“Meditation is a waste of time, like learning French or kissing after sex.”
— Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin), 30 Rock
By now, you have probably heard about the scientific studies that conclude that if you aren’t meditating, you certainly should be. Meditation’s documented health benefits are so many and so varied, they sound like snake-oil promises:
- It lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, lower inflammation levels, and alleviates psoriasis.
- Meditation makes us more compassionate.
- It helps us regulate our emotions, including outside of the actual meditation sessions.
- Meditation alters the structure of our brains.
And these few studies just scratch the surface of the breadth of benefit claimed for meditation.
There are scads of books promising to introduce meditation techniques and help you become a meditator. They’re written by giants in the field, including, in no special order: Joseph Goldstein, Pema Chodron, Daniel Goleman, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Soren Gordhamer, Eckhart Tolle, Sylvia Boorstein, and many others. I’ve read a few; maybe you have, too. But a new book captured my attention last month.
10% Happier, by Dan Harris, is one of the very few books on meditation written, not by professional meditation teachers, but by a guy who has a high-stress job, including relationships with non-meditators. You may recognize Harris’ name. He’s a former war correspondent, now co-anchor of ABC News’ Nightline and a long-time figure in network news. He suffered an infamous on-air panic attack (later revealed to be associated with his self-medicating use of drugs including cocaine and ecstasy), which sent him on a skeptical journey into meditation.
Harris describes his trouble giving himself over to a meditation practice. First, he had to overcome his distaste for the non-scientific, woo-woo language used by some teachers, those who “invite” rather than instruct, as in “I invite you to close your eyes,” and those who want to “raise your vibrational level.” If you’ve ever found it hard to connect to this kind of talk, Harris is for you. He manages to write a whole book on meditation without inviting you to do anything or messing with your vibrational level in any way.
Then he dealt with his fear that he might lose his edge in the competitive field of television journalism. Like a kid learning to ride his very first bicycle, there was some wobbling as he found the right balance between a desire for being more Buddha and a need to grab ratings.
But ultimately he had to wrestle to the ground the relentlessly chattering voice we all hear in our heads. (This is why 10% Happier had the working title of The Voice in Your Head Is an A**hole.)
One after another, scientific studies are pointing to a simple, short mindfulness meditation practice as a miracle cure for health, peace, and productivity. The investment of time is so small (five minutes a day) and the rewards so desirable, we owe it to ourselves to make it a priority. By leading us through his hesitations and hurdles, Dan Harris’ book provides an inspiring and informative companion to begin or deepen a meditation practice.
Do you meditate? Does it impact your productivity? If you have a meditation practice, how did you learn to meditate? Leave a comment below.