Could Meditation Be the Key to Unlocking Brilliant Creative Ideas?

'I thought meditation was bullshit'

On the Terrace at the Lions, a group of like-minded thinkers gathered to get raw about why meditation can be a balm to modern demands.
Marian Brannelly

Cannes, FRANCE—Many people have heard about the scientific benefits of meditation, but the practice often gets written off as something that’s granola and fringy—especially among type-A high-performers.

On the Terrace at the Lions, a group of like-minded thinkers (including meditation teacher Sah D’Simone, Havas New York/Annex 88 chief creative officer Harry Bernstein, and Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America) gathered to get raw about why meditation can be a balm to modern demands.

Harris, who’s written a book on meditation called 10 percent Happier and runs a meditation podcast with the same name, opened with the story of his “freakout” on national TV.

“If you’ve ever had a taste of panic, you know exactly what you’re looking at,” Harris said. “If you’re blessed not to have ever had a panic attack, those people say it didn’t look that bad. It doesn’t matter, because I knew it was happening to me internally. More embarrassing, I knew what caused it: ambition.”

He arrived at ABC News when he was 28, the stereotype of a young, intrepid reporter whose ambition could only be matched by the expectations of those watching his rise. He spent the time surrounding 9/11 in war zones, including Gaza and Iraq, where he was sent six times.

Then he became depressed and started self-medicating with cocaine to maintain a demanding work rhythm.

“I thought meditation was bullshit,” Harris said. “Have you ever seen somebody wearing sunglasses with an extra lens for his third eye? I thought, that’s the kind of person who meditates. I didn’t think it was for me.”

Bernstein and D’Simone had similar crash-and-burn trajectories. Bernstein’s company, 88, was acquired by Havas; D’Simone ran a popular magazine with his best friend, who’d ultimately push him out in 2012. They acknowledge their lives were the stuff of Mad Men clichés—“liquid lunches, cocaine-fueled parties, travel,” Bernstein said.

“I was a raving asshole. I would tear someone apart if they forgot to put a period in a deck,” he recounted.

Marian Brannelly

D’Simone discovered meditation after buying a one-way ticket to a retreat in India, responding to depression arising from losing his company.

“I started to see how I’d been carrying this narrative of guilt and shame throughout my life, and how that permeated at work: Running a company of 50 people, flying around, working with top talent, I created a personality that wasn’t loving or kind; it inspired fear, not love,” D’Simone said.

Now D’Simone teaches meditation “in a simple, fun, sassy and fabulous way” at places like Havas, MoMA, Google, New Balance, Bloomingdales, AmEx and the United Nations.

As for Bernstein, who feels meditation altered his creative process, he tries to work his learnings into Havas New York, which has a dedicated space for meditating. He also propagates the importance of reducing sugar intake and eating more green vegetables.

“Every 10 minutes you’re recycling news,” Bernstein said. “You’re so inundated by information that you freak the fuck out. How do you find space to absorb, express yourself and not just regurgitate all this stuff?”

“There’s enough scientific research to prove meditation improves concentration, creativity,” D’Simone added. “We are inherent creative geniuses, but we forgot with this inundation of media we’re bombarded with every day.” It’s something Harris calls the “info blitzkrieg.”

A resounding sentiment was that meditation helps pull away from one’s inner voice, giving us a chance to “turn down the volume” so it doesn’t become a domineering narrative that drives us to react in constant panic.

“Meditation is daily exercise of trying to focus on one thing at a time, usually your breath coming in and out,” said Harris. “When you get distracted—which you will a million times—it’s about starting again in the face of your inner torrent. That helps you stay on track in the rest of your life.”