Suffering vs. Satisfaction with Sam Harris – The School of Greatness

Check out The School of Greatness Episode Page & Show Notes

Check out the Podcast Notes for Part I

Key Takeaways

  • The sense of self is in illusion
    • There is no center of experience. All that exists is consciousness.
  • “99.9% of life is seeking certain experiences, getting them, and feeling the briefest moment of gratification. We ignite with the object of desire for barely a second and then we’re on to the next thing.”
  • “At some level, all the things we want are a mirage”
    • At the exact moment you acquire a certain desire, you’re already seeking the next peak experience
    • Every desire is an excuse to relax into the present moment (but once fulfilled, this never actually happens)
  • “Implicit in all our efforts to become happy is this prospect of finally arriving at something, but you never arrive. You can’t arrive until you can just drop your search.”
  • EVERYTHING dissipates – realizing this is the key to your freedom
  • “If you can focus on the breath to the exclusion of everything else for 5 minutes, that becomes like a drug experience”
  • One of the best things you can do for yourself is to vow to never lie again
  • Death can be a primary source of wisdom 
    • “It’s massively clarifying to realize you’ve only got a certain number of days on this Earth… How trivial do you want to be? How long do you want to suffer over things that you know won’t matter on your deathbed and aren’t even likely to matter two days from now?”

Intro

The Self is an Illusion

  • Being lost in thought is very much similar to being stuck in a dream and not knowing you’re dreaming
    • “If you really know how to meditate, you can break the spell in an instant and in that instant you have woken up”
  • To progress points on your meditation journey:
    • Being able to recognize yourself as lost in thought and then redirecting your focus to the pure experience of the emotions/sensations you’re feeling
    • Eventually, you’ll come to realize the sense of self is an illusion
      • “People don’t feel identical to their whole body, they feel like passengers in their body. They feel like subjects. They feel like the center of experience. The real goal of meditation is to recognize that it’s a illusory position. There really is just experience. There really is just consciousness and its contents. There’s no center to it.”
      • Once you realize this, it’s much easier to see that negative emotions (like anger) are really just sensory experiences in the body (like tension in your face – you’d experience the same thing if you had a dental procedure)
      • Summary – THERE IS NO CENTER, JUST CONSCIOUSNESS
        • The better you get at meditation, the more often you’ll realize this throughout the day
          • “Being able to punctuate life with this insight really changes the game”

Desires Are a Mirage

  • “99.9% of life is seeking certain experiences, getting them, and feeling the briefest moment of gratification. We ignite with the object of desire for barely a second and then we’re on to the next thing.”
    • And the thing is –  if the object of desire persisted longer, it’d likely become undesirable
      • Imagine taking a bite of ice cream and the taste never dissipating – it’d be intolerable! You’d probably go see a doctor.
    • “At some level, all the things we want are a mirage”
      • At the exact moment you acquire a certain desire, you’re already seeking the next peak experience
      • Every desire is an excuse to relax into the present moment (but once fulfilled, this never actually happens)
      • “These brief moments where we’re not worried about anything, that is the way consciousness already is if we can just pay attention to it”
  • “Implicit in all our efforts to become happy is this prospect of finally arriving at something, but you never arrive. You can’t arrive until you can just drop your search.”
    • “It’s the search for happiness that’s making us uncomfortable”

Life is by Nature Unsatisfactory

  • Why?
    • Whatever arises, by nature of having arisen, will by necessity pass away
      • EVERYTHING dissipates
      • Trying to hold on to joyful experiences is like trying to scoop up water in your hands 
    • And when those pleasant experiences pass way, unpleasant experience are bound to come
      • Even if you sat in the most comfortable chair for 4 hours, you’d eventually feel some excruciating pains

Concentration is Intrinsically Pleasurable

  • No matter what you concentrate on while meditating, you’ll experience pleasure (the same thing happens when you’re lost in your work)
  • “If you can focus on the breath to the exclusion of everything else for 5 minutes, that becomes like a drug experience”

On Love

  • “So much of parenting is not about getting the clear signal of love shining back at you from your kids. You can’t wait for that to feel love for them.”
  • Love can mean many things
    • In one way – it’s about having fundamental good intentions for other sentient beings
      • This is similar to compassion/wishing away the suffering of others
    • In another way – it’s about taking joy in the happiness of others
      • If what you feel is envy, rather than joy, for a friend’s success, you’re just not a good friend – “That’s a boundary you wan tot be able to blow past in yourself”
        • “Real love is the antithesis of envy”
        • “You actually want your friend to totally succeed… That’s the person you want to be. You want to be so stoked your friend got what they wanted…  even when you guys are in the same lane.”

Honesty Over Everything

  • When Sam was 18, he decided to never lie again (besides obvious emergencies)
    • Check out his book, Lying, for more on the reasons why
    • “I’m only aware of having told my 10-year-old daughter one lie throughout her whole life”
      • “You don’t have to lie to your kids to make Christmas fun”
  • Always telling the truth forces growth on you and others in surprising ways
  • When you vow not to lie, you become a refuge for those who want honest feedback
    • This makes the truths you do tell mean that much more

What’s the one question Sam wishes he had the answer to?

  • How consciousness arises 

Sam’s Parents

  • Sam was largely raised by a single mom, his dad left when he was 2
  • Sam’s dad died when he was 17 from cancer (they had a long distance relationship, but they weren’t very close)
    • One thing Sam learned from this – you really never know when it’ll be the last time you see a certain individual
    • Frequently ask yourself – “What haven’t I said to the people I care about?”
  • Death can be a huge source of wisdom 
    • “It’s massively clarifying to realize you’ve only got a certain number of days on this Earth… How trivial do you want to be? How long do you want to suffer over things that you know won’t matter on your deathbed and aren’t even likely to matter two days from now?”

Free Will | What is Sam most proud of?

  • “I don’t actually feel personally responsible for the good things that happen in my life. It’s very salient to me that I didn’t make myself and that I can’t take any deep responsibility for the tools I have or don’t have, for the level of effort I exert, the priorities I have or lose sight of and then find again… All of this, when you become aware of what it’s like to be you moment to moment, you see that everything’s just happening, including your capacity for effort.”
    • For these reasons – Sam relates much of his success and his good fortune to luck
      • “I’m lucky to be born into a society where I don’t have to worry about the things someone in Syria has to worry about right now. I can’t take any responsibly that I wasn’t born in Syria during a civil war.”

The 3 Truths | On his deathbed, what 3 truths would Sam share to leave behind to humanity?

  • 1) All there is is consciousness and its contents
  • 2) Never lie
    • Once you cease hold of that, all the people you shouldn’t be spending time with disappear and all those who want an honest relationship with you are there and appreciate your honesty
  • 3) Incentives are everything at the level of society
    • We should organize society in such a way that ordinary, neurotic people are incentivized to behave better and better towards one another
    • “So much of what we see in the world that is creating needless human misery is a matter of incentives being badly aligned. We have good people doing horrific things just because they’re incentivized to live that way.”

Sams Definition of Greatness

  • “Real greatness is a matter of meeting worthy goals that have a well-being and ethical competent to them as elegantly as possible”
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