Waking Up by Sam Harris Book Summary

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Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

  • Our minds are all we have – every experience and relationship is because of our minds
  • The expected result of every goal (paint the house, learn a language) is to relax and enjoy the present
    • Each of us is looking for a path to the present
  • How we pay attention to present determining our experience and quality of our lives
    • Ecstasy helped him feel boundless love, not love because….
    • Spiritual, but not religious
  • Spiritual is best term about bringing mind to present and induce non ordinary states of consciousness
  • There is direct connection between spiritual wisdom and scientific facts
  • Meditation helps confirm well established truths:
  • 1) Conventional sense of self is illusion
  • 2) Positive emotions are teachable
  • 3) The way we think influences our experience
  • A rational approach to spirituality is missing from secularism
  • His experience in meditation suggests it is possible to stand free of the juggernaut of self
  • Meditating for weeks (or months) allows people to have experiences that are generally unavailable to others
  • True spiritual practitioner is someone who can be at ease for no reason
    • Western religions must accept set of implausible things whereas Eastern (Buddhism, hinduism) is possible to begin practicing
    • Western learning of Eastern religions began recently – late 1800s
    • Buddhism is not faith-based and central teachings are empirical
  • Buddhism has literature on nature of mind with no peer in western religion or science
    • Buddhism teaches being at peace in difficult circumstances and connection between spiritual and ethical
  • How one uses one’s attention – moment by moment – determining what kind of person we become
    • It is always now. Forgetting this causes us to be far less content than we ought to be
    • Vipassana can be taught in completely secular way
  • Vipassana teaches mindfulness, which reduces pain, anxiety, depression, and improves cognitive function
    • The Satipatthana is a rigorously empirical guide to free mind of suffering
    • 4 foundations
      • 1) Body – breathing, posture, activity
      • 2) feelings – pleasantness, unpleasant, neutrality
      • 3) Mind – moods and attitudes
      • 4) Objects of mind – senses and mental state
    • Mindfulness is undistracted, accepting, and non-conceptual
  • Mindfulness is vivid awareness of mind and body without grasping for pleasant or recoiling from unpleasant
    • Enemy of mindfulness is distracted thought
    • Joseph Goldstein is one of finest vipassana teachers
  • Most of us spend every waking moment lost in the theater of our lives
  • Life is unsatisfactoriness
    • Distraction is normal condition of mind
  • How to meditate
  • 1) Sit comfortably with spine erect
  • 2) Close your eyes and notice sensations
  • 3) Pay attention to breath
      • 4) Rest in sensation of breathing
  • 5) Any time mind wanders, gently return to breath
      • 6) Observe sounds, sensations, and emotions, and return to breath
      • 7) Observe thoughts, gently return to breath
      • 8) continue until you can observe, and let them pass away
  • Life is difficult even for extraordinarily lucky people because we are prisoners of our thoughts
  • Meditation allows one to lose one’s self in boundless, open awareness – to feel one with the cosmos
    • Traditional goal of meditation is to arrive at a state of imperturbable
    • Purpose of meditation is to recognize you already have that mind
    • The near term goal is to have an increasingly healthy mind
    • A spiritual master no longer feels identical to thoughts
    • Given that your mind is basis of every experience, it makes sense to train it
    • Perhaps consciousness is incomprehensible in human terms
  • If consciousness can only know itself through self-experience, then spirituality, or rigorous introspection, is the only way to understand it
    • There are two systems – conscious and unconscious
    • Ethics, morals are based on experience of conscious creatives
    • Maximizing well being doesn’t solve mystery of being itself
    • There is intrinsic selflessness of consciousness
    • Purpose of meditation is to cut through illusion of self
  • We all have problems that cannot be solved by more conceptual knowledge
    • Teleporting to Mars and destroying original body? Psychological continuity with past self is normal pattern of survival
    • There is no stable self from one moment to next
    • The only thing that exists is consciousness and its contents
    • We perceive scarcely a scintilla of all that exists
    • The self is illusory
    • We must build our own telescopes to judge empirical claim of contemplatives
  • Every moment offers an opportunity to be relaxed and responsive or to suffer unnecessarily
    • One way to manufacture gratitude is to contemplate all the terrible things that have not happened
    • Consciously practicing gratitude increases well-being, motivation, and positive outlook
    • Meditation can help you learn to not stay angry for long
  • Suddenly paying attention to something that doesn’t support your current emotional state can change your mental state
  • You can pay close attention to negative states, how it feels – what it is – without judgment or resistance, and it can vanish by itself
  • Per Buddhism, being distracted by thought is the root of human suffering
  • For a contemplative, thoughts are being asleep – because you are not present
  • Meditation is method of breaking the spell of thought
    • P. 107 – vision trumps preconception (awareness of position of body)
  • Movies and TV allows us to observe others without being observed. It is voyeurism of a transcendental kind.
  • Self conscious: conscious of others being conscious of us
  • Human mind is wandering mind and wandering mind is unhappy mind
  • Long-term meditation associated with structural changes in brain, larger corpus callosum and hippocampus, increased cortical folding, and could protect from age-related thinning of the cortex
    • P. 126 – Expert meditators respond differently to pain than others
    • One study – 8 week mindfulness reduces stress and decreases volume of right basolateral amygdala
  • 5 mins / day for 5 weeks increased left-sided baseline activity in frontal cortex and positive emotions
  • Mindfulness fosters physical and mental health, immune function, blood pressure, cortisol levels, reduces anxiety, reduces depression, and emotional reactivity
  • There is enormous difference to being hostage to one’s thoughts and feelings and non-judgmentally aware of life in present
    • Deepest goal of spirituality is freedom from illusions of self – but paradox is in seeking freedom
    • Reality is simply the lack of ego
  • Destroy ego by seeking its identity
  • Look closely at what you call, “I.” The feeling of being a separate self will disappear – all that will remain is experience – field of consciousness – free, undivided, and every-changing
    • being free of self is start of spiritual journey
    • Dzogchen practice requires intrinsic selflessness in every moment
    • His journey started with Vipassana and then Dzogchen → not vague or paradoxical
  • Advice: Don’t be satisfied until you are certain you understand practice
    • Recognize non-dual awareness
    • Thoughts and emotions that arise in consciousness are like images in a mirror
    • The mirror is not beautiful – it’s just a reflection
    • Consciousness itself is free no matter what arises
    • Meditation is practice of finding freedom directly by breaking identification with thought and allowing continuum of experience to be what it is – between pleasant and unpleasant
    • Deeper purpose of meditation is to recognize that which is common to all states of emotion
    • Book: On Having no Head
    • Exercise: look out to the world as if you have no head
    • Paradox of acceptance – acceptance is not path to happiness
    • Embracing consciousness is powerful way of training yourself to respond differently to adversity
  • Must accept unpleasant sensations as truly transitory (rather than hoping they go away)
  • P. 149 Must both refuse to be who we have been in past (eg. grow) while also relaxing, and accepting things in present, as we strive to change ourselves
  • One learning in meditation is nothing is internally boring – only a lack of attention
    • Eye contact meditation – gaze into your partner’s eyes without speaking. Ignore laughter.
    • Spirituality also creates the perfect condition for self-deception and exploited trust
    • Drugs are an inadequate term.
  • LSD poses no apparent risk and are physically well tolerated
    • Everything we do is to alter consciousness and drugs are another means toward the end
  • LSD has been proven useful to treat depression, OCD, alcohol addiction, and porn
    • The brain excludes a huge amount of information and psychadelics open the gates
    • Psychedelics can reveal the wondrous of human possibilities and normal consciousness does not offer a glimmer
  • Spirituality in rational terms is missing from secularism, humanism, rationalism, and atheism
  • Self-transcendence is possible. The conventional self is transitory and disappearing when looked for

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Author: Lisa Price

I’m a 36-year-old mother of two children, who’s a couple decades into dealing with moderate depression. I like bad pop music, black cotton leggings, coffee shops, pastries, and sarcasm. My mom role has mostly eclipsed my other roles of wife, sister, daughter, friend, writer, and ambitious professional since having my daughter 6 years ago and my son 2 years ago. I am in the messy, probably-cliche process of figuring out my post-kids identity, putting the depression demon in its place, and working through a Brene Brown-esque breakdown. Join me in this unexceptional, messy, uncomfortable process.

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