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Lions Roar : May 2019
PHOTOBYA.JESSEJIRYUDAVIS AN HARRIS SITS UP STRAIGHT on a beige love seat in his thirteenth- floor office, his hands resting on his lap in the cosmic mudra. It’s a posture that might seem, to some, at odds with his job at ABC News. His slightly gray- ing, impeccably trimmed hair is parted on the left side in the classic newsman style. His boyish face is calm, his eyes nearly closed. He’s still dressed in his street clothes, a purple-and-blue-checked button- down shirt and jeans. His Apple Watch is timing his pre-broadcast meditation. Harris’s quiet office is lined with books, almost all of them about Buddhism and meditation: The Birth of Insight by Eric Braun and Altruism by Mat- thieu Ricard. Copies of his own book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, surround the spot on his shelf holding his Emmys. There’s a TV mounted to the wall, but it’s currently off. It’s dark outside, but the city lights—particularly the red Hotel Empire sign nearby—twinkle through the window. Soon he’ll put on a suit and head down to the lights, cameras, and action of the Nightline studio broadcast. But for now, a moment of quiet. It’s exactly this combination of calm moments of practice and high-pressure, broadcasting-to- millions work that has helped Harris to become an ideal lay spokesman for Buddhist practice in current times. He’s written two New York Times bestselling books about meditation for the relatively uninitiated—10% Happier and Meditation for Fidg- ety Skeptics. From there, he built what’s starting to look like a secular empire, thanks to the successful 10% Happier app, which includes dozens of medita- tion courses and guided meditations, all led by well- known Insight Meditation Society teachers such as Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and JoAnna Hardy. The app has raised five million dollars in venture capital funding and spun off a weekly pod- cast hosted by Harris. “If this is, and I believe it is, the next big public health revolution, I would like to be a contributing catalytic force,” Harris says. Then he undercuts the grandness of that statement by adding, “I don’t see it as much more than that.” The books, the app, and the podcast have all grown out of Harris’ pragmatic, skeptical approach to meditation. “I don’t know if I believe in enlight- enment per se, but it’s scientifically proven that the mind is trainable,” he says. “All the things we want most in our lives—patience, calm, compassion, mindfulness—these are not factory settings that can’t be tinkered with. They can be trained, and that’s the central promise of Buddhism as I under- stand it.” As he discusses his news career and growing the 10% Happier business, Harris rocks backward on a gray office chair, his feet, in white running shoes, resting on a coffee table. He’s funny and personable, with an ease he’s honed at the anchor desk of Good Morning America on weekends. In person, he’s just like the guy you see on TV, but with an extra sprin- kling of swear words and more relaxed posture. Harris is honest about his commercial ambitions for his growing empire. “The crass and mercenary side of it was that I had an entrepreneurial sense that this was interesting information, but people weren’t talking about it in a way that was widely accessible,” he says. “And I thought maybe I could do that because I had several decades of training in communicating to broad audiences.” But Harris is clear about the role he wants to play: luring the skeptical and scared masses to meditation. “I see myself as a gateway drug,” he says. “My real goal is to push people toward doing the thing.” As soon as interested parties log into the app, he hands them over to those trained teachers. “I make a lot of jokes with the word ‘fuck’ in them and tell embarrassing stories about myself to wake people up to the idea that the mind is trainable. Journalist JENNIFER KEISHIN ARMSTRONG is a Zen practitioner and author of the New York Times bestseller Seinfeldia : How the Show About Nothing Changed Ever ything. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 50