Since I am interviewing high profile TV journalist and best-selling author Dan Harris this morning, it is just as well that I reproduce this curtain-raiser I did for The Indian Diaspora portal.
By Mayank Chhaya
A high profile television journalist, who had a very public panic attack, has now become among the most ardent advocate of Indian meditation techniques. ABC News journalist Dan Harris called his June 7, 2004 on-air attack as “freaking out” in front of five million people during the broadcast of Good Morning America. That meltdown sent him in search of a way out which has come in the form of meditation.
Ten years after that panic attack, 42-year-old Harris has chronicled his search in a book titled ‘10% Happier’ and how he “tamed the voice” in his head. The book has become a huge New York Times bestseller and comes as yet another testament to the healing powers of the ancient Indian techniques of meditation.
The book, ‘10% happier’, has become a huge New York Times bestseller.
“Until recently, I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music,” he writes. That uncharitable view changed dramatically after a series of contacts, including with the Dalai Lama and ten days of silence. “As a result of all this I came to realize that my preconceptions about meditation were, in fact, misconceptions,” Harris says.
Not that the powers of Yoga and meditation need any ongoing endorsement in a country where Indian spirituality and Vedic wisdom have exercised considerable influence for over a century. However, coming from a cynical journalist, and a non-believer to boot, meditation’s many qualities are getting whole new attention here.
“Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though what you will find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain,” writes Harris.
Harris emphasizes that he does not see meditation as a miracle cure that would solve all one’s problems magically at once. He quantifies its benefits somewhat arbitrarily as a technique that should make its practitioners “10% happier”. Hence the title of the book.
For Harris, the meltdown was possibly a consequence of what he calls a “well-hidden and well-managed” drug use with cocaine and ecstasy following depression that came because of his extensive reporting out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Palestine. Having been assigned to report on the faith beat, Harris wrote in his blog on ABC News that he became a “reluctant convert to meditation.”
“Self-help gurus are constantly telling us that we can get anything we want through the ‘power of positive thinking’. This is an unrealistic and potentially damaging message, I think. By contrast, meditation is a doable, realistic, scientifically researched way to get significantly happier, calmer, and nicer. If meditation could be stripped of the syrupy, saccharine language with which it’s too often presented, it might be appealing to millions of smart, skeptical people who may never otherwise consider it,” he wrote in February, this year.
The book has gained considerable attention because of Harris’ own celebrity status and many appearances on several popular talk shows advocating meditation. During the course of research for his book, the journalist found that meditation is being used by CEOs, athletes and even US marines to improve their focus.
The book has been released in the overall atmosphere of enthusiasm about meditation and yoga across America, which is nevertheless tinged by skepticism whether it is a vehicle on which Hinduism rides.
Conversations about whether yoga and meditation are subtly couched Hinduism that might insidiously begin to challenge Christian values in the country are frequently heard in towns and cities, including in Chicago area where this correspondent lives. There have been sporadic attempts to offer what is called ‘a Christian alternative’ to the Indian techniques of the kind Harris writes about.
According to one estimate there are an estimated 15-20 million people practicing yoga in the US and over 50,000 yoga instructors offering classes at approximately 20,000 locations.