I’ve been meditating on-and-off for a couple of years but I have never been able to make it stick. My longest streak was while using Headspace and meditating on my 2-hour-long commute. I always wanted to give meditation a more serious try though.
I used to believe meditating was a complex mind-exercise and that I needed to learn how to do it properly, but I was wrong. At the core, meditation is just about concentrating on a very specific thing for a span of time, usually your breath.
There are many types of meditation, the most common one focuses on your breathing while letting other thoughts pass. Note that it’s never about clearing the mind of thought, that’s practically impossible and even the Dalai Lama admits so.
A good way to grasp the idea of meditation is to imagine a waterfall. All the thoughts come rushing through as the falling water while you’re behind it, watching it splash, without getting wet. Another analogy is to imagine yourself flying, where the clouds are your thoughts. and you’re above them, seeing them pass by but never bothered by them, just like a plane.
One day the skies will be stormy and the river will be turbulent, but you’re behind the water and above the clouds, always watching at a safe distance. That, at its core, is what meditation is all about: watching at a safe distance.
If you’re even curious about the oldest practice in the world and want to be more mindful and happier, I highly recommend reading “10% Happier” by Dan Harris. In the book, which is Harris’ half autobiography, half meditation journal, he does a fantastic job of explaining how to get started with meditation and why it’s so important.
What I really enjoyed about the book was Harris’ candid story on why he got interested in meditation in the first place and how he became a practitioner. As a highly skeptical man, he’s a fantastic example of people believing meditation, or Buddhism in general (the source of the practice) to be nothing more than some weird oriental idea strongly tied to religion.
A great point Harris makes is to highlight the benefits meditation can bring to the layman. Science has shown that the brain of meditators has more grey matter in parts of the brain associated with learning and memory, controlling emotions and compassion, which translates into meditation helping you “grow” your brain in important zones connected to what we consider human traits.
The book is an enjoyable journey through Harris’s life, it can be hilarious, realistic and very enlightening if you have never encountered the acclaimed practice of meditation.
Best quotes from the book: “10% Happier by Dan Harris”
The below quotes give an insight into what you will find inside the book. Go to menu 13 “Appendix: instructions” to find a list of meditation practices and instructions on how to practice them.
Preface to the Fifth Anniversary Edition
What quickly became apparent is that the success of the book wasn’t so much about me as it was about the practical takeaway. I realized that people were only mildly titillated by the embarrassing stories I share in these pages. What they really wanted to know was: What do you have of use for me?
1. Air Hunger
“The price of security is insecurity.”
I was a frequent mental inventory taker, scanning my consciousness for objects of concern, kind of like pressing a bruise to see if it still hurts.
the balance between stress and contentment was life’s biggest riddle.
“You’re only as good as your last story.”
“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
Yes, people would always ask whether we were believers, but when we said no, there were never gasps or glares. They may have thought we were going to hell, but they were perfectly nice about it.
It would have been enormously helpful to have had a sense that my troubles had a larger purpose or fit into some overarching plan. I had read the research showing that regular churchgoers tended to be happier, in part because having a sense that the world is infused with meaning and that suffering happens for a reason helped them deal more successfully with life’s inevitable humiliations.
3. Genius or Lunatic?
“Your demons may have been ejected from the building, but they’re out in the parking lot, doing push- ups.”)
Our entire lives, he argued, are governed by a voice in our heads. This voice is engaged in a ceaseless stream of thinking— most of it negative, repetitive, and self- referential. It squawks away at us from the minute we open our eyes in the morning until the minute we fall asleep at night, if it allows us to sleep at all. Talk, talk, talk: the voice is constantly judging and labeling everything in its field of vision. Its targets aren’t just external; it often viciously taunts us, too.
We “live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation,”
I could see the value of recognizing thoughts for what they are— fleeting, gossamer, unsubstantial— but aren’t some thoughts connected to concrete realities that need to be addressed?
“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.”
5. The Jew-Bu
“We are constantly murmuring, muttering, scheming, or wondering to ourselves under our breath,” wrote Epstein. “‘ I like this. I don’t like that. She hurt me. How can I get that? More of this, no more of that.’ Much of our inner dialogue is this constant reaction to experience by a selfish, childish protagonist. None of us has moved very far from the seven- year- old who vigilantly watches to see who got more.”
According to Epstein, the Buddha may well have been the “original psychoanalyst.”
Epstein seemed to be arguing that Buddhism was better than seeing a shrink.
Even Freud himself had conceded that the best therapy could do was bring us from “hysteric misery” to “common unhappiness.”
pondering the unpredictability of television news: “impermanence.” The Buddha embraced an often overlooked truism: nothing lasts— including us. We and everyone we love will die. Fame fizzles, beauty fades, continents shift. Pharaohs are swallowed by emperors, who fall to sultans, kings, kaisers, and presidents— and it all plays out against the backdrop of an infinite universe in which our bodies are made up of atoms from the very first exploding stars.
We comport ourselves as if we had solid ground beneath our feet, as if we had control.
We quarantine the elderly in nursing homes and pretend aging will never happen to us.
We suffer because we get attached to people and possessions that ultimately evaporate.
When we lose our hair, when we can no longer score that hit of adrenaline from a war zone we so crave, we grow anxious and make bad decisions.
The route to true happiness, he argued, was to achieve a visceral understanding of impermanence, which would take you off the emotional roller coaster and allow you to see your dramas and desires through a wider lens. Waking up to the reality of our situation allows you to, as the Buddhists say, “let go,” to drop your “attachments.”
Our minds are like furry little gibbons: always agitated, never at rest.
“For a person with terrible judgment, you did a great job with the most important decision of your life.”
It hit me that what I had on my hands here was a previously undiscovered species: a normal human being.
6. The Power of Negative Thinking
Saint Paul, the notorious murderer of Christians, had a conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Nixon, the devout anti- Communist, electrified the world by traveling to China. The sudden renunciation of everything one has previously stood for is a well- established part of the human repertoire.
the “craving to be otherwise, to be elsewhere” permeated my whole life.
In a nutshell, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now— anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever— without getting carried away by it.
According to the Buddha, we have three habitual responses to everything we experience. We want it, reject it, or we zone out. Cookies: I want. Mosquitoes: I reject. The safety instructions the flight attendants read aloud on an airplane: I zone out. Mindfulness is a fourth option, a way to view the contents of our mind with nonjudgmental remove.
The Buddhists had a helpful analogy here. Picture the mind like a waterfall, they said: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall. Again, elegant theory— but, easier said than done.
“A relationship, I think, is like a shark,” he says. “It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
The idea of leaning into what bothered us struck me as radical, because our reflex is usually to flee, to go buy something, eat something, or get faded on polypharmacy. But, as the Buddhists say, “The only way out is through.”
When a big wave is coming at you, the best way not to get pummeled is to dive right in.
when you squelch something, you give it power. Ignorance is not bliss.
If anything, mindfulness brought you closer to your neuroses, acting as a sort of Doppler radar, mapping your mental microclimates, making you more insightful, not less. It was the complete opposite of the reckless hope preached by the self- helpers. It was the power of negative thinking.
R: recognize A: allow I: investigate N: non- identification
The first step is admitting it.
“Allow” is where you lean into it. The Buddhists were always talking about how you have to “let go,” but what they really meant is “let it be.”
after I’ve acknowledged my feelings and let them be, the next move would be to check out how they’re affecting my body.
The final step—“ non- identification”— meant seeing that just because I was feeling angry or jealous or fearful, that did not render me a permanently angry or jealous person. These were just passing states of mind.
Up on that stage in the Sheraton ballroom, Mark had disliked what Brach was saying. Instead of mindlessly criticizing her, though, he calmly and tactfully disagreed.
Seeing a problem clearly does not prevent you from taking action,
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.
I figured if a guy I revered revered another guy, I should probably check that other guy out.
was now in the awkward position of stressing over getting into an event designed to help me manage stress, and that I was sure I would dislike intensely.
The effort of concentration produces facial expressions that range from blank to defecatory.
there is a point to sitting around all day with your eyes closed: to gain some control over the mind, to see through the forces that drive us— and drive us nuts.
May you be happy. May you be safe and protected from harm. May you be healthy and strong. May you live with ease.
the slipping away is the whole point. Once you’ve achieved choiceless awareness, you see so clearly how fleeting everything is. Impermanence is no longer theoretical. Tempus fugit isn’t just something you inscribe in books and clocks. And that, I realize, is what this retreat is designed to do.
Like that joke where the guy is banging his head against the wall— when asked why he’s doing it, he says, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”
But no, the waves of happiness just keep coming. Everything is so bright, so crisp. I feel great. Not just great— unprecedentedly great. I’m aware of the urge to cling to this feeling, to wring out every last bit of flavor, like with a tangy piece of gum, or a tab of ecstasy. But this is not the synthetic, always- just- about- to- end buzz of drugs. This is roughly a thousand times better. It’s the best high of my life.
you train yourself to have compassion rather than aversion as your “default setting.”
The Buddha’s signature pronouncement—“ Life is suffering”— is the source of a major misunderstanding, and by extension, a major PR problem. It makes Buddhism seem supremely dour. Turns out, though, it’s all the result of a translation error. The Pali word dukkha doesn’t actually mean “suffering.” There’s no perfect word in English, but it’s closer to “unsatisfying” or “stressful.” When the Buddha coined his famous phrase, he wasn’t saying that all of life is like being chained to a rock and having crows peck out your innards. What he really meant was something like, “Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won’t last.”
“How often are we waiting for the next pleasant hit of . . . whatever? The next meal or the next relationship or the next latte or the next vacation, I don’t know. We just live in anticipation of the next enjoyable thing that we’ll experience. I mean, we’ve been, most of us, incredibly blessed with the number of pleasant experiences we’ve had in our lives. Yet when we look back, where are they now?”
In cartoons, when the characters slurp down some delicious food or drink, they smack their lips and seem totally sated. But in the real world, it doesn’t work that way. Even if we were handed everything we wanted, would it really make us sustainably happy?
How many times have we heard from people who got rich or famous and it wasn’t enough? Rock stars with drug problems. Lottery winners who kill themselves. There’s actually a term for this—“ hedonic adaptation.” When good things happen, we bake them very quickly into our baseline expectations, and yet the primordial void goes unfilled.
“It’s like we’ve been enchanted,” he says. “We’ve been put under a spell— believing that this or that is going to be the source of our ultimate freedom or happiness. And to wake up from that, to wake up from that enchantment, to be more aligned with what is true, it brings us much greater happiness.”
“But when you find yourself running through your trip to the airport for the seventeenth time, perhaps ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this useful’?”
8. 10% Happier
when people do make the leap and attend a retreat, they get “the first glimpse of what the mind is actually doing. You know, we’re getting a real close, intimate look at what our lives are about.”
until we look directly at our minds we don’t really know “what our lives are about.”
“It’s amazing,” I said, “because everything we experience in this world goes through one filter— our minds— and we spend very little time bothering to see how it works.”
because really our life is the manifestation of our minds.”
“So you’ve achieved some of the early stages?” “Yes, and there’s more work to be done.” “How do you translate that into your daily life? When you start to lose your hair, or when somebody you love dies, or when your favorite baseball team starts to not be so good anymore, you don’t suffer?” “I would say that the amount of suffering in those situations has diminished enormously. It’s not that I have different feelings, but I don’t identify and attach to them— or make them a huge drama. You allow your emotions to come pass through with ease.”
“Are you not afraid of dying?” “One never knows until we’re at that doorway, but right now I’m not.”
This, as Joseph had pointed out on retreat, is the lie we tell ourselves our whole lives: as soon as we get the next meal, party, vacation, sexual encounter, as soon as we get married, get a promotion, get to the airport check- in, get through security and consume a bouquet of Auntie Anne’s Cinnamon Sugar Stix, we’ll feel really good.
But when we find ourselves in the airport gate area, having ingested 470 calories’ worth of sugar and fat before dinner, we don’t bother to examine the lie that fuels our lives.
We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these “if only” thoughts, and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.
9. “The New Caffeine”
Even though scientists were quick to point out that the research was still in its embryonic stage, these studies had helped demolish neuroscientific dogma that had prevailed for generations. 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 in response to experience.
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.
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 our entire lives are led, can be trained. Happiness is a skill.
10. The Self-Interested Case for Not Being a Dick
“It seems like you’re saying that there is a self- interested, or selfish, case for being compassionate?” “Yes. Practice of compassion is ultimately benefit to you. So I usually describe: we are selfish, but be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish.”
that if I was really interested in Buddhism, I should read his favorite book, by an ancient sage named Shantideva.
Acknowledging other people’s basic humanity is a remarkably effective way of shooing away the swarm of self- referential thoughts that buzz like gnats around our heads.
once you unburden yourself from the delusion that people are deliberately trying to screw you, it’s easier to stop getting carried away.
As the Buddhists liked to point out, everyone wants the same thing— happiness— but we all go about it with varying levels of skill.
If you spend a half hour on the cushion every day contending with your own ego, it’s hard not to be more tolerant of others.
11. Hide the Zen
Joseph often told a story about his first meditation teacher, an Indian guy named Munindra, who used to advise all of his students to keep things “simple and easy.” One day, Joseph came upon Munindra in the village marketplace, haggling fiercely over a bag of peanuts. When confronted about this apparent contradiction with his simple- and- easy mantra, his teacher explained, “I said be simple, not a simpleton.”
The ego, that slippery son of a bitch, would use fatigue as an opportunity to sneak past my weakened defenses.
“It’s nonattachment 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.”
Mark’s advice was sound, even if it took me a while to absorb it. 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.
“nonattachment to results” was my long- sought Holy Grail, the middle path, the marriage of “the price of security” and “the wisdom of insecurity.”
There’s a reason why they call Buddhism “advanced common sense”; it’s all about methodically confronting obvious- but- often- overlooked truths (everything changes, nothing fully satisfies) until something in you shifts.
The Way of the Worrier Don’t Be a Jerk (And/ But . . .) When Necessary, Hide the Zen Meditate The Price of Security Is Insecurity— Until It’s Not Useful Equanimity Is Not the Enemy of Creativity Don’t Force It Humility Prevents Humiliation Go Easy with the Internal Cattle Prod Nonattachment to Results What Matters Most?
Don’t Be a Jerk It is, of course, common for people to succeed while occasionally being nasty. I met a lot of characters like this during the course of my career, but they never really seemed very happy to me.
“There’s no point in being unhappy about things you can’t change, and no point being unhappy about things you can.”
Dear Drug Lord, please don’t kill me just when I’ve finally gotten my shit together.
I still believe firmly that the price of security is insecurity— that a healthy amount of neuroticism is good. But I also know that widening my circle of concern beyond my own crap has made me much happier.
“Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real’ meditation.”
On meditation Real Happiness, Sharon Salzberg Insight Meditation, Joseph Goldstein On Buddhism and mindfulness in general Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, Dr. Mark Epstein Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor
Teacher: Joseph Goldstein
- Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes.
- Settle into the awareness of your body sitting. Sit, and know you’re sitting.
- Become aware of your body breathing. Breathing in, know you’re breathing in. Breathing out, know you’re breathing out.
- Other experiences may arise that take you away from the breath. As these other objects become predominant—sound, a physical sensation, or a thought—use a soft mental note to frame that experience (“hearing,”“pressure,”“thinking”). When that experience is no longer predominant, simply return to noticing the breath or the sitting posture.
- Now move into a period of open awareness. Instead of returning to the breath after being mindful of different experiences, simply be mindful in a relaxed way. Lightly hold the question “What is being known?” in the mind as each new experience presents itself. Practice being open to the flow of experience.
- If you feel the mind is getting scattered, less focused, increasingly lost in thought, release the open awareness practice, and refocus on the feeling of the breath.
Mindful while walking
Teacher: Sharon Salzberg
Being mindful while walking is among the most easily accessible ways of being present and calm. Whether you’re strolling outside or just heading to the next meeting, use these instructions to bring awareness into the activity of movement.
- Begin by walking at a normal pace. Feel the sensations of your feet touching the ground. There’s no need to look down to feel your feet. Aim your attention at the actual sensations of walking—notice each step as it occurs.
- This is not an intellectual exercise, knowing which muscle group is doing what. Instead, you’re feeling hardness, softness, tightness, relaxation—whenever it might be. You don’t have to name these sensations, just feel them as you walk at a normal pace.
- If your attention wanders, if you become lost in thought, see if you can simply recognize that and return your attention to the sensations of walking.
- After some time, if you wish, you can slow down a bit. Feel more precisely the sensations of your feet—lifting up, moving forward, placing your next step.
- When you’re ready, finish walking as you would normally. See if you can bring this careful attention to sensations in your body throughout the day.
Body scan for sleep
Many of us settle into bed at night with our minds still racing from the activity of the day or filled with tomorrow’s to-do list. This meditation is a guided relaxation to help you wind down and prepare for a restful night’s sleep.
- Start by lying on your back. Rest your arms comfortably at your sides and allow your feet to fall away from each other.
- Breathing deeply into the belly is shown to help calm and relax your whole system. Place a hand on your belly and begin by slightly exaggerating the breath. Breathing deeply in, feel the belly and hand rise. Breathing out, feel them fall. After several cycles, allow the breath to come to its natural rhythm.
- Now we’re going to scan from the feet to the head with the intention of releasing any tension and relaxing into sleep.
- Bring awareness to the feet. What sensations do you feel in the feet? There’s no right way to feel the body, just notice what comes into your awareness. There may be sensations of air moving against bare skin, or feelings of the blanket or sheet against the skin.
- Move to the ankles and notice any sensations there. You might notice tingling, numbness, tension, temperature, pain, or no sensation at all. Just notice with curiosity.
- Continue moving up the body, noticing what sensations are present and giving that area a gentle suggestion to relax and release.
- I hope you have a restful sleep.
Loving-kindness meditation (aka metta)
Metta is a heart-based practice focused on developing the quality of loving-kindness. This practice cultivates self-love, compassion, and altruistic feelings toward others, and can be used as an antidote to self-hatred and anger.
- This practice involves picturing a series of people and sending them good wishes. Start with yourself. Generate as clear a mental image of yourself as possible at whatever age generates the most natural sense of goodwill.
- Repeat the following phrases: May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I be safe, May I live with ease. Do this slowly and let the sentiment land. You are not forcing your well-wishes; you’re offering them up, just as you would a cool drink. Success is not measured by whether you generate any specific emotion. The point is to hone the intention of kindness. Every time you do, you’re strengthening your capacity for kindness.
- Many people will start feeling anger, sadness, or numbness as they begin learning this practice. This is good progress. Be patient with these periods and the meditation will slowly loosen them with time. You’re not doing anything wrong!
- After you’ve wished the phrases for yourself, move on to someone in each of the following categories: a benefactor (a teacher, mentor, relative), a close friend (can be a pet, too), a neutral person (someone you see often but don’t really ever notice), a difficult person, and, finally, “all beings.”
- It’s helpful to begin learning this practice in the most natural way possible. Stick with yourself or the category that is easiest for you until the practice becomes familiar. Then come back to the classical progression.
Stress is natural
Teacher: Alexis Santos
Rather than being afraid of stress, you can learn to turn toward it with a sense of friendliness and curiosity. This makes a huge difference.
- Sit, stand, or lie down comfortably. Take a couple of deep, full breaths to start. Breathing in, feel the sensations of the in breath. Breathing out, relax. Now allow the breath to return to its natural rhythm.
- For this period of time, take on the attitude that whatever is happening is okay. Simply notice what is present for you in this moment: notice the sensations in the body and become aware of your general state of mind. Are you feeling relaxed or tense? Just notice what’s present. Nothing needs to be different than the way it is at this moment.
- If you’re stressed or anxious, bring in some wisdom. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel this way. It’s unpleasant, but it’s something you’re learning to be aware of. Take your time and just feel what’s going on. Where is the sensation of stress the strongest? Where is it the weakest? Encourage an attitude of curiosity and playfulness.
- When we’re curious about a challenging experience, we can feel a shift in our attitude, in our relationship to what’s happening. It’s not the stressful sensations that are the cause of our suffering; it’s our resistance that turns them into suffering. Check this out for yourself.
- We can view stress as a natural process. It’s natural for there to be a range of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Stress is just one of them. See how this shift in attitude changes the experience of stress in the body and continue settling back and being curious about your present experience.
Teacher: Oren Jay Sofer
Learning how to quickly relax and slow down can bring more clarity and calm into your day. The less distracted and rushed you are, the more available you can be for your work or the people in your life.
- Start by finding a comfortable, upright, and relaxed posture. You can let your eyes close or just look downward. Slowly tune into the breath: you don’t need to focus hard, just let the breath come to you.
- In mindfulness, we talk a lot about breathing naturally, but we can also use the breath to downshift and recharge. As you breathe, give a little more attention to the out breath. Extend your exhalation by making it slightly longer or slower. With each out breath, notice any sense of ease, settling, or relaxation. After a few cycles like this you can let your breath return to normal, breathing in and out in a relaxed and natural way.
- Your mind may wander a bit. It’s probably just unwinding or blowing off some steam. Think of it like a child running around and having fun. Whenever you notice that the mind has wandered gently guide your attention back to the breath in the same way you might invite that child to come sit down and rest.
- There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go. Keep coming back to the simplicity of being present. The demands and pressures of life move pretty fast. This is a break—enjoy feeling your body breathing in and breathing out.
- Feel free to come back to this anytime during your day. Even one minute spent this way pays off.