“Swimming Behind the Waterfall” – How Meditation Changed ABC Anchorman Dan Harris’ Life

I don’t know about you, but I always thought that successful anchormen and women were cool as cucumbers 24/7.

I just assumed that anyone who had the guts to speak to millions of people on a live TV show every day had to be somehow immune to any sort of anxiety.

Video courtesy of YouTube

Good Morning America anchorman Dan Harris (and Vince Vaughn) proved me wrong.

After reading Dan Harris’ book “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”, I learned that apparently successful anchormen and women are  just like the rest of us.

According to my man Dan, they too experience anxiety, doubt, fear and everything else that comes along with being human.

Annnnd we’re live

In Dan’s above mentioned book, he gives you an all-access pass to the time he experienced one of the painful parts of being human: a sudden and unexpected panic attack.

In 2004, at age 32, not only did he suffer a panic attack – he had to get himself through it on live TV – in front of approximately 5.019 million Good Morning America viewers.

benefits of meditation

So what happened? In Dan’s own words:

“….right in the middle of the second voiceover, it hit. Out of nowhere, I felt like I was being stabbed in the brain with raw animal fear. A paralytic wave of panic rolled up through my shoulders, over the top of my head, then melted down the front of my face.

The universe was collapsing in on me. My heart started to gallop. My mouth dried up. My palms oozed sweat….You’re on national television. This is happening now. Right now. Everyone else is seeing this, dude. Do something. DO something.”

Desperately fighting to keep his composure, Dan ended up ignoring the teleprompter and cutting his segment way short, which threw off the control room. Not sure how to handle this unexpected meltdown, he quickly turned the news back to Robin Roberts, who wasn’t on set that day. Oops.

Shaking out the rug

The fact that Dan is 100% candid when it comes to describing – and even re-watching – this 2004 on-air panic attack – makes me respect him immensely. To be so open to share a painful and scary time in your life takes a massive amount of courage.

My on-air meltdown was the direct result of an extended run of mindlessness, a period of time in which I was focused on advancement and adventure, to the detriment of pretty much everything else in my life.”

Video courtesy of BigThink.com

In his book, Dan tells a very candid story of his quest to become a high-profile, successful news anchor in a cutthroat industry – and his public meltdown.

For years, while trying to climb the ladder, Dan found himself constantly thinking, thinking, thinking, comparing, wanting, thinking, comparing, judging, wanting….this internal voice spoke all day long, from the time he opened his eyes to the time he went to sleep.

“I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives.” Dan says. “The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgements. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now.”

Dan’s panic attack was a wake-up call that he was definitely not living in the here and now. Constantly striving, stressing and analyzing every move he and his fellow anchormen and women made, he obsessed about his work and experimented with drugs and alcohol along the way. His body and mind had become mentally and physically exhausted – and had manifested their battered state through his on-air panic attack.

Getting behind the waterfall through meditation

After seeking professional help, Dan was introduced to the concept of meditation. At first, he was quite resistant.

Until recently, I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music….if you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain.”

As he began to meditate more and more, Dan found that it was becoming easier to accept and release his constant stream of thoughts (the average human being has 50-60,000 thoughts per day).

benefits of meditation

Through meditation, Dan learned how to swim “behind the waterfall” of his thoughts and create space between stimulus and response.

In time, he started to feel healthier and more at peace with himself, physically and mentally.

In his book he describes how developing a daily meditation practice helped him become less reactive, more clear-headed, less competitive – but still ambitious – more peaceful, more compassionate and just about 10% happier.

“Once you get the hang of it, the practice can create just enough space in your head so that when you get angry or annoyed, you are less likely to take the bait and act on it. There’s even science to back this up — an explosion of new research, complete with colorful MRI scans, demonstrating that meditation can essentially rewire your brain.”

If you’re interested in how this daily practice can change how you handle life’s curveballs, do yourself a favor and read his book.

Need to take your brain “offline” for a few minutes? Meditate.

benefits of meditation

If you’re interested in learning more about the scientific benefits of meditation, check out this awesome article – “What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You)”.

“I have had the pleasure of meeting many of the at-risk youth, homeless men, American Indians with diabetes, and veterans with PTSD who are ‘diving within’ through Transcendental Meditation. For me, they are proof that this meditation is a profoundly good thing for everyone. But please remember that this is not a luxury. For people who are living in a stressful, often frightening, crisis-ridden world, it is a necessity.” —David Lynch

Donate to the David Lynch Foundation

“Your generous support will help the David Lynch Foundation provide meditation instruction to at-risk populations in the US and around the world. The program is offered on a voluntary basis, at no cost to the individual. There is a long waiting list of schools and organizations eager to participate.”

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