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Lions Roar : May 2019
continuing to cover other stories as well. Harris’s personal life progressed, too. He married Bianca, a doctor, in 2009, and their son, Alexander, was born in 2014. Having a toddler, he says, “ has tested my practice, because he’s always either very frustrating or incredibly boring. You definitely have plenty of opportunity to be mindful of strong emotions.” Building the 10% Happier business while tend- ing to his news career and family is chief among his current challenges. He’d like to add to the current roster of half a dozen or so teachers featured on the app, ideally from traditions besides Insight. Eventu- ally he envisions adding retreats, Skype calls with meditation coaches, and meditation centers to the business model. “We’re definitely going to look for what the kids call IRL stuff,” he says. (That’s “in real life” for the non-kids among us.) “But the thing I’ve learned about startups is that lack of focus will kill you. We have to nail the app thing first. Our app is pretty good, but we have a lot of stuff we need to work on, so it’s got to be one step at a time.” More immediately, Harris is working on a fol- low-up book to 10% Happier about compassion—or, as he describes it, “not being an asshole.” The book will include his signature approach to spiritual topics. “I’m skeptical of the way kindness is talked about,” he says. “It’s a little ooey-gooey and either bland and not actionable or finger-waggy and so preachy that it’s off-putting. My goal is to reframe it in terms of self-interest—people are actually hap- pier and healthier and more successful because of compassion. That’s the way the Dalai Lama talks about it, and I’m happy to steal from him.” Harris’s research has included a one-on-one, ten-day meditation retreat with Spirit Rock teacher Spring Washam and a harrowing “360 review” con- ducted by mindfulness-based professional coach Jerry Colonna, who is known, Harris says, as “the Yoda of Silicon Valley.” The 360 review, which will form the narrative of Harris’s book, included six- teen video interviews with people from Harris’s personal and professional lives. The resulting forty- one-page report “was devastating,” he says. “It particularly focused on ways in which I’m an asshole. I asked them to take a look at that, and then the report came and it just blew me away. It was incredibly harsh. My brother read it and he said, ‘I’m sorry you had to read this. And you now have a good book.’” The resulting story of his jour- ney to become less of an asshole is scheduled to hit bookstores in early 2020. Harris isn’t putting himself through this public trial for nothing. He believes programs like 10% Happier can play a key role in the future of Ameri- can Buddhism—whether or not anyone calls it “Buddhism.” When he first started searching for answers and meditating, he didn’t call himself a Buddhist, and he thinks a lot of 10% Happier medi- tators feel more comfortable that way too. “If we want more people to be sane, which we do, we have to deliver the practice in a way that’s palat- able,” he says. “Do I think it would be awesome if everybody was a Buddhist? Yes. But most people are not interested in Buddhism, and I think we have to meet them where they are.” Harris, on the other hand, is not quite the detached skeptic he used to be. He happily identifies as Buddhist, he’s discovered an alarmingly senti- mental side with fatherhood, and he’s a vegan now. “When he was first conceptualizing the app, it was very much, as he would say, for people like him, cynical or sarcastic,” Salzberg says. “The truth is, that may be part of his persona, but he’s such a sincere practitioner.” Dan Harris’s thousands of listeners and followers will probably stick with him—and their meditation practices—as long as he keeps those “ jokes with the word ‘fuck ’ in them” coming. And maybe even if he doesn’t. ♦ Harris struggled with anxiety and depression after covering wars in Afghanistan, Israel, and Iraq. Assigned to cover religion, he discovered Buddhism. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 55