Sam Harris, Ph.D. — How to Master Your Mind (#342)

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“The goal of meditation is to uncover a form of wellbeing that is inherent to the nature of our minds.” — Sam Harris

Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D in neuroscience from UCLA. Sam is the host of the Waking Up podcast, and he is the author of multiple books including The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Lying, Waking Up, and Islam and the Future of Tolerance (with Maajid Nawaz).

This experimental episode came about because a few months back Sam asked me to be a beta tester for his Waking Up meditation app that he was creating at the time. It was recently released, and I highly recommend it. I anticipated it would be good because Sam’s work is always good, and he’s one of those rare humans who seems to think and speak in finished prose, and he has a voice that can very easily lull you into a semi-psychedelic state while you are completely sober. You’ll hear what I mean soon.

Sam has a unique combination of experiences and areas of expertise, and his approach is that of a logical progression of layering on different types of training for learning the skill of meditation. In this episode, Sam will discuss his experiences with MDMA, his spiritual exploration, contact with so-called gurus, duality versus non-duality, and lots more. If you want to dive right into a beginner level guided meditation, skip to [52:32].

Make sure to check out the bonus episode (also found on this page) if you enjoy what you find here and want to jump straight to the guided meditations. The bonus episode also features additional content from Sam not found in the longer episode. Enjoy!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.


Here is the companion episode if you want to jump directly to the guided meditations from Sam:


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Sam Harris:

Website | Waking Up (app) | Waking Up (podcast) | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

SHOW NOTES

  • What you can expect from this episode (and why you probably shouldn’t listen to it while you’re driving a car). [07:21]
  • The Waking Up course app differs from other meditation apps. [08:39]
  • Sam’s background, and the journey his first foray into psychedelics would set in motion. [09:22]
  • Sam explains his views on religion and profound experiences some would call “spiritual” — which he set out to explore after that first experience with MDMA. [19:46]
  • Gradual versus sudden notions of realization or awakening, enlightenment versus cessation, and the distinction between meditation and psychedelics as tools. [22:09]
  • The meeting that led to a switch in Sam’s perspective on meditation after lengthy attempts for enlightenment proved unsuccessful. [31:05]
  • The dangers of guru Poonjaji’s “all or nothing” approach, the main difference between Advaita and Dzogchen teachings, and what it took to unravel one fellow student’s apparently confirmed enlightenment. [37:12]
  • Exploring Dzogchen and the context behind Sam’s current view of meditation. [42:32]
  • Perceiving the optic blind spot: the difference between being utterly misled by false information, being nudged in the general direction, and being precisely guided by an expert. [45:42]
  • One does not simply drop out of Stanford: Sam returns to college after 11 years away and finds himself uniquely qualified to unite his philosophical, scientific, and secular perspective with meditation. [50:24]
  • Why Sam believes the Waking Up course app and its guided meditations will benefit beginning and veteran meditators alike. [51:38]
  • Sam shares a 10-minute guided meditation from the course designed for a relative beginner to the practice of mindfulness. [52:32]
  • Sam shares a lesson from the course on the topic of death. [1:03:24]
  • Sam shares a lesson on the mystery of being. [1:10:33]
  • A 12-minute guided meditation from a little later in the course. [1:19:54]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:33:49]

BONUS EPISODE NOTES

  • Day 2 guided meditation. [00:56]
  • Day 17 guided meditation. [11:23]
  • Day 31 guided meditation. [25:13]
  • Why does Sam think you should meditate? [35:17]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

Posted on: October 29, 2018.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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9 comments on “Sam Harris, Ph.D. — How to Master Your Mind (#342)

  1. Hi Tim — this note is about your interview with BJ Miller (https://tim.blog/2016/04/14/bj-miller/) in April 2016, but I thought I should leave it on your most current episode link in hopes you might see it. At the time the interview came out and I listened to it, my sister was nearing the end of her life; she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer the previous spring. I was her “go-to” during this final year, and it was a profound experience. When I heard the interview, it resonated with me, as you can imagine. What I was thinking about constantly at that time was how things were going to end for my sister — what it would be like and whether I could help her and say the right things when that time came. She had been at home with Hospice help for several months, and we thought that she would be at home until the end, but a little extra care was needed at the eleventh hour, and she went to our local, lovely Hospice Center, where she died two days later. The morning she died, I suddenly remembered something that BJ Miller said in his interview — that at the Zen Hospice Center, they had a tradition of sprinkling the body with flower petals before it was taken away. This could not have been a more perfect and poignant a ritual for my family’s farewell to my sister, for whom gardening was a soulful, joyful practice. So in that moment, we took petals from the flowers friends had brought, and we gratefully used the Zen Hospice tradition to honor my sister. I wanted to thank you and BJ for this gift. (I should add that the Hospice here … and perhaps at all Hospice centers? — has a tradition they call the Honor Guard. All staff members on duty line the hallway as the patient and family leave the center. It was lovely.) Experiencing my sister’s last year with her was powerful, and I’m now working on a project that came out of that experience; my sister wanted to focus on the positive and that decision probably brought her more time with us in the end, but her desire to avoid talking about dying was tough for us. I realized I had strong ideas about how we could avoid this dilemma, and I’m trying to put them out into the world (love the Death Over Dinner model; my goal is different but related, of course). If you’d like to hear about it sometime, please feel free to email [Moderator: email address removed.]. Meanwhile, thank you again; I have gotten so much meaningful food for thought from your interviews, but it felt important to mention this particular story to you. Take care — Carla A.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All your podcasts are gold, but your podcasts with Sam Harris have had the biggest impact on my life. I’m sure this one is no exception! Much love and gratitude xx

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  3. Another excellent podcast!
    The conversation about consciousness is always fascinating.

    I would love to add here, the opinion of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961), which goes something like this:
    Long ago we were happy blissful animals living in harmony with nature’s rhythm.
    When we became humans and developed consciousness we lost the happy state of being for the benefit of having the most powerful tool ever: the human mind.
    There was a trade-off that we need to understand.
    We paid a price to get a mind with consciousness of its self. We paid dearly to become civilized.
    This, according to Jung is the hidden meaning of the fall of man from paradise.

    This approach was made clear to me when I read the short story “The dog beneath the skin” by Oliver Sacks in the book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”.
    This short sorry is about a medical student who after ingesting a hallucinogenic drug develops the extra sensitive smell of a dog. His whole existence reverted to a happy animal state, while at the same time losing his ability for proper human efficiency. This lasted for some months. He regained his former state, while acknowledging that he would no longer be able to function in an organized society if he stayed longer like this.

    My take on this is that basic existential unhappiness is the price we pay for being civilized.

    Of course, a regular practice of meditation is always beneficial.

    Thank you

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  4. Tim, I am a huge fan. I can’t however take anything Sam Harris says seriously when he regularly spews lies and hatred towards my way of life, which is Islam, and that of my fellow Muslims, all 1.6 billion of us. He of course also spews lies about Christianity too.

    Below is one of numerous things Sam Harris has said that are absolutely FALSE and full of lies. Every single phrase is simply a lie.

    I am a Muslim living in the West like millions of others. I live in peace and harmony with my Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist and Sikh brothers and sisters. Sam Harris insist on telling you lies about me and my religion.

    I have never heard Sam Harris actually speak with a Muslim scholar on any of the issues he has been continuously lying about for decades. He makes claims like this all the time with no basis or scholarship behind it.

    “Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost — demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques.”

    There are a million examples I could give to show how every phrase is false – but you can do your research yourself.

    The most remarkable part is that if he had said something similar about Jews, he would be ousted from all institutions and publicly vilified for being anti-semitic. He gets away with his hatred of Muslims and Islam simply because that’s become acceptable for a long time now.

    I have many beautiful atheist friends. They completely and unapologetically stand against Sam Harris for simply adding more HATE into the world by constantly speaking out against literally billions of Christians and Muslims.

    We don’t need more hateful people – we need more loving people in the world – whether they are religious or atheist. Sam Harris is one of the people spreading more hate. I am a Muslim. Like other fellow Muslims, I love all the human beings in the world. Like other religions, we have a few bad apples too – there is no denying that. Our bad apples just tend to make newspapers more money!

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    • I’d further finish by saying that Dr. Harris could be an amazing force for good if he actually worked to build bridges with people of faith rather than spreading lies and hatred for them. His outreach with his good endeavors like the meditation app is severely limited due to his severely limited world view. He could learn a thing or two from great atheists like Dr. Stephen Hawking and others.

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      • Salmon — I appreciated your sentiment. And, as a Sam Harris fan……….I would like to simply engage with you in a dialogue, with hope you might see this – and Sam — a little differently. If you really dig into Sam and his philosophy, he is not a person of hate. And, he would agree himself, that spreading hatred is not a good way to lessen suffering in the world — which is one of his missions. His points — often not made well, as per his own admission — can often be taken as “hatred” sounding. When, in fact, his whole point is that people, of all walks of life, religions, creeds, etc, need to have rationale and truthful conversations, without obfuscating reality. Sam has been targeted, unfairly, as an Islamophobe. And, if you look at his life, he clearly is not one. His work with Majid Nawaz is a good starting example. And, there are many others. His biggest problem is often how he expresses what he is trying to say. It comes off hostile (i.e with hatred). Sam’s main point about Islam is simple: There are millions of peaceful, loving, assimilating, and kind Muslims. He has nothing against Muslim people — per se. He has a problem with not only Muslim violent extremists (as most loving, peaceful people do)…………..but with the “moderates” such as you, and even me (formerly), for NOT calling a spade a shovel; in an honest way. And, his point is that this lack of an honest calling out of what is “real”, is what is still enabling the radial fundamentalist to thrive. It does seem counterintuitive, right? Did not a lot of us grow up thinking: ‘if you cannot say something nice — don’t say it at all”…………Well. That does not help. And, unfortunately, some people happen to say things that are real and true — yet, say it with such mean-ness and vitriol, that it is impossible for the message to stick. Sam has admitted guilt to this in the past, albeit he is not nearly as bad as others. But. Sam’s message about Islam is simple and not hate filled. Not all religions have the same message. And, like Christianity has done over the course of time in order to make the more violent and hateful Bible passages less dominant in society, Islam also needs more reformers — like Majid Nawaz, Ayaan Ali, and others. And, these reformers need to likely work harder than their Christian counterparts did in the past………………..Why? And, this often where great offense is taken by Muslims. And, I even hesitate to write it here, out of fear of offending you and your religion. In fact, what I am about to write is the fuel that caused the explosion between Ben Afflect and Sam Harris on the Bill Maher show. Sam expressed this in a manner that I presume he may wish he said differently. Yet his point was one of a seemingly clear fact: that the Koran (which is the bottom line basis of ideas for Islam) and the Bible (which is the bottom line basis of ideas for Christianity) make the process of reforming DIFFERENT from one another. Both books have “bad ideas” in them, which need reforming. But, taken on its face alone, and via simple and reasonable reading of both books, any rational person should walk away with a simple understanding: the work needed to reform the more “bad” passages in the Koran is more than in the Bible. There are just more of them to deal with. That fact does NOT make Islam a “worse” religion than Christianity. It just makes it harder to reform………………Hence Sam’s ill conceived statement on the Bill Maher show: “That Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas”…………..that does not sound nice. I agree. But. His point was simply that that Koran has more difficult parts to reconcile than other religions. Would you agree with that point – on its face?
        From your writing, you sound very much like a moderate Muslim practitioner; taking the loving parts of the Koran to heart; dismissing the violent parts. (Just as many Christians do with their religion). I simply ask you consider that fostering the tolerance for Islam around the world may work BETTER if people like you and other reformers would recognize the “negative” parts of your religion thereby enabling more a celebration of the positive parts. That is really all Sam Harris trying to do as well. Versus the “non-recognition” — or even worse, the tacit “approval” by moderates of the negative theology practiced by more conservative sects. Staying quiet and/or not recognizing the negative from within the religion itself can be (and Sam’s point that it WILL be) a death knell to the religion as a whole — moderates, unfortunately, included.
        I hope you see my above point in the spirit of loving people — all people.; all faiths; all religions; Like Sam………..I believe an honest discourse about all things is how we make all things better.

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  5. Tim great episode with Sam Harriss. The son of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (Sam mentions him in the podcast) is teaching in Nepal within a week. You can find more info here [Moderator: link to website removed.]
    Hope to see you around!

    Like

  6. Hi Tim,
    There is another person that researchers extensively about the topic Sam talked about in this podcast. I would suggest looking at work of Dr Jeffrey A Martin. Its quite remarkable what he achieved with his scientific approach toward the topic.
    Best Regards

    Like

  7. I think that Vipassana meditators are especially suitable for testing anesthetics and dissociatives which interfere with the respiratory system in order to get more real-time consciousness onto the dynamics of ATP production and usage by oxygen consumption. There have been some studies recently regarding that “Math with good posture can mean better scores” and there should be more non-brain localized variables affecting its typical output. There also are a few dusty russian dissertations regarding the usage of psychotropic drugs for somatic disorders and an article in Pubmed (in German) regarding regulation of kidney function by hypnosis. This is what I would like to ask this type of neuroscientist questions about.

    Like