A few weeks ago I did a post called 7 Things to Reduce Distractions and Increase Focus. In that post, I listed the things I would be doing going forward to try to wrangle my scattered mind and focus. And one of the things I put on my list was to meditate daily.
Now, my goal is small. Ten minutes of meditation a day before I write. I've been doing this using the Calm App. I can tell you, ten minutes sounds like nothing, but it's actually surprisingly tough to sit still and focus on just your breath for that long. Trying to keep my mind from wandering is akin to herding cats hopped up on catnip. However, I can report that my writing has been going better afterward, my focus stronger. Related? Maybe.
But as I'm wont to do, once I'm interested in something, I want to know ALL the things about it. With meditation, that's next to impossible because it's an ancient tradition with endless amounts of information, techniques, styles, teachers, gurus, etc. So, I thought I'd start small with a book I'd heard recommended by some others--10% Happier by ABC reporter Dan Harris. The subtitle is "How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works--a true story."
What appealed to me about his approach to exploring this was that he was by nature a hard-core skeptic of all things woo-woo, which is basically how I am. Like I can read (and love) books like Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, but when it gets overly mystical, I'm skimming over those parts. So having someone like Dan Harris who is digging into the art/benefits/practice of meditation with that "prove it to me" kind of mindset works for me.
Having said that, if you are into the woo-woo (nothing wrong with that), you may find his approach a little off-putting. He admits that the voice in his head is kind of an asshole and there's a chapter called "The Self-Interested Case for Not Being a Dick." So he knows how he is and doesn't sugarcoat what he thought of people he talked to or experiences he had.
However, I found the book really interesting. You get a dose of the inner workings of a TV news company, the life of a reporter, along with his exploration of understanding meditation and what it could do for him.
It also sold me on the idea of meditation, which I was only flirting with before reading. This made a compelling scientific argument for its mental and emotional benefits. It also made a case for mindfulness in way that resonated with me.
Here are a few quotes I underlined:
"In eighth grade, an ex-girlfriend told me, 'When you have one foot in the future and the other in the past, you piss on the present.' Now, as a grown-up in the deadline dominated world of news, I was always hurtling headlong through the day, checking things off my to-do list, constantly picturing completion instead of calmly and carefully enjoying the process. The unspoken assumption behind most of my forward momentum was that whatever was coming next would definitely be better."
This hit home for me because my job is all about the deadlines, too. I'm always always looking ahead. If I can just get to the finish line, I can breathe. But can I? No, that's an illusion. Because as soon as one deadline is complete, another is waiting. (Which is a good thing because that means I'm making a living.) And I like being a writer, so why am I always focused on just being done with it? So this made me aware that I need to sit down every day, thankful that I get to do this amazing job (even when it's hard) and that I get to create characters and worlds and stories that people actually want to read. That's a gift. And you know what happens when I'm done with deadlines? I'm dead. Lol. Why am I so focused on getting to the end?
Also, here's another aspect of not being mindful. We miss our life because we're never in the now. This is a quote from an interview he did with Eckhart Tolle:
"Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle than they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress."
So one of the benefits of meditation is making yourself slow down and notice the moment. Taking a walk and actually looking around, noticing the sights, sounds, smell. Not filling that time with your phone or scattered thoughts.
Dan Harris on how he started to notice the in-between moments:
"I really noticed how much sleepwalking I did, how powerfully my mind propelled me forward or backward. Mostly, I saw the world through a scrim of skittering thoughts, which created kind of a buffer between me and reality. As one Buddhist author put it, the 'craving to be otherwise, to be elsewhere' permeated my whole life."
This made me think of those times that I'm lost to the bustle of life. Like getting my kiddo ready in the morning. It's hectic, ten things are going on, I'm trying to remember everything I need to pack for him. But in being so rushed, I'm not taking the time to enjoy that fact that he's eight and he won't be this little for long and this is our one-on-one time before our day starts. I'm not cherishing the fact that he still wants to hold my hand when we walk up to school or that he has no embarrassment giving me a big hug in front of his friends. So this was a wake-up call for me.
Also, there was some good advice for the worriers out there (I am solidly in that group, lol.) His mentor told him it's okay to worry and plan, but when you're running through the same worry or thoughts or plans for the tenth time, stop and ask yourself, "Is this useful?"
"It's okay to worry, plot, and plan, he's saying--but only until it's not useful anymore."
Dan also had a lot of questions about ambition. Meaning, how do you keep your edge in a highly competitive field like his without being too zen. I liked that he went into this because I did have the image that a person who got too deep into meditations/mindfulness could get overly chill to the point of being ineffective. But hie mentor had a good answer for that and one that I could directly relate to. His advice: strive, work hard, and be ambitious but don't be attached to the results. His example:
"...you write a book, you want it to be well received, you want it to be at the top of the bestsellers list, but you have limited control over what happens. You can hire a publicist, you can do every interview, you can be prepared, but you have very little control over the marketplace. So you put it out there without attachment, so it has its own life. Everything is like that."
Ha! A book analogy. It's like this was written for me. But the point is:
"All we can do is everything we can do."
And then we have to let it go and move on so that it doesn't drag us down or stop us from doing the next thing.
So I went in wanting to learn about meditation, which I did, but I also ended up taking away a lot about the aftereffects of it, the mindfulness piece. Now, if you're looking for a how to meditate book, this isn't it. This is his journey figuring out what worked for him. But if you're wanting to learn more about the benefits and the effects and the science, this is a great book to pick up.
He also now has an app that goes with the book where he brings in experts to do the actual teaching you how to mediate thing. It's a paid subscription but you can try it for seven days for free so I might do that. In the meantime, I've been using the free Calm App which has been easy to use.
So what are your thoughts? Any meditators out there? Any skeptics? Have you read this book or have any other resources to recommend?