I just finished a fascinating book about meditation. Oh I know what you’re probably thinking — meditation is “out there” and a little hippy-dippy. People who practice mediation bathe themselves in Patchouli oil, sport dreadlocks and spend the majority of their time contemplating their navels.
Wrong, wrong and wrong! This book, written by TV journalist and anchorman Dan Harris, dispels these myths, mainly because Harris is the antithesis of these stereotypes. A self-described skeptic of all things “woo woo,” Harris is famous not only for his reporting prowess but the fact that he had an on-air panic attack while speaking on “Good Morning America” in June 2004. He credits this horrifically embarrassing incident (more than 5 million people supposedly witnessed him “lose his mind,” as he put it) with putting him on the path to meditation, although the road was rather long and full of stops and starts.
The book is called “10 Percent Happier,” which refers to how much of an impact meditation has made in his life.
I picked it up at the library recently because the title intrigued me and also because I’ve been interested in meditation for some time now. I am a big fan of yoga and have been for years, but have yet to acquire a daily meditation habit, as so many yogis I know have.
For Harris, the whole idea of meditation was about as likely as him sprouting wings and flying away. “If you’d told me when I first arrived in New York City, to start working in network news, that I’d be using meditation to defang the voice in my head — or that I’d ever write a whole book about it — I would have laughed at you,” Harris writes. “Until recently, I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies and fans of John Test music.”
Did I mention that the book is also hilarious? It struck a chord with me because I admit to having had similar prejudices about meditation until I started exploring it a little.
I used to think meditation was much more complicated than it really is, but the key is quite simply, the breath, and (here’s the hard part), allowing yourself to have thoughts without focusing on them or judging them. I like what Harris has to say about this: “Every time you get lost in thought — which you will, thousands of times — gently return to the breath. I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game.”
He claims meditation has made him calmer, less stressed, kinder and even more proficient at his job. (One of the things he worried most about as he explored meditation was that he’d lose his competitive “edge” at work, which is no small concern in the cut-throat, face-paced world of TV news).
For me, trying meditation started as merely an experiment at which I pretty much figured I would fail miserably. The first time I attempted it, I assumed the traditional “lotus” position and closed my eyes. Then the chaos in my head began. I wasn’t breathing right. My left foot was going numb.
Thoughts about what I wanted for lunch kept popping into my brain, followed by thoughts about how shallow I was to be dwelling on food when I was supposed to be entering a higher plane of consciousness. Then I had an itch, and more silly thoughts about silly things kept popping up, similar to that “Whack a Mole” game. No sooner did I smack the mallet down on one inane thought when another would arise. It was exhausting. How long had I been doing this? A quick check of my watch told me I had been “meditating” for three minutes.
Since that first time, it’s gotten a little easier, though I am by no means proficient, nor am I consistent.
Harris recommends a meditation session every day at approximately the same time, though he says the session can be as brief as five minutes.
Who doesn’t have five minutes? I will say I have ended a couple of sessions feeling relaxed and happy, but more often than not, I have mixed results. I guess that’s why they call it a practice.
Harris claims his hard-won meditation routine has helped him to stop reacting impulsively to life’s stimuli. Think of the possibilities: How handy would this be when someone cuts you off in traffic or when a plum assignment goes to your co-worker instead of you?
“Once you get the hang of it, the practice can create just enough space in your head so that when you get angry or annoyed, you are less likely to take the bait and act on it.
There’s even science to back this up — an explosion of new research, complete with colorful MRI scans, demonstrating that meditation can essentially rewire your brain.”
This all sounds good to me. I figure, what do I have to lose by attempting to make meditation a regular part of my life? If nothing else, I will get to sit quietly for a few minutes and if I’m lucky, not have to hear the kids fighting over the Xbox. (This may require me to sit in the bathroom with the door locked, but that’s OK). And during this crazed holiday season — already well underway — what better gift is there than peace of mind?
Gail Dillon, an Army spouse, journalist and Air Force veteran, lives at Fort Hood with her husband, two sons and a Goldendoodle.