Tag Archives: dan harris

Accidental Philosophy: Tie Up Your Camels

When I read books, the best quotes go in an ever-growing Evernote file. Sometimes I reach into that file and ruminate on a passage or two. The result is “Accidental Philosophy.”

I recently finished Dan Harris’s 10% Happier, which I’ve mentioned once or twice ’round these parts. It’s a bit of a strange bird: a book about meditation which is somehow riveting. A great skeptic’s look at a practice that, from the outside, seems to be dripping with woo. If you’re considering the practice of meditation, or just curious about it, it’s worth your time.

But today’s words aren’t about the book, they’re about a single passage within it. Which is actually a quote of something else. So I’m quoting a quote about another quote. Anyway:

The Sufi Muslims say, “Praise Allah, but also tie your camel to the post.” In other words, it’s good to take a transcendent view of the world, but don’t be a chump. (201)


Let the record show, then: good ideas can come from religion!

I love this quote, and here’s why: we rely too much on faith. Even those of us who are decidedly not people of faith lean too much on faith at the expense of our common sense.

Faith in our own abilities. Faith in other people. Faith in society. And, yeah, for those who swing that way, faith in higher powers.

And that’s not, in and of itself, a problem, or even a mistake. Sometimes we do estimate our own abilities appropriately. Sometimes other people do live up to the hope we hold for them. Sometimes societies do the right thing.

But certainly more often than “rarely” those things don’t happen. You overestimate yourself and get in over your head. A person you trust lets you down. Society disappoints you. (Oh lord, how society has disappointed me these past two years.)

This quote, then, is a little reminder, a little prick in the pocket, to stay skeptical. To not rely too much on faith. To hold nothing so sacred that you give no thought to the consequences if it doesn’t deliver.

In other words, tie up your camels. Tie ’em right up.

And then keep your distance. I hear they spit.

llama eating GIF

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

10% Chance of Woo

I’m consumed, at present, with Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier.

I’ll make all appropriate caveats to say that I’m not done with the book. In fact I’m only about halfway through it, if that. But it’s the kind of book that for whatever reason is shaking me on a fundamental level. The book’s subtitle — How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works — sort of sums it up for you.

It’s fascinating reading. Harris basically uses his pages to recount a personal journey, from tv reporter-turned-anchor to drug-addicted high-chaser to spiritual sojourner to — well, as I said, I haven’t finished it yet.

The book is funny, full of great turns of phrase and idioms — he describes Deepak Chopra as “the Golden Arches or Nike Swoosh of spirituality — a globally recognized icon next to whom celebrities could pose when they wanted to signal ‘depth’,” for example. But more than that, the book is simply shatteringly honest., which is giving it a charm with me that’s hard to describe.

I don’t often read nonfiction books cover-to-cover, but with this one, I can’t help myself. I see myself in the narrator. His thoughts are mine, often before I even realize it. He’s a deep, committed skeptic (yep, that’s me) who’s constantly besieged by feelings of doubt and inadequacy (totally me) and constantly plays out the myriad ways everything could crumble around him (ME) and can’t get a moment’s peace inside his own head as a result (ME ME ME).

When drugs don’t solve the problem, he takes a hard left into the world of spiritualism.

At this, my eyebrows went up. Spiritualism is one of those fluffy, impossible-to-define words that generally seems to involve a lot of hippy crap like hugging trees and breathing deeply and sipping tea to solve life’s problems. A great way to fool yourself into believing there’s “something more to life” after you’ve let organized religion go but you’re not quite ready to dive into the icy waters of atheism. A middle ground.

And, well, I have some feelings about middle grounds, but mostly, middle grounds are not to be dwelled on.

Luckily, Harris has the same reaction. His battered brain-boat beaches itself on the strange shores of Eckhart Tolle and the aforementioned Deepak Chopra and he finds himself (despite himself) going along for the ride. Because despite the fact that both men (and countless others in the spiritualism circle) speak in insane intelligent-sounding but ultimately indecipherable word salad and deepities, something clearly seems to be working for them.

So he dives in. And, I guess, sometime in the coming pages, he begins meditating. And apparently this works for him.

Meditation is one of those things for me that I’ve always been kind of fascinated with but have never given it an honest shot. You hear “meditation” and you picture some kind of monk staring at the wall and pressing patterns into the floor through the sheer power of repetition. Sounds hokey, sounds fake, sounds too good to be true.

Furthermore, I have enough to do in my day; even ten or twenty minutes spent actively doing nothing seems entirely counterintuitive. Then again, I say that and I think about how much time I actually waste in a day — a few minutes here or there watching hilarious videos on Youtube of people falling off bikes, more than a few minutes hate-watching or hate-reading the news, lots and lots of minutes with my novel open, minimized in the background of my computer when it should be maximized and locked in front — and I wonder if an investment of ten or twenty minutes wouldn’t be worth it, if it helped me to reclaim some of that lost time.

And now, writing this post and reading this book, I realize that this is already an idea that’s wandering the halls of my subconscious, idly drawing patterns in the dust with a finger, now and then opening the fridge to see if anything tasty has magically appeared in the meantime. Just hanging out, waiting for something to do. In my first novel, I had a character who indulged in meditation every day to keep from losing her mind with the competitiveness and craziness of her job.

I wrote a character who practiced this very thing, even though I’ve never really tried it, even though I think it’s hokey and self-delusional. And it WORKED for her.

Anyway, a passage that had me reeling last night was the following:

The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete.

And, you know, damn. I feel that. Right down in my recently-operated-upon guts.

All of which is to say that I think meditation is a thing I may have to try. But, you know, in that “do or do not, there is no try” kind of trying, where you actually commit to the thing. (I know, I know. Add it to the list of “things I want to try,” which quickly molders into a pile of “things I tried once or twice and gave up on almost immediately”.)

So, do I have any meditaters (meditators? Spell check doesn’t like either one, go figure) in the house? Any firsthand advice or things I should know?

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