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.
Waking Up Chapters
Chapter One - Spirituality
Chapter Two - The Mystery of Consciousness
Chapter Three - The Riddle of the Self
Chapter Four - Meditation
Chapter Five - Gurus, Death, Drugs, and Other Puzzles
Best Quotes from Waking Up
“Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. This might not be obvious, especially when there are aspects of your life that seem in need of improvement—when your goals are unrealized, or you are struggling to find a career, or you have relationships that need repairing. But it’s the truth. Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind. Every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved. If you are perpetually angry, depressed, confused, and unloving, or your attention is elsewhere, it won’t matter how successful you become or who is in your life—you won’t enjoy any of it.”
“My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again.”
“If, like many people, you tend to be vaguely unhappy much of the time, it can be very helpful to manufacture a feeling of gratitude by simply contemplating all the terrible things that have not happened to you, or to think of how many people would consider their prayers answered if they could only live as you are now. The mere fact that you have the leisure to read this book puts you in a very rarefied company. Many people on earth at this moment can’t even imagine the freedom that you currently take for granted.”
“There is nothing passive about mindfulness. One might even say that it expresses a specific kind of passion—a passion for discerning what is subjectively real in every moment. It is a mode of cognition that is, above all, undistracted, accepting, and (ultimately) nonconceptual. Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves. Mindfulness is a vivid awareness of whatever is appearing in one’s mind or body—thoughts, sensations, moods—without grasping at the pleasant or recoiling from the unpleasant.”
“On one level, wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow one’s own advice.”
“Spirituality must be distinguished from religion—because people of every faith, and of none, have had the same sorts of spiritual experiences.”
“Some people are content in the midst of deprivation and danger, while others are miserable despite having all the luck in the world. This is not to say that external circumstances do not matter. But it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life. Your mind is the basis of everything you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it.”
“Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.”
“How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives. Mystics and contemplatives have made this claim for ages—but a growing body of scientific research now bears it out.”
“We are all seeking fulfillment while living at the mercy of changing experience. Whatever we acquire in life gets dispersed. Our bodies age. Our relationships fall away. Even the most intense pleasures last only a few moments. And every morning, we are chased out of bed by our thoughts.”
“The feeling that we call “I” is itself the product of thought. Having an ego is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking.”
“Merely accepting that we are lazy, distracted, petty, easily provoked to anger, and inclined to waste our time in ways that we will later regret is not a path to happiness.”
― Sam Harris - Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
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Editor and Founder
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.