Moments of Zen with Tom Bergeron Host of Dancing with the Stars

Check out my illuminating conversation with Tom Bergeron. In the short video, he shares a couple clues on how he makes his “off the cuff” delivery  look effortless. And, Tom gives brilliant pointers on mindfulness, and TM meditation. Find out how you too can get a zen tune-up on the spot, in one breath. Below you can check out the entire transcript of our meaningful chat.

 It was an honor to sit down at Starbucks recently with the host of “Dancing with the Stars”, Tom Bergeron. He is also the author of one of my favorite books, I’m Hosting as Fast as I Can! Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood. When I first read it, I resonated with how he made zen and mindfulness applicable to our everyday lives, with simple wisdom like, Stay present, Breathe, and Be yourself.

When I first sat down with Tom, we started talking, time was going by and then he set a time limit. Suddenly I felt a little nervous. My mind started to spin like a tea cup. I quickly discovered that my Disney inspired Mulan approach of making it up as I go needed to be adjusted. To adjust is to fine-tune and harmonize. I knew I needed to balance the opposites by tightening my focus in the moment, and simultaneously finding my flow by trusting my intuition. I realized I needed to get on point fast, focus on my purpose and ask a few signature questions to empower others to find their voice, trust their vibes, and thrive under pressure.

 George Gershwin once said, “Life is a lot like jazz…it’s best when you improvise. And, Tom is a master at that. In order to learn from (Tom Bergeron,) the king of “off the cuff,” I needed to make sure my cup was empty. And I did learn alot. There were many teachable moments.  One in particular, is a quote from Tom’s book  from philosopher Alan Watts, one of my great grandfather’s students, “If you hold your breath, you lose it.” At that moment, those very words became my funzen rock of stillness. I embraced my vulnerability and was encouraged to shift from a worrier to a warrior on the spot.

In his book, he mentions his Zen tune-up which he expands on in this blog.  As I sat there, engaged in the moment, discussing ideas, and seeing life from a new perspective, I had an Aha moment. Sitting there with Tom, I started to feel  like I was getting a zen tune-up just by being in his presence.

Here is his Keep Calm and Bergeron Zen tip for you to stay focused and cool under pressure with courage and fearless confidence.

“What is the art of staying sane in Hollywood? It’s no different than staying sane anywhere.

Be. Here. Now. Don’t forget to breathe. When all else fails, grabs a clown nose.”

What a lovely blessing!

Thank you Tom

Here’s a bit of our Q&A conversation…





What inspired you to write your book, I’m Hosting as Fast I Can! Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood

I had no intention of writing a book. My agent at the time had brought it up to me. She said, “I think you have a book in you. I’d like you to think about writing a book.” I said, I don’t know, and she said I have a meeting already set up with somebody at Harper Collins. Oh, do you now!? So I met with this woman at Harper Collins, charming woman. She said, we’re interested. Dancing with the Stars had just become a major hit, and I said,  I’m still not convinced. Let me go off and write about 30 pages and let me see if I feel like I’ve got something to say. I didn’t want it to be a bunch of anecdotes. I wanted it to have some take away. That’s where the meditation and zen aspect was an important through line for the book. So what I did was, I wrote about 30 pages and sent them to my friend, Carl Reiner, who created the Dick Van Dyke show, and directed Steve Martin’s first few movies. And if there’s a better comedy writer in town, I don’t know who it is.  I sent it to him and his wife Estelle, who has since passed away. The two of them read it and liked it. Carl wrote back and said, “All I have to say is more, more.”   I had his badge, seal of approval, so I went back to my agent and said alright, “Let’s do this.”

That’s brilliant. I love that. And the subtitle, Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood, did that go along with the feeling?

Yes,  if i’m remembering correctly. It goes back to 2008. That was the suggestion of the editor. Because of the focus on meditation and being present, she thought it would be a nice idea to make that a subtitle; to kind of underscore that that’s an important facet of the book. It’s not just about hosting TV shows.

You give a lot of examples too of how zen has helped you keep that diamond sharp clarity. How do you improvise such witty commentary? Where does it come from? You make it look so effortless.

I don’t know. Where does it come from? It comes from I think the universal pool right? It comes from the same place where a  jazz musician finds a good riff; the same place where anybody whose ever had that flow feeling, that being in the zone. It comes from being connected, being present. Between dress rehearsal that we do and the live show that we do, I’ll meditate in my dressing room from anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes; just to hone that muscle of being in the moment. By way of illustration,  I think I wrote about it in the book. There was a time years ago, I was doing Improv theatre. I think it was a club setting. I would ask one audience member to give me a character idea and  another audience member to give me a situation and I would improvise something. So I did that.  I improvised it and if I must say so myself, it was brilliant. It was just as if it had been written, honed, and performed countless times. It just happened. The audience was like big response. For my agent at the time, it was jaw dropping. Then I thought I’m pretty good.  And in that moment, I f#@!<d it up. The moment I made it about me, instead of the feeling that somehow tapping into that universal pool that I really feel it comes from, the very next improv was horrible. It was horrible because it was my ego. My ego got into it. I was puffing my chest up you know, instead of appreciating  that somehow we had done all this together.  I made it all about me after I was basking in the applause and the very next improv was terrible. It was like I was a different guy on the stage. I couldn’t connect anything.

It was like you paid tuition to use your intuition.

That’s nice, I like that.

When you say “Take a deep breath”, you’re giving away a secret right there. Did you learn that from mime?

I think not so much directly but maybe intuitively or as a byproduct of it; more from the meditation, the TM meditation I’ve done over the years. I had very serious temper issues. That’s why I started meditating initially, to keep my temper in check. All of the other benefits presented themselves over time but that was the initial impetus for it.


 How does Tom keep calm with the Zen Tune-Up? How did you get into TM meditation?

To me, I don’t mean to sound like I’m denigrating TM or any other form of meditation. To some degree it’s like Coke or Pepsi. It’s branding. In my mind, whether I’m using a Sanskrit mantra that someone gave me, which is the case with TM, or a word that means something or breath focus, or whatever, it’s building that mental muscle which is the key of all forms of meditation that I’ve encountered.

You’ve done your homework.

TM became something I was interested in.  I was doing it on my own and I was aware that there was a TM teacher in the area where I lived at the time in the sea coast of New Hampshire. So, I took the course, got my mantra and have been doing that particular form ever since. What I tell people who ask, “Do I have to do that?” No. You don’t. What you have to do, I  think the cornerstone of how to make meditation successful in your life, is not to judge yourself when thoughts intrude as they always do. Just don’t judge them, just….

Be mindful.

Yes… and come back to whatever it is, whether it’s your mantra, your breath, a flickering flame, anything. Come back to that.  Move the thoughts aside and just keep doing it, with the repetition.

 Repetition is the mother of skill mastery.  So, when did you start to call it a zen tune up?

That may have came to me when I was writing the book. One of the lovely things about the process of writing was I had a deadline, which I like obviously. I set a deadline with you. You know I like deadlines.

I need them. (laughter)

It helps focus my energy.

YES. It keeps us on point.

I would wake up in the morning at 2 am. If I wanted to go from one chapter to another chapter, you might note in the book that at the end of each chapter, I tried to lead you into the next one. Something that kinda was a carrot on a stick. So, I was always looking for ways to be concise. It’s not a very big book. The chapters are small. I wanted it to be an easy read. So the zen tune-up, I think, became just a shorthand  way of saying, every so often we have to take a breath. Take a moment, assess how our lives are going and see whether we need to be more in the moment, be more present, be more mindful about what we’re doing and the impact it’s having in our lives.

That’s what I love about talking to you because you’ve intuited it. It’s what you do. Mindfulness is the attitude that you bring in on your meditation. The formal part is the meditation. The mindfulness is you are being present, non judgmental.

Exactly. That’s very true. That made me think you can live in a house, but it’s how you build it, what did you use to build the house that makes the experience being in the house better or worse.

…and a lot of people try to put the top of the sand castle on before they build the foundation.

In your recent TV Guide article you mentioned Jerry Seinfeld. I had a short and bright Starbucks moment with him a couple of years ago. He graciously  welcomed me after I intrigued him by saying “this is a shy to hi moment,” I heard this quote from the zen master of comedy, Jerry Seinfeld,  “Zen is just looking at something from a different perspective, and that’s what comedy is.” During our brief chat, he basically confirmed that zen is all about perspective.

Very true.

That is also what you’re saying as well. When you’re in the moment, the same thing can happen to somebody else but they wouldn’t handle it like Tom who zenify’s the experience as if by magic.

FunZen girls say, “when things fall apart, we make art with wholehearted ARTitude exercising playful discipline.”