Get behind the waterfall. Dan Harris was instructed to view his thoughts as the water, and to prevent from drowning in his thoughts, it’s best to be behind the waterfall. Not under it, like we usually are. 10% Happier is about how Dan was able to prevent his own drowning.
It was the subtitle, “How I tamed the voice in my head…” on the cover that caught my eye. The voice in my head can be annoying.
Dan, a renown ABC correspondent, describes the most embarrassing moment of his life: an on-air meltdown/panic attack during a nationally televised live news broadcast. His anxiety, fueled by long reporting assignments in war-torn countries, rampant drug use, and excessive partying, had him listening to, and believing, the voice in his head.
Dan received an unwanted assignment from legendary news anchor Peter Jennings that would set him on a path to solving his own problem while attempting to help society understand something that Dan viewed as “bunk.”
Dan was initially judgmental towards the religious figures his new assignment required him to interview. It wasn’t until he met Pastor Ted, the nationally known head of New Life Church, that his views changed. Dan believed that followers of these “megachurches” were uneducated, but appreciated how they viewed their failures as part of a divine plan, which allowed them to take negative situations in stride. Now, he wanted to not only help others understand religion – he wanted to better understand it himself.
He continued interviewing others to learn more, but seemed to end up more confused than when he had started.
He spoke with Eckart Tolle, author of such books as “The Power of Now” who claims to have experienced the highly sought-after Buddhist achievement of enlightenment while spending two whole years on a park bench.
Then there was happiness expert and New Age guru Deepak Chopra, whose use of such terms as “transformational vortex to the divine” had completely baffled Dan and made him view Chopra as full of crap.
It wasn’t until he met Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist, writer, and Buddhist, that he started to feel he was getting somewhere. Mark was a “normal” guy who Dan could see as a friend, and who put Dan’s dilemma into better words than even Dan could: you’re searching around on your plate for the next bite without enjoying the current bite.
It was impermanence, a main tenet of Buddhism and the understanding that nothing is permanent, that piqued Dan’s interest. But when Mark hinted at meditation as a way to release the mind’s grasp on this nonexistent permanence, Dan was skeptical yet again.
But after implementing a daily meditation practice, and trying a 10-day silent retreat, Dan was a believer. He began championing meditation, but not in a Far East, cross-legged, incense-burning way, but by describing it as making him 10% happier. He wanted to bring it to the mainstream. And yes, it can be done while sitting in a chair!
Dan views meditation as being incredibly beneficial to everyone, maybe even more so than exercise. And science has proven its efficacy. Research has shown that meditators have thicker brain matter related to self-awareness and compassion, while regions related to stress actually shrink. And the part of the brain that obsesses about the past and future appears to be deactivated in meditators, not only while practicing, but also when not meditating.
Meditating can actually create a new default mode, proving the brain can be built and sculpted just as muscles can through exercise. Happiness is a learned skill, and once you can teach the brain, through meditation, that the present moment feels better than a habitual state of clinging, the brain will want more and more of the present.
We all tell ourselves that once we get the nice house, the next promotion, the next meal, the next trip, we’ll be happy, and it’s often not the case. Dan suggests that the pursuit of happiness becomes the source of unhappiness.
Despite all the findings, meditation is not expected to alleviate all problems. The hope is to mitigate them, allow us to find happiness in the current moment, stop constantly searching for the next thing, stress less about the future, and to quiet our loudest critic – our own mind.
If your inner voice can be annoying too, give 10% Happier a read. It helped me find my February challenge: 10 minutes of daily meditation. Every day in February, no questions asked. Who’s with me?