ABC News' Dan Harris on his journey to discovering meditation
ABC News reporter and anchor Dan Harris seemed to have a charmed life. Harris reported from around the world as a network television correspondent -- all before the age of 30. But under the surface he was anything but calm.
This week on WRVO's health and wellness show Take Care, Harris tells the story of his journey from drug abuse to discovering how meditation could quiet the internal voice that was keeping him from being happy. Hear more this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on WRVO.
Dan Harris: I spent a lot of time in war zones and I think became addicted to the adrenaline without really knowing it. And when I got home from a particularly long stretch in Iraq and Afghanistan, I got depressed. And I didn’t even really know that I was depressed, even though I was exhibiting some of the classic symptoms and I did an extremely dumb thing, which was, I started to self-medicate with cocaine and ecstasy. And that, I later learned, sort of blew up in my face, producing an on-air panic attack.
So what happened was, after the panic attack, I went to see a doctor, a shrink, to ask why did I have this panic attack? He explained, because, moron, you’re doing cocaine, you got to stop that, that’s what gives you panic attacks. I realized in that moment, that I had been just an incredible dummy and I knew I needed to make some changes in my life. So I kind of did the conventional thing, which was a) I quit doing drugs and b) began to see this shrink regularly for many, many years.
However, that wasn’t enough to kind of put me on the path toward meditation. There was this coincidence, which was, my boss at the time, Peter Jennings, assigned me to cover faith and spirituality for ABC News. As it turned out, this assignment that I didn’t want became a great thing for me. That said, nothing that I encountered spoke to me personally until I read a book by a self-help guru by the name of Eckhart Tolle. He was the first person I ever heard articulate the notion that we have a voice in our head. By which he did not mean schizophrenia. He just meant the inner narrator that has you constantly wanting things, or rejecting things, comparing yourself to other people, judging yourself harshly, thinking about the past, or project into the future at the expense of the here and now. And when you’re unaware of this nonstop conversation you’re having with yourself, it yanks you around. It has you eating when you’re not hungry, checking your blackberry when your kids trying to talk to you, or losing your temper when it’s strategically unwise. And when I hear that I realized, first of all, a) it’s just intuitively true, b) that explained why I went to warzones without thinking about the consequences psychologically, came home, got depressed without even knowing it, and then blindly self-medicated with drugs. And so that really set me off on the journey toward meditation.
And then, my wife gave me a gift, she gave me a gift of a book by a shrink here in New York City by the name of Dr. Mark Epstein and he writes about the overlap between psychology and Buddhism. And there is where I encountered meditation for the first time. And I had all of the misconceptions that most of us do about meditation. I thought it involved maybe joining a group, wearing funny robes listening to John Tesh music, collecting crystals and getting deeply into aromatherapy and ultimate Frisbee.
It was only after having done some research, though, that I realized, in fact, there has been an enormous amount of scientific exploration into meditation, and it’s been shown to do everything from reducing your blood pressure, to lowering release of the stress hormone cortisol, and this is a bit sci-fi, but quite literally, rewiring your brain.