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  • About ten years ago in front of 5.019 million people according to the Nielsen ratings I

  • had a panic attack on live television. I was doing a job that I'd done many times before

  • which was filling in as the news reader on Good Morning America. The job basically entails

  • coming on at the top of each hour and reading a series of headlines to the audience, bringing

  • them up to date on the news of the day. And I was happy and excited to be there. I had

  • no way to foresee what was about to happen. As soon as the anchors tossed it over to me

  • I was in the middle of the first story and I was overtaken by this irresistible bolt

  • of fear. My heart started racing, my palms were sweating, my mouth dried up and my lungs

  • seized up. And I was simply unable to breathe.

  • You can see it and hear it on the tape. I'm gasping for air. It would have gotten a lot

  • worse, it would have become something like the famous clip from Broadcast News where

  • Albert Brooks breaks out in flop sweat except for I did something halfway through my newscast

  • I'd never done before which is I quit. I gave up. I punted. I sent it back to the main hosts

  • of the show. What I said was, "Back to you Robin and Charlie." But it was actually Diane

  • Sawyer and Charlie who were anchoring and in my panic I was unable to remember that.

  • And you can see that actually in an absurd little crescendo roll video of Harry Potter

  • which was the next story I was supposed to read that the control room thought I was going

  • to read but I was unable to do so.

  • And in the moments afterwards I realized that I'd had a panic attack. And I was deeply,

  • deeply embarrassed. It wasn't until later that I learned what caused it. I went to see

  • a doctor who is an expert in panic and he asked me a series of questions, one of which

  • was do you do drugs. And I sheepishly said, yes, I do. And he leaned back in his chair

  • and said, "Mystery solved." The backstory is I got myself into trouble basically because

  • of a desire to do great at my job which is something I think a lot of people can relate

  • to. You might call it ambition or just a drive for excellence and being in love with my job.

  • I got to ABC News when I was 28 years old. And if you look at the pictures I look like

  • I'm barely post pubescent. And I was working with these giants like Diane Sawyer and Peter

  • Jennings and Charlie Gibson and Ted Koppel and I was keenly aware of how green I was,

  • especially when compared to these famous people I had been watching on television since I

  • was a kid.

  • And my way of coping with that was to become a workaholic. And I threw myself into the

  • job and after 9/11 I volunteered and spent many years overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan

  • and the Middle East. And when I came home from that I developed a depression and I self-medicated

  • with recreational drugs which was a toweringly stupid move on my part. And even though I

  • wasn't doing it when I was working and definitely not when I was on the air, I learned from

  • my doctor in his office after my panic attack that the drugs I was taking, cocaine and ecstasy

  • raised the level of adrenalin in your brain and basically guaranteed that I had the panic

  • attack. So that moment in the doctor's office when he explained to me what a moron I'd been,

  • I knew I had to make some changes in my life. And that set me off on a strange little unplanned

  • journey that I talk about in my book, 10% Happier.

  • Coincidentally at around the same time my boss at the time, Peter Jennings, had assigned

  • me to cover religion for ABC News, a job I didn't want because I had been raised in a

  • very secular environment. My parents were both scientists. And I tried to tell him I

  • didn't want to do it and he told me, "Shut up kid, you're gonna do it." So I ended up

  • spending many years meeting people of faith and it really changed my view of the world

  • and it showed me the value of having a view of the world that is larger than your own

  • narrow self-interest.

  • I read a book by a self-help guru by the name of Eckhart Tolle. He has sold millions of

  • books. I had never heard of him. A producer recommended I read the book because she thought

  • maybe it would be a good story. So I read the book and at first I thought it was irredeemable

  • garbage, nonsense. There's a lot of grandiose language in there and pseudoscience and over

  • promising about how this book is gonna change your life. But then I stumbled upon this diagnosis

  • of the human condition that I'd never heard before. Eckhart Tolle says we all have a voice

  • in our head. He's not talking about hearing voices in the schizophrenic sense. He's talking

  • about our inner narrator, the thing that wakes us up in the morning and yammers at us all

  • day long. It's an unpleasant stew of negative, repetitive, ceaselessly self-referential thoughts

  • constantly judging, wanting, not wanting, comparing ourselves to other people, casting

  • forward into an imagined future, remembering an idealized past as opposed to being where

  • you are right now.

  • And I thought yeah, that describes me. In fact, that voice pretty much is responsible

  • for all the things that I'm most ashamed of in my life including that panic attack in

  • front of millions of people. And so I was completely captivated by this description

  • of the human condition and I went and met Eckhart Tolle and I found him to be almost

  • exactly the same in person as he is on the page which is he's half incredibly interesting

  • and incisive and half deeply, deeply confusing. So unsatisfied by that encounter I then went

  • off and met a bunch of other self-help gurus who also left me confused. Many of them left

  • me mildly infuriated because they were full of a word that starts with S and ends with

  • T. And my wife at some point after hearing me yammer on about Eckhart Tolle and the like

  • for many, many weeks gave me a gift. She gave me a book by a guy named Dr. Mark Epstein

  • who's a psychiatrist in New York City who writes about the overlap between psychiatry

  • and Buddhism.

  • And I realized when I read this book that all of the smartest stuff in Eckhart Tolle's

  • book was actually taken pretty much from the Buddha. And unlike Eckhart Tolle the Buddhists

  • have some actionable advice for dealing with the voice in your head. The problem was I

  • didn't want to do it. Their advice is to meditate which I always thought was uniquely ridiculous

  • and only for people who live in yurts and are really into aromatherapy and collect crystals,

  • et cetera, et cetera, and wear little cymbals on their hands. But, in fact, as I learned

  • there's an enormous amount of science that says that meditation is a simple brain exercise

  • that can have an extraordinary impact on your brain and your body. It can lower your blood

  • pressure, boost your immune system and literally rewire key parts of your brain that have to

  • do with self-awareness, compassion and stress. So when I heard that I decided to give it

  • a shot.

  • So now I find myself in this funny position. I always thought that meditation was uniquely

  • ridiculous. Now I'm a daily meditator and, even worse, I'm a public evangelist for meditation.

  • What I like to say though is it's not gonna solve all of your problems. All those self-help

  • gurus who tell you that you can magically cure everything in your life through the power

  • of positive thinking -- that's baloney. It's not gonna happen. It's demonstrably untrue

  • and possibly even a damaging message to send.

  • However, meditation is a scientifically tested simple thing you can do every day that will

  • make you significantly happier. I called the book 10% Happier for a couple of reasons.

  • One, I wanted to counter-program against the over-promising of the self-help gurus. But

  • also it's -- I think we're ready for a more mature, realistic dialogue about happiness.

  • And nothing's gonna solve all of your problems but meditation can change the relationship

  • between you and that voice in your head which is responsible for most of the things you're

  • probably most embarrassed about in your life.

About ten years ago in front of 5.019 million people according to the Nielsen ratings I

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Dan Harris' Panic Attack (and Discovery of Meditation)

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    Precious Annie Liao posted on 2014/05/01
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