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High-Performance Stress Reduction: A Newsman on a Quest

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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, by Dan Harris

A great read. If you’re even vaguely interested in this many-splendored thing called Mindfulness but you’re a bit skeptical, maybe even at times cynical about it all, this book is for you.

It’s the story a young, ambitious and successful TV journalist, war correspondent and semi-professional hypochondriac — combined with a bright and breezy guide to meditation. You’ll also learn a lot about religions in America, from Born-Again Christians, Reformed Judaism to contemporary Buddhism, particularly of the “Ju-Bu” (Jewish-Buddhist) variety.

You won’t find too many public figures near the cusp of a rising career (Dan is one of the most prominent anchormen on ABC News) courageously confessing his own idiotic and dangerous slide into drug abuse. It’s a slide that culminated in an on-air panic attack in front of millions of TV viewers.

Initially, Dan wanted to call the book: “The Voice in My Head Is an Asshole.” The real title is almost as good, albeit not as concise.

It’s simultaneously a cautionary tale and an engrossing coming-of-age story of a somewhat rambunctious young man as he progresses toward maturity and wisdom.

Harris’s tone throughout is a delightful mix of self-deprecation, irony and journalistic objectivity – the last is a quality sorely missing in most writing about Mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism. There is even a bit of the “innocent abroad” quality in his tale-telling, but in this case Harris is exploring his own mind and its imperfections rather than foreign countries and cultures.

A few of my favorite quotes:

“…So much of what we do in life – every shift in our seat, every bite of food, every pleasant daydream – is designed to avoid pain or seek pleasure. But if we can drop all that, we can… learn how to be happy ‘before anything happens.’ This happiness is self-generated, not contingent on exogenous forces; it’s the opposite of ‘suffering.’”

“…Mindfulness, happiness, and not being a jerk are skills I can hone the rest of my life – every day, every moment, until senility or death. And the payoff is less reactivity, less rumination.”

“… A few minutes (during a formal mediation session) something clicks. There’s no string music, no white light. It’s more like, after days of trying to tune into a specific radio frequency, I finally find the right setting. I just start letting my focus fall on whatever is the most prominent thing in my field of consciousness.”

Key topics: Stress reduction, mindfulness, meditation techniques, life management