“Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” by Dan Harris

…(W)hat meditation has taught me is that we tend to make our suffering worse than it needs to be. Mindfulness – the self-awareness generated through meditation – has helped me draw the line between useless rumination and what I call “constructive anguish.” This made a huge difference for me – boosting my resilience and creativity at work, while improving my relationships at home. Dan Harris, author of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, to Daily Stoic

The follow-up to Dan Harris‘s 10% Happier (2014) is Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book, co-written by Jeffrey Warren and Carlyle Adler. (See my post on the former book.)

Mindfulness meditation has been life-changing for TV newsman Harris since suffering a panic attack on air several years ago. However, as his new book’s blurb states, he’d previously thought “that meditation was for people who collect crystals, play Ultimate Frisbee, and use the word ‘namaste’ without irony.”

Having written about his success with meditation, a practice that is in actuality backed by research and science, he’d hoped doubters would see the light and want to get on board. But many still seemed resistant despite his imparted wisdom, he notes self-deprecatingly.

So he and co-author Warren went around the country to find out why, which enabled them to now leave readers with “the strange and hilarious story of what happens when a congenitally sarcastic, type-A journalist and a groovy Canadian mystic embark on an epic road trip into America’s neurotic underbelly, as well as their own.”

One obstacle often cited for not trying meditation, it turns out, is lack of time. What Harris told Rachel Martin, NPR, about ways to overcome this:

The good news is that I think five to 10 minutes a day is a great meditation habit, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the neuroscientists who study what meditation does to the brain. They haven’t cracked the dosage question fully, but generally speaking, [the scientists] say, ‘Yes — five to 10 minutes should be enough to derive the advertised benefits of meditation.’ So that’s the good news. The better news is that I truly believe one minute counts, and that it doesn’t need to be one minute every day. You can shoot for daily-ish.

Harris revealed his specific advice for achieving this to The Daily Stoic:

  • Find a reasonably quiet place (it doesn’t have to be pristine – and if it’s a little noisy, just wear headphones)
  • Set the alarm on your phone for one minute
  • Sit comfortably with your back reasonably straight (so as to prevent an unintentional nap – although, to be honest, worse things could happen)
  • Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out. Pick a spot where’s it’s most prominent: your nose, your chest, your belly, wherever…
  • Whenever you get distracted – which you will, a million times – just gently start over

How else can you learn to meditate? You can watch the following brief video, “Learn Meditation in 5 Minutes with Dan Harris.” Or you can buy the book, which will also get you access to the 10% Happier app, which offers guided audio versions of meditations found in Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.

Harris has learned, though, that lecturing people is no good, he told Daily Stoic. “My rule is that I only talk about meditation when asked. For example, until recently, my own wife didn’t meditate!”

A restraint reminder, he says, is “a great cartoon that recently ran in The New Yorker. It depicted two women having lunch. One says to the other, ‘I’ve been gluten free for a week, and I’m already annoying’.”

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