I am reading 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 by Dan Harris, one of the morning anchors on ABC’s Good Morning America. Can’t say I followed his work as a journalist until I heard about this book.

As the title suggests, his mind had a penchant for causing him real stress. Ego directed his thoughts and behavior so much that he craved fast-paced, drama-filled moments, constantly reactive to what was going on outside of him.The book lays out his journey to quiet his mind. He delves briefly into Christianity, Judaism, new age spiritualism, and Buddhism. His argument becomes, begrudgingly, (due to his preconceived notions of it being hippy-dippy-drivel) that practicing meditation is the one thing that will quiet his mind. Learning how to meditate, simply being still and focusing his mind on the present, changed his life.

New to meditating he described it like this: “It was a rigorous brain exercise: rep after rep of trying to tame the runaway train of the mind. The repeated attempt to bring the compulsive thought machine to heel was like holding a live fish in your hands. Wrestling your mind to the ground, repeated hauling your attention back to the breath in the face of inner onslaught required true grit.”

As one who has struggled with anxiety for several years, I began searching for a way to quiet my anxious mind a couple years ago. I prayed for freedom from anxiety and tried to be stronger, tried to tackle my anxiety. But it didn’t work. I experienced physical anxiety symptoms frequently–breathing hard, mind racing, heart beating fast–which was not good for my body. A friend recommended I look into guided meditation. She had been helped by it greatly. I thought meditation was for Buddhist’s and, not being of that tradition, I thought it wasn’t for me. I had negative preconceived ideas as Dan Harris did. But with my friend’s recommendation, I decided to try it. I expected to hear mysterious new-age chants and thought I would need to sit cross-legged like a pretzel with my index fingers and thumbs touching in a circle, humming “om”.

But what I found when I listened for the first time to a guided meditation was soft, calm music and the soothing voice of a man telling me to think about my breath going in and out of my chest. He told me to sit comfortably on a chair or the floor and to close my eyes. He said if my mind wandered, I should gently bring my thoughts back to the breathing.

After my first time, a full 15 minutes in which I opened my eyes and looked at the clock about 45 times, I felt renewed and relaxed. My anxiety (for that day) was gone. Surprised, to say the least, I tried it again and again, getting used to the 15 minutes and not thinking about the clock.

To meditate means to engage in contemplation and reflection, or to think deeply or carefully about something. I find that by sitting or lying quietly with my eyes closed, and thinking about my breath going in and out of my chest, I am calmed. No hocus-pocus, no chanting, not weird. My pulse rate lowers, blood pressure decreases, and I feel rested, like all my senses are sharper.

The book 10% Happier is an excellent read. In addition to describing the quest to quiet his mind, Dan Harris chronicles his 15 years as a journalist covering some of our nation’s biggest stories. He describes his relationship with other national journalists, which I like because it feels like a sneak peek into the real lives of famous people we know only as their television persona. I recommend it. And if you struggle with a racing mind or with anxiety, I also recommend you dip your toes into meditation. No guidebooks are needed. Here are Dan’s directions on how to practice mindfulness meditate:

  1. Sit comfortably. You don’t have to twist yourself into a cross-legged position–unless you want to, of course. You can just sit in a chair. (You can also stand up or lie down, although the latter can sometimes result in an unintentional nap.) Whatever your position, you should keep your spine straight, but don’t strain.
  2. Feel your breath. Pick a spot: nose, belly, or chest. Really try to feel the in-breath and then the out-breath.
  3. This one is key: Every time you get lost in thought–which you will, thousands of times–gently return to your breath. I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game.

 Make it a good week!