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Effort versus letting go - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.19

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Sam Harris

See if you can find the balance between effort and just spacing out.

Sam Harris talks about a core advanced meditative skill: the skill to hold the right balance between effort and relaxation of the mind.

This instruction finds an equivalent in the method of Pointing Out the Great Way (Tibetan Buddhism) and Culadasa´s neurologically informed method.

The overall point of this is to allow the meditator to keep an awareness of the inner space in which every thought, sensation etc occurs, and the event itself. Neither should the meditator become lost in the space of pure awareness, nor lost in the waves of events

Daniel P Brown: holding tight and easing up

In the POGW method, the skill of balancing focus and openness becomes important when the student learns to hold a simultaneous representation of space AND events arising in space. Various metaphors describe these as the inseparable pair, as mother and son, as sun and sunrays, or, as ocean and waves.

In different terminology: the student learns to hold a simultaneous representation of the boundaryless, changeless, timeless space of awareness, AND the constantly arising events. This is the core of the ocean and wave metaphor: "be the ocean watching its own waves".

To do this, the student learns to differentiate between the mind view (space in foreground) and the event view (events in foreground).

These have different characteristics and effects during meditation.

Mind view

Event view

​Vantage point

Events are seen from the perspective of the mind (space)

​Space is hanging in the background of events


Events are suppressed, dullness

​Getting lost in thought





Ease up (let events arise)

Tighten up (strengthen awareness of space)

So, here is an equivalent pointing out instruction, requesting a balance between being too tight (effort) and too lose (getting lost):

Don´t hold the mind too tight. The ocean can view its own waves, so ease up enough so that all the relative content occurs. Thoughts, emotions, sights sounds etc. Like waves arising in this vast ocean of changeless boundless awareness. But don´t ease up so much that you forget the vantage point and get lost in the waves. Maintain this perspective of being this vast ocean of changeless boundless awareness viewing its own waves, moment by moment. (Source: retreat memorization)

Dan Brown compares this skill with sailing a boat before the wind under race conditions: when the sail is too tight, the boat may capsize. When the sail is too slack, the boat slows down.

Culadasa: mindfulness as optimal interaction between focused attention and peripheral awareness

In Culadasa´s method, this balance is represented right in the definition of mindfulness:

In terms of neuroscience, the "open / space" aspect is a feature of the awareness subsystem. The "focus/event" aspect is a feature of the attention system. Both are required

Thus, without going into the details, Culadasa defines mindfulness as

An optimal interaction between attention and peripheral awareness. This type of optimization requires increasing the overall conscious power of the mind. (Yates (Culadasa) & Immergut, 2017, p455)


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

Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness. Hay House Uk.

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