No, not literally, but his mindfulness meditation app did help me be less of a moron
Right up front I’m going to tell you that I’m a three-time champion. I’m a suicide attempt survivor, and I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and depression. I’ve won the triple crown of mental health challenges. Not to mention a runner-up as a recovering alcoholic.
You may also recognize after reading those four sentences that I use humor to fend off the heaviness that can creep into my mental health conversations.
After what I’ve been through in this life, I find it’s a whole lot easier to shoot straight and get to the point with as much quirkiness and kindness as possible. I hope I’ve earned that right.
Now, onto the Dan Harris in the room.
Near the end of 2018, I started seeing a new therapist. She taught me how to use the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy, and she was also an advocate of meditation. I was not. An advocate of meditation that is. In theory I thought meditation was a good thing, but I wasn’t about to sit lotus style on the floor, burn candles, wear a robe and chant “oms” until my head hurt.
I don’t do woo-woo and crystals.
But I also don’t do anxiety well either. So, I was at an impasse.
My anxiety was growing like kudzu, and I didn’t see anything that was going to punt that green demon into someone else’s backyard. Finally, I took the advice of my therapist and tried meditation. More specifically, I tried Dan Harris’ app, 10% Happier. For 31 days. In a row. Yes, that’s 31 days of at least two-minutes (ish) a day of mindfulness meditation.
“What’s mindfulness meditation, Michael?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
Mindfulness meditation is exercise for your brain. It is secular and simple to start. Anyone can do it. Even you.
Here’s all you need to do to get started:
- A quiet place.
- Choose a chair, the floor, or a cushion to sit on.
- Sit with your back relatively straight (you know, like your momma told you to do).
- Close your eyes (or don’t) if it’s comfortable for you.
- Then focus your attention on your breathing.
- When your mind wanders (and it will) return your attention to your breath.
See, you just started mindfulness meditation.
Here’s the thing to remember: when your mind wanders to your to-do list, who’s picking up the kids from school or if a one-legged duck can swim in circles, simply bring your focus back to your breathing. Where do you feel it? More in the chest, the belly or the nose? Wherever it is, point your attention there.
Don’t worry or stress when your mind wanders. That just means you are doing it right. No one can completely blank their mind of any thoughts. If they did, well that person would be six feet under.
Are you still with me? I haven’t lost you yet, have I?
Good. Here’s the cool part.
When all those thoughts come rushing past as you focus on your breath, just give them a soft nod. Acknowledge them but don’t give them any emotional value or stop them to see how they’re doing.
“Hey, there goes the power bill. Hey, there goes my crazy boss yelling about something again. Aww, look our daughter is practicing her cursive with a fork on our bathroom door.”
Think of it this way. All those hectic thoughts rushing around your spinning mind are like cars on the freeway. You can’t help but notice those bad Larry’s flying on by you, but you certainly aren’t going to jump out in front of one and try to grab it are you?
That’s mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness gives you the recognition and the pause to notice what’s going on rather than being jerked around by your thoughts.
Dan Harris’ app has many instructor-led meditations that have helped me reduce stress and anxiety in my life by being mindful in the present.
Is the app a self-help cure all? No. Is mindfulness meditation a cure all? Nope. Cure alls only exist in fantasy land and infomercials.
But when I combined mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy and a good treatment plan, it gave me the ability to stop, challenge and choose how I reacted to situations in my life, rather than blindly reacting to them without any thought. I became less of a moron. If you suffer from anxiety like me, then you know how important it is to not be led by a mind that’s spinning out of control.
If you get the chance, go see Dan Harris speak on April 3rd at the McGlohon Theater in Charlotte, NC. He’s funny, smart, and insightful. If you can’t make it, buy one of his two books. They are worth it.
His sincere approach and authenticity are the reasons I tried mindfulness meditation. His own experience with anxiety, panic attacks and depression are the reasons I believed it when he said that meditation could help me.
I continue to meditate because it has helped reduce my anxiety and to become a better person for my family and friends.