Book-reviews, Inspiration, Learning, Well-being

How to Be 10% Happier?

27/03/2015
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It all started on March 8th when I grabbed my bag and decided to leave my shady studio for another place, somewhere under the Barcelona sunlight where I knew I feel relaxed enough to read my book. A few nights ago I walked around Passeig de Colom and found this quiet spot with the fantastic view to the Port Vell’s marina. I sat on a bench listening to music on my head phones while trying to understand and let go of a challenging moment.

That night it worked and here I am some days later, lunchtime, walking to the same place. This time it was full of people, mostly curious tourists admiring the port, walking along the bridge or heading to Mare Magnum Mall. “If I got here, I won’t come back just because it’s super crowded.”

I walked down the upper side of the bridge, where there are benches but all were already taken. I got to the end of the bench row and found an empty spot and I sat down. I took a look, smiled at people, and began again my reading from “10% Happier” book by Dan Harris, that I had started a couple of days before. The view was spectacular;yachts and ships were moving so the bridge unfolded from time to time. The sun was warming my face and the wind was blowing softly. It felt like a holiday trip!  The book was revealing more and more interesting ideas to me and in my head I started to connect the dots. He managed to get my attention. I kept reading. At some point this idea came to me:

“What about sharing ideas from the books you like? What if you would also share the visual picture as it is in reality?” So here I am: pursuing my ideas. A week later I returned with my friend Ana to take pictures in the same spot, where it all started. So today I am going to share with you the book “10% Happier : How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works – a true story. ”

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So, why did I enjoy and why do I recommend this book?

Dan Harris is an American TV co-anchor, who has reported from all over the planet covering wars in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq, and produced investigative reports in Haiti, Cambodia, and the Congo.  He has also spent many years covering America’s faith topic, interviewing well known figures such as Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama.

His book explains in an accurate and pragmatic manner his interest in spiritual teachings despite his skepticism and such a different career background. In this book he explores his interest in the Buddhist practice of meditation. In other words, a Western guy decides to write about an Eastern-philosophy. After going to a 9day meditation retreat, he realizes the great impact that mediation practice has on his life.  Dan describes the internal obstacles he faced while learning to meditate and provides evident data from books and scientific studies.

I enjoyed 10% Happier book because it combines scientific data and personal, vulnerable stories and this makes me trust it. A book well-written for the mind and soul. In terms of content, it reminded me of the power of simple things such as meditation. The first time I practiced it was 5 years ago, at my therapy meeting. No doubts it was the only way to help me stop the thoughts avalanche in my mind. It made me more calm, more conscious, kinder and more forgiving. I didn’t read the book to convince me to practice meditation, I read it because: a) I received it as a gift from my former work colleagues and I was curious what it was about and b) I was curious how a writer approaches a sensitive and relatively new age topic like meditation. In the end it reinforced my belief to keep on meditating, although lately I have been practicing guided meditation. It also inspired me to get back to walking meditation.

There is a provoking thought on multitasking explained in the book:

“It’s neuroscience that would say that our capacity to multitask is virtually nonexistent. Multitasking is a computer-derived term. We have one processor. We can’t do it.  I think that when I’m sitting at my desk feverishly doing seventeen things at once that I’m being clever and efficient, but you’re saying I’m actually wasting my time? Yes, because when you’re moving from this project to this project, your mind flits back to the original project, and it can’t pick it up where it left off. So it has to take a few steps back and then ramp up again, and that’s where the productivity loss is.”

Harris comments on the power of pausing in life:

“In fact, I looked into it and found there was science to suggest that pausing could be a key ingredient in creativity and innovation. Studies showed that the best way to engineer an epiphany was to work hard, focus, research, and think about a problem – and then let go. Do something else. That didn’t necessarily mean meditate, but do something that relaxes and distracts you; let your unconscious mind go to work, making connections from disparate parts of the brain. This, too, was massively counterintuitive for me. My impulse when presented with a thorny problem was to bulldoze my way through it, to swarm it with thought. But the best solutions often come when you allow yourself to get comfortable with ambiguity. This is why people have aha moments in the shower. It was why Kabat-Zinn had a vision while on retreat. It was why Don Draper from Mad Men, when asked how he comes up with his great slogans, said he spends all day thinking and then goes to the movies.”

“Mindfulness was also being taught in business schools and written about without derision in the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review. An article on Financial-Planning.com featured “meditation tips for advisors.” High-powered executives were using mindfulness to make sure that every confrontation didn’t escalate into a fight-or-fight event, and that every email, phone call, and breaking news alert didn’t derail their focus. This trend had become particularly hot in Silicon Valley, where meditation was now increasingly being viewed as a software upgrade for the brain. At Google, engineers were offered a class called “Neural Self-Hacking”. An article in Wired magazine referred to meditation as the tech world’s “new caffeine.”

I spent a lot of time contemplating on the balance between ambition and inner-peace, in other words: How to achieve great results while enjoying the process? It seemed that I was either hyper goal-oriented – controlling situations way too much, or I-dont-need-to-do-anything-to-be-happy – losing all control and simply being in the moment.  But the modern world forces me to learn how to handle both – getting things done, without having worries, fears and doubts during the process, and instead being excited, relaxed and fulfilled. Is it possible to balance this? This paragraph was my answer:

” It’s non-attachment to the results. I think for an ambitious person who cares about their career – who wants to create things and be successful – it’s natural to be trying really hard. Then the Buddhist thing comes in around the results – because it doesn’t always happen the way you think it should.

(…) it’s like, 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.

(…) striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered  by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control. If you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can. When you are wisely ambitious, you do everything you can to succeed, but you are not attached to the outcome – so that if you fail, you will be maximally resilient, able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fray. That, to use a loaded term, is enlightened self-interest.”

Harris describes benefits of meditation, but I recommend reading the entire book to get a closer understanding of all the benefits described:

” Meditation is the superpower that makes all the other precepts possible. The practice has countless benefits – from better health to increased focus to a deeper sense of calm – but the biggest is the ability to respond instead of reacting to your impulses and urges. We live our life propelled by desire and aversion. In meditation, instead of succumbing to these deeply rooted habits of mind, you are simply watching what comes up in your head nonjudgmentally. For me, doing this drill over and over again had massive off-the-cushion benefits, allowing me – at least 10% of the time – to shut down the ego with a Reaganesque “There you go again.”

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