Self Help

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics - Dan Harris

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Matheus Puppe

· 40 min read

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  • The author Dan Harris was previously skeptical of meditation but changed his view after having a panic attack on live TV and learning about the scientific research on meditation’s benefits.

  • Studies have shown meditation can reduce stress, blood pressure, improve immune function and brain health. It can benefit mental health conditions like depression and anxiety as well as improving focus, productivity and well-being.

  • Contrary to assumptions, meditation does not require special clothing, beliefs or group settings. The type discussed is mindfulness meditation, a secular practice derived from Buddhism.

  • Mindfulness meditation involves simply focusing on the breath and when the mind wanders, gently returning attention to the breath. Getting distracted is normal and not failure - it is about starting again each time. Regular practice can strengthen focus and awareness.

  • Both the science and simplicity of mindfulness meditation convinced the author, a former skeptic, that it is worth incorporating into one’s life for health and well-being.

  • Meditation is often misleadingly portrayed as a blissful, thought-free experience. In reality, the mind is usually filled with thoughts, chatter, and distractions even for experienced meditators.

  • The practice of meditation forces us to confront the “voice in our head” - our constant inner narrator/ego that is often self-obsessed, future/past-oriented, and complains about dissatisfaction.

  • By being aware of this inner mental chatter through meditation, we gain more freedom and choice in how we respond to life’s challenges instead of just reacting automatically.

  • Some of the benefits of meditation include increased calmness, focus, and mindfulness. Mindfulness means seeing what’s happening in your thoughts and not getting carried away by them. It provides a buffer between stimuli and reactions.

  • With meditation, one can develop the ability to step back from the constant stream of thoughts using mindfulness, like viewing thoughts from behind a waterfall. This is using our natural human ability to observe our own thinking.

So in summary, the passage discusses how meditation confronts our ego/inner narrator and develops mindfulness, which provides benefits like increased calmness and focus through gaining perspective on one’s thoughts.

  • Mindfulness meditation through practicing responding instead of reacting has allowed the author to gain perspective and wisdom in dealing with challenges. It empowers one to tap into creativity and innate wisdom beyond the ego.

  • While meditation is transformative, it does not make one flawless. The author still makes mistakes but has gained a trainable mind. Happiness is a skill that can be developed through meditation, not just external circumstances.

  • The author initially underestimated the barriers people face in starting a meditation practice. Through his app company, he’s identified common “secret fears” like lack of time or losing one’s edge.

  • Jeff Warren is introduced as a meditation teacher whose humor and solo retreat experience appeal to the author. He founded a meditation group in Toronto and reluctantly took on a teaching role. The author reaches out and they bond over their shared passion for meditation practice.

  • The key insights are that responding not reacting enables wise handling of challenges, meditation trains the mind, and addressing common fears is important to help more people start a meditation practice.

  • The passage introduces Jeff Keech, a meditation teacher whom the author came to know and admire over several years. Jeff is described as having an infectious passion for meditation and its benefits.

  • Jeff has explored many contemplative traditions. He speaks animatedly about meditation’s power to shape the mind. At times he lapses into mystical language that the author does not fully understand.

  • The author and Jeff bond over discussions of meditation, writing and relationships during walks in Manhattan. Jeff mentions his long-term girlfriend Sarah. The author advises committing to relationships rather than waiting.

  • Two years later, the author recruits Jeff for a “wandering retreat” road trip project for his meditation app. They film conversations while driving with no set route.

  • On the trip, the author comes to appreciate Jeff’s resourcefulness in difficult situations, calling him “Meditation MacGyver.” However, Jeff occasionally speaks in esoteric terms that may not resonate with average meditators.

  • Despite this, app users respond very positively to Jeff, seeing him as approachable and flawed like themselves. His openness about struggles with ADD help make meditation accessible.

  • The author sees Jeff as a perfect co-author due to his ability to present meditation naturally and show its power to manage neuroses through awareness. They embark on a cross-country bus tour to help more people establish meditation practices.

  • The group had questions about logistics and how to meditate, showing a common obstacle of feeling like “I can’t do this.”

  • Jeff answered common FAQs about meditation basics - where to meditate, clothing, eyes open or closed, sitting positions. The key is finding a position that allows one to be still, comfortable and alert.

  • Adopt a relaxed, open and equanimous attitude towards the meditation experience. Be okay with distractions.

  • Bring attention to the breath, noticing the sensation of breathing without controlling it. Options include feeling the air at the nostrils, chest/belly movements, or the overall flow.

  • Bring an attitude of enjoyment and curiosity to observing the breath. Become a connoisseur of breathing.

  • You can use noting, silently saying “in” and “out” to help focus on the breath. Or count breaths from 1-10 and start over.

  • If the breath is not suitable, choose another focal point like sensations in the hands, contact with the chair, or ambient background sounds.

  • Let the simplicity and relief of focusing on one object come as a relief from daily distractions and to-do lists. Gently focus on the chosen sensation.

  • The instructions guide focusing attention on the breath, its subtle sensations as you breathe in and out. It notes it’s normal for distractions like thoughts and physical sensations to arise.

  • The key is to gently acknowledge any distractions without judgment, then return focus to the breath. Noticing you were distracted and returning focus is the goal, not trying to clear the mind of all thought.

  • Common distractions that arise during meditation are discussed, like planning, daydreaming, worries. The meditation teaches to simply notice where the mind has been, then let go and return to the breath.

  • It notes beginning meditators may judge themselves harshly for getting distracted. Instead, appreciating the mindfulness of noticing a distraction can help accelerate one’s ability to stay focused.

  • Tips are provided like counting breaths, using phrases like “just this breath” to refocus, getting curious about the physical breath, or using images to focus on. Guided meditations are also recommended to help focus.

  • The passage discusses how a colleague struggled with distractions like thoughts and physical sensations during the meditation. It emphasizes that distraction is normal and part of the process, not a sign of failure. Noticing distraction and returning focus is the goal.

  • With practice, one can develop “equanimity” - experiencing thoughts and sensations without being controlled by them or getting caught up in them, just gently returning to the meditation focus like the breath. This helps change one’s relationship with the mind’s contents.

  • Meditation allows one to observe thoughts and feelings from a detached perspective, like watching a show play out, rather than getting consumed by agitation. It becomes something mildly interesting to observe, not something that bugs you.

  • Paula was attracted to the idea of equanimity from meditation, as she feels pulled in many directions in her busy life. Jeff assured her meditation can help develop a calm, level-headed way of handling challenges.

  • Jeff used the analogy of whack-a-mole to describe normally frenziedly trying to deal with problems. Meditation is like dealing with them in a mellow, steady rhythm. It changes your reaction to circumstances, not the circumstances themselves.

  • The key point of meditation is being able to observe thinking without getting caught up in it. To watch thoughts play out from the wider perspective of awareness, rather than identifying with each thought. This prevents unnecessary drama and allows one to see clearly.

  • Jeff gave a meditation instruction focused on gently returning attention to the breath whenever thoughts are noticed, to develop the skill of disembedding from thinking and observing it from awareness. The goal is to catch thoughts early and appreciate the moment of “waking up”.

  • The author struggles with meditation and finds it difficult to relax and quiet his mind. He realizes his problems stem partly from mistakenly thinking he wouldn’t need to practice basic techniques.

  • A larger issue is that he has inherited traits from his grandfather Robert Johnson, who was volatile, paranoid, and prone to grudges. The author finds his grandfather’s personality emerging when he feels wronged or distracted during meditation.

  • On the first day of the road trip filming, the author is feeling anxious, stressed, and triggered. He expresses worries about the trip to Jeff and the director Eddie.

  • Jeff acknowledges also feeling worried about burnout and losing control of his emotions. Knowing the experienced meditators still struggle helps alleviate the author’s wife’s fears about meditation.

  • The author worries about his wife doing the interview but she seems in good spirits despite being unwell. Her calm demeanor is slightly annoying to the author but also comforting that medication principles can help even non-practitioners.

  • The author is talking with famous singer Josh Groban about meditation. They try meditating together during a live radio interview, which goes well.

  • Josh realizes he can meditate without getting frustrated like he used to. The friendliness aspect and understanding that the mind will wander is helpful.

  • The author is relieved and grateful that Josh had a positive first meditation experience. They agree to get a drink afterwards.

  • The next morning, the author gets a phone call from famous radio host Elvis Duran while in the bathroom. Elvis tells him they are talking about him on the radio live. The author is caught off guard but has met Elvis before when his first book was promoted on Elvis’s hugely popular radio show.

  • Elvis’s radio show significantly boosted sales of the author’s first book. Though the author had not heard of Elvis before, his wife is a big fan of the radio program. The author was impressed by Elvis when he went on the show before - he seems very nice and friendly to guests.

  • The author did a profile on Elvis for Nightline where he learned Elvis is more comfortable hanging out at home than rubbing elbows with celebrities. Elvis is also shy and insecure about his weight.

  • The author was worried about doing an interview with Elvis for his meditation tour but Elvis insisted on having him on the radio show.

  • Elvis has lost a significant amount of weight after gastric sleeve surgery and looks transformed. His radio show is complex with many staff.

  • Meditation is helping Elvis be less moody and throwing chairs. He does it daily with his dog in his lap.

  • The author discusses how even one minute of meditation can be powerful, in contrast to previously recommending at least 5-10 minutes. Consistency is more important than duration.

  • The author interviews Elvis’ co-host Bethany Watson who has anxiety from the high-pressure job but says she doesn’t meditate due to lack of time, though admits it’s not a priority. Rewards are important for forming new habits.

  • Initially people are hesitant to meditate due to various reservations, both spoken and unspoken. Reward or motivation is important to get people to try it.

  • Relief from anxiety can be a strong motivator. One interviewee, Bethany, relates to how exercise helps her anxiety and sees potential for meditation to do the same.

  • Superficial motivators like rewards, achievements or challenges may be needed initially to overcome inertia. Ideas proposed include discounts, losing money if you don’t do it, visualization of progress.

  • For busy mother Danielle, the authors recommend strategically looking at your schedule to find time, like before bed. Cue-routine-reward loops can help form a habit.

  • It’s important to give yourself permission to fail and try different tactics, as we are wired to fail and evolve through trial and error. Forming new habits takes resilience through repeated practice.

  • The authors are traveling on a colorful tour bus to different cities to do outreach and interviews, hoping to help many people improve their mental well-being through meditation teachings and motivation.

  • The author returns to his alma mater Newton South High School to give a talk on meditation with Jeff. His parents joke about his poor grades and rebellious behavior in high school.

  • The author was a heavy pot smoker and graffiti artist in high school. His mother says he was very angry back then and she never saw him smile.

  • His mother has since taken up meditation at his recommendation. She finds it helps her manage her short fuse and tendency to worry. His father jokes he prefers napping to meditation.

  • During the Q&A, a young professional named Chris asks about finding time to meditate given his busy work schedule. The author recommends even one minute of meditation counts and can help disembed from difficult thoughts.

  • Jeff then leads a one-minute guided meditation focusing on the breath. He suggests making everyday activities like walking or brushing teeth into “free-range meditations” by bringing qualities of attention to whatever one is doing.

Here are the key points about “mental muscle groups of the mind” from the passage:

  • Just like physical muscles, mental qualities like concentration and curiosity can be trained through meditation and other mindfulness practices.

  • Concentration and clarity are described as important mental muscles or qualities that can be strengthened. Clarity is like turning up the resolution on a TV to see things more clearly.

  • A variety of informal “free-range meditations” are described that can be done during everyday activities to train mental muscles. Examples include focusing on sounds while walking, sensations while showering, and brushing teeth mindfully.

  • Doing these brief mindfulness practices throughout the day can help “mentalize” life and prevent boredom. But it’s also important to do formal daily meditation practice to build a strong foundation.

  • Various tips are given for maintaining a regular meditation practice, like aiming for “daily-ish” instead of being too rigid, doing even just one minute on busy days, finding accountability through a group, and working with a teacher. The idea is to treat mental training like a mental workout or muscle group.

  • The author meditates for 2 hours each day, which some find surprising given his busy schedule as a parent and professional.

  • He explains how he makes it work through strategic scheduling, finding moments throughout the day like on planes or in taxis to fit in short sessions. He never meditates when his son is awake.

  • His wife was initially skeptical but they now have a system that works. He credits the long practice with deepening his understanding of himself and relationships.

  • At an event, a speaker jokes that her kids always sense when she tries to meditate and interrupt. She questions how the author’s wife tolerates his long sessions.

  • The author acknowledges it causes some tension but says communicating with his wife helps. He also gives tips like writing yourself a “permission slip” when time is limited with kids.

  • Jeff points out meditation should also be enjoyed simply for experiencing being alive in the present moment. The author realizes he often views it like a forced duty rather than sometimes pleasurable activity.

  • Jeff suggests a meditation focused on subtly enjoying physical sensations like air on the skin to build the “muscle of enjoyment” in meditation over duty or willpower.

The passage discusses embracing both pleasant and unpleasant sensations during meditation practice through cultivating an attitude of openness and enjoyment. It suggests trying to find something enjoyable about the breath and bodily sensations, even with distractions present, by deciding to view the experience positively rather than feeling bored or uncomfortable.

While enjoyment is more about perspective than intensity of pleasure, the passage warns against getting too hedonistic. It emphasizes experiencing pleasures without attachment and pains without aversion through mindfulness. Even if enjoying the meditation doesn’t work initially, that’s ok and benefits can still be gained.

It then provides guidance on meditating on the breath and body sensation, shifting between the two, with tips like getting comfortable, altering the environment, using visualization, and exploring pleasant physical sensations sensually but non-graspingly. The key is being open to enjoyment without chasing it and letting it arise naturally.

  • Meditation can help people “age gracefully” by making them more focused, present and at peace while they are still young and active. It helps cultivate qualities like ease and good humor even as the body slows down.

  • Congressman Tim Ryan practices meditation despite criticism that it makes him seem “weird” or like “Congressman Moonbeam.” He has faced resistance from colleagues and skepticism from parents concerned it conflicts with faith.

  • Ryan was first introduced to meditation through coaching books and a Catholic priest. He later did a retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn that had a profound effect, helping him see recurring thought patterns that caused stress.

  • Ryan believes strongly in meditation’s benefits and has advocated for teaching it more widely, but stigma remains an obstacle. To counter concerns, he emphasizes the scientific evidence for its effects on the brain and mind. Overall the chapter discusses the stigma around meditation but also arguments and experiences that can help overcome skepticism.

  • Researchers from Headspace were interviewing Colonel Holly Jo Richardson and Major Matthew Jarman at the Virginia Military Institute about teaching meditation to cadets.

  • Initially there was concern from the school about the public perception, as they had faced backlash recently over giving cadets coloring books to relieve stress.

  • Richardson and Jarman emphasized the scientific evidence for meditation’s health benefits, especially resilience to PTSD, and highlighted elite athletes who meditate to sell it to cadets.

  • Jarman argued meditation helps you face fears and stresses head-on, giving tools to do so effectively. It was popular and helps address the “endemic” stress at VMI, especially for first-years.

  • Some concerns were raised that meditation may not align with military goals, but Jarman said it helps with decision-making to potentially cause fewer casualties. He defines warriors as agents of change in any field.

  • While some cadets are teased, Jarman viewed withstanding that as an important test of being able to go against pressures and create change, which is a quality of being a warrior. The interviewers agreed meditation takes a warrior spirit to go against societal momentum.

  • The author notes that through meditation practice, their lifelong susceptibility to the opinions of others has diminished. They are better able to observe thoughts and feelings like worry about what people think, comparison to others, and fear of missing out arise and pass without getting overly caught up in them.

  • Meditation has helped them see the difference between actual constructive criticism that could be useful for self-improvement, versus unhelpful “noise” from things like mean social media comments.

  • They observe that while most people worry a lot about how they appear to others, the truth is that others don’t generally care that much. Embarrassing moments tend to be only mildly amusing to others rather than the end of the world for the one going through it.

  • Talking to cadets at VMI, the author finds that meditation helps with things like improved focus, stress reduction, and feeling more present and centered. One cadet describes meditation helping fade unnecessary thought narratives.

  • The meditation guidance discusses using noting (mentally labeling) thoughts and patterns that arise to help notice them without getting caught up in them. This can help uncover hidden mental dramas and triggers. The goal is pattern recognition to respond more sanely rather than be hijacked by old reactions.

  • The meditation introduces relaxing on the exhale and straightening on the inhale to keep the body balanced.

  • It emphasizes setting the intention to not be uptight and allowing the breath to anchor attention in a relaxed way without getting too caught up in it.

  • If something distracts from the breath like thoughts, emotions or physical sensations, the guidance is to note it briefly (e.g. “thinking”) and then explore it for a few moments before returning to the breath.

  • Common hindrances that may arise like judgement, irritation or boredom are examples of things to explore in this way rather than try to avoid.

  • The overall aim is to maintain a sense of friendly curiosity toward whatever arises during meditation rather than getting antagonistic with inner experiences.

  • Distractions are seen as opportunities to learn rather than problems, with the breath as a home base to return to from exploration.

  • The approach cultivates wisdom and freedom from being defined or controlled by thoughts, feelings or bodily sensations through open and non-reactive observation of experience.

Here is a summary of the key points about TV bingeing from the passage:

  • It describes how during meditations, the mind can get lost in fantasies or desires like lustful thoughts or visualizing food. This is just “wanting” without any specific object in mind.

  • Noting these feelings of “wanting, wanting” as they arise can help liberate oneself from getting caught up in them. If one stays with the feeling, the wanting will often pass and one realizes they are actually content in the present moment.

  • It notes how many hours are spent robotically indulging these desires for novelty when one could relax if noticing the urges pass like bubbles.

  • An “insight” in Buddhism is experiencing this truth - realizing how these patterns have influenced life but also that often there is nothing really wrong in the present.

  • However, these insights can take time to fully sink in, and one may go back to being hopelessly fixated on things like social media feeds shortly after.

So in summary, it discusses how TV bingeing or desire indulgence is akin to getting lost in mental patterns of constant wanting without satisfaction, and how mindfulness of these feelings as they arise can lead to liberating insights but also takes consistent practice to fully integrate.

  • Meditation and mindfulness practice can help notice and work with inner resistance, reactivity, and hindrances. These unhelpful patterns can become entrenched personality traits if left unaddressed.

  • Even experienced meditation teachers still struggle with their own inner critics, sensitivities, and neuroses. Regular practice helps one develop awareness and compassion for these tendencies rather than judgment.

  • Jeff, a meditation teacher and the focus of the story, has learned to notice and friendly greet his inner “cheerleader” voice that had previously led to risky behaviors.

  • The author is still working on developing friendliness toward his own inner “asshole” or critic, nicknamed “Robert Johnson” per Jeff’s suggestion. There is skepticism but also openness to the approach.

  • Toward the end, it is revealed the film crew, and Eddie the director especially, are taking on an unsustainable workload and exhaustion in executing the cross-country meditation outreach trip. Their well-being has been ignored, threatening the project.

In summary, the passage discusses how meditation can help work with inner resistance but it is an ongoing process, even for teachers. It also touches on issues that arose with workload imbalances threatening the outreach trip’s sustainability.

  • The writer was going on a trip with a crew to promote mindfulness and mental health practices. However, the crew, led by Eddie, was suffering from lack of sleep and burnout due to disorganization and late nights on the road.

  • Eddie in particular was tired but pushing through to ensure the crew could rest, even shooting solo one morning. The writer was concerned about crew morale deteriorating from exhaustion.

  • This reflected an issue they were encountering - that modern lives leave many people burned out and unable/unwilling to properly care for themselves. Self-care is seen as self-indulgent by some.

  • The story highlights the importance of self-care, like meditation, to avoid burnout and resentment so one can better help others. While meditation can seem self-indulgent, practicing compassion for oneself and others is argued to improve well-being and relationships.

  • The chapter explores self-compassion meditation as a way to care for oneself, even during difficult times, rather than dwelling on pain through secondary negative thoughts (“the second arrow”). Maintaining compassion is presented as key to well-being.

  • Self-compassion meditation is a practice of caring for oneself independently of one’s conditions or feelings.

  • It involves checking in with how one is feeling physically or emotionally in the present moment, without judgment.

  • The core is connecting to a simple intention for one’s own well-being, such as “May I be well” or “It’s okay.” This intention is directed inward through phrases, images, or bodily awareness.

  • Over time, the focus shifts from the words to the underlying intention of compassion, which becomes clearer and stronger.

  • Expanding compassion outward, one can direct the same intention of well-wishing to loved ones and others in the world.

  • Common barriers to self-compassion practices include seeing them as selfish or a chore. Living with someone who meditates can unconsciously add pressure.

  • It’s important to approach meditation without judgment and focus on exploration rather than any supposed benefits, to reduce aversion and guilt around the practice.

The summary focuses on the key idea of directing compassion inward through intention and phrases, then expanding outward, as well as common barriers involving guilt or perceptions of self-indulgence.

  • Jeff proposes an alternative approach to meditation for Bianca, focusing on making it intuitive rather than obligatory. He suggests she designate 10 minutes per day to watching reality TV while following a guided meditation he provides.

  • The goal is to co-opt her existing routine and habits to make meditation feel less like a chore. His meditation focuses on relaxation, laziness, letting go of tension, and not striving for anything beyond simple rest and enjoyment.

  • Bianca responds positively to this approach as it seems less structured than her usual methods. Jeff tries to normalize taking time for oneself by sharing his own past struggles.

  • The guided meditation Jeff records for Bianca emphasizes total relaxation of body and mind, allowing wandering thoughts, and permission to simply “do nothing.” It suggests finding rest even while active through laziness.

  • Taking this undemanding approach helps address Bianca’s tendency to constantly multitask and deprive herself of true downtime. Jeff highlights the importance of self-care and balancing what we can give to others.

The passage describes a meditation and mindfulness road trip led by Jeff and the author. During a stop in New Orleans, they set up a booth in Jackson Square offering free meditation lessons to passersby. At first only one person takes them up on the offer, but then more people participate.

However, tensions arise between Eddie, Ben, and the author over struggles maintaining the schedule. They have an argument that threatens to undermine the trip. At a later meeting, they openly discuss the issues and make changes to alleviate the pressures.

Through this process, they gain insights into challenges of balancing self-care with helping others. Both Carlye and Jeff relate to taking on too many commitments and then abruptly hitting a limit, which they call “Rage Fairy.”

The author reflects on always having been somewhat self-centered and lacking in compassion. Overall it describes lessons learned around conflict resolution, leadership, boundaries, and prioritizing self-care when serving others.

  • The author acknowledges he has a long history of being prickly and escalating conflicts into shouting matches, partly due to his competitive nature. While he has matured, it remains a painful part of his self-image when comparing himself to others who seem softer and more altruistic.

  • During a group meditation session, Jeff talks about developing compassion, which the author initially finds overly sentimental. However, he is open to exploring compassion practices as a way to address perceived personal deficits like irascibility.

  • The book argues compassion is helpful but can lead to burnout if one takes on others’ pain. Mature compassion is more sustainable and helpful, involving sincere intention for others’ well-being rather than just resonating with their emotions.

  • A guided meditation is presented on generating compassion for others by repeating a phrase like “May you be well” while holding them in mind. The intention is to offer presence and caring support rather than try to fix problems or feel others’ emotions.

  • The author reflects positively on bonding with his team over the trip, appreciating their reconciliation work and the insights into managing conflicts through open communication in a supportive environment. Meditation can similarly help face inner neuroses constructively.

  • A study found that two-thirds of men and a large portion of people overall opted to electrically stimulate themselves instead of sitting quietly alone.

  • There are several possible theories for why: modern lives are hyper-stimulated so we get bored easily; humans evolved to scan for threats so idling is difficult; a subconscious fear of opening Pandora’s box of difficult emotions if alone with one’s thoughts.

  • The authors visited an organization serving children with disabilities and delays. Staff said opening up to vulnerability is scary and some days they don’t want to be in their own head, fearing what they may find.

  • Meditation can help work proactively with emotions rather than having them emerge unexpectedly. While it may surface fears, anxieties arise anyway and meditation enables clearer examination.

  • For some with trauma, mental illness or difficulties, consulting a mental health professional first is prudent. For others, meditation has helped with mild depression and anxiety in conjunction with therapy by interrupting obsessive thoughts.

  • The RAIN method of Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-identification can help explore difficult emotions and boost emotional literacy over the long term by making emotional habits less potent.

  • The author discusses the concept and importance of acceptance, which they describe as the most important thing a human can do. acceptance involves letting go of what’s in the way and welcoming what’s emerging.

  • Acceptance is difficult with challenging emotions like anger, fear, sadness. The alternatives of grabbing on or pushing away don’t work and usually make the emotion persist or get worse.

  • The RAIN technique involves Recognizing the emotion, Accepting it, Investigating/exploring it curiously, and Non-identification with the emotion.

  • Acceptance means opening fully to the feeling and letting the sensation do what it wants without resisting. This can help the emotion lose intensity.

  • Investigation means exploring the emotion curiously without feeding into it. This prevents amplification and chaining to other emotions.

  • Non-identification means seeing emotions as natural conditions like the weather, not something to take personally. This allows them to pass without compulsive judgment.

  • Tips are provided for dealing with very intense emotions, like focusing on one small part or shifting attention to a home base sensation. Stopping the meditation is also an option.

  • The goal is liberating emotions through this practice of mindfulness, gaining perspective on emotions as temporary natural experiences rather than something to strongly identify with. This brings a sense of connection and getting past self-judgment.

  • The discussion focused on how meditation can help mitigate and resolve deep-seated emotional patterns and reactivity. While in-the-moment insights can sometimes lead to long-term transformation, it’s more gradual for most practitioners. Patterns may re-emerge but with less insistence each time.

  • Jeff talked about uncovering patterns of chronic dissatisfaction, feelings of not belonging, and performing niceness out of insecurity through his meditation practice.

  • Dan acknowledged having an “idyllic childhood” with less personal trauma to work through, leaving his internal struggles feeling more petty and selfish. He suspects meditation could help with compassion.

  • Ben related to feelings of selfishness and not wanting to feel compassion due to excuses about lack of time/energy/money to help others, which then led to shame.

  • Jeff noted seeing emotional “moods” as patterns through meditation practice, gaining perspective to not be overcome by them.

  • The discussion highlighted how meditation can cultivate awareness and perspective and gradually mitigate deep-seated emotional reactivity over time through continued practice.

Here are the key points from the summary:

  • Jeff and the author rode along on a midnight police patrol in Tempe, Arizona with Sergeant Raj Johnson.

  • Raj described the stressful and dangerous nature of the job, including traumatic incidents they respond to and the rising hostility toward police.

  • However, he also said he loves the job and enjoys working with others who share the mission to protect and serve.

  • A police pursuit came over the radio so Raj responded to assist. The author noted feeling a bit of adrenaline, similar to past experiences responding to calls while in the military.

  • Raj worried that meditation might make officers too soft or slow down their decision-making speed, which is critical in high-stakes situations that require tough, split-second judgments.

  • The “lose my edge” fear of meditation making them less competitive or capable is one the author also struggled with personally before starting to meditate.

In summary, the passage describes the author riding along on a police patrol and discussing with the officer how meditation is viewed with skepticism by many in law enforcement due to concerns it could undermine the mental toughness and reflexes needed for their dangerous job.

  • The passage discusses how meditation can enhance one’s edge or effectiveness at work rather than erode it. Increased focus, decreased emotional reactivity, and having more compassion can benefit careers like news reporting which require collaboration.

  • The author addresses a concern that meditation may make people too relaxed or “happy” and lose their competitive edge. He argues this is a misunderstanding and meditation does not require abandoning stress or ambition.

  • A useful meditation motto is to question unproductive worrying thoughts by asking “Is this useful?“. This helps waste less energy and allows space for more positive thoughts.

  • Meditation can help acknowledge things beyond one’s control and pursue goals with less attachment to definite outcomes. This increases resilience against unpredictability.

  • Contrary to beliefs that suffering is needed for creativity, meditation enables intimacy with emotions while being less controlled by them. This improves access to good ideas.

  • In personal examples, the author attributes improvisational skills and a successful interview to habits of presence cultivated through meditation practice.

  • The police chief is trying to introduce meditation to officers to help manage stress and make better decisions, but there is resistance that it may make them “soft”.

  • Studies have shown meditation can improve memory, reduce stress hormones, and aid recovery after high-pressure incidents, without losing an edge.

  • Officers already do a form of meditation called “combat breathing” during tense situations to manage adrenaline, but want more tools to “reset” between calls to stay focused.

  • Not carrying stress from one call to the next is important for safety, as le could get hurt or die if not fully present and focused on each new situation. Resetting helps officers stay sharp but also separate work from personal life.

  • Simple techniques like SURF (Stop, Understand, Relax, Freedom) can help notice and manage urges in the moment to make better choices and prevent rash actions when lives are at stake. While not perfect, even small improvements in impulse control can help.

  • The passage discusses using meditation to train the mind like police officers train physical skills through drills. There are six mental skills that can be developed through meditation practice.

  • The core skill is mindfulness - the ability to notice thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment. Mindfulness sets the stage for other skills.

  • Concentration is the ability to focus on a single object or task. It makes the mind calm and happy.

  • Clarity is discernment and understanding experience clearly. It promotes insight and countering biases.

  • Equanimity is accepting thoughts and feelings without reactivity or resistance. It reduces suffering and liberates energy.

  • Friendliness treats all mental contents, like urges, with compassion. It prevents inner antagonism.

  • Enjoyment finds pleasure in experience through equanimity, without grasping. It makes meditation more pleasant.

  • Regular meditation training can increase these skills over time, spilling into daily life to handle stress and tensions more effectively, like the police officers discussed.

  • The greatest accelerator in a meditation practice is noticing the subtle pleasant or “reward” feelings associated with developing each meditative quality like concentration, clarity, equanimity and friendliness.

  • As you get more concentrated, you notice the enjoyment of being concentrated, which motivates you to get even more concentrated in a positive feedback loop. The same applies to developing clarity, equanimity, friendliness - noticing the reward reinforces developing that quality.

  • All these meditative qualities mutually support each other. When one is developed, it helps develop the others. And experiencing the reward feeling of each quality makes the practice more self-sustaining.

  • So paying attention to and finding the subtle enjoyment in each meditative quality as it arises makes the whole practice more engaging and helps the qualities strengthen each other in a cumulative way. It’s about noticing the small pleasures that arise from training the mind.

  • The author reflects on how meditation practice enabled him to be more present and mindful during a recent road trip, fully enjoying the experience.

  • He wonders if it’s possible to experience this level of enjoyment without meditation. Some argue other activities like running or gardening can serve as “meditation.”

  • The author acknowledges those activities can be beneficial, but says true mindfulness meditation requires intentionally paying attention to sensations/thoughts and returning attention when the mind wanders.

  • He met with formerly incarcerated youth in an writing program. One participant said meditating was his only escape in prison. Their writing prompted insightful reflections.

  • The youth demonstrated qualities cultivated in meditation like deep listening, confronting emotions, and compassion. They were benefiting greatly from the writing/group discussion practices without formal meditation.

  • While not meditation, the writing and mutual support cultivated mental habits through a deliberate practice. The author was humbled by these participants and their resilience through difficult challenges.

  • A practice refers to something you commit to regularly as a way to develop skills and qualities. Meditation, sports, music, volunteering can all be practices.

  • Meditation teaches skills like focus, equanimity, compassion, clarity that are useful for other practices and life in general. It’s like “life skills for dummies.”

  • When doing other activities like running, you can bring meditation skills like mindfulness of breath, sensations, sounds to deepen the meditative aspect. This can lead to flow states.

  • Yoga and tai chi inherently focus on body awareness and alignment which cultivates mindfulness. You can apply meditation techniques like attention to breath during the movements.

  • Prayer involves qualities like humility, trust, compassion that overlap with meditation. Focusing the mind in prayer is similar to concentration. Mindfulness can enhance the insight gained from prayer.

  • In general, meditation complements and supports other practices by cultivating life skills that are useful in any domain. It does not necessarily conflict with religious faith.

Here is a summary of the key points about maintaining consistency with meditation practice:

  • Consistency is a common challenge for many people who want to establish a meditation habit. It can be difficult to keep a practice going without breaks.

  • The most important thing is to cut yourself some slack if you fall off track. Recognizing that inconsistency is normal and forgiving yourself can help you get back to meditating without self-blame.

  • Adopting a mindset of self-compassion, rather than harsh self-criticism, makes it easier to withstand setbacks and try again. Self-compassion boosts resilience.

  • No matter how long it’s been since your last session, you can always just start over. Don’t expect perfection - think of it as an ongoing experiment where failure is part of the process.

  • When you falter, reevaluate your plan and come up with a new strategy instead of giving up. Maintaining consistency is about continually beginning again in a spirit of learning from mistakes rather than viewing it as a test of willpower.

The key takeaways are to be gentle with yourself through the ups and downs, and see your practice as an ongoing process of experimentation rather than a pass/fail test where mistakes mean failure. Self-compassion supports long-term consistency.

  • Different meditation tactics work for different people at different times, so it’s best to experiment and find what hooks you personally rather than rely solely on willpower.

  • Set realistic, achievable goals for meditation practice. Short sessions of even just a few minutes can still provide benefits if it’s what you can sustain consistently over time.

  • Re-engaging with meditation resources like books, videos and podcasts can help rekindle motivation when practice starts to feel stale.

  • Don’t overcomplicate things by trying too many different meditation styles at once. It’s best to fully commit to learning one style before branching out.

  • Concentration meditation on the breath is recommended as a reliable foundational practice. Insight practices can be incorporated when distractions arise to develop wisdom. Compassion practices can follow to cultivate caring emotions.

  • Short mindfulness practices can be integrated throughout the day to reinforce the habit beyond formal sessions.

  • On low-motivation days, try sitting in the meditation posture even briefly as that may naturally lead to deeper practice. The goal is developing an enduring habit of mindfulness in all activities.

  • Sharon Salzberg’s meditation teacher advised her to simply show up for practice without expectations about how it will go or how long it will last. Just put your body there.

  • Having a regular spot to meditate at home can help make the habit stronger by associating that space with meditation.

  • Meditation works best as a prophylactic, not just first aid for difficult times. Practicing regularly prevents issues from arising rather than just dealing with problems after they occur.

  • Avoid placing too much importance on expectations and goals for meditation. Comparing your practice to some ideal can lead to disappointment. The goal is to observe your present experience with openness.

  • Pay attention to how meditation benefits you in daily life, like reduced stress and reactivity. Noticing these effects can help maintain consistency in practice. Falling off the routine also highlights meditation’s impacts.

  • While goals can initially motivate practice, long-term the aim is to develop calmness beyond just seeking rewards. Meditation allows stepping off the treadmill of desire and into fuller engagement with each moment.

Here is a geometric summary of the key points in geometrical terms:

  • The happiness graph represents a 2-dimensional plane, with time on the x-axis and happiness/conditions on the y-axis. This plane fluctuates up and down based on life’s circumstances.

  • For long-term meditators, their experience can be represented as a 3-dimensional box or volume. In addition to time on the x-axis and conditions/happiness on the y-axis, there is a third “depth” or “z-axis” that represents awareness/presence/being.

  • Over time with meditation practice, this z-axis dimension widens or deepens. It creates a kind of shadow or ribbon that extends beyond circumstances, providing stability, fulfillment and other positive qualities even during downs.

  • This z-axis presence/dimension has always been there but meditation allows one to access it more fully. It’s not exactly happiness but the source from which happiness and other qualities arise more steadily.

  • In summary, meditation lifts experience from a fluctuating 2D plane to a more stable 3D volume or space by cultivating the invisible z-axis of presence/being beneath circumstances. This provides greater well-being, meaning and resilience over the long term.

  • Shift/change is difficult to describe yet profoundly important. As beings that exist, we may as well notice and enjoy existence through meditation.

  • A “do nothing” meditation is proposed, where the goal is to sit with experience and not try to control or change anything. Just sit with openness and accept the present moment.

  • The author initially struggles with this approach as they prefer having a clear technique. They are told to fully let go and accept whatever arises without judgment.

  • After trying it, their mind is chaotic at first but they eventually relax into it. Things become peaceful as they stop resisting distractions and overthinking.

  • In general, the passage discusses shifting from a controlling mindset in meditation to one of open acceptance. It promotes non-striving and relinquishing the need to analyze experience or get things “right.” True meditation involves fully embracing and allowing the present moment.

  • The author faced a punishing deadline to finish writing the book, which required writing a chapter per week on top of his day job and family responsibilities. This caused immense strain and stress.

  • He used mindfulness techniques like connecting to his core intention of helping people learn meditation. But the workload and lack of rest were wearing him down.

  • Exchanges with his writing partner Jeff about structuring the meditation instructions started to annoy and stress him out further as Jeff got overly detailed and theoretical.

  • When checking in with people they had introduced to meditation on their road trip, the results were mixed - some had tried it briefly but fallen off, others had not started at all. This further soured the author’s mood.

  • The intense workload and exchanges with Jeff, combined with the mixed results from following up, threatened to undermine the goodwill from their road trip collaboration and take a toll on finishing the book. The author was feeling increased anger, frustration and lack of humor due to the punishing schedule.

  • The author initially got disappointing responses from some people he met on his book tour about whether they were continuing to meditate.

  • However, things started to turn around as he got positive updates from several people who said meditation was helping them in meaningful ways, such as dealing with stress, relationships, and sleep.

  • The author was particularly worried about getting an update from his wife Bianca, who had been skeptical of meditation. But she surprised him by saying she had been meditating regularly and found it useful for self-care, managing anxiety, and being less reactive in her relationship with the author.

  • The writing process had taken a toll on the author’s own self-care and mental state. After an intervention from Bianca, he committed to slowing down, cutting out sugar, and improving his own meditation practice. This helped improve his mood, concentration, and relationship with his co-author Jeff.

  • The author came to better understand Jeff’s ADD psychology and how it related to his approach to teaching meditation. After hashing out disagreements, their working relationship and friendship strengthened.

  • The author relates his experience working on a book with his friend Jeff, who teaches meditation. Jeff was writing some very funny and useful instructions for meditation in the book.

  • Jeff has become more comfortable with openly sharing his challenges and flaws as a teacher. This openness has helped him feel ready to further his teaching and writing career.

  • Working on the book together seems to have played a role in Jeff becoming more at ease putting himself and his talents out there, though his main motivation remains helping others.

  • It has been gratifying for the author to see his talented friend gain confidence in himself.

  • Jeff is now married and has moved in with his wife Sarah. A picture from their wedding is included.

  • The author notes that even with meditation practice, one’s life will not be perfect. The goal is to keep practicing noticing thoughts and returning to presence, and to start over when needed.

  • Meditation helps see we are “ensnared in dozens of nested trances” but can free us from self-absorption and connect us more deeply to life’s mysteries. Happiness is indeed a skill that can be cultivated through practice.

This summary covers key points from a lengthy email discussing Buddhism and related contemplative practices:

  • The author calls himself a Buddhist but is skeptical of certain Buddhist beliefs like reincarnation that cannot be proven. However, he is convinced Buddhism is correct about concepts like the ego, inevitability of death, and compassion being superior to selfishness.

  • Several books are recommended that take a skeptical yet open-minded approach to Buddhism and related traditions. These include books by Robert Wright, Sam Harris, Stephen Batchelor, Sharon Salzberg, and Pema Chödrön among others.

  • Meditation retreat centers like Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock are mentioned as good options for those interested in retreat experiences, though the author notes retreats are not required to establish a daily practice. Shorter day/weekend options are also available.

  • The author acknowledges skepticism around silent retreats but provides reassurance, noting his own initial discomfort but later experiences of insight and happiness. Retreats can lead to breakthroughs and perspectives that enhance one’s practice.

  • The email closes by thanking various collaborators on projects related to Buddhism and meditation outreach, highlighting their important contributions.

Here is a summary of the key acknowledgments:

  • Thanks to collaborators on the book including the editor Julie Grau, literary agent Luke Janklow, and Carlye Adler who helped oversee the project.

  • Gratitude expressed to family members for their support, including wives/partners Bianca Harris and Sarah Barmak.

  • Appreciation for guidance from meditation teachers over the years who helped shape understanding, including Shinzen Young, Joseph Goldstein, and others.

  • Acknowledgment of support from fellow meditation teachers and members of contemplative communities.

  • Recognition of interview subjects and others met along the tour who shared their stories.

  • Thanks to production team on the book tour and road trip, including Nick, Dennis, Mack, Lauren, Eddie the driver and others.

  • Gratitude to friends who provided feedback on drafts including Susan Mercandetti, Gretchen Rubin, Karen Avrich and Matt Harris.

  • Appreciation for Dan Harris’ collaborator Carlye Adler for overseeing the project and commitment to the work.

The summary focuses on the key individuals and groups recognized for their contributions to writing the book and related projects, as well as personal support provided to the authors.

This book thanks several people who were instrumental in helping the author get to where he is today. He expresses gratitude to mentors who supported him and gave him opportunities in journalism early in his career. These include Carin Smilk, Lynn Langway, Hank Gilman, and Jeff Garigliano, who all helped with his writing and career. He also thanks Marc Benioff for believing in him and encouraging him to write a book.

The author is thankful for wise counsel from others like Ray Javdan and Nina Graybill who helped him grow his business. He appreciates his family - parents Alan and Karen Adler and siblings - for their love and support, with a special mention of his mom who is his biggest fan.

Finally, the author expresses deepest gratitude to his husband Frank Nussbaum for his partnership, for holding down the fort at home, and for always encouraging the author to pursue his dreams. He also thanks his daughter Mia for being a source of adventure, inspiration and enlightenment.

In summary, the author expresses heartfelt thanks and gratitude to mentors, family and friends who have supported him personally and professionally over the years.

Author Photo

About Matheus Puppe