“Don’t just do something… sit there!”
-Old Buddhist adage
“Ten years ago, in front of 5.019 million people,” author Dan Harris confesses in a Big Think video, “I had a panic attack on live television.”
He described it, understandably, as one of the most embarrassing moments of his life. And later, after doing some heavy seeking, Harris discovered what caused the panic attack… his inner narrator.
We all have it, he says: It’s “[t]he thing that wakes us up in the morning and yammers at us all day long. It’s an unpleasant stew of negative, repetitive, ceaselessly self-referential thoughts, constantly judging, wanting, not wanting, comparing ourselves to other people, casting forward into an imagined future, remembering an idealized past, as opposed to being where you are right now.
“And,” he went on, “that voice is pretty much responsible for all of the things I’m ashamed of in my life, including that panic attack in front of millions of people.”
Soon after this discovery, Harris, a hard-nosed skeptic of anything seemingly “woo-woo,” stumbled upon the antidote: meditation.
After seeing Harris’ four-minute video (and then reading all of the amazing science coming out about the benefits of meditation), I immediately committed to a daily 30-minute meditation practice. I’ve been going strong. And it’s changing my entire world.
“There’s no way,” Harris explains, “a fidgety and skeptical news anchor would ever have started meditating were it not for the science.
“The science is really compelling. It shows that meditation can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, help you deal with problems ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to psoriasis.
“And the neuroscience is where it really gets sci-fi. There was a study out of Harvard that shows that short, daily doses of meditation can literally grow the gray matter in key areas of your brain, having to do with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area associated with stress.”
I’m almost positive this video (which we’ll show you in a moment) will have a similar effect on you.
(If I’m wrong, then, hey, you can get every penny you paid for this missive back. Simply call my ocean-front office in the mid-Gobi desert. My assistant will gladly assist you.)
First, let me ask you a few questions…
Do you, or someone you know, always have the TV on even when it’s not being watched… just for background noise? Have you ever played music without ever actually actively listening to it… just to fill in the silence? Finally, have you ever “binged” on entertainment under the guise of “relaxing”?
If you’re like most people, you probably have. In fact, in the “Age of Distraction,” this is fairly normal behavior. You might even do one or all of these things regularly.
I suspect, though, that we do these things not to truly relax, but often in an attempt to escape from the uncontrolled and often hyper-negative chatter that goes on in the mind.
Buddha describes the mind as full of drunken maniacal monkeys hanging from trees, fooling around, chattering non-stop and flinging poo. Which is why Zen Buddhists refer to this constant chatter of the mind as “monkey mind.”
Maybe your mind is constantly and unnecessarily reading off a list of to-do items over and over. Maybe it’s listing your fears, the real ones and the imaginary ones. Maybe it’s recalling things that made you angry or hurt from the past. Maybe it’s having imaginary arguments with people you know — some of which might even be dead. Maybe it’s judging the present. Maybe it’s creating elaborate catastrophic “what if” scenarios of the future.
Whatever it’s doing, you can bet it’s probably doing something. It’s important to realize, then, that this chatter is not you. It’s the programmed, mechanical, habitual “you.” Not the conscious YOU that’s reading these words. And every moment it’s left untamed, not only is it whisking you around like a limp marionette, it’s having a very real effect on your brain and body.
In his book Change your Brain, Change Your Life, Daniel G. Amen points out that “every thought sends electrical signals throughout your brain. Yes, they have substance, actual physical properties, and they can impact every cell in our body, making us feel either good or bad.”
With the monkey mind in the driver’s seat, it’s often nearly impossible to slow down and just enjoy life as it’s happening in the moment. The constant negativity it spews affects our mood, making us angry, restless and anxious. It breaks our concentration and gets in the way of us creating the lives we want.
It represents the “Default Mode” of the brain, vehemently resistant of any type of change or productive action which goes against the status quo.
In short, it’s your own personal tyrant. (And, yes, everyone has one.) And what a shame it is to oppose and resist tyranny in the world and yet never do a thing to escape the tyrant you actually can have full control over — the one in your own mind.
As mentioned, for these reasons and many more you’ll learn about today, I took up daily meditation.
Every day, for thirty minutes, no matter what, I meditate. I treat it as a common hygiene practice — as essential for my mental hygiene as brushing my teeth is for my oral hygiene. And, according to Dan Harris, it won’t be long until meditation becomes an integral part of everyone’s normal hygiene practice.
In fact, as you’ll see, Harris predicts meditation will be the “next big public health revolution.”
The science is just that clear and compelling.
Starting out with meditation, though, can be tough. If you’ve never tried, it can be shocking to become conscious of just how absolutely insane the mind can be.
The first step to sticking with a meditation practice is to know that the monkey can be tamed.
Second is to keep in mind why you’re doing it. And to help you with that, we’ve published a transcript of Dan Harris’ great video on meditation.
Check it out below.
[Ed. note: If you would rather watch it, here’s the link. (Yes, as you’ll see, you’ll have to suspend your judgment for a moment and listen to a CBS correspondent.) Your choice. Before you go, though, let us know: Do you meditate? Have you tried? If so, what works for you? Any techniques your fellow LFT readers should know about? Email it: Chris@lfb.org.]
There’s no way a fidgety and skeptical news anchor would ever have started meditating were it not for the science.
The science is really compelling. It shows that meditation can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, help you deal with problems ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to psoriasis.
And the neuroscience is where it really gets sci-fi. There was a study out of Harvard that shows that short daily doses of meditation can literally grow the gray matter in key areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area associated with stress.
There was also a study out of Yale that looked at what’s called the default mode network of the brain. It’s a connected series of brain regions that are active during most of our waking hours when we’re doing that thing that human beings do all the time which is obsessing about ourselves, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, doing anything but being focused on what’s happening right now.
Meditators not only turn off the default mode network of their brain while they’re meditating but even when they’re not meditating. In other words, meditators are setting a new default mode. And what’s that default mode?
They’re focused on what’s happening right now.
In sports this is called being in the zone. It’s nothing mystical. It’s not magical. You’re not floating off into cosmic ooze. You are just being where you are – big cliché in self-help circles is being in the now. You can use that term if you want but because it’s accurate. It’s slightly annoying but it’s accurate. It’s more just being focused on what you’re doing.
And the benefits of that are enormous. And this is why you’re seeing these unlikely meditators now, why you’re seeing the U.S. Marines adopting it, the U.S. Army, corporate executives from the head of Ford to the founders of Twitter. Athletes from Phil Jackson to many, many Olympians.
Scientists, doctors, lawyers, school children. There’s this sort of elite subculture of high achievers who are adopting this because they know it can help you be more focused on what you’re doing and it can stop you from being yanked around by the voice in your head.
My powers of prognostication are not great. I bought a lot of stock in a company that made Palm Pilot back in 2000 and that didn’t go so well for me. But having said that I’m going to make a prediction.
I think we’re looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution.
In the 1940s if you told people that you went running they would say, who’s chasing you. Right now if you tell people you meditate — and I have a lot of experience with telling people this, they’re going to look at you like you’re a little weird most of the time.
That’s going to change.
Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you. These are all things that if you don’t do you feel guilty about. And that is where I think we’re heading with meditation because the science is so strongly suggestive that meditation can do really, really great things for your brain and for your body.
The common assumption that we have, and it may be subconscious, is that our happiness really depends on external factors — how was our childhood, have we won the lottery recently, did we marry well, did we marry at all.
But, in fact, meditation suggests that happiness is actually a skill, something you can train just the way you can train your body in the gym. It’s a self-generated thing. And that’s a really radical notion. It doesn’t mean that external circumstances aren’t going to impact your happiness.
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to be subject to the vagaries of an impermanent, entropic universe. It just means you are going to be able to navigate this with a little bit more ease.
Author, 10% Happier
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