Neuroscientist, philosopher Sam Harris discusses psychedelics, the illusion of self and meditation as a rationale, scientific approach to spirituality. Those desiring spirituality without the dogma of religion as well as those curious about the inner workings of the mind will enjoy this book that explores the influence science has on spirituality. Modern neuroscience is interlaced with anecdotes from Harris’ own life to help anyone to live a more balanced, fulfilling life.
My key Takeaways from “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion" by Sam Harris
Takeaway #1 Understanding that 'I' is an Illusion
Who are you? How do you define your sense of self? Do you think you're a single entity? Do you think that you're the creator of your thoughts?
All too often we give our power away by thinking we are in control of our thoughts when we're not. Meditation shows us that our thoughts come and go whether we want them to or not. We might think we control them but we don't.
Being mindful of our thoughts, simply observing them without letting them rule us, allows us to take back that power. No longer are we worrying about things that have happened in the past or that could happen in the future, we're enjoying the present moment, allowing the thoughts of 'what if' to come and go without latching onto them in regret or with a sense of impending doom.
Takeaway #2 Using Mindfulness and Meditation To Take Back Control
Mindfulness when meditating allows you to become aware of all your feelings, thoughts, and impressions, it allows you to separate yourself from your thoughts realizing that your thoughts are not based in reality. A thought is just a passing impression, just because you can play it over and over in your mind, doesn't make it real.
When you're focused on your breathing as is the case of meditation, your default mode network aka your DMN becomes less active meaning that our concept of 'I' lessens.
There are two Buddhist approaches to meditating which lessen the thought of self. The sudden realization technique taught by the Dzogchen school of Buddhism teaches you to assume that self is an illusion right from the start. The slower way, the gradual approach taught by the Theravada school of Buddhism teaches that selflessness is the end result of a long journey.
You might think that the fast way is just a 'quick fix' but Sam Harris, the author of the book, recommends the sudden realization technique when you want to remove I.
Takeaway #3 Changing Your Perspective
Starting, and indeed staying on, the road to mindfulness isn't an easy one so don't expect to go it alone. You will need guidance from a teacher. Choose your teacher and spiritual community wisely so as not to get exploited whilst allowing yourself the opportunity to enjoy life with your full attention.