If you've ever been curious about meditation...if you roll your eyes when someone raises the topic...if you've tried it and quit...or if you believe it's a bunch of woo-woo bull-crap...then this is a book well worth reading.
My favorite introduction to the book occurs when Steven Colbert hosts Dan Harris, the author, on his show. Colbert flashes the book at the audience and proceeds to read the entire title and subtitle out loud, after which he quips, "...I'm afraid that's all we have time for..." (That 6 minute, wonderfully skewed interview can be found here if you'd like to see it)
The Colbert interview emphasizes the genuine humor with which the book is written. It's a frequently laugh-out-loud funny while simultaneously almost disturbingly honest book by a die-hard skeptic--a hard-charging reporter, competitive on every level. This is a guy who has been a war correspondent, a veteran journalist, a network news anchor, and someone whose cynicism about almost everything, especially meditation, was (and frequently still is) bone-deep.
Which makes his experimentation with meditation unlikely, and his experiences with it absolutely riveting.
But...why bother to read it, other than for fun? What does this have to do with work?
Harris is, in his own words, a "maniacally hard worker," and incredibly driven and passionate about his career. And as he describes in the book, he had quite an ego at work and frequently snapped at colleagues and bosses in ways he later lived to regret. Some of his work deeply affected him in negative ways; he returned from covering wars in the Middle East and, like so many soldiers and journalists, couldn't adjust well to civilian life.
This is a chronicle of how he was finally convinced to try meditation--something he'd always made fun of--and the effect it had on every aspect of his life, including his career.
The book was a page-turner; I couldn't believe how honest he was about his propensity for being judgmental about everyone and everything...only to later discover just how wrong his judgments were. I could relate. Throughout the book, he has the courage to share his private (often unkind) thoughts about the people he meets...only to later understand the falsity of those private thoughts, and even what drove them. I could relate to that, too.
"Taming the voice in his head," which immediately has the effect of taming some of his anxiety and problematic behavior, is only one of the benefits of his meditation practice.
Let's face it; most of us have unkind, judgmental thoughts but we keep them to ourselves, most of the time, in order to keep things smooth on the surface. Harris allows us to peek into his thought processes before he ever began to meditate--thoughts which are common to us all and highly ego-driven, and the results are not pretty.
The story of his fast-rising career is fascinating, as is the account of how he stumbled into a meditation practice. As the book jacket will tell you, he had to do something after his war-related PTSD and drug use led to an on-air meltdown witnessed by millions of people, and threatened to end his career.
What happens once he begins meditating is intriguing, funny, and provocative. He covers the emerging neuroscience research on meditation in highly understandable terms. He brings a journalist's investigative perspective to various teachers and gurus he interviews along the way. His comments on them will surprise you. Agree or disagree, you're sure to be interested in what he has to say on some of the more well-known teachers in various meditative traditions. He also discusses his own insights through his own practice, talks about how his practice begins to dramatically and positively affect his life and work, and makes a strong case for why this could be true for everyone.
Best of all, it's clear that if a guy this astoundingly busy can make time to meditate, so can most of the rest of us.
He's an excellent and highly entertaining writer. I have to say I loved this book. I could relate to so much of it from my own experience. It clearly underscores how and why mindfulness meditation can increase effectiveness for anyone, in any type of work, at any level.
The only downside, to me, was his unrelenting cynicism and judgment toward those who could best be described as New Agers. During the course of the book, he recognizes how unfairly judgmental he is toward whole swaths of the population, and opens his mind to many different types of people as a result (descriptions of how this happens are both honest and funny).
But not for this one segment of the population; at the end of the book he is still talking about them in scathing terms and blames them for why meditation isn't more widely accepted. While I understand the point he's trying to make about the need to describe mindfulness in ways that will make it more credible to folks who aren't New Age-y, I found it surprising that this one slice of the population was continuously verbally tarred and feathered. Odd, considering he's willing to at least listen to everyone else, knowing that he doesn't need to agree...just listen. But his mind remains closed to this population, whom he always describes in the most sarcastic and mocking terms.
I saw a recent clip of an interview with Harris for the August issue of Mindful Magazine. He says he now believes that once he's done with his journalism career, he will probably teach meditation. For a guy who is still hard-charging, skeptical, and competitive (now in a "2.0" manner; he hasn't lost his edge at work, that's certain), this was surprising and delightful to hear. See a short excerpt of that article here.
By the end of the book he is summarizing all the ways meditation has helped his career (and the rest of his life) and giving some shrewd advice as to how it could help anyone be more effective.
If you find yourself "reacting" at work in knee-jerk fashion, rather than making thoughtful choices--or if you just want to become more conscious at work--please consider reading this book.