Ted Danson Talks Meditation, Love and Death: 'It's a Great Invention, Life'

Ted Danson has been meditating for more than 20 years, and says it’s one of the many reasons his marriage works.

His wife Mary Steenburgen is why he started meditating in the first place: “It’s always a girl, you know?” he jokes. They started doing the practice together shortly after they were married in 1995, and “the truth is my relationship with Mary is a big huge part of my spirituality,” he tells PEOPLE.

Danson, 71, has teamed up with Cigna to encourage people to take a proactive approach to their mental health. He points out the practical effect of meditation: “Anytime you are more present, more in your body and less in your mind, you’re available to be real with whoever you’re with … be present with with my granddaughters, be with my wife, be real, be loving, be present.” But he says it also influences his philosophy of life.

Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen in 1994

“I feel like you’re either in love, or you’re in fear, and that’s it,” he says. “And because Mary and I really, really love each other, if one person is all of the sudden not in the space of love, it’s like pulling an electric cord out, all of the sudden it’s like, ‘Whoa, what happened?’ What’s wonderful about her is she insists, insists that we stay in love! You don’t get to drift.”

Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen at the 71st Emmy Awards 2019

Danson and Steenburgen meditate together in the morning, but he admits they also distract each other. “Here’s my excuse. Mary and I love hanging out. And we will chat and hang out and chat and hang out, and all of a sudden leap up and have to do our day. So it almost feels selfish to go meditate. So we’re better when we do it together. If we meditate consistently it’s because we do it together.”

“Meditation is that moment where I get to leave my ego,” he says. “Even if it’s just seconds within a 20-minute meditation. If I can leave who I think I am, or who I want to be, or what I think is important, or something I’m trying to make someone else do — that circular nonsense — if I can leave that for a second and have that silence of the mind; it resets my brain; it resets my heart; it resets everything about me so I come out a little more compassionate for myself and for whatever it is I’m dealing with.”

The practice for him is secular, not religious. “I’ve studied, I’m Episcopalian, but I’ve studied and read Buddhism and Zen stuff and I’ve had a mentor and I’ve done all of these different things,” he says. “But I think when my mother — when I sat with my mother for two weeks while she, I don’t know about joyfully, but while she purposely and joyfully died, and I watched that process of her leaving her body, I said, ‘Oh I have no f—— idea!’ All these thoughts and wisdoms and philosophies, I have no idea. Which left me with, ‘You do the best you can in every moment and that will be enough.’ “

Danson’s mother Jessica died in 2006, and he says, “When I truly connect with, ‘Oh you are going to die, and you don’t know when, and Ted you really are, truly, and it will just be you all by yourself.’ “

“There won’t be trumpets!” he jokes, “Mr. Danson’s leaving the planet! It will be just this little delicate thread that goes woosh! When I realize that, then I’m more likely to go, ‘Whoa! What am I wasting my time for? Let me be here and enjoy this moment, this second.’ “

The Good Place actor jokes he’s “not a paragon of virtue,” but “I really feel like as a human being at the end of my life, I will know what it truly is to love and to be loved. And to me, at the moment, that’s spiritual enough.”

“We all have to do this thing called life. How many generations of human beings have been around and there’s no book, that we can go, ‘Oh got it!’ Literally every one of us has to wrestle with all the same things over and over and over again. It’s a great invention, life.”

“You know what my mom said to me? What she hoped for me was ‘to be perfectly human.’ Isn’t that a great wish?”

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