If you’ve been reading my posts here so far, you might have begun to suspect this is a Dan Harris fan site. I’m going to be posting about other people’s material, I swear, but I began with Harris because his take on mindfulness is tuned very specifically for skeptical and secular beginners, which is what I am. My plan’s to go through his materials first before graduating to others.
And with that said, here are two new and very short videos Harris made with Happify, with my takeaways. If you’ve watched his other videos—posted here and here—you’ll be familiar with much of this. These shorts are mostly just repackaged snippets of his lecture, but there's enough new in them to make them worthwhile.
Meditation for Beginners with Sharon Salzberg (~6 minutes)
This video begins with Harris' familiar intro, a preemptive defense of meditation:
“Meditation does not involve joining a group, paying any fees, wearing any special outfits, sitting in a funny position, or believing in anything in particular. It is simple, secular, scientifically-validated exercise for the brain.”
He goes on to give three-step instructions (a version of which I transcribed here if you prefer reading them), and I can tell you from experience these really are all you need to begin.
But the heart of the video is a very short guided meditation with Sharon Salzberg, and then both she and Harris go into more detail about how you'll "fail" during meditation, that is, how you'll lose focus constantly.
Salzberg says, if you get really distracted during the meditation...
“...don’t worry about it. We say the most important moment in the whole process is the next moment, after you’ve been gone, you’ve been distracted. That’s the place where we practice letting go. It’s what one of my teachers called exercising the ‘letting go’ muscle. We practice letting go gently of whatever has taken us away, and we shepherd out attention back to our breath, to begin again. The whole training is letting go and beginning again, and letting go and beginning again.”
“It’s the conditioned habit of our attention to get distracted, to stray. And so each time we discover that, we have this…opportunity to let go and start over.”
Harris has a version of this in his lecture, but this video words it a bit differently and I think helps you to understand what you're actually supposed to be doing during the meditation.
(He goes on to say that "failure is actually success”, which sounds awfully trite, but give him and by extension both of them the benefit of the doubt. I wrote about how I came to this conclusion by myself just the other day.)
Salzberg talks with the very “soothing” voice of yogis and charlatans that I find irritating—I can't shake the feeling it's a performance—whereas Harris’ own New York patter feels familiar and more easily trusted, to me. But it’s still useful to hear what she says if you're getting into mindfulness. The meditation she guides you through in this video is a good exercise for a beginner.
What Do We Have All Wrong About Meditation? (~4 minutes)
Everything in this video is in the other Harris videos, but is just a little tighter and cleaner here, and useful to listen to if you're on the fence about this stuff. It's a refutation of a few common excuses people have for not meditating.
1) People think it’s for hippies and freaks and think meditation is B.S.
Harris says this reputation isn't entirely undeserved but argues mindfulness meditation is backed by a growing body of science that's finding an “almost laughably long” list of health benefits to the practice. He goes on to note that companies from General Mills to Google have meditation rooms, and everyone from NFL players to pop stars to the Marines are doing it. (This isn’t so compelling to me—it could be just a fad, and medical studies make all sorts of claims all the time, but maybe other people will find this compelling.)
2) People believe it’s good for them, but they think they can’t do it, their mind is too busy.
To which Harris says, “you’re not special.” Everybody’s mind is harried and you're almost definitely not so uniquely harried or neurotic or anxious that you can't do this.
3) People think they don’t have time.
Harris says it takes 5-10 minutes a day, and I can back this up from my own experience. I’ve been doing this a little over two months now, so I don’t have a long track record or deep experience, but I can say that even five minutes felt effective.
Note: there are two other Happify videos—How I Went from Skeptic to Meditation (~7 minutes), and Mindfulness is a Superpower—but they're basically straight excerpts from his full lecture.