top of page

A Sam Harris meditation - a line by line analysis and comment

What can be in 10 minutes guided meditation?

This post analyses one full Sam Harris Daily Meditation from his "Waking Up" app.

To make it short: it´s quite a lot of advanced Mahamudra/Dzogchen stuff! All compressed into 10 minutes.

I have no clue whether these meditations are useful for the novice meditator. I came to them with the background of Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated", a 6-day Level 1 retreat with Daniel P Brown, and lots of reading. So I had some background.

With my background I find them useful.

If one listens day by day to the Daily Meditation, which have a lot of (useful) repetitiveness, one can "get it" after a while.

As Sam Harris says in one meditation: "the practice is doing this thousands of times". Repetition makes mastery. That's the principle of Mahamudra and Dzogchen : many short repetitions.

Five minutes may be ok if they are of high quality. Or, is an original text, the time it takes to milk a cow.

Sam Harris´ meditations

Sam Harris, through his Waking Up app, publishes a daily meditation, which can be used as a 10 minute or a 20-minute version. Both have the same text, but pauses for inner mental processing of the instructions have different length.

Some of the meditations are fairly simple, and others contain a wealth of implicit references to concepts from Mahamudra and Dzogchen (to my modest knowledge).

I believe I can say this, because I recognise much of the explicit and implicit content from my knowledge of the style in which meditation is taught by "Pointing Out the Great Way", my only formal teachers so far who I experienced teaching in a live context.

I highly recommend the Sam Harris´ meditation app "Waking Up". I value it for the immense breadth of content that Sam Harris assembles through the collaboration of many teachers of different traditions and styles. Further, the Waking Up app contains a growing set of dialogues between Sam Harris and luminaries of this or related fields. As an example, it contains a dialogue on psychedelics. Or, the Buddhist nun Samaneri Jayasara contributes her readings of classical mystic texts, and some of her own.

In this post, I will "re-engineer" one of Sam Harris´ highly content-rich meditations by annotating each statement to its source concept in the meditation tradition. The meditation refers to a large number of such concepts, meditation stages, meditation techniques etc.

Note regarding copyright

Here I take the liberty to quote an entire Sam Harris meditation. I have no intention to violate his copyright and do not believe that I do:

  • I only use it for analytical purposes

  • It is only a small fraction of the hundred+ Daily Meditation

  • The full Sam Harris product consists of the text and the verbal delivery in the Sam Harris style, without which this meditation may be quite useless other than as academic text.

  • I believe, that the Buddhist tradition does not encourage a very narrow interpretation of copyright. However, I am also aware that there is at least one organisation which threatens use of their languaging with "hundred-thousands of dollars".

Overall, I believe that my reproduction here falls under fair use. If this is not the case, I will delete this post.

Word for word transcription

Ok, let's begin the session with eyes open. Simply gaze into the visual field. It doesn't matter what you look at. It can be trees or sky. It can be a blank wall. A cluttered desk. It really doesn't matter. And as you gaze into space, see if you can resolve your visual field

into an expanse of colour and shadow. Don't fixate on any particular objects. It's as though you were watching a movie

and you could choose to focus on the screen itself. It's the difference between seeing people and objects

and seeing mere light on the wall. But in this case you ARE that condition.

You are not merely looking at it. Consciousness is aware of itself. As a matter of experience,

everything you see in this moment is made of consciousness, including the seen. There is just this one condition. Simply rest as that. And thoughts too are an expression of that same condition. They appear like waves on the surface of consciousness. Again keep your gaze very wide

and look to see whether you can find the seat of attention. Is there someone or something looking out from behind your eyes? Or is there just this condition

of seeing

and sensing

and hearing? In the last minute of the session close your eyes. And simply become aware of hearing. And sensations. Just let your mind be wide open like space. Now as you go about your day today take a moment to pause before specific actions, and engage your visual field in this way. Seeing it as a totality, you might do this anytime you look at the mirror or brush your teeth or pause before picking up the phone. Just puncture your day with the moment of clear seeing and look for what's looking. In those moments see if there is something to find, and see what the failure to find anything feels like. Does it change your relation to what you see? Is there a relationship with what you see?

Overview of the meditation

The meditation uses the pointing out style, where the teacher gives direct instructions for mental operations , questions and observations about the mind.

The meditation has roughly the following structure

  • Take position

  • With visual sense:

  • Experience a reflected view / mirror mind

  • Experience a view as consciousness

  • Experience mind-only

  • Experience no-self

  • Change from visual sense to hearing and thoughts

  • Experience spacious awareness

  • Close out by suggesting a transfer to daily life in short moments

Overview of some key concepts

It combines a few meditation concepts of Tibetan Buddhism. Here I give a short overview.

Emptiness of Self

This is the key idea and meditative experience, that what we usually imagine to be a solid, self-existing Self is a fleeting construction, a fabrication. The Buddhist term for this is "empty" or "emptiness" . It does not mean "nothing"!

Mirror Mind

This is the concept of the mind/ awareness / consciousness being aware of itself and looking at itself. The mirror is a very frequently used key metaphor.

Mind Only

This is the theory that everything we think we perceive as external objects is our own mind, our own consciousness. In a modern form, this is Donald Hoffman´s "The Case Against Reality" theory, subscribed by Sam Harris.

One Taste

This is a late stage of meditation where everything we perceive as experience is basically of the same character (the same "taste") without any judgement, evaluation, good-bad preference etc. That is the case because everything is "just" an appearance in consciousness. Ken Wilber´s meditation diary book is called "One Taste".

Space Meditation

This is a technique of de-focused looking into empty space. The technique is often used, for example, to imagine that the meditator "mixes" his own mind or Self with outer space, thus creating a single field of one single "substance" (knowing awareness-space). It goes back to Tilopa.

Search Operations

These are instructions to search within one´s own mental space for certain search targets. One of the most important search targets is the "Self". The point about these search instructions is usually, that nothing will be found - everything is unfindable as a separate, self-existing entity. As Sam Harris sais in one meditation: "The not-finding is the finding".

Ocean and Wave Meditation

This is a meditation technique in which the meditator takes the perspective (vantage point, base of operation) of being ocean looking at its own waves. It is a so-called "non-dual" perspective.

Self Awareness