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Waking Up Book Summary – Sam Harris

What you will learn from reading Waking Up:

– That you do not exist, or the person you refer to as I is just a figment of your imagination.

– What mindfulness practice really is without the bullshit.

– An exploration of what consciousness is.

Waking Up Book Summary:

Waking Up Book Summary is the book that finally got me interested into meditation properly. We all have a vague idea of what spirituality is, it’s that thing that hippies or people who don’t have anything else going on are interested in, right? Well this book sets out to create a practical guide to spirituality without the fluff. A scientific lens to spirituality which covers a lot of material.

If you’ve thought about meditation or suffer from stress and anxiety then this book may help open your eyes to a solution.


The Foundations of Life:

Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. 

There is now little question that how one uses one’s attention, moment to moment, largely determines what kind of person one becomes. Our minds—and lives—are largely shaped by how we use them.

Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now. Acknowledging that this is the structure of the game we are playing allows us to play it differently. How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives. 

Our efforts generally begin with the realization that even in the best of circumstances, happiness is elusive. We seek pleasant sights, sounds, tastes, sensations, and moods. We satisfy our intellectual curiosity. We surround ourselves with friends and loved ones. We become connoisseurs of art, music, or food. But our pleasures are, by their very nature, fleeting.

Whatever the context, our minds are perpetually moving—generally toward pleasure (or its imagined source) and away from pain. 

Our struggle to navigate the space of possible pains and pleasures produces most of human culture.


Remember, it is always now!

It is always now. This might sound trite, but it is the truth. It’s not quite true as a matter of neurology, because our minds are built upon layers of inputs whose timing we know must be different.

The reality of your life is always now. And to realize this, we will see, is liberating. In fact, I think there is nothing more important to understand if you want to be happy in this world.


Do you (I) even exist?

Although the insights we can have in meditation tell us nothing about the origins of the universe, they do confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world.

That principle is the subject of this book: The feeling that we call “I” is an illusion. There is no discrete self or ego living like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. And the feeling that there is—the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from yourself—can be altered or entirely extinguished.

Only Buddhists and students of Advaita Vedanta (which appears to have been heavily influenced by Buddhism) have been absolutely clear in asserting that spiritual life consists in overcoming the illusion of the self by paying close attention to our experience in the present moment.

According to the Buddhist teachings, human beings have a distorted view of reality that leads them to suffer unnecessarily. We grasp at transitory pleasures. We brood about the past and worry about the future. We continually seek to prop up and defend an egoic self that doesn’t exist.


Take your own advice:

If your best friend were to ask how she could live a better life, you would probably find many useful things to say, and yet you might not live that way yourself. On one level, wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow one’s own advice. 


The Asymmetry of Failure:

Wherever we look, we see the evidence of our successes and our failures. Unfortunately, failure enjoys a natural advantage. Wrong answers to any problem outnumber right ones by a wide margin, and it seems that it will always be easier to break things than to fix them. 


The passage of time shapes our perspective:

It’s interesting to consider that Western medicine is not complete. In a few decades, many of our current practices will seem barbaric. You only need to check the list of side effects that accompany most medications to appreciate that these are terribly blunt instruments. 


What is Mindfulness:

It is a mode of cognition that is, above all, undistracted, accepting, and (ultimately) nonconceptual. Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves. 

The principal enemy of mindfulness—or of any meditative practice—is our deeply conditioned habit of being distracted by thoughts. The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing that we are thinking. As every meditator soon discovers, distraction is the normal condition of our minds. 

My friend Joseph Goldstein, one of the finest vipassana teachers I know, likens this shift in awareness to the experience of being fully immersed in a film and then suddenly realizing that you are sitting in a theater watching a mere play of light on a wall. Your perception is unchanged, but the spell is broken.

The realistic goal to be attained through spiritual practice is not some permanent state of enlightenment that admits of no further efforts but a capacity to be free in this moment, in the midst of whatever is happening. If you can do that, you have already solved most of the problems you will encounter in life.


You are Consciousness:

Subjectively speaking, the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents. And the only thing relevant to the question of personal identity is psychological continuity from one moment to the next.

Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel love and avoid loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues.

As a matter of your experience, you are not a body of atoms, molecules, and cells; you are consciousness and its ever-changing contents, passing through various stages of wakefulness and sleep, from cradle to grave. 

And yet, we are all seeking fulfillment while living at the mercy of changing experience. Whatever we acquire in life gets dispersed. Our bodies age. Our relationships fall away. Even the most intense pleasures last only a few moments. And every morning, we are chased out of bed by our thoughts.

Development of complex organisms like ourselves, consciousness seems to emerge. This emergence does not depend on a change of materials, for you and I are built of the same atoms as a fern or a ham sandwich. Instead, the birth of consciousness must be the result of organization: Arranging atoms in certain ways appears to bring about an experience of being that very collection of atoms.


Consciousness is not the self:

The pronoun I is the name that most of us put to the sense that we are the thinkers of our thoughts and the experiencers of our experience. It is the sense that we have of possessing (rather than of merely being) a continuum of experience. 

The self that does not survive scrutiny is the subject of experience in each present moment—the feeling of being a thinker of thoughts inside one’s head, the sense of being an owner or inhabitant of a physical body, which this false self seems to appropriate as a kind of vehicle. 

Consciousness does not feel like a self. Once one realizes this, the status of thoughts themselves, as transient expressions of consciousness, can be understood. When you are able to rest naturally, merely witnessing the totality of experience, and thoughts themselves are left to arise and vanish as they will, you can recognize that consciousness is intrinsically undivided. 

Some people find it easier to trigger this shift in a slightly different way: As you are looking out at the world, simply imagine that you have no head.

One of the first things one learns in practicing meditation is that nothing is intrinsically boring—indeed, boredom is simply a lack of attention.


The self is formed by others:

The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre believed that our encounters with other people constitute the primal circumstance of self-formation. 

Again and again, we are thrust out of the safety and seclusion of pure subjectivity by the knowledge that we have become objects in the world for others, when others look at us we suddenly exist in their eyes. The primitive impression that another creature is aware of us seems to be the point at which Theory Of Mind is relevant to the sense of self. 

There is a difference to be felt here—being looked at just feels different from not being looked at—and the difference can be described, as a magnification of the feeling that we call “I.” It seems undeniable that self-consciousness and this more fundamental form of TOM are closely related. 

The neurologist V. S. Ramachandran seems to have been thinking along these lines when he wrote, “It may not be coincidental that [you] use phrases like ‘self conscious’ when you really mean that you are conscious of others being conscious of you.” 

Movies and television magically transform the primordial context of face-to-face encounters, in which human beings have always been subjected to harrowing social lessons, allowing us, for the first time, to devote ourselves wholly to the act of observing other people. This is voyeurism of a transcendental kind.

Generally speaking, to pay attention outwardly reduces activity in the brain’s midline, while thinking about oneself increases it. These results appear mutually reinforcing and might explain the common experience we have “losing ourselves in our work.”