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Sam Harris´ meditation teaching in the Daily Meditations: Wisdom and Compassion

This post describes the purpose and some of the stylistic patterns of Sam Harris´ Daily Meditations.

Main Purposes

Sam Harris´ explicit goals for his Waking Up app are to use a modern approach to non-duality in order to help people with their life as individuals and as contributors to a better world.

More in detail, the purpose, according to Sam Harris in his contribution "What makes Waking Up different", is not (only) mental health, but to

  • "Radically transform your sense of what life is about

  • Truly wake up from the unhappy dream you call your life

  • To have fundamental insights into the nature of your mind

  • To integrate these insights with your life to make the world a better place."

In fact, that is the essence of the classical descriptions of "awakening" in Mahamudra and Dzogchen: wisdom and compassion, the inseparable pair.

Sam Harris´s non-dual meditations have one predominant technique:

They turn the meditator´s attention/awareness back to itself, or, to the "condition" or "context" or "space" in which all mental events (vision, sensation, emotion, thought) appear.

This is the main insight, on which everything else rests: consciousness is the container for everything, as the space in which everything appears as a "modification of consciousness" or "modification of mind" (as Harris likes to say).

This fundamental insight provides the possibility to dis-identify with one's thoughts, and thus to escape the prison of reactivity.


There are four recognizable style components: repetition, abstraction, building blocks, and hypnotic elements.


Throughout his daily meditations, one will notice the repetitions of a small number of themes and formulations.

A typical often repeated building block, in slightly different formulations, is the instruction to recognize the thought and then take the "mind view".

This is like hammering some thoughts into the listener´s mind: a kind of mental training routine. At one point he says: "repeat this thousands of times - that´s the training".


Sam Harris is the master of abstraction.

There is nothing in his meditations that lead the listener to metaphorically wander off into imagined green meadows, a beach, or a forest.

Sam Harris steers clear of Buddhist terminologies such as awakening, enlightenment, realization, and even compassion. Even the word love is never mentioned. He avoids these abstract terms, and instead uses simpler concepts, such as becoming a better parent or letting go of problems.

The listener has to deal with abstract semantic aggregates such as "condition" "context" or "knowing" which all presuppose, I believe, some actual meditation experience, AND some conceptual knowledge.

Key terms very much liked by Sam Harris

  • Thought

  • Context

  • Condition

  • Control

  • Appearance

  • Openness

  • Knowing

  • Object

  • Continuum

  • Modification

  • Perturbation

This highly abstract, non-metaphorical approach allows for keeping the meditations to 10 minutes.

Building blocks

There is a certain mechanical approach to the construction of the Daily Meditations. This is not a critique: after a while, the repetition has a high recognition value and hopefully will trigger the desired responses.

Here is a typical building block:

The moment you're lost in  thought, 
look for the thought itself.
Watch what happens to it and then 
rest as the space
in which images 
and sensations 
simply appear.

Sometimes the building blocks are repeated verbally, and sometimes with small variations.

These building blocks are combined in certain sequences, in various combinations with varying detail formulations.

For example, a meditation usually begins with posture and some physical awareness, then add the layer of awareness for thoughts, emotions etc, and then instructs the student to look for the container in which these appearances occur.

He may add a "search operation" for the self, the looker etc to build the insight that there is only mind. In the end, Sam Harris usually "cleans up" by switching back to some concentration meditation for a different sensory system.

Hypnotic language

If I wouldn´t know better, I would say that Sam Harris has taken a course in hypnotic speaking.

One of the characteristics is his way of speaking "rhythmically" on the out-breath. Often, longer phrases are thus deconstructed into individual particles. These particles can then be processed and "rendered" by the brain of the listener with more precision and imagery than if he were speaking the phrases in one go.

Often, Sam Harris´ split of sentences/instructions follows another hypnotic pattern: the vocal marking of embedded commands. Thus, he will often split a sentence such as

I want you to notice your thoughts

like this

I want you to 
notice your thoughts

Another hypnotic technique is the use of connecting particles to make the flow of sentences smoother, such as

And as you are observing your thoughts,  you may begin to notice...

Dzogchen and hypnosis have a lot in common.


The Satipatthana Sutra (...) cite(s) a sequence of four conventional steps in mindfulness training. Note that they involve direct experience. One is becoming mindful of the rising and falling of the abdomen during breathing. Another is noticing and making a mental note of what is actually happening, both during your formal meditation and during such ordinary activities off the cushion as thinking, mind-wandering, seeing, chewing, and swallowing. Another is noticing any uncomfortable sensations and continuing to notice whatever transpires during each present moment. Finally, you examine the particular emotional feeling that pervades distinct mental activities. Are you feeling doubt, regret, sadness, happiness? Chapter 11 will continue to discuss the several qualities involved in such mindful attentiveness. James Austin, Meditating self-lessly. Practical Neural Zen


Gebel, T. (2021a). Hypnosis and Meditation. Www.till-Gebel.Com.


A thought on...

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