“When we stop distracting ourselves, and courageously dive into the heart of any feeling, positive or negative, light or dark, right or wrong, we rediscover the vast ocean of who we are. For every feeling is made of unspeakable intelligence, and no feeling is a mistake. And we are vast enough to hold it all.” – Jeff Foster
This past summer I very much enjoyed reading Sam Harris’ book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
A helpful Redditor extracted and posted all of the meditation instructions from the book, including the following simple eight-point instructions on “How to Meditate.”
- Sit comfortably , with your spine erect, either in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion.
- Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the points of contact between your body and the chair or the floor. Notice the sensations associated with sitting— feelings of pressure, warmth, tingling, vibration, etc.
- Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to wherever you feel the breath most distinctly— either at your nostrils or in the rising and falling of your abdomen.
- Allow your attention to rest in the mere sensation of breathing. (You don’t have to control your breath. Just let it come and go naturally.)
- Every time your mind wanders in thought, gently return it to the breath.
- As you focus on the process of breathing, you will also perceive sounds, bodily sensations, or emotions. Simply observe these phenomena as they appear in consciousness and then return to the breath.
- The moment you notice that you have been lost in thought, observe the present thought itself as an object of consciousness. Then return your attention to the breath— or to any sounds or sensations arising in the next moment.
- Continue in this way until you can merely witness all objects of consciousness— sights, sounds, sensations, emotions, even thoughts themselves— as they arise, change, and pass away.
Those who are new to this practice generally find it useful to hear instructions of this kind spoken aloud during the course of a meditation session.
You can make use of two excellent guided meditations (one shorter, one longer) over at SamHarris.org.
She came on my radar sometime in the past two years and although I haven’t read any of her books (yet), I have casually engaged with the free materials available on her website. And I have been listening to her podcasts and watching videos.
Fundamentally, to paraphrase what I hear Katie saying over and over in different ways is: ‘Did you ever notice that it’s not the world that causes your suffering? It’s your thoughts about the world. And that distinction means the end of suffering.’
And to quote her directly: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.”
Katie’s approach when she sits and talks with people is to directly engage with where they are at, with their specific thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I imagine it’s much like it is said that the Buddha taught: in direct response to specific suffering. As she guides individuals through the simple steps of The Work, its beauty and wisdom are revealed in the application of that inquiry. And she invites anyone to try it. To look clearly at what is going on in your direct experience, and to consider alternative interpretations.
So, since there isn’t an overall doctrine (in fact The Work functions to question ALL beliefs), I have struggled a little with what would be most useful to re-blog here. But while listening to a podcasted interview today, my mind was blown when Katie explained how she uses her method of inquiry to explore the most essential question: ‘Who am I?’ So I thought, why not go right to the deep end, I’ll write and re-blog about what excites me!
What she explores (very briefly at 30:50 minutes) that got me excited is: ‘Am I my name?’ If you’re already familiar with teachings on the selflessness of persons and phenomena — what is called ’emptiness’ in Buddhist traditions — you might really enjoy this fresh and direct approach.
If you want to play along at home, and engage in a little inquiry into your true nature, here are the four questions of The Work for you to apply to that one fundamental belief: I am [insert your name].
1. Is it true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it is true?
3. How do I react — what happens — when I believe that thought?
4. Who would I be without the thought?
The best way of engaging here is to be still and ask your heart. Sometimes you might take time to sit in meditation with the questions, and you might also gently inquire throughout your day whenever you notice the thought comes up.
There are other steps to engage fully with the process, such as filling in the Judge-Your-Neighbour-Worksheet and Finding the Turnarounds. If your interest is piqued, I recommend exploring the podcasts and videos where Katie works directly with people. That way you get a taste for how The Work works and how to work it (couldn’t help myself there). And you might see your own suffering and gain wisdom from hearing other people question their beliefs.
Everything you need to Do The Work is available for free.
My heart opens when I watch this simple kindness unfold.
It’s when he goes back and gently places the hat on the man’s head that I see it is like the act of a mother caring for her child. One YouTube comment I came across reads ‘this man is surely going to heaven.’ But I think if we are this open and allow our natural innocence be our first response, this earth is heaven.
(via The Telegraph)