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Book:  Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

Author:  Dan Harris

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Harris, D. (2017). Meditation for fidgety skeptics : a 10% happier how-to book. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Every 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: you're breaking a lifetime's habit of walking around in a fog of rumination and projection, and you are actually focusing on what's happening right now. I cannot say this frequently enough: the goal is not to clear your mind but to focus your mind - for a few nanoseconds at a time - and whenever you become distracted, just start again. Getting lost and starting over is not failing at meditation, it is succeeding. (pg. 6)

  2. The voice in your head is often fixated on the past and future, at the expense of whatever is happening right now. The voice loves to plan, plot, and scheme. It's always making lists or rehearsing arguments. You're often considering old mistakes or fearing some not-yet-arrived events. Also, the default "voice in your head" is dissatisfaction. Nothing is good enough. We're always on the hunt for the next dopamine hit. We hurl ourselves from one promotion or vacation to the next, and great many of us are never fully satisfied. (pg. 9)

  3. There is a concept called "prapanca." It is when something happens in the present moment - a stray comment, a bit of bad news, whatever - and you immediately worry about some catastrophic future. A bit of feedback from a boss > Getting a bad evaluation > getting fired > out on the street with no money. (pg. 54)

Other Key Ideas:

I really do believe that five to ten minutes a day of meditation is a reasonable and achievable goal. Even though I maintain that it's mathematically hard to defend the notion that you don't have the time, I've had to acknowledge that in our over-scheduled and overstimulated era, the perception of time starvation is very real. (pg. 67)

A simple meditation is as follows: Stop wherever you are. Bring your attention to breathing. Count "one" as you inhale. Imagine breathing out any tension as you exhale. Count "to" on the next inhale. See if you can make it to ten without losing your focus. Explore how you fully can feel each breath, letting the world around you fade out a bit. If you get distracted and forget where you are, start over from where you got lost, always with a sense of humor about your tragic gnat-like attention span. (pg. 80)

Religion and Meditation: When it comes to religious concerns, push back with science. Look at the brain research. No one has to give up any religion that they believe in. It's really just a practice. It's not a tie to being any kind of faith. I don't think that Jesus looks down upon finding who you are, and really just finding your focus and your calmness. It doesn't have to be anything that conflicts with your beliefs. (pg. 107)

Meditation helps you not take so seriously the clamor of the mind. Worrying about what people think of you, comparing yourself to others, falling prey to social media-induced FOMO - these are all painful mental states. It's a relief to be able to see them arise and then let them pass without getting overly entranced by them. Something I've learned is even though most of us spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about how we appear to others, the hard truth is that they really don't care that much about you. For you, it feels like the world is ending; for everybody else, it's only mildly amusing. (pg. 112)

When people say they meditate when running, gardening, walking, etc. this will determine if they are actually meditating: If most of the time you are rehearsing elaborate speeches, or listening to music, it's probably not mindfulness meditation. If on the other hand you are deliberately paying attention to the sensations of your feet, the wind on your face, the movement of your muscles, and then every time you get distracted you start again, then it is legit. Bottom line: it's not mindfulness meditation unless you are knowingly paying attention to whatever you're doing and then when you get lost, beginning again and again and again. (pg. 215)

Does meditation conflict with faith? I'm not sure how it would be, as mindfulness is very much mental and emotional skills that everyone can benefit from, regardless of the nature of their belief. In fact, it can enhance the beautiful qualities of faith: humility, joy, and love. (pg. 225)

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