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Sam Harris: Enlightenment, Real Meditation, and Consciousness Explained – The Kevin Rose Show

Check out Kevin’s Website

Key Takeaways

  • Give Sam’s book, Lying, a read (you probably shouldn’t be lying as often as you are)
  • “Consciousness is already free of the self. It’s not that you have a self and you get rid of it through meditation; that’s an illusion.”Sam Harris
  • You are NOT your thoughts – they’re strictly appearances in consciousness
    • Every negative emotion you experience (shame, anxiety, anger, etc.) is the result of identifying with a thought
  • Meditation is a way of recognizing the true nature of consciousness (one lacking identification with thought)
  • “When you pay very close attention to the way consciousness is in each moment, the sense of self drops away. There’s no center to consciousness. There’s no subject interior to the body.” – Sam Harris

Books Mentioned


How Sam Got Into Meditation

  • As a teen, Sam had a few psychedelic experiences that led him to develop an interest in the nature of the human mind, particularly what could be learned about it through introspection
    • This naturally led him to meditation, and Sam dove right in – he spent a ton of time on retreat, as well as studying with various meditation teachers in India/Nepal, throughout his 20s
  • Sam’s interest in the nature of human consciousness eventually led him to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience
    • “I was a philosopher of mind who just wanted to get his arms around the scientific details as we were coming to know them” – Sam Harris

Sam’s Early Books

  • Sam comments on his first book, The End of Faith – “It was very much a culture war book where I presented a very stark opposition between reason and faith, as well as science and religion.”
  • Sam’s next book, The Moral Landscape, was about understanding morality in a rational scientific framework
    • (It was actually an edited version of Sam’s Ph.D. dissertation)

Lying | Why You Need to Start Telling the Truth 100% of the Time

  • This is one of Kevin’s favorite books of Sam’s
    • It discusses the many reasons why we as humans should never lie
    • It’s notably short, but the insight density is quite high
  • Know this: “When you’ve given someone truly honest feedback that’s critical, and they absorb it, but’s it’s not what they wanted to hear… then on some other occasion, when they give you something that you really love, and your feedback is fundamentally different, at that moment, they know you’re being honest. They know you’re not bullsh**ing. That’s so valuable.” Sam Harris
    • “It’s such a relief to recognize those moments when you’re in the presence of someone who’s telling you to your face exactly what they’d be saying behind your back”
      • “You want friends who speak about you in your absence exactly the way they would speak if you were sitting at the table”

The Insight That Changed Sam’s Life (Meditation – Part II)

  • The first type of meditation Sam got into was Vipassana
    • What is it? – You simply pay attention to all the sensations occurring throughout your body 
    • “I think Vipassana is the best introductory practice for anybody. Unlike a mantra-based practice or any sort of visualization practice, there’s nothing that you’re strategically adding to your experience; you’re just paying attention to the next breath, the next sound, or the next thought, whatever’s arising.” – Sam Harris
  • The insight that changed Sam’s life:
    • “Consciousness is already free of the self. It’s not that you have a self and you get rid of it through meditation; it’s an illusion. You can cut through that illusion directly. You don’t have to climb up to the mountaintop to do it. You can do it right here at the mountain’s base.” – Sam Harris
  • Sam has completed silent meditation retreats lasting up to 3 months
    • Kevin’s yet to do one, but his wife has completed a 10-day

You Are Not Your Thoughts

  • “Meditation isn’t something you’re doing. It’s not actually a practice. When you’re actually practicing meditation, you’re ceasing to do something that you’re always tending to do: identify with each passing thought.” Sam Harris
    • We all tend to go about our daily lives, and as thoughts arise, we fail to notice them for what they are (appearances in consciousness). Instead, we become the thoughts.
      • Sam adds:
        • “The feeling of being a self, the feeling of being a subject behind your face, the feeling of being an ‘I,’ the feeling of being a thinker of thoughts who’s the author of your moment-to-moment experience… all of that is what it feels like to be identified with thought moment-to-moment.” – Sam Harris
        • The feeling of a heightened self-conscious follows us around all day long, only relaxing during a pleasant experience, when we’re in the flow state, when we’re working out, or when we’re doing something as simple as watching TV
          • “One of the reasons why watching films or TV is so relaxing is it’s an experience of ‘loss of self'” – Sam Harris
  • Bottom line: Meditation is a way of recognizing the true nature of consciousness (AKA one in which you don’t identify with thought)

What is consciousness?

  • We don’t actually know
    • It could be a side effect of the information processing happening in our brains
    • Or, perhaps it’s a fundamental property of matter/atoms
      • This relates to the idea of panpsychism (i.e., something like a rock could be conscious)
  • “We don’t actually know how consciousness is integrated with the physics of things. We don’t know at what level it arises, and therefore we don’t know how far it goes down in the phylogenetic tree. We don’t know if crickets are conscious… For this reason, we don’t yet know what would make our computers conscious.” – Sam Harris
  • Why is this important?
    • EVERY ethical question relates to whether or not a conscious agent can be affected by a set of facts
    • “Not understanding how consciousness emerges is a problem as we move into a future where we’ll be simulating worlds on computers” – Sam Harris

On the Ego

  • “You’re much more of a verb than a noun. The idea that you’re the same self that went to sleep last night and woke up this morning, and that you have this unchanging center of narrative gravity… that’s a construct that doesn’t have a correlate in the brain.” – Sam Harris
  • “When you pay very close attention to the way consciousness is in each moment, the sense of self drops away. There’s no center to consciousness. There’s no subject interior to the body.”Sam Harris
    • If you pay close enough attention to the idea of a “self,” it disappears

Stop Identifying With Your Thoughts

  • “When you examine the mechanics of your own suffering (when you look at why you become anxious, angry, afraid, or ashamed), it’s a matter of being identified with a thought” Sam Harris
    • “There’s something about breaking the spell of being lost in thought with real mindfulness that is analogously freeing. For that moment, you’re not taken in by the thing that would have otherwise totally determined your state of being for minutes or hours.”

Meditation is a Skill

  • When you first start out, you won’t be good (and that’s okay) – it goes against the way your mind has been working your entire life
    • It’s the same as riding a unicycle or playing the piano (you’ll likely feel like a total failure after the first attempt)
    • But it gets worse…
      • “In most cases, those who think they’re successfully mediating for the longest time, they’re really just thinking with their eyes closed. They don’t have enough concentration to notice how distracted they are.” – Sam Harris
  • “The practice is about endlessly noticing you’re distracted and then coming back to the breath, sounds, or sensations of the body. That willingness to come back to your focus without judgment is important; judgment is just another thought that’s capturing you. The same with frustration.” Sam Harris

Sam’s Thoughts on Enlightenment

  • “I have no reason to believe it’s not possible” – Sam Harris
  • What is enlightenment?
    • A full stabilization of the insight into the non-duality of awareness (all that exists is awareness and its contents, there is no “subject” thinking the thoughts)
    • “The fact that you can experience that for 2 seconds makes me think you can experience it for 2 minutes or 2 hours. Why would you ever overlook it again if you could get to the point of that kind of stability?” – Sam Harris

Wrapping Up

  • Kevin is a HUGE fan of Sam’s Waking Up meditation app – you should give it a try
  • With meditation, aim to erase the boundary between practicing and the way you live the rest of your life (this should be the end goal)
    • Every moment in your life – whether turning a doorknob, starting your car, or washing the dishes – these moments can all be one in which you cut through to the same kind of mindfulness you experience during a formal meditation session

Additional Notes

  • Kevin used to live 5 doors down from the San Francisco Zen Center
  • Check Wild Wild Country – it’s a documentary about Osho
    • “The guy was a madman… He was really out there. He was snorting nitrous oxide and getting a blow job every 5 minutes.” – Sam Harris
  • “You can experience states of meditation where extreme pain and extreme pleasure are equalized. You can’t even tell if it’s pain or pleasure anymore; it’s just extreme.” – Sam Harris
    • Related: “It’s possible to recognize that consciousness transcends its contents… That which is aware of an unpleasant sensation or emotion is exactly the same thing as that which is aware of a pleasant one.”
  • The time to meditate is NOW, not when your life is in chaos
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Notes By MMiller

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