Sunday, May 29, 2016. I have been threatening to a read a book for a long time. I have been making this threat for so long that I truly cannot remember the last time that I read a book. In fact, with the possible exception of a book on a vacation (I cannot recall with certainty whether I actually read a book on any vacation), I have not read a book since I took Law and Literature in the second semester of my third year of law school. And I graduated law school in 2003. This is embarrassing.
Do not get me wrong, it is not as if I haven’t tried to read. This past February, on my way back from Houston to NY after a contested hearing, I bought the latest John Grisham novel in the book store at the airport. I wanted to relax and read it on the plane ride back (I would be captive for 3 plus hours). By the time I got to page 6, the announcement was made that it was now safe to use portable electronics. So I fired up the lap top and checked on and replied to emails (followed by organizing all emails in their own special files). I intended to go through the emails quickly and get back to Grisham. But that did not happen on that day or any day since. And notwithstanding that the Grisham book itself has traveled both domestically and international (true story; this Grisham book has been to San Fran, Houston, Corpus Christi, Delaware, Philadelphia, LA and St. Lucia) , I am still “stuck” on page 6.
Today I finished a book entitled “10% Happier.” It was written by Dan Harris — the co-anchor of the weekend edition of Good Morning America and a regular reporter for 20/20 and World News. I started the book at my last chemo infusion (this past Monday), but only finished a few pages before dozing off. I effectively read the book over the last 24 hours. I really enjoyed reading it. There was also an enormous sense of accomplishment when I finished it (a bit pathetic, but hey it’s a start).
The book itself is about mindfulness and meditation. The cover reads “[h]ow I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works — a true story.” Setting aside whether I ultimately decide to meditate (I downloaded the app “Headspace” on my iPhone at the suggestion of a few colleagues from work; like the Grisham novel, I have been “threatening” to utilize the app since I downloaded it over 5 weks ago), or otherwise engage a breathing coach (a good friend from high school recently put me in touch with a breathing coach that works in the NY area and I owe her a call), the book was illuminating.
Two passages in particular stood out:
“In a world characterized by impermanence, where all of our pleasures are fleeting, I had subconsciously assumed that if only I could get the weekend GMA gig, I would achieve bulletproof satisfaction — and I was shocked when it didn’t work out that way. This, as Joseph pointed out on retreat, is the lie we tell ourselves our whole lives: as soon as we get the next meal, party, vacation, sexual encounter, as soon as we get married, get a promotion, get to the airport check-in, get through security and consume a bouquet of Auntie Anne’s Cinnamon Sugar Stix, we’ll feel really good. But as soon as we find ourselves in the airport gate area, having ingested 470 calories’ worth of sugar and fat before dinner, we don’t bother to examine the lie that fuels our lives. We tell ourselves we’ll sleep it off, take a run, eat a healthy breakfast, and then, finally everything will be complete. We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these ‘if only’ thoughts, and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.” Page 165.
“Whatever the cause, in the months after I started adding compassion into my meditation practice, things started to change. It’s not that I was suddenly a saint or that I began to exhibit extra-virgin extroversion, just that being nice–always important to me in the abstract, at least–now become a conscious, daily priority. I instituted a make-eye-contract-and-smile policy that turned out to be genuinely enjoyable. It was like I was running for mayor. The fact that my days now included long strings of positive interactions made me feel good (not to mention popular). Acknowledging other people’s basic humanity is a remarkably effective way of shooing away the swarm of self-referential thoughts that buzz like gnats around our heads.” Page 187.
I have made every excuse over the years to avoid reading. Too busy with work. Needing to spend any free time I have with the kids. Not sacrificing exercise time. I could go on and on and on….Yet all these excuses are weak. I am better for reading Dan Harris’ book and you will be too, even if you don’t decide to start meditating tomorrow. Put it on your summer reading list. And make sure you actually read it. I am not going to analyze what Harris wrote or otherwise sit here and tell you the deeper meaning. Who am I to be the judge and jury. You can do that on your own. But I will say — for me at least — mindfulness starts with actually being mindful. And being mindful includes reading about something other than a company that needs to restructure. So thank you Dan Harris for being so honest and making me better for having given up “my time” to read your story. It was worth it.
I’m exhausted from not sleeping last night (I didn’t take Ambien for the first time in nearly 6 weeks), walking 4 miles with Lenny this afternoon, and going for a late swim with Jake and Ryan. But I am worried I am not going to fall asleep. So I am going to get in bed and start a new book. A lot has changed in six weeks..:.