Whenever I visit the bookstore, usually once a month in spring and summer, I do my best to buy something. This assuages the guilt I feel from buying books via Amazon the rest of the time. So when I saw a copy of "10% Happier" last Sunday, I ended up purchasing it after thumbing through the book.
Previously I'd read reviews of Harris' book that made me wary of adding one more meditation/ mindfulness title to my extensive collection. I've been meditating every day since 1970, so to me most books in this genre have a "been there, done that" quality to them.
Harris, though, has a refreshing take on the taming the monkey mind thing.
He's a television journalist with ABC News. Not surprisingly, he's an excellent writer. Honest. Direct. Humorous. Best of all, he doesn't have a fawning attitude toward the spiritual "gurus" he comes across after deciding that his anxiety-prone mind (his father is a Jewish worrier) could benefit from some mindfulness training.
I'm about halfway through the book. Harris called it what he did because he doesn't believe meditation can completely change a person. He figures that if it makes him 10% happier, meditation is worth pursuing.
Sounds about right to me.
During the 35 years or so I was heavy into a guru-centered form of Eastern meditation, I never met anyone who struck me as enlightened -- whatever that word means. There was a lot of talk about "perfect masters" and "God-realization." But nobody, including the guru, manifested what supposedly was possible.
One of the first self-help teachers Harris comes across is Eckhart Tolle, the power of now guy. His reaction to Tolle fits with my impression of him.
The real mindfuck, though, was this: almost as soon as he [Tolle] said something brilliant, he would say something else that was totally ridiculous. The man was toggling seamlessly between compelling and confusing, incisive and insane.
Later Harris gets interested in Buddhism and links up with a fellow Jubu (Jewish Buddhist), Mark Epstein. Epstein wrote "Thoughts Without a Thinker." I blogged about the book in "No-Self" isn't a spiritual goal -- it's what we already are.
Like Harris, I also find the non-religious, non-supernatural side of Buddhism to be appealing. Here's some excerpts from his "The Jew-Bu" chapter.
As best I could understand it, the Buddha's main thesis was that in a world where everything is constantly changing, we suffer because we cling to things that won't last.
...The Buddha embraced an often overlooked truism: nothing lasts -- including us. We and everyone we love will die. Fame fizzles, beauty fades, continents shift.
...We may know this intellectually, but on an emotional level we seem to be hardwired for denial. We comport ourselves as if we had solid ground beneath our feet, as if we had control.
...Unlike many of the faiths I'd come across as a religion reporter, the Buddha wasn't promoting salvation in the form of some death-denying dogma, bur rather through the embrace of the very stuff that will destroy us.
...Waking up to the reality of our situation allows you to, as the Buddhists say, "let go," to drop your "attachments." As one Buddhist writer put it, the key is to recognize the "wisdom of insecurity."
Well, Harris must be referring to Alan Watts. I love his book by that name.
Expressed that love in a blog post last year. I'd say that Watts is as much a Taoist as a Buddhist though, not that there is a lot of difference between Taoism and Buddhism when the religious'y aspects of each are stripped out.
Harris correctly calls out Eckhart Tolle as having taken a lot from Buddhism without admitting his quasi-plagiarism.
Very quickly it became blazingly clear. The best parts of Tolle were largely unattributed Buddhism.
Tolle had not, as I'd assumed when I'd first read A New Earth, made up his insights out of whole cloth. Apparently he'd appropriated them, and then effected a sort of intellectual elephantitis, exaggerating their features in the most profitable of ways.
Two and a half millennia before Eckhart Tolle started cashing his royalty checks, it was the Buddha who originally came up with that brilliant diagnosis of the way the mind works.
l'm sure I'll have more to say about "10% Happier" once I've finished the book. So far I seem to be on track, feeling about 5% happier.