Become a brain scientist, question everything you've ever known, and lose your mind, all before lunch.
Welcome to 3 Things You Can Use, where Maddi and I decode self-improvement and entrepreneurship through books, three things at a time. This week's book is Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, by Sam Harris
"For the millions of Americans who want spirituality without religion, Sam Harris' new book is a guide to meditation as a rational spiritual practice informed by neuroscience and psychology."
So, what are three things we can use from this book?
3 Things You Can Use
1. Sense of Self
We all grow up with this concept of the self. A unified being, culminated in some sort of a soul, that is in control of everything we do.
Our experience of consciousness along with our actions, are our claim to our self.
But as soon as we go looking for the unified self -- it disappears.
"But it was just here..." we think to ourselves.
But time and time again we are shown that the sense of self is so fragile, being changed and destroyed so easily, that it cannot be a fundamental truth of the human project. That it doesn't exist.
In split brain patients, where the corpus callosum is severed, separating the two hemispheres of the brain from each other, we find two separate consciousnesses, one being more apt at speech and the other more visual, respective to each hemisphere. Sometimes disagreeing with each other, they try to influence their controlled side of the body against the other side, one hand knocking something out of the hand of the other. Giving us reason to believe that there are now two consciousnesses making their homes in this head.
And those who have car accidents whose fundamental self changes. They may lose their ability to be calm, or lose their ability to experience empathy. Its the case of the man who comes home after his accident who is a fundamentally different person than he was before.
If there was a true, unified self, stored away behind all of the meaty wiring, then these cases couldn't possibly exist.
We are in fact, a culmination of different processes, bound to our ways of thinking by our experiences. Experience a sans-self by-product.
Out of our brain's processing arises an observer. This is the one who experiences. This is the consciousness.
The little us sitting in the brain, watching and experiencing.
All actions are decided upon many milliseconds before our conscious awareness decides to take credit for them.
The system of the brain figures it, plans it, and puts it into action -- and consciousness grabs the papers, pushes it out of the way and shouts to the world, look what I did!
We have no idea why consciousness ended up being a feature, because we really don't need it. Many people believe it to just be epiphenomenal, meaning that it just arose as a side-effect of complex information processing.
What we do know is that consciousness is our connection to the world -- to our experiences.
Consciousness is the fun of life and it is the misery of life. It is the difference between us and robots. There is something that it is like to be us, there is not something that it is to be like to be a toaster.
It is the observer.
Separating from the sense of self and being more in tune with your consciousness in the moment is how to safe-guard your experience from many forms of negativity. To give less merit to anxiety, pain and fear, while still being able to fully experience them.
This is what meditation helps us to practice and to better understand. To get us more in tune with the observer and to separate us from the sense of self.
Meditation has been around for centuries. It is the attempt to become one with consciousness, or it is used as a process to give your thoughts a theme.
It involves being calm and still physically, but can involve rooting around in or gently experiencing the mind.
One of the easiest and most beneficial forms of meditation comes in the form of mindfulness meditation. This is the gentle experiencing of the mind.
Slowly lowering oneself into the cockpit of the moment.
The breath meditation, or Pasana, is arguably the easiest form of mindfulness meditation.
You start in a seated position and you breathe like normal. You pay all of your attention to your breath. Thoughts will pop up. Once you recognize that you have been whisked away by a thought, gently bring yourself back to your breath.
Do this for a short period, 10 mins, daily and you will begin to recognize when you are being distracted and carried off by thoughts instead of experiencing and enjoying the moment. This trains you to recognize the nature of the brain and with practice gives you the ability to, if not control it, atleast to live with a better sense of feelings, states of mind, and an uplifted awareness.
There is no unified self. We are a bundle of processes that we are generally convinced are our own doing.
What we do experience and what we are, is an observer. Your sense of subject is an after-the-fact awareness that we call consciousness.
Meditation and mindfulness is a path to experiencing the moment more and being more in-tune with consciousness.
Reading this book at work I totally lost my mind.
I had myself questioning my sense of self, trying to experience my consciousness, and found myself detachedly looking out and around at things. I'm sure when my co-worker stepped back into the kitchen and saw me wide-eyed and stupefied he must have also seen a cuckoo clock bird popping in and out of my head.
While these were challenging concepts to spar with, this was an amazing book.
It might be a little edgy to some, Sam Harris usually not sugar-coating many things, but it is definitely worth a read and is the closest thing to spirituality that you will find, except for some of the more pop-culture understandings and teachings.
You can also find guided meditations at SamHarris.org, if you wish to pursue this kind of practice, which I do.
If you want to get this book, check it out in the description.
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Want to Read it?
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Waking Up (Audible Version)
Waking Up (Physical Copy)
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Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig
Reading Photo at end of video by: Marketa