Sunday, November 8, 2015

10% Happier (Dan Harris)

10% Happier
Dan Harris
Nonfiction, Autobiography/Self-Help
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: "The price of security is insecurity." So Dan Harris's father told him when he was a young boy, and so he believed. Pursuing a career in journalism, he constantly pushed himself to be better, to dig deeper, to get more airtime. It seemed to be paying off: first a jump to the big leagues of national TV in his 20's, then attracting the attention of the demigod of televised journalism Peter Jennings, leading to numerous high-profile stories around the world and in the middle of active war zones. Throughout his success, though, his personal life was in shambles, insecurities and instabilities eating him alive inside. It came to a head when he experienced a major panic attack - on live TV, in front of millions of of American viewers. Clearly, something wasn't working. Thus began Harris's search for peace of mind, a search leading through the fringes of evangelism, to the books and workshops of modern New Age gurus such as Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra, even to the modern-day laboratories of scientists studying the measurable, practical benefits of ancient meditation practices. Here, he reveals his own experiences with meditation, and how he learned to be "10% happier" and more mindful without losing himself in mysticism.

REVIEW: I don't watch much TV these days, and even less televised news (I soured on it a few elections ago), but the name rung a vague bell, and the premise looked intriguing - particularly his promise to explain meditation and mindfulness without the often-circular talk so often attached to it. The book starts on a somewhat Americentric note, saying that meditation has a serious PR problem with so much New Age and mystic baggage, and that more people would be likely to try it but for that stuff... a statement that ignores the fact that, outside of white America, many people and cultures have long embraced meditation as part of daily life. Still, with self-appointed gurus raking in remarkable incomes off their meditation retreats, books, lectures, and refrigerator magnets, I understood what he was going for: to those of us not exposed to meditation outside of such images, it can be off-putting, especially when our first attempts at meditation are anything but the transcendental experience we're conditioned to expect. Here, Harris shares his personal story - which includes several down points and detours and U-turns, including a stint of drug abuse and moments of disillusionment - as he moves from meditation skeptic to believer, learning that mindfulness doesn't mean sacrificing one's competitive edge. Harris isn't alone in discovering (or, rather, re-discovering) the benefits of mindfulness; the trend is sweeping the corporate and scientific worlds, and even being used by the military to help soldiers deal with the stresses and unpredictability of the battlefield. Yet this popularity is bringing its own jargon and clutter to meditation, turning it into another fad full of catchphrases... threatening to create a new kind of backlash, setting up new levels of insecurity as people fail to meet those catchphrase promises and therefore reject the whole notion altogether. Coming from a more-or-less average guy, not a guru or a scientist or other lofty figure, the information seems more practical and common sense, without some of the high-level technicalities or mystic obscurity. Meditation isn't a cure-all for neuroses or depression, nor is it a gateway to the divine realms, but it helps one cope with life's stresses and the often-unhelpful impulses, the nagging little voices and negative scenarios and draining thought patterns that waste too much of our time and energy. By pairing his meditation experiences with his own story, Harris bypasses those catchphrases and promises, creating a more accessible path. Overall, I found it an interesting book, both as an autobiography and an introduction to meditation.

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