Sam Harris´ meditation teaching in the Daily Meditations (updated)

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 teach a modern approach to non-duality and to help people with their life.


In fact, that is the essence of the classical descriptions of "awakening" in Mahamudra and Dzogchen: wisdom and compassion, the inseparable pair. Sam Harris will not use the term "awakening", though.


Sam Harris´s non-dual meditations have one predominant focus: they aim at turning 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).


Occasionally, Sam Harris throws in a more psychologically oriented meditation, such as an Inner Child meditation, or a generalized compassion meditation.


Styles

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


Repetition

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".


Abstraction

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.


Resources


Gebel, T. (2021a). Hypnosis and Meditation. Www.till-Gebel.Com. https://www.till-gebel.com/post/meditation-hypnosis

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