Dan Harris wrote the book 10% Happier and started a podcast and an app by the same name. In each of these platforms, Harris explores and promotes mindfulness-based meditation as a way to make you, you guessed it, about 10% happier. Harris’s work has been so well received and impactful, in my opinion, because he makes the practice of meditation seem so simple and accessible.
Most of us have heard the meditation hype. It’s so good for everything from stress reduction to better sleep to alleviating physical pain. We can believe all of this to be true (which it is) and still find the whole endeavor scary and overwhelming. I cannot overstate how often I hear someone tell me they wish they could meditate. They believe it would be great for them, but they simply can’t do it because their mind is always on the go.
I can explain that the point of meditation is not to stop thinking, or to find a perfectly still mental state, until I’m blue in the face. But for many, it can be hard to get over the image of the perfectly still and serene meditator sitting crossed legged in an orange robe on a mountain top. I get it.
That’s why Harris’s “behind the waterfall” visual is so powerful. He describes mindfulness as follows. Imagine your mental meanderings as the stream of water traveling over the fall. This thought flow, which tends to be full of “me me me” thoughts, is pretty constant for most of us most of the time. If we step back from the thought flow – behind the waterfall so to speak – we find ourselves in the seat of the observer of the waterfall rather than as a participant in it. This simple metaphorical act of taking even a single step back from the waterfall (aka our racing thoughts) can be unbelievably powerful.
Instead of simply feeling anxious, for example, we can instead notice that we are feeling anxious. Once we notice, we are less hooked into the pure feeling and can begin to observe, question, reflect, and discern. From there, that place where we have a little bit more space to thoughtfully respond rather than simply to react, life can get a whole lot more peaceful and contentment can be within reach.