Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer, and my guest today is Dan Harris. Dan is a co anchor of Nightline, which is an ABC news program and the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Previously, he was the anchor of the Sunday edition of World News he regularly contributes stories for such shows as 2020. World News with Diane Sawyer, and weekday GMA Good Morning America, Harris has reported from all over the planet covering wars in Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine and Iraq, and producing investigative reports in Haiti, Cambodia, and the Congo. He’s also spent many years covering America’s faith scene with a focus on evangelicals who have treated him kindly, despite the fact that he is openly openly agnostic. He has been at ABC News for 14 years. He grew up outside Boston and currently lives with his wife, Bianca in New York City. And the reason I’m interviewing him is that he has written a book called 10%. happier, how I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self help. That actually works. A true story as a picture of a glass half full or half empty on the cover, depending on your perspective. So welcome, Dan. Thanks for doing this.
Dan Harris: Thanks for having me. And there’s also one little drop falling into the glass. So it’s like,
Rick Archer: oh, yeah, it’s getting fuller. Of course, I didn’t notice that. Yeah,
Dan Harris: you know, they didn’t do a good job. They wouldn’t be if they didn’t do a good enough job to really highlight that one drop,
Rick Archer: they should have made a red or something.
Dan Harris: Yeah. And then in the in the in the follow up, the drop will be more prominent. Okay, there will be a follow up. I don’t know, I just said that.
Rick Archer: Well, you know, when I first heard the title of your book, the first thought that popped into my head was, you know, you’ve got a series here, you could you know, like Harry Potter or something you could be writing 20%, happier, 30% happier and so on. Because, in my experience, once you get on this train, there’s no stopping it.
Dan Harris: Yeah, the problem is, I hate math. So I’ll probably get away from the sort of that kind of numeric, numerical idling, but maybe I’ll do a 10% happier. In different areas, though, who kept 10% happier for parents or 10%? Happier?
Rick Archer: or kind of like John Gray, you know? Who you know, Johnny, Greg, men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Oh, yes. Yes. Yeah. He ended up doing like Mars and Venus on a date Mars and Venus doing this and you know, kind of spun it into this whole thing.
Dan Harris: All right, Chicken Soup for the Soul type of thing. Yeah, chicken, there was a certain there’s an inherent cheesiness to that kind of franchising. And yet, if I can convince myself that it’ll work, then maybe I’ll do it.
Rick Archer: Yeah. As long as it doesn’t take you four years to write each book, you’ll be okay. So you start this book, and with an account of a full blown panic attack that you had in front of 5 million people on Good Morning America, which I may have seen but forgotten, but then I watched it recently, and it was painful to watch must have been even more painful to experience. And so perhaps we can start with a nutshell version of what led up to that panic attack in your life.
Dan Harris: So well, let me talk you through the panic attack. Just Yes. Yeah, please. viewers haven’t seen it. I was anchoring the news updates on Good Morning America. This is in June of 2004. And I was that basically the person who does that comes down at the top of each hour and reads a series of headlines. So I was supposed to do six stories. And that was my spiel. And then I was done. But I had done the job before. So I didn’t have any reason to proceed what was about to happen, which was about 30 seconds into my newscast, I was just overtaken by this irresistible bolt of fear I, I started my mind started racing. My palms were sweating, my mouth dried up. My lungs seized up. I just couldn’t talk basically. And I tried to power through it, but I couldn’t. And so I had to do something I’d never done before on live television, which was I quit right in the middle. And I tossed it back to the host of the show. Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer and people who’ve seen the video I’ve had mixed reactions, some people like you say, it was tough to watch some people say, hey, you know, wasn’t that bad? And I think you look terrified. Yeah, well, I was terrified. Yeah, there’s no question about it. But you know, if I didn’t if I hadn’t had the luxury of tossing Back to the CO anchors, then you would have seen a panic attack along the lines of Albert Brooks from broadcast news where he breaks out the flopsweat and etc, etc. Or I would have had to read an outburst or rip the mic off and run away, it would have gotten truly, truly ugly.
Rick Archer: If you’ve been doing the evening news, you know, and you’d had a whole half hour to fill, you would have been screwed.
Dan Harris: Yes. You know, I just heard a little beep. And I think that was my email. So I’m just closing out of my email. So you asked me what led up to it and what what led up to it was a series of truly moronic decisions. So it kind of just take you back to four years earlier, I arrived at ABC News. I was 28 years old, I was very green. And I was working with these giants like Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters. And I was self conscious about my lack of experience. And my way of compensating for that was to become a workaholic, I just threw myself into the job. And after 911, I volunteered to go overseas without really thinking about the psychological consequences. And I spent a lot of time in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and the Middle East. And when I came home, after a particularly long stretch in Iraq, I got depressed, and actually didn’t know what I was depressed. Although I was exhibiting all the classic signs or some of the classic signs, I was having trouble getting out of bed, I felt like I had a low grade fever all the time. And that’s when I did something very, very dumb, which is I started to self medicate with cocaine and ecstasy. And even though I was doing this for a pretty short period of time, less than two years, and and sporadically, you know, never, never when I was working, definitely not when I was on the air I like I like to say that I was stupid, but not that stupid. It was enough, according to my doctor, the doctor who I consulted after the panic attack, to raise the level of adrenaline in my brain and prompt me to have the freakout that we’ve been talking
Rick Archer: about. So it’s kind of a fight or flight thing that was triggered without any impetus at that moment.
Dan Harris: Yes, yeah, I mean, fight or flight can be triggered for any of us, at any time, given our brain, you know, the variables being our brain chemistry and the severity of the event, the the exogenous event that’s triggering it. And, and for me, according to the doctor, I had artificially raised the level of adrenaline, so I was at any external trigger was going to be more potent, and in this case, my latent stage fright, which as I say, in the book, had made my career up until that point, a triumph of narcissism over fear of my latent stage fright was triggered, just because I had my baseline of adrenaline was higher. Yeah. And you didn’t
Rick Archer: quite say it. But it wasn’t just the drugs, it was the fact that you’d been in Iraq and Afghanistan for four years. And you must have accumulated a lot of stress there. I mean, you must have had a fair amount of PTSD without even knowing it.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if it was PTSD. Well, first of all, I want to say a couple of things about that. One is, I am very careful not to compare what I experienced overseas to what our men and women in uniform experienced overseas, because I’ve been on the frontlines with those guys and gals. And I’m in awe of what they do any amount of the volume and intensity of the stress that they endure, you know, is so much more, so much more than what I experienced, I got just a taste of it. So I don’t know if I had PTSD. But what I do think that I, this is my analysis in hindsight, with the help of a professional, to which, by which I am referring to my shrink. I think that I got this dose of adrenaline overseas, and I really liked it. And when I came home, I would compensate him with this synthetic squirt of adrenaline, this, this fake thrill of cocaine and ecstasy, and that had these unintended consequences of of making me more prone to freaking out on television. So I don’t think that it’s the case that I went overseas and was so traumatized by what I saw that I then had a panic attack on television, I think it was it’s a it’s a little bit more complex, and frankly, a little bit more embarrassing than that.
Rick Archer: Yeah. You’re just sort of an adrenaline junkie. Yeah. Okay. So at some point, you became the religion editor, or, you know, what does it say in your book that religion was your beat? And you were going around interviewing all these fundamentalists and so on? Was that post panic attack? Or had you already started doing that?
Dan Harris: Yeah. So it’s, it’s kind of a, this is all leading up to me becoming a meditator. And sometimes, one of the funny things about writing a book and being public about my own life is now that other people are writing about me, as opposed to me writing about other people, which for my entire life has been the case. And often the story gets summed up is newsman has panic attack and becomes a meditator. That’s actually not what happened. What happened was, I had a panic attack. And then around that time, I was assigned to cover religion for ABC News by Peter Jennings. I think actually, technically, the assignment was given to me before the panic attack. But then I ended up spending a lot of time overseas covering war zones and didn’t do much with it. And it was after the panic attack, after George Bush was elected president, the second time with the help of a lot of social conservatives and evangelicals, that I really dove into the, into the world of religion. So it was this assignment that was the second variable that sort of led me toward meditation. Because heretofore, I had almost zero exposure to, to spirituality of any variety. I was raised in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, by two very, very skeptical, secular scientists. My mother, when I was a little kid, I have this memory of her explaining to me that not only was there no Santa Claus, but there’s also no God. So this is the kind of environment in which I was raised. I did have a bar Mitzvah only for the money. And you know, for the social acceptance in my largely Jewish hometown. So I was not I didn’t want this assignment, when Peter told me you’re gonna cover religion. But he said, I don’t care, you’re gonna do it anyways. And it turned out to be this great thing. Because I was totally, I was totally ignorant. And I ended up making a lot of really good friends, faith and learning a lot about how most of our fellow inhabitants on this planet, see the world through the lens of their faith. And I was really just not in touch with that. That being said, None of what I encountered. You just spoke to me personally, I didn’t. I didn’t become a practicing Jew or Catholic or Christian or Muslim.
Rick Archer: Yeah, there’s some interesting bits in your book about this, too, like the whole Ted Haggard situation, which some viewers may remember. So you really got exposed to an interesting subculture, didn’t you? And then how did you end up shifting from fundamentalists on to Eckhart Tolle, and that whole world?
Dan Harris: So I was covering evangelicals, mostly when as a religion reporter, because if you recall, during that time, it was the height of the culture wars. But several years into it, so this is about four years after the panic attack. In 2008, I was actually out covering a story about Sarah Palin, who at that time had just been chosen as the nominee for vice president by John McCain, and what the producer I was working with said, you know, have you ever read a book by Eckhart Tolle? Actually, what you said was, you should check it out. It’s all about controlling your ego, which I thought, you know, I laughed at because I thought, you know, that was that was her thing. You know, I was a self important Anchorman, which was true, but that actually wasn’t her point. Her point was that Eckhart Tolle talks about the ego as the voice in the head. I had, I had no prior exposure to Eckhart Tolle, I had never heard of him. And for I’m sure people in your audience have, but on the off chance that anybody hasn’t. He’s basically this mega best selling self help guru, beloved by Oprah and lots of other celebrities. And my producers argument was, he was making a cultural impact at that time, we got to check them out and maybe do a story about him. So I said, Okay, I’ll think about it. So I ordered his book. And when I started to read the book, bear in mind, no prior exposure to anything like Eckhart Tolle, or Eastern spirituality at all. I, I thought it was, Can I swear on it? Can I swear? Yeah, no problem. I thought it was total bullshit. I mean, I just I was completely repulsed. He, you know, he uses all this pseudo scientific language, and these, you know, like vibe, where he’s talking about vibrational fields and all this other crap and making these grandiose claims about how he had a spiritual awakening, and then lived on park benches in London and a state of bliss for two years. And that and then he says that he’s going to provoke a spiritual awakening in you, the reader. It was a lot for me to take. And his style of writing is again, for a skeptical guy like me, it’s intensely annoying. So I was, you know, reading it and not happy with my producer for having suggested it. But then, I as I persevered, he started to unfurl. This thesis about the human condition that I had never heard before, which is which had to do with the ego, the voice in the head. He argues that we all have this voice in our heads by which he’s not referring to schizophrenia or hearing voices. He’s talking about the voice that chases you out of bed in the morning and is yammering at you all day long, and has you constantly wanting stuff or not wanting stuff, or not caring about things, or judging other people or comparing yourself to other people are criticizing yourself. And when you’re unaware of this voice in the head, he argues, it yanks you around. It’s why you’re eating when you’re not hungry, or losing your temper when it’s not in your best interest, or checking your BlackBerry when your children are trying to talk to you. And this was a huge aha moment, a huge aha moment for me, because for two reasons, one, it just struck me as intuitively true. And two, I realized that it was this voice in the head that was responsible for all the things I was most embarrassed about in my life, like going to war zones without thinking about the consequences, getting depressed upon returning home without even knowing I was depressed, and then blindly self medicating with coke and ecstasy. And at this point, I was convinced that my producer was right, we should, we should check them out.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Just to comment on this voice in the head thing. We’ll probably get into more of this kind of discussion later. But I just did a bid a woman yesterday, and I’ve interviewed people before, who say that the voice in their head has completely stopped now, they don’t think. And you know, I tried to press her about it. I say, Well, if I if I asked you a question, and you just answered it in your mind, instead of speaking it out loud, or if I asked you to count from one to 10, in your mind aren’t those thoughts? And even that it was hard to hard to pin her down on but I’ve spoken to a number of people who seem to have awakens so profoundly if that’s awakening, that their their mind is like a placid pond. And the only thoughts which arise are thoughts, which are actually useful and germane to the situation. And otherwise, the mind stays silent. I don’t know if that’s the way Tollway functions. But there are people like that out there apparently, at least by their own description.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I mean, it may be the way totally functions. And there’s another there’s a guy named Gary Weber. I don’t know if you’ve, I’m interviewing. Yeah. Okay. So Gary Weber makes this claim that
Rick Archer: he does. I had a big argument with him about that. I said, you got to think or you’re talking to me, and thoughts precede action, you know, so there must be some thought that gives rise to the speech, but I could never come nail him on it.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, these people are making claims about their internal reality that are hard to verify. I mean, one of the interesting things that’s happening now in neuroscience is that you have this sort of young renegade group of neuroscientists, they call themselves the Shang guerrillas. And there they are at various institutions like Yale and Harvard, and brown. And these are, you know, practicing Buddhist neuroscientists who are interested in liberation. And I think, you know, I know that they’re interested in seeing whether you can find the brain signatures for certain forms of awakening. And I find that extremely, extremely compelling. But for now, we have to either believe or not believe these people making these claims. And the only the only the only way I found to gauge it is just the smell test. You know, do does their personal comportment jibe with the claim they’re making? And sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Rick Archer: Did Tolle’s, when you met him?
Dan Harris: Yeah, I have to say, you know, he’s one of these guys who. So first of all, that answer I can answer on two levels. One, my, the way I felt in the moment, and the way I feel in retrospect, what I felt at the moment was, I was totally confused. Because he, he doesn’t seem like he’s full of shit. But a lot of the things he says are crazy, or at least seemed crazy to me. And he’s capable of saying something really incisive, and within the same sentence, veering directly into cuckoo town. So like, I’m, I’m having a pleasant chat with him on the elevator after the interview. And I mentioned that I asked him how old he is. He says, he’s in his 60s and I say, Oh, you look younger. And he says, oh, yeah, well, I basically haven’t aged since I had my spiritual awakening at age 29. So, to me, that sounds a little crazy, and especially to me at that time, who again, was not really, you know, in this world yet in the world in which you and I now, sort of marinate most of our time. So but in retrospect, there’s nothing about him that that seems to me like he’s a shyster or is full of crap or really just cares about the money or something like that. I I don’t, you know, again, this is this is, this is only worth this isn’t worth much because it’s just one man’s opinion. He just didn’t strike me as somebody who’s pulling the wool over other people’s eyes or even his own eyes. necessarily,
Rick Archer: yeah, I just wanted to make a comment on the on the cuckoo town thing, which is that and I thought about this a lot as I was reading your book, which is that one man’s mysticism is another man’s everyday reality. And throughout history, people have had mystical experiences or lived perpetually in a state, which was so far beyond the ordinary in terms of what most people experienced, that descriptions of it would have seemed really far fetched, you know, and they were persecuted sometimes for describing their experience, murdered, killed. And yet, it’s all a matter of societal norms. You know, I mean, if we lived in a society in which pretty much everybody experienced the world that way, it would be no big deal. We’d all take it for granted. But these people are outliers. And so they sound strange from the perspective of conventional reality.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely I mean, my suspicion is that you’re absolutely right. And that’s why I was trying to differentiate between the me in 2009, who was meeting Eckhart Tolle, and the me who’s talking to you now in 2014, because you have to give me a break the old me because I had no exposure to mysticism or Eastern spirituality at all, I just thought he was just that he was. What’s that? I say, you were just kind of confronting this, like, you know, cold turkey for the first time, you know, yes. He just struck me as a strange little German guy. So I didn’t, you know, either. I didn’t know what to make of him. Right. And I, but I, where I come to in the over the course of the book is that yeah, maybe he is right. I mean, I don’t know. And I know a lot of very smart people who I do trust, who say, you know, he could be telling you the truth. And, and that has really forced me to reconsider a lot of my early assumptions. In fact, one of the it’s the big theme in the book, which is that my, I’m like the anti blink, you know that Malcolm Gladwell book, blink, but the realism of our subconsciousness. For me, my reflexive judgments are usually dead wrong. And and over the course of the book, I’m just wrong and wrong and wrong again. And one of the things I have to admit toward the end as I on some levels, I was probably wrong about Eckhart Tolle. I still think he’s a little odd, but he may be he may be right, and one of the things that may make him seem odd to somebody like me, is that he’s talking to us potentially, from a different state of a very different state of mind. And, and that there’s a barrier, it’s hard for him to communicate over this gulf over this chasm of the quote unquote, a from from an awakened perspective to the rest of us who are you know, who, who’s you know, we’re our hair’s on fire.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And that’s a perennial problem. I think, my former teacher, marshy, Mahesh Yogi always used to say not knowledge crumbles on the hard rocks of ignorance. And, you know, that he said that anybody like Jesus, or Buddha or any of these people, they speak from their level of consciousness, but the listeners can only listen from their level of consciousness. And inevitably, there’s a gulf, and something is lost in the in the transmission. And then what makes it worse is that, you know, after they die, and it begins getting handed on from one generation to the next, it’s like that party game, you know, telephone where you whisper something, and it goes around the room. And by the time it gets back to you, it’s completely different than the original message. So there’s this sort of, you know, confusion and distortion that takes place over over time. And so you have modern religions, which are probably the remnants of somebody’s experience 2000 years ago, or whatever, but which in many cases bear little resemblance to what that guy was actually saying, or, you know, can’t possibly evoke what he was actually experiencing.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I mean, that’s yeah, you end up with calcified dogma and a persecution of those who don’t buy into every part of it. I mean, that’s a big, that’s a big part of totallys writing, actually, he sort of re theologizing his Jesus, which is, you know, makes him controversial in some circles.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Just shanties doing that too. These days. I sent you a video audio of him.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I was actually when you when we started Skyping I was actually listening to the first part of that cool. I don’t know. We’ve got a cat. Yeah,
Rick Archer: very nice. We I used to do that to our cats both died unfortunately of old age, but they always use divers just to hold them up during the interviews on a walk across my desk.
Dan Harris: Yes, there will be one or or another cat.
Rick Archer: I love cats. One thing you did say about totally which I think is important point is that he he articulates truth extremely well but doesn’t give you anything to do about it. And I do think that a lot of teachers tend to do that. In some cases. They articulate it so well that it kind of evoke Certain experience in the listeners and gives them a flavor of what they’re talking about, and maybe in some actually triggers an awakening. But for the most part, it’s it’s kind of like, you know, describing a meal you had eaten and how delicious it was it doesn’t nourish the listener. And you have to have that experience for yourself.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I mean, so again, I’ll differentiate between the old me and then the the sort of newer 10% evolved me. The old me felt like he had pointed out that my hair was on fire and steadfastly refused to give me a fire extinguisher because my first question to him was, alright, I buy it, we have a voice in our head, what do we do about it? And he sort of looked at me and said, well, take one conscious breath. And I was like, what, what does that mean? What what does that mean? What do you and I gave him like a bunch of bites at the apple to explain the what do you do about the voice in the head, and he just didn’t give me any actionable advice, which was extremely frustrating. He then went on to claim that he never gets into a bad mood, no matter what, and, and all the end of all this stuff about he doesn’t age. So I mean, I kind of walked out of there. No, I walked out of there really frustrated. But but, you know, determined to try to get answers to this. And that’s what threw me deeper into the self help universe, which is not a pretty place.
Rick Archer: Why isn’t it a pretty place? Because it’s filled with a lot of these. A lot of nonsense.
Dan Harris: Yeah, not only nonsense, I think dangerous nonsense. Well, yeah, that
Rick Archer: sweat lodge guy and all kinds of things like that which have killed people.
Dan Harris: Just examples, that yeah, those are extreme examples. But I think there’s there’s a common danger, which is this power of positive thinking, which is demonstrative, demonstrably untrue. It is not true that you can solve all of your problems with the power of positive thinking. And the flip side, the inverse of the logic, blames the victim. So if you’re born in a refugee camp in Africa, does that mean you were thinking negatively in utero? If you survived the earthquake in Port au Prince, Haiti in 2010? Does that mean you and all of your neighbors were thinking incorrectly and and you’ve brought about this horrible earthquake? No, it’s ridiculous. And and it also can lead to people getting sick. And when they get sick, they don’t do anything about it, like traditional like, go to go to a doctor, they don’t do anything traditional like that. They just try to rely on positive thinking. And I don’t think that’s a good way to go. And so yes, you do have these extreme cases of people getting hurt, because I followed self help gurus, but I think you just have this, this huge societal, negative societal impact of people latching on to this idea that everything can be fixed through the power of your mind. And I think it’s just bullshit. Yeah, I tend
Rick Archer: to agree with you. There may be some nuanced arguments that we could throw in there. But and, you know, and some would actually argue that the people in the earthquake, they didn’t do anything bad in this life, but it was past lives, that they’re not reaping the fruits of. And that all gets very,
Dan Harris: yeah, I’m not I mean, yeah, well, I’m a little bit more open to karma, just like a little bit more. But I mean, I covered that earthquake. And there were a lot of little kids who I saw dead on the side of the street, and I’m not willing to chalk that up to their past life misdeeds, and I’m definitely not willing to chalk it up to negative thinking. And there, I’m not saying that optimism has no value. Optimism has, there’s plenty of value. And I’m not saying that we should all be wallowing in negativity. I’m just saying that the magical thinking that we’re being sold this idea that, you know, just, you know, just think positive thoughts all the time, and you can get diamond necklaces, as is actually depicted in the DVD of the secret, right, you know, the you got somebody and they, they, they they manifest a diamond necklace, or they’ve cured their cancer. I just don’t think that’s a useful thing to be telling people. At the very least it’s it’s harmless nonsense at the worst. It’s, it’s dangerous.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I don’t think it has anything to do with true spirituality. Because to my understanding and experience, spirituality, actually has to do not with the content of your thoughts, like I’m going to think positively here and there, but actually shifting the whole context in which you think, in other words, shifting your whole framework, your whole state of consciousness, to the point where you’re actually thinking thoughts from an entirely different level than you were when you were kind of caught up on a more superficial agitated level of, of activity or mental activity all the time and and you know if that can be accomplished. And then thinking can be Milan or when he was even positive, but it can be more appropriate and fruitful in a spontaneous way without having to make a big fuss about it all the time. And it can actually yield results much more effectively and readily.
Dan Harris: Yes, but when you when you make that paradigm shift, start interrupting that paradigm internal sort of paradigm shift, maybe paradigm isn’t the right word, just the internal shift that you’re describing? Yeah, I think the type of thoughts that come can change. I also think though, there are some, there are some more cognitive based spiritual practices like loving kindness meditation, or compassion meditation, where you are really using thought that can that do kind of that do use thought to sort of nudge that shift a little bit. And, and I think those are very interesting as well, yeah.
Rick Archer: And Mantra, meditation does that, too, in a way, I mean, you’re using a thought it doesn’t have any meaning. But it’s actually evoking or creating a resulting in a shift in your whole level of consciousness, your whole kind of a state of experience. But I enjoyed the bits in your book about the compassion, meditation, and how profoundly that influenced you, it taught me some things about that, that I hadn’t really known. And, you know, you mentioned the Shangri La boys a little earlier. So, and the term neuroplasticity is very much in vogue. So you know, the kinds of things you were doing in the book, we haven’t really talked about that too much yet. And, and actually, you know, changed your brain. And, you know, if that could actually, if there are ways of actually measuring that there were physiological changes would be seeing you have a very different brain than you did five years ago.
Dan Harris: Well, I mean, you know, what I, there are ways to see whether your brain has changed on some levels, like
Rick Archer: EEG and stuff, but they’re very sort of inaccurate, or they’re, they’re kind of like they have they only get maybe a fraction of what’s really, what’s really going on.
Dan Harris: I think, in hindsight, you know, from the vantage point of a couple centuries out, they’ll be seen as extremely rudimentary question. But MRI technology has allowed us to see that the brain does change as a result of, of meditation of meditation. But what it hasn’t, you know, was talking about before was the idea that you could somehow find a brain signature for Enlightenment or awakening, we haven’t done that. But we have gone far enough to show that short daily doses of meditation can literally make the gray matter in key areas of your brain grow or shrink. So that’s very, very exciting. And for skeptics like me, it can be enough to make you a drop. In my case, my very hardened resistance to something like meditation, which I had always considered to be the apex of New Age, nonsense. And once you hear that time, it can really provoke you to set aside your your misconceptions and preconceptions, and give it a try.
Rick Archer: Yeah, there’s a Phil here in my town named Fred Travis, who has been doing research on TM meditators for decades. And he does claim to be actually defining the neurophysiology of higher states of consciousness, people who are sort of established in a permanent state of pure awareness and stuff, and he’s noting unique brainwave signatures and all but that’s a whole nother story. But there is some research that verifies that. So, so you got onto there was a whole episode of Deepak which I thought was kind of interesting. And it’s I know Deepak pretty well, I co taught the course in which he learned to meditate. And so I knew him back before it was famous. And all I just wanted to, in his defense, I just want to say that you know, he’s a good businessman. And, you know, there’s a lot of hype surrounding him. But there’s, there’s really a sincere core to the guy in terms of the ardency of his interest in spirituality and the and his the genuineness of his desire to actually make some kind of impact on the culture.
Dan Harris: So again, I’ll sort of divide I’ll do the divide again, between my my impressions of him at the time, which was a while ago, and my, my, my conclusions now. My impressions of him at the time were I liked him a lot. He’s very funny, very sharp. He’s got this he’s a he’s a, he’s a hustler. And he’s impressive. He’s built this big empire. But I but I had a hard time swallowing some of his claims about being imperturbable and immune from stress. And I don’t know if he calls himself enlightened but something in that neighborhood because I saw him with my own two eyes. Really, you know, like yet worked up and not a very serene weigh? No his argument was is that you know, he I think he would say that I can be passionate but not stressed but and fine. That’s his argument, but I’m just saying for me, what I saw seemed pretty stressed.
Rick Archer: I listened to that that was the thing with Sam Harris the debate. YEAH. Jimmy Houston. Yeah, I thought he was getting a little worked up myself he Deepak Chilean, getting a little excited
Dan Harris: here. He gets really excited he gets it. Also, if you spend time with them, you know, his son made a documentary about it. I just saw that the other night. Yeah. You see in the documentary, no, this is a spiritual guru who checks his BlackBerry all the time. Now, after in his defense, after that movie was made, he saw that he was doing that, and he stopped. So let me then transition to, you know, my more charitable view of him now after having really, you know, grown in this world a lot more, which is that I don’t know what’s going on in his head. And his claims may very well be true. And who am I to say that it’s, it’s, you know, that it’s not that he’s not as serene as he says he is. And I certainly don’t doubt what you said, which is the sincerity, his sincerity to to drive these concepts, the concepts that he cares about deeply, like the mind and body connection, et cetera, et cetera, into the public consciousness. And if he makes a few bucks along the way, I got no beef with that. Yeah, he’s making a few. Yeah. And that’s fine. I’m a capitalist, I have no problem with that. Yeah. And I just got, I just finally to say he is anybody who’s ever spent any time with him, that guy is just immensely likable, there’s just no way to get around it. I mean, he is a really charming character.
Rick Archer: Yeah, he’s a sweet guy. Couple of things I want to cover with you. And I don’t want to run out of time, I don’t know how strict we are on the time. But um, there’s, there’s your whole experience with, you know, getting into Buddhist meditation and all which people can read about in the book, but it was interesting and your ordeal, and retreats, and so on. There’s that there’s the whole Hyde Zen chapter in your book, which I’d like to talk about a bit. And then I’d also like to cover a little bit, some of the points that Sam Harris brings out in his book be and since you’re friends with him and moderated that debate, you know, maybe we can touch upon some of that. I don’t know how we want to apportion the time, but um, maybe once you kind of give us a quick synopsis of your, in your dive into Buddhist meditation, and you know, the struggles you had with it and the successes you’ve had with it and how you feel it’s changed you. Okay, so
Dan Harris: after waiting around in the self help world, in a very frustrating in what was a very frustrating experience, my wife one night, or I guess at that point, she was my fiancee, and she may actually walk in the door at some point during the conversation. But she gave me a pair of books by a guy named Dr. Mark Epstein, who is a shrink here in New York City where I live, and also a Buddhist. And she said, You know, I read these books years ago, it reminded my, what you’re talking about with the voice in the head, and all this stuff kind of reminds me vaguely of what I recall from having read these books. So here, check them out, maybe that’ll help. So I started to read one of his books that night and had another huge aha moment where I realized that all the stuff that I liked most from Eckhart Tolle really seemed to be lifted directly from the Buddha. And 2500 years before totally was cashing His royalty checks. It was this guy who most of us know as like the fat guy who’s out in front of massage parlors, who appears to have very clearly articulated this whole thing of the voice in the head. He called it the monkey mind. And his argument was that our minds are like furry little Givens constantly lurching through this forest of thoughts and impulses and urges and desires to latching on to things that don’t last and, and, you know, hurling ourselves from one hit of pleasant experience to the next never fully satisfied. And again, I was like, Wow, this this is very, very interesting. And unlike Eckhart Tolle, the Buddha had a very explicit recommendation for dealing with the voice in the head. It was to meditate. Now I didn’t want to do that at all because I thought it was you know, I associated meditation with freaks and hippies and and people who live in yurts and are really into aromatherapy and we’re little finger cymbals and collect Cat Stevens records, et cetera, et cetera. So I bought every cultural stereo I
Rick Archer: don’t do any of those things, but I like Cat Stevens, but continue.
Dan Harris: Okay, well, you forgive him. No, I have no beef with Cat Stevens either. I just I pick on him for just because he’s a he’s easy to pick on. But anyway, I was very much opposed the idea of doing meditation, but then I learned about the science, which shows that, as we discussed, it can, it’s been shown to literally change key parts of your brain and lower your blood pressure and boost your immune system, etc, etc. One small caveat, I just want to say that the science is in the embryonic stages right now. And it’s been by knowing means is it dispositive, but it’s certainly strongly suggestive that that there’s a wide range of benefits. And then I learned that, you know, in order to meditate, you don’t necessarily need to join a group, or pay any fees, or sit in a funny position, or wear a special outfit, or anything like that, and or believe in anything. And so once I had those two key pieces of information on board, I decided to start meditating. And I started with 510 minutes a day. And that was five years ago. And now, you know, I do 30 minutes a day, I go on retreats once in a while. And, you know, as you can tell from the title of my book, I won’t claim that it’s, you know, magically reoriented my entire universe. My life is not a nonstop parade of unicorns and rainbows. But I am, roughly speaking in an absurd estimate about 10%. Happier. And I do also think that that that 10% compounded annually, you know, if you think of the happiness set point, we all have a set point, this is a psychologically well accepted term that when bad things happen, so we get a little sad, but then we tend to migrate back to the setpoint. Good things happen, we get happy, but then we tend to come back to our setpoint. What I found was meditation is that the good the upturns, I’m enjoying more and the bad stuff. I’m not wallowing it as much I’m not making my suffering worse than it needs to be. And on top of that, the setpoint itself is going up. Yeah. So that’s what I think meditation has done.
Rick Archer: I’d use the same description over the years, just like this sort of wavy line, but the wavy line is generally trending upwards, you know, yes. Yeah. Cool. And do you find that meditation has gotten easier for you to practice?
Dan Harris: No, I mean, I just did my 35 minutes. No, it was terrible. So it’s hard, it’s still really hard. It’s definitely easier. There’s no question about it, it gets easier over time, not necessarily a straight line trajectory. But you know, you get you can’t help but get better at it, if you do it with some ardor, and persistence. And I think I can bring both of those to bear. I don’t know that my mind is naturally a congenial place for these practices. But I am, I’m into it. And I’m, and I’m committed. But you know, I have daily sittings, like the one I just had that where it was a battle, I kept, you know, almost falling asleep and wandering. But that, you know, I try to say to people all the time, I’m sure that people on this, who tuned into your website already know this. But the point isn’t necessarily, especially when you’re a beginner to reach some sort of special state, the point is to, to, to get lost and start again, get lost, and start again, over and over and over. And that’s the bicep curl for the brain. And that’s what shows up on the brain scans. So that’s what that’s what my practice is generally like. And that
Rick Archer: happens to me, after 46 years of meditation, the mind wanders off, and you just come back, mind wanders off, you just come back. But you mentioned in your book that some of your best meditations, at least on retreats were kind of very effortless, you didn’t feel like you were battling or struggling. And I would suggest that as a general principle, that if you’re kind of fighting the mind, there’s going to it’s going to create tension and conflict. And it’s like, if you want to calm a pan of water that has little ripples on it, you start pushing on the waves, you know, you’re just going to create more ripples, but if you just let it settle down and be kind of gentle about it, it’ll kind of settled out of its own accord as you proceed.
Dan Harris: But I would say two things to that one is on retreat, you know, as you know, you’re the mind has the opportunity in this very special container to get concentrated and so yes, the the practice can take on more effortless feel. And then the trick over time, you know, for you know, rank and file meditator like me who’s not in any way a master is not to, you know, to get lost, but then to come back in a way that isn’t so judgmental or harsh or yanking yourself back into it. And to note and so really, it’s your kind of, I do get a lot of I do notice a lot of judgment around getting lost but then it just the noting of it can take the teeth out of it so you weren’t pressing down on the water in the pan so hard. Yeah.
Rick Archer: It happens to everybody. I mean, Joseph Goldstein, when he meditates he probably wanders off and comes back so you know don’t beat up on yourself.
Dan Harris: You Yes, that’s what I think. Well, and if you do just notice that the self judgmental thoughts were unsigned and mindfulness of them can check and declaw them in a way.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Somebody wants to treat all thoughts as if they’re in Japanese. Yeah. Yeah. What was gonna say I forgot. Okay, well, let’s switch on to something, maybe it’ll come back to me.
Dan Harris: You wanted to talk about hide the Zen?
Rick Archer: Yeah, I did, actually, you went through a phase, maybe we’re out of it, where you felt like you’d kind of lost your edge, you know, you were you’d lost your aggression, your motivation, you were kind of laying back and letting the universe just, you know, flow along and you were starting to actually lose professional opportunities at ABC. So I thought that was interesting, because I think it’s something that a lot of spiritual people go through. And I think spiritual development is in some respects, like Eckert on the park bench for two years, he was in a state where he had not yet integrated, the realization that it dawned for him. And it took him years to actually integrate it, where he could be a more dynamic person, you know, in, at least in terms of his own personality. So I think it’s something everybody goes through. And that’s why I wanted to bring it up. It’s worth addressing. And there’s this kind of balancing act that takes place between the relinquishing of the sort of hard edged, my narrowly focused individual will, which has been driving you all your life, that does begin to soften and dissolve and broaden out, and the sort of replacement of that with something else, which you know, can leave you just as motivated, but not from such a kind of a bound perspective.
Dan Harris: Yeah, for me, the whole the whole journey of the book is trying to square this circle between. I don’t know, I’m mixing my metaphors here. But it’s true. It’s trying to find a way to have ambition coexist with contentment, happiness, spiritual evolution, whatever you want to call it. And maybe you keep a picture of Deepak on your wall yet? Well, right, exactly. He’s the guy, here’s the guy who claims to have figured it out. Because he is super successful. And he says, you know, always in the present moment, and never upset, if you believe him. And just, you know, for my own. Again, my own smell test, I didn’t quite see that. I didn’t see that being true. Anyway, but I now think, you know, who knows, anyway, I didn’t see a model in his world that could apply to mine. So But ultimately, in the Buddhist world, I did find some good advice. I mean, I did kind of stumble, as you admitted, excuse me, as you alluded to, I, we got a new boss at ABC a couple of years ago, and he’s a really hard charging guy. And I didn’t really handle his advent very well. And he, we got kind of into a negative cycle where I think he thought that I was really wasn’t firing on all cylinders, in terms of my work motivation. And every time he I, he passed me over for an assignment or something like that, the more resigned I got, and it just kind of went into a negative spiral. Over Over time, though, if this very boss ended up working with me, you know, I went to see him and he helped me sort of diagnose the problem and help me resuscitate my career a little bit, and what I came to as the thing that I think really can, and I don’t want to give away the whole book, or just bore you with every single nuance of of this exploration, but the one of the things that I found that really helped me get here is the idea of non attachment to results, you know, it is, it is quite natural for people in the world like me, who, you know, I have a robust career and I care a lot about it. And I want to do well, by selfish measures I want to do well, I want to be successful, and I want to get good stories, and I want to make a good salary and, and blah, blah, blah, and also by sort of not so selfish measures, like I think this job is very, very important. I think journalists play an important role in society, I think we can inform people and I want to be good at that I want to get the right stories, I want to tell them in a sensitive way, I want to wake the world up to certain problems that I see, etcetera, etcetera. So there are a bunch of levels on which I am ambitious. And, but but at the same time, what what a practice like Buddhism can help you do is to realize that, you know, we live in a world characterized by entropy and impermanence and we’re not in control, and all we can do is the best we can do. And then the results are kind of up to the universe and That’s a really that has made me much more resilient and effective. Because I can I recognize that I can try really hard and do my best that sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. And so I’ve got I’ve starred on lots of, for example, I do a lot of investigative reporting. And I will get really excited about a piece and I’ll work for on it for a long time, there’s a story that I’ve worked on for years, and you know, it’s just not going to happen. We just don’t have it. And, and I have to live with that. And then then I work really hard on things like the book, for example. And I assumed that the book was going to go nowhere. And then it turned out to, to be reasonably successful to my immense delight. And so in both cases, I think I handle the ups and downs better than the old me would have. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. If my wife comes in, she’ll give you the 90% still a moron speech. A lot of wives talk to each other. Yeah, where exactly. So in fact, my brother, my little my younger brother, proposed that I renamed my book from deeply flawed to merely flawed. So I’m not claiming to be perfected, but I have these principles. And this practice has definitely helped me get better at continuing to be hard charging in the conventional world in which many of us exist, while also not making myself more miserable than I need to be.
Rick Archer: Yeah, there was a comedy troupe out in the, I guess, late 60s, early 70s, called FIRESIGN theatre, and they had an album entitled, we’re all bozos on this bus.
Dan Harris: Yes, I like that.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Now, you know, with regard to the hide the zen point, there’s a verse in the Bhagavad Gita, which addresses this exactly, it says, You have control over action alone, never over it’s fruits live not for the fruits of action, nor attach yourself to inaction. So which you are kind of doing a little bit, you’re getting a little bit attached to the inaction phase. And so you know, that implies that you can focus like a son of a gun and be very motivated and all but you kind of end up functioning in a way that you’re not clinging to the fruits of the action, you’re just, you know, you really are as Eckhart Tolle advocates living in the in the now in the present, you know, doing your best with each moment, because that’s all you have really is what’s happening now. And but you really don’t have any control over the outcome, as you just articulated.
Dan Harris: Yes, I that’s all really, I agree with everything you just said. And I think that it makes the doing much more enjoyable. Because you’re not so focused on the outcome that you can’t, you know, pay attention to what you’re doing right now. And by the way, you get better at the, at whatever you’re doing, because you’re actually more focused on whatever’s happening right now, you’re also deriving more pleasure from the interactions with other human beings. sanding down the edges of your own ego, can make you more pleasant to be around, it can make you enjoy the success of others more, all of which creates a really virtuous cycle, I think, and even from a selfish standpoint, because then people want to see you succeed, and they want to help you succeed, and all that I think, has made my life a lot better.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you know, I think there’s something advantageous about an experiential approach such as you have taken me, you know, because I mean, there are people who do a lot of what I would call mood making, they read the spiritual precepts, and they, they kind of try to evoke a mood of, oh, I don’t really care about the outcome of things. I’m just sort of mellow, and I’m taking it easy, and they can actually get kind of hypnotized into a very, kind of a permanent psychological state of, you know, unreality, I think, and, and, in my opinion, higher states of consciousness, if they’re genuine, are natural, as natural as breathing as natural as ordinary waking state is you just live them without thinking about them all day long. But you’re actually functioning from a different state in which you kind of do justice to the principles that are taught and all these precepts of spiritual teachings. But it’s, it’s kind of in your blood, it’s in your bones. It’s genuine, it’s spontaneous, you’re not copying, and you’re not adapting some kind of mood all day long in order to retain a particular style of functioning.
Dan Harris: Yeah, well, there’s some of these people if I understand you correctly, the people that you’re describing can also be really annoying. Yeah. Reminds me of a cartoon I saw on The New Yorker recently, where somebody says I’ve been gluten free for 15 minutes and I’m already annoying, you know that what I’m trying to do is to knock quote unquote spirituality off of its sort of patchouli scented pedestal and put it in the world of you know, regular people who you know are ambitious, either when it comes to their career, or parenting or volunteering or whatever want to do something concrete in the world and don’t want all this froofy language Yeah, and
Rick Archer: which has nothing to do With the actual experience originality points through that’s just all dross that’s kind of clung to it, you know barnacles over over time.
Dan Harris: Right which and exactly and and we don’t need the accoutrement, we actually a regular schmo like me, who you know, wears makeup and has people putting hairspray on him can do this stuff. And if I can do it, anybody can, is my point.
Rick Archer: Hence the name of my show, which you asked me about before we started recording Buddha at the Gas Pump. The implication is that, that in this day and age, there are ordinary people whom you wouldn’t pick out in a crowd, who are actually living in a very Buddha like state of consciousness, but living ordinary lives and integrating it quite well.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I, you know, you in the discussion we had before we started recording, you were saying that you’re seeing a lot of this, and we kind of quibble a little bit about whether it’s an epidemic of awakening or not, and then you qualified to say that it’s kind of like the beginnings of an epidemic. And I think there’s something there. I think that you can see it by the fact that that meditation is now being adopted by corporate executives and elite athletes, and scientists and lawyers and pop stars, and news anchors. And I, you know, this is probably, in my view, going to be the next big public health revolution. And unlike past public health revolutions, like oral hygiene, or going to the gym, this is one that has the potential to shape and change behavior on a large scale. And so that makes me very, very enthusiastic, especially given all the negative news stories we cover all the time, like, climate change, and war, et cetera, et cetera.
Rick Archer: I think you’re right. And when I said that it was an epidemic, your objection was that? Well, you know, in my job, I deal with a lot of nasty stuff all the time. So I don’t see the evidence of it very strongly. And I would suggest that everything that’s going on in the world, whether global warming, or the Palestinian conflict in the Middle East or anything, I mean, what’s creating large groups of people behaving in a certain way, and, you know, and so if you get right down to, it’s like, if if the world were a forest, and the people were trees, the forest is pretty dry and gray and sickly looking, you know, there’s, and but if you ask yourself, why get right down to oh, well, each individual tree isn’t doing so well, you know, each of them needs some kind of deeper nourishment. And then if we can nourish enough of them, the whole forest, when viewed from above, will begin to appear green. So I really think that all the world’s problems, ultimately boil down to individual minds, multiplied 7 billion fold, and that the solution of those problems will be the actual transformation of those minds to a more, if we will, if you will, enlightened way of functioning.
Dan Harris: I agree. I agree. Or at least I hope you’re right, let’s just say,
Rick Archer: and there’s evidence that that’s starting to happen. Now, there’s one more thing I want to talk to you about before I run out of time. Are we out of time? Are you cool on
Dan Harris: I need to jump pretty soon, because I’m supposed to be doing a Twitter chat with a bunch of teachers. So maybe make this the last question. Is that alright, I Yeah, enjoying this, I hate to I hate to give it up.
Rick Archer: Yeah, we can even do another one someday, if you like, okay. It’s just the whole Sam Harris thing. He fascinates me. And I’ve read several of his books, I intend to read them all, I hope to interview him one of these days. And ironically, I’m not an atheist. But I just think he’s brilliant. And I love the way he thinks, and the fact that he’s an ardent, dedicated, Buddhist meditator. And that is a Buddha. He’s not a Buddhist, dedicated practitioner seeking deeper spiritual experience, I think is really interesting, in light of his kind of philosophical perspective on the world. But he’s, I think he’s much more. He’s, he’s onto something really valuable for him. Here’s a quote, there’s a clearly there’s clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life. But we will find that requires no faith in untestable propositions for us to do this. And I have a number of quotes from what we can just go off of that one. I think he nails it right there. There’s, you’ve heard the term spiritual, but not religious. And I think that implies that there are a lot of people these days who are really interested in testing hypotheses that are, let’s say, proposed by spirituality, and they don’t care about believing in anything per se. They want to have direct concrete experience. So riff on that for just a bit.
Dan Harris: You know, I am I’m friends with Sam. And I’m a big admirer of his, he goes a little bit further in his atheism. I’m more of an agnostic, respectful agnostic. But I do think he makes a really interesting case, which is and again, I’m not endorsing the case, per se, but I think it’s fascinating which Is that that that spirit that we that the world deserves a spirituality divorced from religion? Yes. That that we can have spiritual experiences, but we don’t need to extrapolate from our internal experiences to some book from the Bronze Age being literally true. That’s his argument. You know, I this is an argument which I don’t necessarily take aside, but I do think it’s a really interesting one, especially given as you said, where we are in a society right now where we’re seeing so many people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, or as the pollsters call them, the nuns and O N. E. ‘s, people who are not affiliated with any with any particular church or religion. And I think this is an argument that’s going to resonate with, with a lot of people, there’s no question about it.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I find myself agreeing with just about everything he says in his books, but And yet, at the same time, I, I am not an atheist, I, I firmly believe in God, but it’s not like I believe in God, I believe God is something that can be experienced. But that’s a whole nother discussion. And we haven’t, we don’t have time for it. But I believe that somebody like Sam has lit and has lit a fuse that’s coming along, like one of those old rose Roadrunner cartoons. And eventually, it’s going to pop his bubble of, it’s going to shake his worldview, because he’s going to start tapping into levels of experience that actually begin to verify some of the things that the mystics were talking about. And it’s, he’s not going to be able to sort of hang out with, you know, with the hardcore skeptic crowd, very comfortable there, this is gonna get booed more often than he already has.
Dan Harris: Well, I mean, I would say two things. One is that, you know, he, this argument makes him on pot, the fact that he’s a meditator who believes in, quote, unquote, spiritual experiences, he would argue that he doesn’t really like the word spiritual, but that given a poverty of language, there isn’t any other term that is quite so accurate. You know, I saw him give a speech. It many, many years ago, I think in like 2006, or seven, at the American Atheist convention, where he got a standing ovation at the beginning. And at the end, when he started talking about his meditation habit, he got booed. So it already is making him less popular in these circles. But as to whether you think he’s, you know, I think his push back to you on this notion that he’s lit a fuse that somehow is going to challenge his worldview, I think he would argue that that what happens in the subject subjective expanse of your own mind, you can’t then extrapolate that, to making claims about concrete reality about there being a God or a Creator. Any experience you have can’t be used to make larger claims about the universe, is his argument.
Rick Archer: And my key rebuttal to that would be that the humaneness nervous system is the most sophisticated instrument that we’re aware of, more so than the Large Hadron Collider, for instance. And if we really understand how to use it, it can actually enable us to experientially verify things that we might that might be beyond our current ability to imagine.
Dan Harris: I’ll leave it there.
Rick Archer: Okay, well, thank you. Let me wrap it up. And maybe we’ll have another set it maybe we’ll have another session one of these days, I could kind of give it some thought and come up with a whole new batch of topics. So we don’t you know, so we’re not redundant. Yeah, but I’ve been speaking with Sam Har.., Dan Harris, your brother from another mother with Dan Harris, who has written the, you know, very well written and entertaining book 10%. happier, I enjoyed it a lot. And this interview is one in an ongoing series, I think Dan is going to be 243 or something. If you’d like to listen to more of them, go to batgap.com Bat gap. And there you’ll find about four different indices alphabetical chronological, topical, and in terms of favorites. You’ll also find a donate button, a place to sign up to be notified by email of future interviews, a discussion group that has formed around each interview, and a bunch of other stuff. So check it out. batgap.com that is also linked to an audio podcast. And thanks for listening or watching. Thank you again, Dan. And we’ll see you next week. Not you but everybody else.
Dan Harris: Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.
Rick Archer: All right. Thank you. Talk to you later. Bye.