Please enjoy this transcript of my Tim Ferriss Radio Hour on meditation with Chase Jarvis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Harris, and Rainn Wilson. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, it’s Tim Ferriss here and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show where it is always my job to deconstruct world-class performers to tease out the habits, routines, tactics, breakfasts – or lack thereof – that you can then emulate, apply to your own life, test yourself, favorite books, whatever it might be.
This particular episode, I’m going to try to do one better. I’m excited to bring you a little sample taste test of a new show format that I’m working on. And this isn’t going to displace the other – it’s just to complement it. And I’m calling it, for lack of a better name, for the time being, “The Tim Ferriss Radio Hour,” and you’ll see where this is going. And, after nearly 200 hours of conversations with world-class performers all over the map, including people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Foxx, Tony Robbins, Maria Popova, Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen, Amanda Palmer, Malcolm Gladwell, Rick Rubin, Reid Hoffman, and so many more, you start to spot patterns or at least, when I’m reviewing all of the transcripts, I spot patterns. Sometimes they’re months apart but these are the shared habits, philosophies, tools, and more that are the common thread or the common threat.
And this is the premise, of course, of my new book, Tools of Titans, which is a compilation of all of my favorite patterns, all of my favorite routines – you can check that out everywhere – but that’s also where “The Tim Ferriss Radio Hour” comes in. In each episode, we’ll take a deep dive into one specific topic or tactic, bringing together the collective genius of past guests to help you, hopefully, become world-class in your own right if you aren’t already. At the very least, it will give you a common thread, as I mentioned, with slight tweaks here and there that you can customize, in effect, to your idiosyncrasies – to your own personality – or you can blend them together. And, today, in this sneak peek episode, we will be exploring meditation. Meditation, or practicing mindfulness, is by far the most common pattern across them all. In this episode, for instance, I ask Chase Jarvis to explain his top priorities for feeling fulfilled.
Chase Jarvis: I’ve found sort of a new passion for sleep. I can’t ever – not never – but I rarely get the eight, nine, ten –”
Tim Ferriss: I talk TM – that’s transcendental meditation – with the Terminator, the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: I would say within 14 days, 3 weeks, I got to the point where I could really disconnect my mind and also learn how to focus more and to calm down.
Tim Ferriss: I cover a wide spectrum with Sam Harris and talk about everything – or ask him about everything from hallucinogens to meditation techniques.
Sam Harris: The unique power of psychedelics is that they are guaranteed to work in some way.
Tim Ferriss: And then I wrap up with Rainn Wilson discussing how to handle life when you feel overwhelmed – and we all end up, at points, feeling overwhelmed or, at the very least, unclear.
Rainn Wilson: It was the key for me as an actor that kind of broke me open and got me out of my head and just got me in my body and in that place of kind of pure imagination and spontaneity that you really want as an actor.
Tim Ferriss: We start our deep dive on meditation with Chase Jarvis, CEO of CreativeLive which is an online learning platform that broadcasts live, of course, high-definition classes to more than 10 million students in 200 plus countries. Chase was also the youngest person ever to be named a Hasselblad Master, Nikon Master, and ASMP Master. He has photographed for Nike, Apple, Columbia Sportswear, REI, Honda, Subaru, Polaroid, Lady Gaga, Red Bull, and many more. He’s one of the most successful commercial photographers on the planet. So, without further ado, let’s jump into the first episode of “The Tim Ferriss Radio Hour.” Enjoy.
Tim Ferriss: What do you feel have become your top priorities in feeling happy or fulfilled? What are the things, as you become wiser, that you’ve learned to prize more or prize less?
Chase Jarvis: Health.
Tim Ferriss: Hmm. Yeah.
Chase Jarvis: One’s health and being active is incredibly valuable. And I feel like and old person saying this next one but sleep. I have lived on four to six hours of sleep for the last ten years so just prioritizing sleep. And the third one is meditation. Meditation is –
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah. We haven’t talked about this in a while. Aha.
Chase Jarvis: You were on it for a good bit and you said you felt –
Tim Ferriss: I was. I fell off the wagon but, yeah, you were one of two people that I credit with finally kicking me in the ass to take it seriously.
Chase Jarvis: It has really been a good thing –
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, specifically TM? So Transcendental Meditation for those who don’t know – or Trademark.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: But I have my issues with almost every form of meditation. There are pros and cons – we’ve talked about them before – but tell me about your meditation practice.
Chase Jarvis: My meditation practice is not perfect and none are. I just sit down between 15 and 20 minutes twice a day. Sometimes, I only get one time a day, sometimes, those are a little compressed or shit happens – you’re on an airplane and the captain comes on and pulls you out of it – or whatever.
But I make a conscious effort to just observe my thoughts and practice TM in the morning and the evening before dinner and it has made – The analogy that I can most simply put here on your show is it’s when you’re in the zone – say, playing sports or playing music – and things just seem effortless. It’s called a “flow state.” Steven Kotler’s new book – which is a good book, The Rise of Superman, check that out, a little plug for his book about creativity and flow states – but that sense of flow, it’s when things sort of happen in slow motion. Now, you’re not literally talking in slow motion but you have the same clarity as if you’re going through life and everything’s happening in slow motion. Instead of that, “I’m hyper-caffeinated, my boss is –”
Tim Ferriss: “I’m agitated and reactive – dodging bullets”
Chase Jarvis: Yeah. “Ahhhh.” Instead, you’re just like, “I’m driving the bus here and we’re going to go here, and then I’m going to do this.”
And there’s this certain clarity it’s like magic. It’s really weird. And there’s one other thing – I don’t know if you’ve felt this, Tim, but it sort of aggregates so you get a good benefit from one, two, three, four, then when you’re on a roll, there’s this sort of exponential – there’s a sort of overdrive – and it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I feel like I’m just floating.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I can’t explain it, either but, for me – and just for those people who might be thinking like I did for my entire life –
Chase Jarvis: “Bullshit.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, “Bullshit.” No, “I don’t want people ‘Ohm-ing’ me in fricking all this –” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Chakra, whatever. I’m not into it. Especially living in San Francisco, I’ve developed an allergy to sanctimonious – and I’ve been to Burning Man – but sanctimonious burner types who want to lecture me about chakras. I’m just like, “Honestly, please, I can’t handle another minute of this.” So I’ve had this aversion to meditation but, when it’s very sort of non-dogmatic – where it’s like, look, you’re not trying to control anything, you’re not trying to think of a candle flame – just observe your thoughts and be okay with them and sit with good posture for a period of time, that’s it.
Even if you think it’s a shitty job and you’re running through your to-do list or thinking of the stock market, that’s okay. Just make it part of your routine. And what I found was – and some well-known people who do TM are like Paul McCartney or Ariana Huffington –
Chase Jarvis: David Lynch.
Tim Ferriss: David Lynch. I’m blanking on his name for some reason but Bridgewater Capital – largest hedge fund in, if not the world, the United States. $100 billion plus.
Chase Jarvis: Russell Simmons.
Tim Ferriss: Ray Dalio. Russell Simmons.
Chase Jarvis: The list is – I think Howard Stern – it’s crazy.
Tim Ferriss: The list is pretty amazing, yes. Jerry Seinfeld. And the physiological or psychological effects are so fascinating, like you said, because you’ll do it for a couple of days and you’re like, “Well, yeah, okay, whatever,” and then you hit –
Chase Jarvis: I’m sleepy.
Tim Ferriss: You hit this sort of inflection point where you just drop from 200 rpms to 150 and you’re like, “Whoa, okay, this is different,” and then, the whole week, you’re kind of zenned out and then, after, say, a four-week period –
And I did my first retreat a few months ago before I volunteered for the masochism that is television production.
Chase Jarvis: I could just hit you with a stick for a couple weeks.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, if you could put a nail through it first, that’d be great.
Chase Jarvis: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: But really had this tremendous effect on me that, oddly enough – and maybe this is getting too out there for some people – but very similar to my experiences post-relatively high dose hallucinogens. This extended period of calm –
Chase Jarvis: Grace. Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Or ease in decision making – uncluttered. Like you closed every browser on your computer, and turned off the antivirus, and rebooted the whole thing – that type of feeling. So I did fall of the train. Question for you – because, the morning session, I usually find pretty easy. Afternoon, what do you do?
Chase Jarvis: Yeah. Afternoon’s hard. I’m right now thinking of, “Okay, I’ve got to go from here to the thing, to the thing. Alright, when am I going to get my thing in? Oh, shit.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, sometimes I’ll try to do it in the car – like Uber or whatever.
Chase Jarvis: That’s not bad.
Tim Ferriss: But when do you typically do it in the afternoon? I’m curious.
Chase Jarvis: I try and do it before dinner sometime – between work and dinner. We’re entrepreneurs, we work – it’s tough – crazy long hours so I’ll take it whenever I can get it. And it’s usually a little less gracious than my morning one. Like you said, it’s like morning is like it’s your time, you carve out 20 minutes. So, my afternoon one is often a little bit more piecemeal. But, again, it’s the act – I try not to judge the practice – the practice is the practice.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. When you meditate, are you sitting cross-legged, are you sitting with your feet on the floor?
Chase Jarvis: I try to sit in a comfortable chair with my feet flat on the floor, hands on my lap. And there’s a mantra – if you learn TM, you’re given a mantra – and say that word over and over. And, if some thoughts come in, you’re like, “Oh, there’s those thoughts. Bye,” and then they go away and you keep doing it over again.
And then, sometimes, like, “Oh my god, that was 25 minutes,” and, sometimes, it’s like, “Oh my god, that was one minute. It felt like a week.” And, again, but just not judging that and – And it’s – without continuing to talk about it because now it’s getting weird because we’re talking about it so much – but it’s just a powerful tool that is so simple.
Tim Ferriss: I’m just mind melding while you’re talking.
Chase Jarvis: That’s great. You’re meditating. You’re staring off into space.
Tim Ferriss: I haven’t been listening to you. For the last 20 minutes, I haven’t been listening –
Chase Jarvis: For the listening people, Tim is staring off into space right now. He’s not paying attention to us.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. That is, I think, a huge takeaway for people that it doesn’t have to be TM – it could be vipassana, anything. Building in a pause, just like a warm bath for your brain, even if it’s ten minutes a day, so that you’re not in a reactive mode – it’s really a game changer. And, physiologically, had a lot of effects for me, as well.
Chase Jarvis: Oh, yeah. The studies are crazy.
Tim Ferriss: So, when my cortisol levels dropped – I was able to lose body fat more easily in my abdomen, for instance. Really became very sensitive to alcohol and caffeine so I dropped them both significantly – not because I was getting judgmental about it but because I was over sensitized to it. I’d grown immune to the effects so I could have six cups of coffee a day and be like, “Eh,” and did TM for four or five weeks and it was like I had one cup and I was like, “Wow.” I didn’t realize what my baseline was. So just maybe to –
Chase Jarvis: It makes you a cheap date, by the way, too.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve always been a cheap date.
Tim Ferriss: So, with that, I thought you might like to know about some of my current meditation routines or how I’m incorporating mindfulness into my day. First and foremost, upon waking, there are a few things that I do. I get up, generally take a cold shower, do some Wim Hoff breathing – which is a whole separate podcast – and make my bed, etc. I have my five things that I do in the morning – there’s a separate episode on this – but the meditation comes in right after I’ve set the kettle to boil some water or get it to 185 for tea.
I sit down, I do 21 minutes of transcendental meditation although I should 20 minutes of meditation. The first minute is really just to allow myself to fidget and get settled. I’m sitting on the couch in an effectively half lotus position – I don’t think that’s necessary at all, you could sit with your feet on the floor – I just happen to be comfortable that way.
And for the first few minutes, I’m actually mimicking the format of Headspace, the app, in many ways. I’m really focusing on what is happening already – the sensations of, say, my legs against the couch, the feeling of my breathing – and you could look at it as a form, in some sense, of vipassana meditation. Then I segway into the mantra-based TM. That is simply what I’ve found to work well for me, and, oddly enough, it seems that a high percentage of men gravitate, ultimately, towards TM and high percentage of women gravitate towards vipassana.
That is not true across the board at all. Sam Harris, for instance, practices a number of types of meditation, none of which are TM. Now, another guest who I asked about meditation was Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 30th governor of California, seven-time Mr. Olympia. And something, perhaps, a lot of people don’t know, he was a Golden Globe winner in 1976 for his role in Stay Hungry with Jeff Bridges and Sally Fields. He has done everything – he’s reinvented himself over and over again. And the other place that you might find mindfulness in my life is where Arnold also has it which is in the gym. If we’re trying to cultivate present state awareness and less reactivity, you don’t have to sit down and think of a mantra to do it – there are multiple ways. So that all having been said, here we go delving into meditation with no other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Tim Ferriss: I’ve heard you mention transcendental meditation in passing, briefly. Do you meditate?
Arnold Schwarzenegger: I don’t meditate now but I got heavily into it in the ’70s and I remember there was a time in my life where I felt like everything’s just coming together and I did not find a way – or couldn’t find a way – of keeping the things separate. So it was always when I was thinking about it at the same time – I was thinking about my body building career, I was thinking about my movie career, I was thinking about the documentary Pumping Iron that we’re shooting right now and the movie Stay Hungry that we just finished shooting, and my investment in the apartment building, do we get the financing from the bank – and all of this kind of stuff was always coming together and, at the same time, I was training for the Mr. Olympia competition in South Africa. And I was training right here at Gold’s Gym and I remember there was all the camera equipment around 5 hours a day in my face and then someone, in the middle of squatting, was trying to change the batter pack on my lifting belt and all this stuff.
So, yeah, eventually, I felt like, “I’ve got to do something about it because I have such great opportunities here and everything is happening, and everything is going my way, but I’m just clustering everything into one big problem rather than separating it out, and having calm, and peace, and being happy.”
And so, in a total coincidence, I ran into this guy that I’ve run into many times on the beach – very, very pleasant man – who told me that he’s a teacher in transcendental meditation and I said, “Well, it’s interesting you mention it because I feel like I should do something because I feel like I’m just overly worried and have anxieties and all this stuff. And I feel certain pressures that I have never felt before.” And then he says, “Oh, Arnold, it’s not uncommon. It’s very common. A lot of people go through this. This is why people use meditation. Transcendental meditation is one way of dealing with problem.”
And he was very good in selling it because he didn’t say it’s the only answer – he just said, “It’s one of many.” And he says, “Why don’t you try it? I’m a teacher there up in Westwood. I would not be able to teach you since we are friends but there will be another teacher that will give you a mantra and blah, blah, blah, and teach you how to do it. And then I can help you after that,” he says, “Because I will be teaching, obviously. Why don’t you come up on Thursday? And I will be there. I will introduce you to the folks up there.”
And so I went up there, took a class, and I went home after that and then tried it. I said, “Well, I’ve got to give it a shot,” and I did 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at night. And I would say, within 14 days, three weeks, I got to the point where I really could disconnect my mind and, as they say, to find a few seconds of this connection and rejuvenate the mind and also learn how to focus more and to calm down.
And I saw the effect right away that I was much more calm about all of the challenges that were facing me and I continued doing that, then, for a year. And, by that time, I felt like, “I think that I’ve mastered this. I think that now I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore.” And I really felt it one of the things where, in the transcendental meditation was anxiety and pressure meeting around the corner tranquility. This is what it felt like. And so I was happy from that point and, even today, I still benefit from that because I don’t merge and bring things together and see everything as one big problem – I take on one challenge at a time.
And, when I go and I study my script for a movie, then, that day – when I study my script for a movie – I don’t let anything else interfere in that. I just concentrate on that. And the other thing that I’ve learned is that there’s many forms of meditation because, when I study and I work really hard – it takes the ultimate amount of concentration – I can only do it for 45 minutes, maybe – maybe an hour. But then I have to run off and maybe play chess. And I play chess for 15 minutes and then I can go back and have all the energy in the world again and jump right back and then continue on with my work as if I’ve not done it at all today. Right? It’s like I’m fresh. And so that’s another way I think of meditation. And then I also figured out that I could use my workouts as a form of meditation because I concentrate so much on the muscle and I have my mind inside the bicep when I do my curls.
I have my mind inside the pectoral muscles when I do my bench press. So I’m really inside and it’s like a form of meditation because you have no chance of thinking or concentrating on anything else at that time but just that training that you do. And so there’s many ways of meditation and I benefit from all of those and I’m, today, much calmer, and much more organized, and much more tranquil because of that.
Tim Ferriss: This whole conversation makes me want to go tackle the world. I love it.
Tim Ferriss: Next, I want to reintroduce one of my most popular and controversial guests, Sam Harris. He is brilliant. Sam has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and the author of many best-selling books including, The End of Faith, Freewill, Lyin, and Waking Up.
Our first conversation on this podcast explored science, different types of meditation and the uses and risks of psychedelics among many other things and that conversation included segments such as this.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a quote here that is, “There’s nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions: compassion, awe and devotion, feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.” Assuming that’s true – and you and I have, of course, talked about altered states and you’ve written about altered states – I’d love to just dig into that expression or that quote, rather, and look at the alternate approaches that you’ve perhaps explored or researched related to achieving some of these valuable states.
Sam Harris: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So, in the beginning of my career, as you point out, I spent a lot of time criticizing religion and criticizing it for its obvious harms.
But one of its harms that’s not so obvious is that it keeps us talking about this positive end of human experience – this self-transcendence and highly normative states of consciousness in First Century or Seventh Century terms and most people, most of the time, think that the only way to capture “spiritual experience” – and one’s interest in it and the ways in which one would explore it – is to, to some degree, indulge the myth-intoxicated language of the Iron Age. There’s just no way to talk about it otherwise. Science hasn’t given us the tools to talk about it, secular tools doesn’t give us the tools to talk about it, and so we’re left talking about being Christians, and Muslims, and Jews, and Buddhists and organize our lives around the really incompatible truth claims and doctrines that you find in those religions
And very smart people who are secular in every other way think there’s just no alternative to that and so one of my main interests now is in articulating an alternative because, clearly, there are extraordinary experiences that people have and many of these experiences do lie at the core of many of our religions. And so, to take Jesus as an obvious example – who knows who Jesus actually was and what is historically true in the New Testament? But let’s just say, for our argument’s sake, that there really was a guy who loved his neighbor as himself and had this extraordinarily charismatic effect on the people around him, and bore witness to this possibility of a radical self-transcendence. Well, clearly, whatever’s true there is deeper than Christianity and it’s not reducible to Christianity.
In fact, Christianity has to be a distortion of that truth and we know this because Jesus isn’t the only person who’s had that experience. There’s the Buddha and then countless contemplatives through the ages can attest to this experience of, for lack of a better phrase, unconditional love and that has some relationship to what I would call self-transcendence which I think is even more important. And so there’s this phenomenon that’s clearly deeper than any of our provincial ways of talking about it in the context of religion. And so there’s a deeper truth of human psychology and the nature of consciousness and I think we need to explore it in terms that don’t require that we lie to ourselves or to our children about the nature of reality and that we don’t indulge this divisive language of picking teams in the contest among religions.
So, yeah, my next book that’s coming out in the fall is called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion and it’s about the phenomenon of self-transcendence and the ways in which people can explore it without believing anything on insufficient evidence. And one of the principal ways is various techniques of meditation – mindfulness being, I think, the most useful one to adopt first. There’s also the use of psychedelic drugs which is not quite the same as meditation but it does, if nothing else, it reveals that the human nervous system is plastic in a very important way which means your experience of the world can be very radically transformed. You are tending to be who you were yesterday by virtue of various habit patterns and physiological homeostasis and other things that are keeping you very recognizable to yourself but it’s possible to have a very different experience.
And it’s possible to do that through pharmacology, it’s possible to do that through some kind of crisis or it’s possible to do it through a deliberate form of training like meditation. And I think it’s crucial to do because we all want to be as happy, and as fulfilled, or as free of pain and suffering as we can possibly be and all of our suffering and all of our unhappiness is a product of how our minds are in every moment. And so, if there’s a way to use the mind itself to improve one’s capacity for moment-to-moment well-being – which I’m convinced there is – then this should be potentially of interest to everybody.
Tim Ferriss: So a couple of quick questions on all of the subjects. So the first I’d like to touch on, meditation – I think we can probably touch on this briefly – is something we’ve discussed before. You, along with many other people who are high performers in their respective fields have recommended meditation so I have been meditating, partially in thanks to your influence for some time now. Is it safe to say that the meditation that you most frequently recommend to novices is vipassana meditation or is that –?
Sam Harris: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Got it. Why is that? I’ve experimented with a number of different types – transcendental meditation, vipassana, of course, and have taken a number of courses – why that selection? Why that choice?
Sam Harris: Yeah, it has a few obvious strengths that are actually not shared by any other technique I know of. The first is that it doesn’t – it needn’t – presuppose any belief about anything.
You don’t have to develop a fondness for the iconography of Buddhism. You don’t have to care about the Buddha. You don’t have to believe in rebirth, or karma – none of the doctrine of Buddhism need be adopted in order to get the practice off the ground and never need be adopted if it never makes any sense which much of it doesn’t. You don’t have to become a Buddhist to do this and you don’t have to add anything strategically to your experience as a mechanism by which to meditate. So you’re not adding a mantra, you’re not visualizing something that isn’t there. You don’t have to look at a candle flame or do anything to your environment by way of artifice to create the circumstance of meditation. All you’re doing is paying exquisitely close and non-judgmental attention to whatever you’re experiencing anyway.
And the first technique you use to be able to train that capacity is to focus on your breath which you always have with you and is just an easy objective to focus on. But it doesn’t even have to be the breath – mindfulness is just that quality of mind which allows you to pay attention to sights, and sounds, and sensations, and even thought themselves without being lost in thought and without grasping it was pleasant and pushing what is an unpleasant away. So, just being wide open to the next sensory or emotional experience that comes careening into consciousness – that is mindfulness. And so, in some sense, it’s not even a practice, it’s just the state of not being distracted and being aware. And it feels like a practice in the beginning because it’s hard to do – we’re so deeply conditioned to be lost in thought and to be having this conversation with ourselves from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep.
It just chatter in the mind and we’re so captivated that we’re not even aware of it. We are essentially in a dream state and it’s through this veil of thought that we go about our day and perceive our environments but we are just talking to ourselves non-stop and, until you can break that spell and begin to notice thoughts, themselves, as objects of consciousness just arising and passing away, you can’t even pay attention to your breath or anything else with any kind of clarity.
And so, initially, you have to develop some concentration and get mindfulness in-depth so that you can pay attention but, once you can pay attention, it doesn’t matter what you pay attention to. There’s nothing, in principle, that is outside the meditation process. There’s nothing that’s, in principle, that’s a distraction. You don’t need a quiet environment – you can have loud construction noises going across the street and it’s just as good of circumstance for meditation as anything else.
And those are the main reasons why I think it’s the, in terms of being designed for export outside of Buddhist culture or religious culture, generally, and becoming a tool for our intellectual lives in a secular, scientific context, I think there’s nothing like it.
Tim Ferriss: What resources would you suggest for someone who wants to try to educate themselves or dive in as a novice in terms of books, resources, websites for mindfulness and meditation?
Sam Harris: Yeah. Well, I give a few on my blog. I wrote an article a couple years ago entitled, “How To Meditate,” and, if people Google that, they’ll see that I link to a few books and I tell people where they can go on retreats and I briefly describe the practice. I also have given a couple of guided mindfulness meditations I’ve put on SoundCloud which are on my website as well.
And there are other guided meditations out there that people can use. And, in the beginning, some people find that very helpful to have somebody’s voice essentially reminding them to not be lost in thought every few seconds. Because what happens in the beginning for people – and this happened to me in my practice for at least a year – I think it was a year before I went on intensive silent retreat. I was just sitting for an hour a day or so just on my own. I was 20 or so and, essentially, I was just sitting cross-legged, thinking. It’s so hard to notice that you’re lost in thought that, by tendency, you’re just not going to notice it. And so, in the beginning, people think that they’re meditating and they’re really just lost in thought. And it wasn’t until I did my first ten-day vipassana retreat where I broke through and connected with the practice in a way where I realized, “Wow.
All of that that has preceded this was really my thinking I was meditating and not meditating.” And there are other landmarks along my journey that are like that – where it was a shift where I realized, “Wow. This what I thought was happening really was not happening as I thought it was,” and that’s a very common experience. And so, in the beginning, using a guided meditation can help cut through the chatter in a way that many people can’t summon on their own.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let me take a side step which is people ask me, “hat blogs do you read?” and there really aren’t many blogs that I read consistently aside from a handful. And partially, I read your blog and the posts you put up because they’re like feature magazine articles in many cases. And there’s one you wrote in 2011 called, “Drugs and the Meaning of Life,” and you’ve written about this subject before.
I have found certain hallucinogens, in particular, to be very therapeutically valuable for cutting through the chatter and turning that off, and bringing present state awareness to you in a very high definition way when used responsibly. And, of course, as you point out in this piece, it’s not to say that everyone should take psychedelics but I’d be curious to know – One of the lines here – that needs to be read in context, of course, but “I have a daughter who will one day take drugs. Of course, I’ll do everything in my power to see that she chooses her drugs wisely but a life without drugs is not foreseeable nor, I think, desirable.”
Then you obviously go through the how you might guide her to view these different subjects and one of the closing lines in this paragraph is, “But, if she doesn’t not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least one in her adult life, I will worry that she may have missed one of important rites of passage a human being can experience.” And I agree with this.
I’d be curious to hear what particular drugs or psychedelic substances you’ve found most therapeutically valuable in your own life and how you suggest people think about this. Obviously, you have to put the potential legal ramifications in perspective, also, but what have you personally found most valuable and how so?
Sam Harris: Yeah, well, again, you found another paragraph where I was happy to court controversy – to say that I’ll be disappointed if my daughter doesn’t drop acid. But the caveat here – and the caveat comes out several times in that piece –
Tim Ferriss: Which everybody should read in full. I’m not trying to pull anything out of context. I just don’t want to read the whole thing to them now.
Sam Harris: Yeah. I stand by every word but there are a lot of words in there and the caveat is that I have an increasingly healthy respect for what can go wrong on psychedelics and wrong in a way that I think has lasting consequences for people.
And there’s a lot that can go right with psychedelics and, to some degree, I think they’re still indispensable for a lot of people – they certainly seem to be indispensable for me. I don’t think I ever would have discovered meditation without having taken, in particular, MDMA, but MDMA, mushrooms, and LSD all played a role for me in unveiling an inner landscape that was worth exploring. But for that pharmacological advantage, I think my consciousness was such that I looked inside, I saw nothing of interest, and that’s sort of the end of the conversation. You tell me that there’s something profound to witness about the nature of my own mind – I don’t see it. I just want to get on with the next thing in the world that seems fun to do or seems likely to lead to my success.
I just was a skin-encapsulated ego that was just trying to get on with life and succeed and thought he was very clever and didn’t have the contemplative tools to see much of anything when he paid attention. And that’s a situation that many people are in and many smart people are in that position. So I’m constantly meeting scientists, and philosophers, and highly articulate people who spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of the human mind and, when I talk to them about meditation or really any of these philosophical issues that, for which, an ability to pay attention to the nature of your own consciousness is an advantage. So something like free will or the nature of the self, of the possibility of self-transcendence – I’m meeting people who have, as far as I can tell, no ability to notice their inner lives.
There’s people who, some of them seem to not to have inner lives but these are people who are very much the way I was when I was 18 before I had had any experience with any of this. There’s just you’re lost in thought, and you don’t know it, and that phrase “lost in thought,” means nothing to you, and you don’t have the tools by which to do anything with it even if it meant something to you, and there’s just nothing. And you’re cognitively closed to data and the data are to be found – the most important point of which – is, the self you think you are is an illusion. This sense of being a self, riding around in your head, this feeling of “I,” this feeling that everyone calls “I,” is an illusion that can be disconfirmed in a variety of ways.
Its boundaries can be transformed in ways or it can be completely cut through and vanish for a moment, or a minute, or potentially for the rest of one’s life so it’s vulnerable to inquiry. And that inquiry can take many forms but the unique power of psychedelics is that there’s a unique power and a unique liability. The unique power and liability is that they are guaranteed to work in some way – and this is a point that Terence McKenna always made. Terence McKenna was a huge booster of psychedelics – and a very articulate one – and he poo-pooed any other spiritual methodology, meditation, and chanting, and yoga, and anything else that people brought to him saying, “Can’t you get the same benefit without drugs?”
And his point was, “Well, you teach someone to meditate, you teach them yoga, there’s no guarantee whatsoever that something’s going to happen. They could spend a week doing it, they could spend a year doing it – who knows what’s going to happen? They may just get bored and they’re going to wander away from this thing not knowing that there was a “there” there. If I give you five grams of mushrooms or 300 micrograms of LSD and tell you to sit on that couch for an hour, you are guaranteed to have a radical transformation in your experience.
It doesn’t matter who you are – this freight train of significance is going to come bearing down on you and we just have to watch the clock and know it’s going to happen and that’s a fact.” So that’s the advantage because you’re guaranteed to realize, at the end of that episode, that it is possible to have a radically different experience than you tend to have. And, if you have a good experience, you’re going realize that human life can be just unutterably sublime – that it’s possible to feel at home in the universe in a way that you couldn’t have previously imagined.
But, if you have a bad experience – and the bad experiences are every bit as bad as the good experiences are good – you will have just this harrowing encounter with madness. And it’s as pathological as any lunatic who’s wandering the street raving to himself and completely cut off from others. You can have that experience and, hopefully, it goes away – and, universally, in every case, it does go away – but it’s still rough and it still has consequences for people. Some of the consequences are good – I happen to think that it gives you a basis for compassion, in particular, for people who are suffering mental illness that you couldn’t otherwise have but it’s not an experience that I’m eager to have again. So my healthy respect for the power of psychedelics has led me to not take many for many years.
It’s been years since I’ve taken anything and my use tapered off in my 20s when I got into meditation and was spending more time on retreat and beginning to feel that I was hitting the center of the bullseye with meditation in a way that I was certainly not guaranteed to with psychedelics and I basically stopped using everything and just practiced meditation. But there’s no question that I wouldn’t have become sufficiently interested in meditation but for the experiences I had on LSD and MDMA in particular.
Tim Ferriss: To round out this deep dive into meditation, I wanted to relive a conversation that I had with Rainn Wilson, who is perhaps best known as Dwight on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning The Office. He shared an incredible insight to a very simple question we all face from time to time.
When you feel overwhelmed, what do you do to improve the situation?
Rainn Wilson: Well, I have a spiritual faith that I rely on that I use so I use prayer and meditation as tools to center me and bring me back into reality. I also find that, for me, acting is a wonderful escape because you get out of your own head and you get to go into someone else’s head. And it was like that on The Office, too, and doing comedy. When life was good, and life was bad – there was something wonderful about coming to Dwight. And I could just put Rainn Wilson aside and just all of that bullshit, and clear it out of my head and out of my heart, and just be Dwight Shrute.
And, sometimes, it was just super, super fun to do that. So those are some of the tools. Acting is a tool, prayer and meditation is a tool I use to bring myself into the world.
Tim Ferriss: And your faith – I know I’m going to massacre this because I’ve only read it and not heard it said – but is it Baha’i?
Rainn Wilson: Yeah, Baha’i.
Tim Ferriss: Baha’i. There we go. Thank you.
Rainn Wilson: Baha’i – like “Hi, how you doing?” Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And I want to come back to that but, when you meditate, what does that look like and do you do it on a daily basis? What’s the format of that?
Rainn Wilson: Yeah, I try and meditate every day. There’s no format in the Baha’i faith – it’s just greatly encouraged to meditate. When you pray, you’re communicating with the Creator, you’re communicating with the universe, you’re putting stuff out there, and, when you’re meditating, you’re listening to the universe. But it’s really pretty simple. I get a great deal of benefit if I even do a 10-minute meditation and, out of that 10 minutes, if 4 of the minutes my mind can be very still and very silent.
There’s great guided meditations now. There’s apps, there’s all kinds of things you can do for meditation. But, for me, it’s just about – I won’t say silencing the mind because that’s impossible because those thoughts are always going to pop up – but, when those thoughts pop up, you just notice them, you identify them, you let them float in front of your eyes almost like one of those old-fashioned Wall Street ticker machines. And you find– I find – a tremendous amount of peace, serenity, and bliss in just being in consciousness. And consciousness is not thought, consciousness is just being – “I am this being. I am not separate from the giant being of earth, and the cosmos, and the universe.” And just being in that stillness is incredibly rewarding. I get really a ton of clarity and I get a ton of energy from it.
And these have been proven in scientific studies, by the way, in all kinds of things from healing trauma, to giving you more energy, to giving you more focus in your work. Meditation is a pretty incredible tool.
Tim Ferriss: And lowering cortisol. I’ve been spending time interacting with some researchers at Johns Hopkins – a gentleman named Roland Griffiths and also a gent named Adam Gazalley who runs a neuroimaging lab at UCSF. And what’s been very interesting – and we don’t have to go down the rabbit hole with this – but it appears that, if you look at experienced meditators and brain activity – And I’m blanking on the particular area, I think it might be somewhere in the parietal lobe but I could be off. In any case, there’s a portion of the brain that is thought to contribute to the separation of self and other. So it’s inhibited both in the use of, say, psilocybin, which was found in magic mushrooms, but also you experience a similar type of pattern in experienced meditators which is kind of cool.
Rainn Wilson: Well, I know that they – oh, sorry, go ahead
Tim Ferriss: Go ahead.
Rainn Wilson: Yeah, I heard a fascinating thing on the radio once where they did a study and they found the happiest man in the world. So they did a brain scan and they found the happiest person they could possibly find. And this guys was – I think he was an American, he was living in Wisconsin – but he was a student of Tibetan Buddhism. And, at the time when they did the brain scan – which charted out as the very happiest – he was in the process of meditating and it was a meditation of universal compassion so it’s a meditation where you’re feeling at one with everyone and great compassion for everyone on the planet earth and all beings on planet earth – human, animal, plant – what they’re going through.
And, in so doing, that achieved the greatest happiness. That goes along with what you’re saying.
Tim Ferriss: No, definitely. And, even if you are self-interested, there’s a biological benefit to empathy, and compassion, and meditation. So I just want to reiterate something you said because I think it’s so important is that I try to meditate 20 minutes each morning and, like you mentioned, there are apps like Calm and Headspace that are very helpful for this – but even if I’m just violently, excuse me, let me try English again, violently getting punched in the psyche by my to-do list, and worries, and anxieties, and thoughts for 15, or even 18 minutes out of 20, if I have 2 minutes where the mud settles and the mind is clear, it has an incredible impact on the entire day for me.
Rainn Wilson: I feel exactly the same way. That’s exactly my experience. Even out of a 10-minute meditation, if I can just get two or three minutes in there where I have almost achieved thoughtlessness and just a serene bliss, it’s like taking a powernap and it helps you through your whole day.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely. And I think it was Tara Broch who said this to me – it might have been someone else – but they said, “If you just come back to your breath, or a mantra, or whatever it is that you’re focusing on if you’re doing concentrated meditation, it’s the coming back that is the practice. So, if you’re just distracted and you’re basically just bouncing off the walls with your monkey mind for those 19 minutes, if you come back even once, you can consider it a successful session. And I think, for Type A personalities, that’s really important to keep in mind.
Rainn Wilson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned something I’d love to explore a little bit which is that acting can be a wonderful escape – and I’m paraphrasing here – from your own head.
I was actually watching Amy yesterday – which is a documentary about Amy Winehouse and very sad story, tragic on many levels – but she produced some beautiful music from bad experiences and she was able to escape her own head by putting these poems which became songs on paper. Are there any particular exercises from whether it’s acting school, or improv, or otherwise, that you think could benefit non-actors who just want to help create new avenues of thinking or embrace some type of therapeutic effect of getting outside their own head?
Rainn Wilson: Yeah, specific ones, I suppose I could go into, but I studied with a great teacher at NYU named Paul Walker – he died of AIDS – but he was an exquisite teacher and he taught theater games.
And, for me, that was a real revelation because, when I had tried acting early on, I was very stiff, and very in my head, and cerebral, and stuck, and it was very conscious like, “How am I going to say this line?” and “How do I best look when I’m turning this way?” It was just a very self-conscious style of acting that was bad. It was sucky. So what Paul got us doing in acting school at NYU was just playing and there’s something incredibly freeing about playing like a kid and that your impulses as an actor and your impulses as a kid at play are really the same thing. Like I said before, it’s deeply pretending. So are there specific exercises? I suppose I could think of some but how much fun is it to play “Red Light, Green Light” for 20 minutes or “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and then to move from those exercises into more and more imaginative improvisations but where you allow yourself to just play like a child.
And, sometimes, children play and they’re competitive, sometimes, they play and they’re very serious – it’s not all this general, “Whee,” stuff. And I found that so freeing and it was the key for me as an actor that broke me open, and got me out of my head, and just got me in my body, and in that place of pure imagination and spontaneity that you really want as an actor.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm. And I think it seems to me, also, when you put yourself in that place – much like meditation, you have to be present state aware. You can’t be worrying about something that you have scheduled two weeks in the future or resenting something like some idiot who cut you off in traffic that morning. You have to be in that moment, and be effective, and to have fun. You just can’t be distracted by those things.
Rainn Wilson: Yeah, like we’ll do a thing where you – I just remember because I did it recently where I did sessions with the employees at Soul Pancake, games and improv stuff – where everyone has a number from 1 to 10.
There’s two teams of ten on each side of the room. There’s a stool in the center of the room with a shoe on it and the goal is you’ve got to get the shoe and then get back to your place in line. Right? It’s a pretty simple game. But then you also do this game called, “Sexy Nostril,” where you write down adjectives and you write down body parts so it could be “angry,” “sad,” “lonely,” “energetic” – those are the adjectives and then body parts, “earlobe,” “testicle,” “anus,” “shoulder blade,” “fingernail,” whatever. And you draw one of each and then you try and play a game manifesting those characteristics. So, if you have “sexy nostril,” then you have to play that same game of getting the shoe and getting back in line but you’re a person where the center of their energy is in their nostril and it’s a very sensual, sexual energy.
And it helps you create a character and play as that character, and it takes you out of your head and it just gets you in your body and gets you feeling and responding. I love teaching that stuff. It’s super fun. And, for me, Tim, I’m in my head a lot and it kind of sucks.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, me, too.
Rainn Wilson: So there’s certain tools that I have to use to get by. So I’ve learned in my life – I don’t remember every day – but there’s certain things I have to do to just be out of my head and just to get to normal. I’m not talking about being really super effective. Just to get to normal, I have to do meditation. I have to do some exercise. If I can get into nature, great. If I can play some tennis, better. And acting is that same way – acting, rehearsing, playing characters – these are the things that get me out of my head and out of just analyzing every goddamn thing that comes down the pike and leaves me miserable and making really bad choices.
Tim Ferriss: Well, there you have it, folks – my first episode of the Tim Ferriss Radio Hour with some of the superstars, some of the experts that I’ve spoken to over the past few years. And this is an experiment, as I said at the top of the show. I want to know what did you like? What did you not like? How can it be improved? Do you want more of these or should we just skip it? That’s totally fair as well. What topics would you like me to most explore or consolidate? What types of patterns? In other words, I just want your feedback so please let me know what did you like, what didn’t you like, what should I do more of, less of? And you can ping me on Twitter, @TFerriss – T-F-E-R-R-I-S-S – or on the blog at fourhourworkweek.com/blog. If you’re a Facebooker – you love the Facebooks – you could go to facebook.com/timferriss with two “r’s” and two “s’s” but, generally speaking, Twitter is going to be the best means of communication for now – @TFerriss.
So please let me know your thoughts and, as always and until next time, thank you for listening.
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