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The snake´s head - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.07

Sam Harris

See if you can notice the next thought the moment it begins to stir

In the meditation of 28. Dec 2022 this finds a different expression.

See if you can be even more precise in your noticing of the breath. Catch it the moment it appears.

Today´s meditation is again very much focused on recognising consciousness as the container of every mental event that arises. This includes thoughts, emotions, sensations.

One way to train this way of seeing is to "catch" every mental event, eg a thought, as early as possible.

Today Sam Harris uses the abstract term "to notice". This is one of the top words in his word cloud. In a more metaphorical teaching style, the word often used is "to catch", or "to cut".

The thought-snake

In Tibetan Buddhism, one of the many metaphors for thought is the snake that leaves its hole. The meditator watches at the entrance of the snake's subterranean hole, and as soon as they perceive a stir, and the head is out, they cut the head of the snake.

David Clode, Unsplash

If the meditator misses the head (of the thought) , it will come out and show more and more of its body and tail. The head is the initial stirring that Sam Harris refers to. The tail is what the initial stirring develops into: words, phrases, sentences, thoughts, stories, fantasies....

Thoughts, like people, have a development history. Below you see an illustration of the lifeline of a thought.

The more practice the meditator has, and the more advanced his stage of meditation is, the further to the left (the snake´s hole) they are able to catch the thought.

Just as aside, a view by another tradition :

Source: Benno Alexander Blaschke 2017

This diagram shows similarities between the tradition of Christian Centering Prayer with Brown's depiction.

About nailing and sealing

When a thought it is recognised as early as possible, this is called "nailing" or "sealing". See the post about nailing and sealing. Also see the post on "self liberation".

Not finding a "basis" of thought

The above illustration shows the development history of a path from left to right.

However, the meditator may also start from the fully developed thought (from the right) and go backwards to find its "basis". The basis, eventually, would be the thinker of the thought.

In the end, though, there is no basis to be found. There is no thinker of thoughts.

For each discrete event that occurs in the mind the practitioner seeks out its basis or support. The process is likened to that of following a snake along its path in order to discover its hole.(Brown & Thurman, 2006)

Other metaphors

There are a number of other metaphors that describe the process of "catching as early as it begins to stir".

Owl and mouse

The meditator (their awareness) is an owl that watches a mouse hole. As soon as a mouse dares to leave the hole, it is the victim of the owl. Over time, the mice learn.

Cat and mouse

The same as the owl metaphor, except that the meditator is a cat instead of an owl.

The swirling sword

This metaphor uses the image of a watchful warrior, who lets his sword spin all the time, so that it is ready to cut off the next appearing thought. A modern variant of this is the light-sword known from science fiction movies such as Starwars. This metaphor is useful in meditation training for adolescents (Bissanti et al., 2022)


Bissanti, M., Brown, D. P., & Pasari, J. (2022). The Elephant Path: Attention Development and Training in Children and Adolescents. In No Title (2.). Mustang Bon Foundation.

Brown, Daniel P , & Nelson, G. (2020). Retreat documentation, ‘The Pointing Out Style: Essence Meditations on the Real Nature of the Mind’ [Retreat Presentation].

Brown, D.P., & Thurman, R. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition. In No Title (Annotated). Wisdom Publications.

Gebel, Till. (2022e, August 11). Sealing and nailing in Mahamudra - and emotional triggers in Western psychology. Till Gebel.


A thought on...

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