Review: “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics,” Dan Harris and Jeff Warren

Pros: Ideal for me
Rating: 5 out of 5

Note: Book provided for review by publisher


Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book, by Dan Harris, Jeff Warren, and Carlye Adler, seemed ideal for me–I am a skeptic, and I am certainly fidgety (much like Jeff, one of the authors, I have ADD)! I’m impressed by how much the book makes meditation accessible, makes it seem like just another part of life, like riding the bus to work or brushing your teeth before bed. Just something you do because it makes sense and makes your life a little bit better.

Getting lost and starting over is not failing at meditation, it is succeeding.

The whole attitude of the authors gives you permission to “fail” at meditation as many times as is necessary–by making it clear that it isn’t failing in the first place. The whole idea is that you learn to come back to focusing, and that return is success. It makes the stakes much smaller and easier to face. Mindfulness is the goal rather than emptiness. I love the tone of the book. It stays grounded in the everyday and sometimes the hilarious:

…the collective attention span of a syphilitic squirrel.

One of the parts that particularly appeals to me is the idea that if you’re dead certain you can’t spare five minutes (or sit still for that long), even one minute counts. There’s a ten-breath meditation that I’ve been doing every day since I started reading this book, and even I can manage that! Part of the idea is that you can’t control what arises in your mind, but you can learn how to respond to it. “Hurt more, suffer less.” You might in fact feel some of your emotions more acutely, but you’re less likely to act out on them and hurt others.

There are habit-formation tips, as well as an examination of the hindrances to meditation (such as boredom or restlessness). It’s nice that they acknowledge such barriers as legitimate and important and give us hints for how to handle them. The authors also try to avoid fancy or precious talk; they want to make meditation accessible to everyone, and I think they succeed. Even when they get touchy-feely (such as talking about self-compassion) they find a way to bring it down to earth. In this case, by providing us with an example called the “Giving A Shit About Yourself Meditation”! There’s also a laziness meditation, and a 30 seconds-plus meditation to do when trying to be there for someone else. A couple of the extra meditations in the appendix get a little more froofy, but not overly so (and there are plenty of nuts-and-bolts meditations so that it won’t hurt you to pick one of those and use it instead).

They do acknowledge that if you have a mental illness or a history of trauma that you should check with a mental health professional before embarking on a serious meditation practice. It would have been nice, however, to see a bit more about how meditation can interact with trauma.

The authors consistently made meditation out to be something entirely ordinary, which is about the opposite of what I’m used to, and I think that’s valuable and brilliant. If you want the purported health and mental health benefits of meditation without the daunting cheerleading or fanciness, this is the book for you!

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