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Meditate Even if it Bores You

26 December 2017

Barbara read 10% Happier and learned that meditation can help you feel better and be more productive even if it bores you nearly to tears.

Tags: balance, barbara read, happiness, mindfulness

Dan Harris says meditation won’t fix everything in your life, but it can make you 10% happier. It is not a religion. It’s a practice that can be used by anyone—whether they are religious, agnostic, or atheist. “It’s an exercise for the brain…It’s possible to sculpt your brain through meditation just as you build and tone your body through exercise—to grow your gray matter the way doing curls grows your bicep.”

If it troubles you to use the word meditation, just say to yourself, I’m going to do a  few minutes of focused breathing. In his book, 10% Happier, Harris recommends:

  1. “Sit comfortably…in a chair
  2. Feel the sensations of your breath as it goes in and out. Pick a spot: nostrils, chest, or gut. Focus your attention there and really try to feel the breath…
  3. Whenever your attention wanders, just forgive yourself and gently come back to the breath. You don’t need to clear the mind of all thinking: that’s pretty much impossible."

I feel my breath most in my gut. On the in-breath, I let my abdomen go all the way out as far as it can (something I’m usually trying to avoid) and then it comes back in on the out-breath (comfortably in, not sucked in like someone is watching.) I've been trying to do this every day for the last month, and I think it's helping me more than any other meditation exercise I've tried in the past.

Harris says we all have constant thoughts going on in our heads, many of which make us sad, angry or afraid. “Dr. Mark Epstein, a Harvard trained psychiatrist wrote, ‘We are constantly murmuring, muttering, scheming, or wondering to ourselves under our breath… I like this. I don’t like that. She hurt me. How can I get more of that? None of us has moved very far from the seven-year-old who vigilantly watches to see who got more.’… Therapy, he said, often leads to ‘understanding without relief.’” Meditation might provide some relief.

Harris, a hard-nosed journalist, began his career as a war correspondent and thought the negative dialogue in his head was necessary to be successful in his job, but then he had a panic attack on national TV. His humiliation caused him to hunt for a reason why that happened to him.

His is the best-researched book on meditation that I’ve read. He started with interviewing Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, the Dahlia Lama and then went on to a list of impressive brain scientists. Even though all the people he talked to were recommending meditation, he had no intention of trying it. Then, for the sake of fact-finding, he made himself go on a ten-day meditation retreat, which he hated every minute of until he suddenly didn’t on the fifth day.

As he continuned his research, Harris discovered the positive results shown by brain scans has caused unexpected groups of people to try it. The “…new neuroscience has led to the flowering of an elite subculture of executives, athletes, and marines who are using meditation to improve their focus, curb their addiction to technology, and stop being yanked around by their emotions. Meditation has even been called the ‘new caffeine.’”

Harris says five minutes is enough. I try for fifteen, but if five is all I do, that counts for the day. It makes me feel calmer. When something unexpected happens that I don’t like, my body jolts with fear. I feel the flush of adrenaline and then the rapid thoughts where I tell myself a complete complicated tale about all the bad things that are going to happen in the future as a result of the present event. The speed at which my mind creates the story is fascinating and alarming,

I’ve changed that habit in the month that I’ve been meditating every day since I read the book. Instead of the negative story telling, I immediately begin to breathe and concentrate on my stomach going in and out. It calms me down and helps me say to myself, “Okay, this thing has happened now. Don’t make up a story about what’s next.”

Harris thinks that with continued scientifically-measured benefits, meditation will become more and more mainstream. “In the 1950s, if you had told people you were going running, they would have asked who was chasing you.” But now the general public knows they should do physical exercise whether they do it or not. He thinks the same attitude shift about meditation will happen in the future. I've read a lot of books about meditation, but this is the first one that made me laugh out loud. A lot. He's convinced me to push through the boredom, and I feel better than I did a month ago.


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Dec 28, 2017

I’ve never had an interest in meditating.  Couldn’t sit still long enough and could never focus.  But it seems to be trending, and a little more happiness can’t hurt.  I think I’ll read this book and try it.  Glad to hear that 5 minutes is enough.  I MAY be able to manage that. 
Thanks Barbara and Allison.
Happy New Year to you.

Jan 04, 2018

I never could sit still long enough either until after I read his book and stopped expecting to stop thinking. When he said that was impossible, and that stray thoughts were not failure—just a reminder to go back to feeling my breath push my stomach out, I realized I could do that. I loved the article about how your cheerful self gives so much to others. I always feel uplifted in your presence. Happy New Year!


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