@jacob I bought the book but either never read it or started and then stopped. I can't remember why. There it is over on the shelf. Maybe I'll get to it.
@GT Thank you for mentioning your experience. It is always a nice surprise when someone gets something from these pseudonymous blatherings. Unless you're a bot, in which case, well played.
@jp I did see the stage production and really enjoyed it. It might be the one event at the theatre that I dragged my wife to rather than the other way around. I'm not much of a podcast person, but maybe I'll take a listen.
Book Review: 10% Happier
This is mentioned above, and I updated the post above with this paragraph, but to avoid having to scroll, I'll copy/paste here. After my summary paragraph, I'll also copy/paste the quotes/thoughts I wrote from my reading journal in case the raw material is more interesting/useful for some.
Update: paragraph on 10% Happier from my reading journal: The big takeaway from this book is this idea that meditation or mindfulness doesn’t make you into a permanently happy lump simply passively watching life pass you by. You can be annoyed; you can see problems. What mindfulness allows you to do is to pause between seeing
the problem and responding
to the problem so that you don’t simply react
to the problem. Once you decide how you want to respond to the problem, planning for it is totally fine, but there comes a point when you must ask yourself “is this [continuing to plan] useful?” [Note: this cutting question captures my relationship to FIRE]. Once planning no longer is useful, return to the present moment, rather than continuing to uselessly worry about the future result of this plan you have made. Another way to think about it is that you can be attached to the things that you control - your effort in your plan, but it is useless to be attached to the result that you want, since much of the result is out of your control. The attachment to this future thing outside of your control contributes nothing to you but suffering.
10% Happier. Dan Harris.
“Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose … Many of us labor under the delusion that we’re permanently stuck with all of the difficult part of our personalities … We now know that many of the attributes we value most are, in fact, skills, which can be trained the same way you build your body in the gym.” Pgs xiv - xv.
“In my views, the balance between stress and contentment was life’s biggest riddle. On the one hand, I was utterly convinced that the continuation of any success I had achieved was contingent upon persistent hyper-vigilance. I figured this kind of behavior must be adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint - cavemen who worried about possible threats, real or imagined, probably survived longer. On the other hand, I was keenly aware that while this kind of insecurity might prolong life, it also made it less enjoyable.” Pgs 8-9.
“In his books, [Eckhart] Tolle repeatedly denigrated the habit of worrying, which he characterized as a useless process of projecting fearfully in an imaginary future. ‘There is no way that you can cope with such a situation, because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mental phantom,’ he wrote. But, while I understood the benefit of being in the Now, the future was coming. Didn’t I have to prepare for it? … And yet, and yet … I was aware, of course, that my chattering mind was not entirely working in my favor … I used to think pressing the bruise kept me on my toes. Now I realized those moments mostly just made me unhappy.” Pg 63.
In an interview with Tolle, Tolle says this about thinking and meta-thinking: “‘Yes, as you rightly put it, that’s another layer of thinking - and that layer of thinking says, ‘You see, it doesn’t work. I can’t be free of thinking.’ Which is more thinking,’ he said, laughing gently. ‘So how do you break out of that?’ ‘You simply observe that it’s another thought. And by knowing that it’s another thought, you’re not totally identified with the thought.” Pg 66. Continuing the interview, Harris asks about whether being at peace makes you apathetic to change and Tolle replies “‘And then do what you need to do … Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.’” Pg 67. In a later interview with Deepak Chopra, Chopra says this: “If you stay in the moment, you’ll have what is called spontaneous right action, which is intuitive, which is creative, which is visionary, which eavesdrops on the mind of the universe.” Pg 73. I like that phrase “eavesdrops on the mind of the universe.” Not because I think the inherent mysticism is somehow true or whatever, but because it’s a beautiful turn of phrase to describe unencumbered creativity.
“As best I could understand it, the Buddha’s main thesis was that in a world where everything is constantly changing, we suffer because we cling to things that won’t last. A central theme of the Buddha’s ‘dharma’ (which roughly translates to ‘teaching’) revolved around … ‘impermanence.’ The Buddha embraced an often overlooked truism: nothing lasts - including us.” Pgs 89-90. Compare this to the thought process you’ve had around the lack of meaning or whether anything “matters”. Many of those thoughts have centered around the idea that anything you achieve will be forgotten within 2 generations, so there is an implicit assumption that something has meaning or something matters only if it lasts. But nothing lasts. It appears Buddhism’s answer to this is: so? Let go of wanting the impermanent to have permanence and enjoy it for what it is without overthinking it. It appears Christianity’s answer to this is: no, actually, it (you) will last; just trust me on this.
Writing about a book (title not given): “The doctor’s theory was that, in modern life, our ancient fight-or-flight mechanism was being triggered too frequently - in traffic jams, meetings with our bosses, etc. - and that this was contributing to the epidemic of heart disease. Even if the confrontations were themselves minor, our bodies didn’t know that; they reacted as if they were in kill-or-be-killed scenarios, releasing toxic stress chemicals into the bloodstream. The doctor had done studies showing that meditation could reverse the effects of stress and lower blood pressure.” Pg 99.
After starting consistently meditating, “I started to see life’s in-between moments - sitting at a red light, waiting for my crew to get set up for an interview - as a chance to focus on my breath, or just take in my surroundings. As soon as I began playing this game, I really noticed how much sleepwalking I did, how powerfully my mind propelled me forward or backward. Mostly, I saw the world through a scrim of skittering thoughts, which created a kind of buffer between me and reality. As one Buddhist author put it, the ‘craving to be otherwise, to be elsewhere’ permeated my whole life.” Pg 103. “The idea is that, once you’ve master things like [noting] itches [that arise as you meditate], eventually you’ll be able to apply mindfulness to thoughts and emotions. This nonjudgmental noting - Oh, that’s a blast of self-pity … Oh, that’s me ruminating about work - is supposed to sap much of the power, the emotional charge, out of the contents of consciousness.” Pg 104.
Discussing the benefit of mindfulness - that we’re able to see clearly what is happening so that we’re able to respond rather than react or “as one Buddhist writer put it, ‘drifting unaware on a surge of habitual impulses.’ … Mindfulness represented an alternative to living reactively.” Pg 105. And then, discussing a Buddhism conference he attended, he noted that a speaker invited people to use RAIN when confronting an acute situation: Recognize your feelings; Allow the feelings to be; Investigate the feelings and their physical manifestations (heart rate, tension, etc.); and Non-identify with the feelings. These feelings are not you and they will pass. As an example, he cites a disagreement and “instead of mindlessly criticizing her, though, he calmly and tactfully disagreed. Seeing a problem clearly does not prevent you from taking action, he explained. Acceptance is not passivity. Sometimes we are justifiably displeased. What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react’.
In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.” Pg 115.
Discussing some scientific research into meditation’s effects on the brain, “Another study, out of Yale, looked at the part of the brain known as the default mode network (MDN), which is active when we’re lost in thought - ruminating about the past, projecting into the future, obsessing about ourselves. The researches found meditators were not only deactivating this region while they were practicing, but also when they were not meditating. In other words, meditation created a new default mode.” Pg 169. “The old conventional wisdom was that once we reached adulthood, our brain stopped changing. This orthodoxy was now replaced with a new paradigm, called neuroplasticity. The brain, it turns out, is constantly changing tin response to experience.” Pg 169. “What the science was showing was that our levels of well-being, resilience, and impulse control were not simply God-given traits, our portion of which we had to accept as a fait accompli. The brain, the organ of experience, through which are entire lives are led, can be trained. Happiness is a skill.” Pg 170.
Speaking with a meditation mentor after his career had become stagnant, for which he at least partially blamed compassion / meditation, “I had fallen, he said, into several classic ‘pitfalls of the path.’ People often misinterpreted the dharma to mean they had to adopt a sort of meekness. Some of Mark’s patients even stopped using the word ‘I,’ or disavowed the need to have orgasms during sex. He recalled scenes from his youth when he and meditation buddies would have group dinners at restaurants and no one would have the gumption to place an order. They didn’t want to express a personal preference as if doing so was insufficiently Buddhist. Another pitfall was detachment. I thought I was being mindful of my distress when I was left out of the big stories [i.e., his career stagnation], but really I was just building a wall to keep out the things that made me angry or fearful The final pitfall to which I’d succumbed was nihilism: an occasional sense of, “Whatever, man, everything’s impermanent.” Pg 201.
“I found that rather than rendering me boringly problem-free, mindfulness made me, as an eminent spiritual teacher once said, ‘a connoisseur of my neuroses.” Pg 210.
This last quote I find quite amusing. This whole journal is evidence of my connoisseurship of my own neuroses. Perhaps, however, a true connoisseur does not obsess (ruminate) over the object of his affection - or at least, not a non-attached connoisseur.
edit: typos. it's 10%, not 20%