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Dan Harris: A Meditating Maximalist

1 month ago by

Have you ever had a panic attack? Dan Harris did. Except it wasn’t like mine, which I had in the privacy of my home. It was on-air, as he was news anchoring one of the most popular shows in America.

So, looking for ways for this to never happen to him again was how Dan found meditation.

I have been fascinated by Dan Harris’s podcast and his book – his very down-to-earth approach to the often very woo-woo world of meditation and spirituality, speaks to me. His sense of humor, his self deprecation and honesty makes him a wonderful author to read, and a delightful guest.

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Dan Harris: A Meditating Maximalist

Pardon My French with Garance Doré
Dan Harris: A Meditating Maximalist

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pardon my french dan harris garance dore atelier dore photo

On what he wanted to do when he was a kid…
I knew I wanted to do something glamorous, and I had, in my mind, television news and the movies mixed up. I had them all in the same bucket. And I went to film school for a little while here in New York City, at NYU, long enough to realize that I had no talent for anything having to do with the movies.

On discovering meditation…
It was not neat and tidy. It was not like I had this conversation with the shrink and then I started meditating and everything was hunky dory. It actually took severals years and it started because a colleague recommended that I read a book by self-help author named Eckhart Tolle.

He was the first person I ever heard point out that we have a voice in our heads. He’s not talking about schizophrenia or hearing voices, he means our inner narrator, our blah, blah, blah all the time. Nobody had ever pointed that out to me before. And it just struck me so powerfully.

This is the first time in my life where I’ve ever been ahead of a curve, I started getting interested in meditation before it became popular and trendy!

On the analogy of meditation as the equivalent of going to the gym…
If you go to the gym and you’re not panting or sweating, you’re cheating! Same thing with meditation. It is challenging. Sometimes you’ll have a great run where it feels completely seamless and that’s true for meditation, too. Sometimes it’s really blissful, but you can’t expect that to happen every time, it’s not the way it goes!

On defining balance…
You always need balance but it’s just a question of how you define it and what the dosage is. I still am really intense and really ambitious, and I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool meditator now, if you are starting something that you truly believe in and you want it to succeed, I do think you need to kind of hurl yourself into it, and your definition of balance in those moments will shift.

On our inner narrator…
I have a friend who jokes about the fact that he feels like, when he thinks about the voice in his head, he’s been hijacked by the most boring person alive, who says the same shit over and over, most of it is negative and all of it is self-referential, and when you don’t know you’re having this non-stop conversation with yourself, it controls you. Your ego controls you…

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On what works for him…
I’m a maximalist, I think that when it comes to mental wellbeing, happiness, you should pull every lever you possibly can. Talk therapy, getting enough sleep, having good relationships in your life. having pets if that helps you, meditation, medication. All of the possible arrows in your quiver, you should use.

On meditation misconceptions…
There’s this misconception, a huge and pernicious misconception, that in order to mediate you have to clear your mind. Clearing your mind is impossible. You cannot stop thinking, unless you’re enlightened or dead. The goal of meditation is not to stop thinking, it’s not to clear your mind, it’s to focus your mind, often for just nano-seconds at a time, usually on your breath.

On the benefits of meditation…
One, it makes you just a little bit calmer. Again, not super blissed out, imperturbable, but just a little bit less frantic. Two, makes you more focused. And the third benefit is emotional reactivity, and another way to say that would be mindfulness. It’s the ability to see what’s happening in your head without getting carried away by it.

On not taking meditation too seriously…
I like to joke that there were no original ideas in my book, that I’m just the first person who’s writing about meditation and using the word “fuck” a lot.

What he loves about being on the news…
Garance: What do you love about it? Is it the fact that it’s the news and you’re influencing people’s lives? Or the part about being recognized? Is that something you got into?

Dan: Oh yeah. All of it. I think that motivation runs along a spectrum. If you’re being honest about your motivation it’s usually going to run on a spectrum from high-minded to really crass. On the crass end of the spectrum, when you to go sporting events and if you see people who realize the camera operator put their face on the jumbotron, they get so excited to see their faces. Imagine doing that for a living! So there is that, it is thrilling to be on TV and have people recognize you. There’s no doubt that that has been and still is, part of my motivation.

Dan Harris: A Meditating Maximalist

19 comments

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  • I’m so glad you talked about Mark Epstein! I’ve been a fan of his for quite a long time. I know it sounds corny, but listening to him speak is practically a spiritual experience in and of itself. Thank you for the post.

    Anita

  • I enjoy your joie de vivre disposition and your blog is always interesting. I especially liked the last podcast. I especially love that you are featuring more podcasts from a male point of view.

  • Alice R. June, 15 2017, 12:08 / Reply

    Garance!
    I did go to a meditation retreat a few months ago – definitely would be curious to hear your perspective, questions, hopes, and doubts on it.
    Very nice podcast, thank you for sharing!

  • Hi, No podcast this time? :/

  • Natalie June, 15 2017, 2:11

    Hi Lara, glitch is fixed and podcast player should be there now! Sorry for the inconvenience. Hope you enjoy the episode x

  • This is interesting. The whole voice in the head thing, though, is something we can learn to change. Cognitive behavior therapy. I suppose one could link it with meditation.
    It is true that we can control ourselves far more than we realize. I love babies. I had only one myself, but had I started earlier I would have had many more. So anytime we have visitors with babies, I always volunteer to put them to sleep. And the mother always says, oh, my baby is so fussy and surely won’t sleep in the arms of a stranger. I say, let me try. And I succeed. I can make myself so calm, so zen, it gets transmitted to the baby, who can’t help but nod off. To me, there is nothing more zen than holding a baby, even one screaming his/her head off, so I don’t freak out and just enjoy his/her smell and weight and soon he/she is fast asleep. I suppose it’s a kind of meditation.

  • Rachel Joy June, 15 2017, 7:09 / Reply

    Having suffered from panic attacks quite often up until 1 year ago, this meant a lot to me. It’s true, most don’t understand the gravitas of anxiety attacks and I have in the past experienced the odd comment insinuating the “it’s not that bad”.
    I am actually currently experiencing anxiety from some of the current events in London and I’m back on the inhaler!! however I have found that personal mindfulness has helped so mentally I’m stronger and this helps to curb the possibililty of a panic attack. That said, I have always tried with meditation, I do good for a while, and then lose touch. I won’t give up!
    Thanks Garance and Mark x

  • Albania June, 15 2017, 7:12 / Reply

    Dear Garance,

    I am so grateful for this post! I experienced anxiety attacks while doing my master abroad last year. I think that the worst part is that anxiety usually comes coupled with depressión… It was so hard for me to get through it (and I still am).

    Surprisingly, I found out that a lot of people also struggles with the same condition. I really appreciate that you speak up about it and that you make the conversation available for everybody. I know from experience that not talking about it and isolating oneself only makes things worst! So, THANK YOU SO MUCH! :)

    I really admire you, you truly are an inspiration to me! :)

    XOXO :)

  • Therese June, 15 2017, 11:24 / Reply

    I really enjoyed Dan’s perspective on panic attacks, meditation and mindfulness. I’m always interested in different takes.

    Mine started 25 years ago. I’ve learned so much. Even manage to appreciate how they make me honest with myself and what has triggered them.

    I recently started to write a book about learning to navigate panic attacks and anxiety. It’s wonderfully liberating.

    P.s. I think exercise releases serotonin which helps calm the body. Probably why it is recommended so much.

  • Super post qui n’en serait pas un sans toi, Garance! Je vais m’empresser de lire son bouquin, ça ne pourra que me faire grand bien!
    Belle journée!

  • Suzanne June, 16 2017, 7:57 / Reply

    Garance, tu es magnifique !

  • My favorite postcast, he is really great in sharing honestly his experiences, and Garance rebounds very nicely with her own experiences!
    Thank you; it is amazing to see more and more people becoming wise, not by theoritical knowledge, but by inner experiences!

    Perfect definition of Buddhism: a technic to transform our mind, this is the essence!

    Meditation produces serotonin, a neurotransmitterthat influences mood, feeling of well-being etc. etc. and lowers the levels of blood lactate, reducing anxiety attacks

    Definitely, Edgard Tolle is copy-pasting Buddhist ancien knowledge (and maybe others as well!).

    Shantideva said: If your problem has a solution, why to worry; and if there is none, what for worrying!

  • J’aime l’idée d’un narrateur intérieur. Il permet de se détacher de soi avec bienveillance.

  • Olivia June, 18 2017, 1:34 / Reply

    Garance- you look so young in these photos! LA suits you.

  • eileen June, 19 2017, 7:24 / Reply

    Hi Garance,

    On the topic of stillness and silence – Below is a link to a beautiful film on you tube – called Into Great Silence – its a documentary about Carthusian monks in France …not sure if you have seen it already but maybe it would interest you.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww38sDBlxTo

    Have a great week,

    Eileen

  • eileen June, 19 2017, 7:26 / Reply

    Hi Garance,

    Maybe you would like this film – Into Great Silence – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww38sDBlxTo

    Have a great week, eileen

  • Garance la méditation c’est top….cool, joyeux autant que de se retrouver à attendre un heureux événement! Chaque chose arrive à point nommé…
    Carine

  • Michelle June, 19 2017, 12:07 / Reply

    I like the way Dan talked about this very important subject.His honesty is refreshing and he’s managed to explain his experience including useful tools in an easy accessible way for people to understand.It should be taught in all schools to all children and looking at the world ‘adults’ too!

  • This podcast was deeply impactful for me. Thank you so much for introducing Dan’s work with meditation–and for sharing your own struggles with anxiety!

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