In its own place - Sam Harris Meditations 2022.05.16

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Sam Harris, in pointing out instructions of his Daily Meditations of the Waking Up app, often uses the phrase "let everything appear in its own place". or, "in its own way".

Sam Harris

And as you notice whatever appears - sights, sounds, sensations in the body, thoughts - let everything just appear in its own place.

"Let the next thought appear in its own place" - what do you do (or, rather, not do), when you hear this? And where else could it appear rather than where it appears, namely in the space that is mind? What does it mean?

This formulation is a riddle at first. But with Sam Harris, everything has its precise meaning and is embedded in meditative traditions.

Superfluous meditation activities

"In its own place" is a classical Mahamudra / Dzog Chen formulation. It instructs the yogi to let go of any "artificial" meditation activity, such as focusing attention, trying to prevent something from happening or to make something happen or to modify it in any way (such as weaken or reinforce) . As long as the student "does" anything, he/she disturbs the natural operation of the mind, and is in danger of attaching to the content of the mind, or, in Daniel P Brown´s formulation, to be grabbed by it.

There is no need to place attention on anything (Sam Harris)

In the following quote, Daniel P Brown in "Pointing Out the Great Way" identifies the artificial activities of trying to be undistracted and unobstructed as disturbances. He ends the section by comparing meditation to an observer watching the river of the mind stream, rather than floating along with it.

Trying to be undistracted and unobstructing in the former two stages of concentration, respectively, are types of artificial mental activity (byas ba). So long as the practitioner is engaged in any such activity, a subtle disturbance in concentration develops, which prevents the full development of one-pointed concentration. When the mind becomes calmer, the practitioner learns that there is no need to do anything for unfolding experience to remain unobstructed. Events become calm quickly, and hence become less interesting. The practitioner has learned to let the coarse contents of the mind go their own way (rang lugs) while becoming relatively indifferent to this content.
The term rang lugs is composed of rang, which means “self or own,” and lugs, which means “way or manner.” It literally means to let something go its “own way.” The term usually refers to mental processes.
For example: The mind is set up from the perspective of its own way, so that it is without any support and does not obstruct any cognition that may be taken-to-mind. (TN, p. 289) Here “its own way” means that the mind’s natural concentrative and observational tendencies continue uninterruptedly, relatively indifferent to any coarse-level cognitive or constructed perceptual events that might occur along the way.

The river metaphor for the meditative mind

Daniel P Brown concludes this section with the following useful river metaphor for the process of learning Mahamudra meditation. He has used this metaphor also in his live retreats.

Before any concentration practice, the beginner is like someone drowning in the river of a distracted mind. The somewhat skilled practitioner begins to float by means of a supporting log held with concentration. Once accustomed to floating, the practitioner lets go of the supporting log and swims about in the very currents that previously threatened to drown him or her. At that point the practitioner swims with considerable skill, finally swimming to a calm, quiet shore. The practitioner can now see the entire stream, both its currents and its directions, from the perspective of letting it go its own way while remaining unaffected by it.

Thus, when you let things arise in their own way or their own place, it simply means that you do not make any attempt to meddle with them. You stay an unaffected, unattached observer of the landscape of your mind.

And as you notice whatever appears - sights, sounds, sensations in the body, thoughts - let everything just appear in its own place.


Daniel P Brown, Pointing Out..

Brown, D. P., & Thurman, R. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition (Annotated ed.). Wisdom Publications.

Sam Harris (Waking up)

Harris, S. (2022). Waking Up - A New Operating System for Your Mind. Wakingup.Com.

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