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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