Sam Harris on Thoughts and Meditation

Some interesting observations on thoughts, identification with thoughts, and meditation from author Sam Harris on the Joe Rogan Podcast.

I really enjoyed his thoughts on a few of the topics:

  • Vipassana meditation as a way to use the focus on the breath as a stepping stone to then use additional experiences as an object of focus for the meditation
  • the distinction between noticing a thought arise and pass away, and being lost in thought (perhaps the core initial skill to learn and master in meditation practices)
  • the illusion of the sense that what we call our Self is synonymous with the thoughts that race though our minds
  • the analogy of acquiring the skill of being observant of one’s thoughts being similar to (finally) mastering a boss level in a video game
  • he touches slightly on the (massive) benefit of stopping the momentum of a thought triggering an emotional state, where you are now in control of how a thought affects you as opposed to being carried away by them
  • the internalization of self-talk, and the bizarreness of our playing both sides of conversations we have in our minds (the telling ourselves of things we are observing or experiencing)

Joe didn’t seem to fully grasp what Harris was trying to convey. But this stuff is quite esoteric if you’re not a consistent and long-term meditation practitioner.

Many of the points he mentioned are observations I wasn’t able to grasp until very recently in a 5+ year twice-daily meditation practice. It’s not until you start to become familiar with the inner landscape of the mind that you can start to sense some of the idiosyncrasies it contains. We are so immersed in the mind that it’s easy to become blind to how it actually behaves.

As Harris points out at the end, if we were to broadcast that inner dialogue we have with ourselves, how crazy it would sound to others.

One of the first (an ongoing) techniques to master in mediation is the ability to view your thought processes from a third-person perspective (sometimes referred to as the cultivation of “The Witness”). Only then can you start to observe what’s going on, question it, and finally notice how weird it all is.

Good stuff from Harris.