How one book by Sam Harris changed the way I live.

I am certain that by now every single person who has ever read anything by me knows that I constantly mention Sam Harris, his books, his meditation app, and his podcast.

When I started flirting with Atheism back in 2016, it was Sam who most influenced my views on spirituality and how to maintain a spiritual outlook on life without having faith in the Divine.

If Richard Dawkins opened the door for me to the Hogwarts of Atheism, it was Sam who, like Hagrid, guided me through all the new things I encountered on every corner.

I wrote at length about my journey from New Age to Atheism before, and there I mentioned how I pushed away everything, including meditation, once I stopped believing in the magic and God. It took me a few months to get back to my mindfulness practice and when I returned to it, it was for a different reason and with a different approach.

Sam Harris’s book, Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality without Religion, was a crucial part of my search for the meaning of life and how to continue having some sort of a positive view on it. Before, every time I meditated I did it for God, now I had to learn how to do it for myself.

In Waking Up, Sam returns to the wisdom of Buddha and the teachings of Advaita Vedanta while also bringing science into the mix. It’s perfect for someone who still believes there is something more than just what science tells us, at least when it comes to consciousness and the mind, yet doesn’t want to rely on faith alone.

Sam writes: What we need to become happier and to make the world a better place is not more pious illusions but a clearer understanding of the way things are.

Reading the book opened my eyes to so many things that I was previously blind to; it showed me how to test everything I have ever heard about mindfulness on myself and see if it’s real. I happen to be a very curious person and when I hear someone offering to teach me something, I blindly follow them and usually almost drown myself in the ocean of their beliefs.

I highlighted passages in the book that most inspire me and I often come back to them when I am in doubt about something, or simply when I don’t feel mindful and present.

The message of the book is practical mindfulness. Sam encourages you to try it out for yourself, see if it works and if you find that it does, use it to master your mind.

If you only know Sam as one of the New Atheists (alongside Dawkins, Dennet, and Hitchens), or as someone who challenges your beliefs about free-speech and free will, you know little about what Sam is about.

On his podcast, Waking Up, he often has guests join him in the discussion on topics such as meditation, consciousness, Buddhism and mindfulness.

Here are just some of the conversations that might interest you:

And here you can also listen to the first chapter from Waking Up read by Sam Harris.

If you can relate to my story of being a part of the New Age movement – or a cult, however you prefer to call it-, then you must be familiar with how meditation is viewed. You are taught that the prayer is your question to God, and meditation is how you receive an answer.

Once I started to meditate with the intention of solely being in the present moment and being the observer of the thoughts, I started to see the effects it can have on my life.

Although I listen to different meditation teachers, I still prefer to meditate by using the Waking Up meditation app and having Sam guide me for 10 minutes. He mainly teaches Vipassana.

I want to share with you a passage from the book that I reread at least a hundred times already, and it can help anyone who is dealing with anxiety.

And yet it is true that meditation requires total acceptance of what is given in the present moment. If you are injured and in pain, the path to mental peace can be traversed in a single step: Simply accept the pain as it arises, while doing whatever you need to do to help your body heal. If you are anxious before giving a speech, become willing to feel the anxiety fully, so that it becomes a meaningless pattern of energy in your mind and body. Embracing the contents of consciousness in any moment is a very powerful way of training yourself to respond differently to adversity. However, it is important to distinguish between accepting unpleasant sensations and emotions as a strategy – while covertly hoping that they will go away – and truly accepting them as transitory appearances in consciousness. Only the latter gesture opens the door to wisdom and lasting change. The paradox is that we can become wiser and more compassionate and live more fulfilling lives by refusing to be who we have tended to be in the past. But we must also relax, accepting things as they are in the present, as we strive to change ourselves.

Needless to say, this book not only helps me with dealing with anxiety but it also helps me live a life with meaning and compassion towards the reality I am in right now.

You can read more about the book here and I recommend it to everyone. It has been on top of my favourite non-fiction books for almost two years and it doesn’t seem like there is any book that could dethrone it.

If you want to learn more about meditation and the resources I recommend for beginners, make sure you read this post that I wrote with all the books, podcasts, videos and audios that I use regularly.

Tanja

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