yourself and bring your attention back to the breath. That moment is the bicep curl for the brain. You are breaking a lifetime habit of just letting your mind run around in useless repetitive and unproductive ways and getting back to focusing on what's happening right now. Just imagine how useful that is in an age of multitasking.
Q: Early on, you found meditation hard. Why?
A: Because it's like holding a live fish in your hand. Wrestling a mind to the ground is an extremely difficult thing to do. There's this constant yammering narrator that is wanting, not wanting, judging, comparing ourselves to other people, thinking about the future and past.
Q: You say meditation needs a PR makeover. What are some of the misconceptions?
A: One is that it's baloney. Another is that people think, 'OK, I get it, meditation is a good thing, but it's not for me, I can't do it. My mind is too crazy.' Another misconception people share is that their lives are too busy to do this. I tell people five minutes is enough. Everybody has five minutes.
Q: Who are some meditation devotees we've heard of?
A: Bill Ford, who was until recently the head of Ford Motor Co. At least one of the founders of Twitter, Jack Dorsey. Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio. Phil Jackson, the new general manager for the New York Knicks, George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer.
Q: 10% Happier is a great title. Why did you settle on that rather precise, but modest, number?
A: One day I was talking with a colleague who asked, 'What is it with you and this meditation thing?' and I blurted out that I do it because it makes me 10% happier. And I noticed this look of skepticism and scorn on her face immediately vanished and was replaced by a look of sincere interest. It just seemed like the right answer for skeptics. We're bombarded in American culture by all these gurus who tell you that you can fix all your problems by the power of positive thinking. That's baloney. There are no miracle cures. But there is something you can do that will make you significantly happier. Obviously 10% is just a jokey estimate, but it's in the ballpark.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is as skeptical as you were but might want to give meditation a try?
A: Give it five minutes a day, no matter how woo-woo you think it is. You may have 17 children and two full-time jobs, but everybody has five minutes. Tell yourself you are never going to do more, and let it grow organically. If it doesn't work for you, if you don't notice a changed relationship with the voice in your head after a couple of weeks, send me a note on Twitter and let me know.
(Photo: Ida Mae Astute, ABC)