sam harris mindfulness covid-19

Meditation in an Emergency | Making Sense with Sam Harris

Check out the Making Sense Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • During the current COVID-19 crisis, the best thing you can do for yourself—and others—is to stay home
    • Read that again. STAY HOME.
  • Meditation & mindfulness are more important than ever. The nature of your mind CANNOT be ignored at a time like this.
  • As you go about the next few weeks, frequently ask yourself, “How useful is it for me to be feeling anxious or terrified right now?”


  • This is a solo episode with Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg), recorded on March 17th about the current COVID-19 pandemic

The State of Affairs

  • “Many of us are in different stages of our understanding of what’s happening. Reports out of Italy are, frankly, terrifying. And the United States, as of 48 hours ago, it seems, has finally understood what’s coming. It’s clear that understanding has come too late to respond in an optimal way.” – Sam Harris


  • “I’ve been worried about convincing people that this situation has to be taken seriously and that we should have begun the self-quarantine that’s now been imposed on us several weeks ago” – Sam Harris
  • “This is an emergency in which the most effective contribution you can make to your own well-being—and the well-being of others—is to stay home” Sam Harris

Let Go of Your Anxiety & Fear

  • Anxiety isn’t all that bad—it’s actually pretty useful. Think of it like a signal—”the emotional valence of certain thoughts, perceptions, and social interactions that gets your attention.”
    • The same goes for fear—it’s protected us for millennia
  • So, it’s not a matter of getting rid of anxiety & fear; it’s a matter of letting them go when they’re no longer useful
    • The difference between feeling acutely anxious vs. chronically anxious is HUGE—it’s an entirely different mind state
      • Just like you can choose your what to eat, and whether or not to exercise, you can choose how to direct your attention & what mind state to adopt (but to make this choice requires mindfulness)
  • During these times, most of your negative emotions—anxiety, fear, stress, anything besides the compassion for our collective circumstance—is worth letting go of
    • But, if you don’t have enough attention even to notice these thoughts, they over-take you
  • It’s certainly worth understanding the probability of adverse outcomes, but it’s not worth helplessly ruminating on them

Mindfulness is More Important Than Ever

  • During these difficult times, we must keep our heads on straight—everything we say and do, affects those around us
    • If you’re anxious or stressed, everything that comes out of your mouth will come from a place of stress and anxiety—your negative emotions are contagious & toxic to those around you
  • Given the above, meditation & mindfulness are more critical than ever. The nature of your mind CANNOT be ignored at a time like this.
    • Without insight into the nature of anxiety/stress/anger through mindfulness, it’s impossible to let go & release

Mental Training is Like Physical Training

  • “I view mental training very much like physical training, among many other things, as kind of a disaster preparedness. Who will you be on the most stressful day of your life, when you lose your job, or when someone close to you gets sick and dies? You will only have the mind that you’ve built for yourself; you’ll only have the skills that you’ve acquired.”Sam Harris

The Human Mind is a Prison

  • Humans are social creatures. Over the next few months, we’ll all face challenges as we attempt to maintain the necessary standards of social distancing.
  • Think about it: solitary confinement is considered a punishment in prison
    • “People seem to prefer the company of murders and rapists to the prospect of being locked in a room with their own minds” – Sam Harris
  • Sam expands:
    • “An untrained mind—a perfectly normal one—can be an extraordinarily unhappy place to be in. Your own mind can be terrible company. And if it is, you can be sure it’s less than ideal company for others. If you care about your own sanity, and you care about offering effective support to those around you, it’s worth paying attention to the mechanics of your own mental suffering, your own anxiety, self-concern, and agitation. The alternative is just to propagate your unhappiness to others.”

The Economic Effects of COVID-19

  • “Health concerns aside, we’re witnessing an economic emergency unfold before us. The U.S. stock market dropped yesterday [March 16th, 2020] more than it has at any point in history. Even if there were no coronavirus, even if no one had any heightened health concerns, what’s happening to the economy at this moment is devastating.” – Sam Harris

Wrapping Up

  • Most of your emotional responses to the current state of the world are detrimental—to your relationships, to your creative resources, and to your work
    • Just ask yourself, “How useful is it for me to be feeling anxious or terrified right now?”
  • “The greatest contribution you could make to society now is to stay home” Sam Harris
    • Use this opportunity to practice mindfulness—it’s needed now more than ever

Additional Notes

  • Sam recently listened to this episode of The Daily, which contains an interview with an Italian doctor working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in Milan 

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