I have been continuing my meditative practice and reading more on meditating this month. The good news I’m getting better. The bad news is I’ve gotten to the point where I know I’m getting better because I’m completely aware of how very, very bad I am at it. The author of Waking Up tells me this is a real sign of progress. You feel like you’re getting worse because you were so sure you were great at it before. But, now that you have a little practice of recognizing a thought you realize that you were just telling yourself a story before and you weren’t actually all that awesome.
So, that’s a total bummer if even if it is also a total victory.
Waking Up by Sam Harris is a book about spirituality for the non-religious. The thesis of the book is that spirituality is something human and that if we package it with religion we are missing out on something that we all need. Specifically, religion and spirituality have traditionally been places where we have cultivated consciousness with meditative practices that leave us calmer, more focused, and feeling better about the world, ourselves and others. Compassion, focus, these things can be taught and some traditionally religious practices can help us learn. Meditation, particularly if you think of it as a Buddhist practice, is an excellent example of this. There are other examples, too. Prayer seems to be a meditative practice for many people. But, if you don’t believe in God and/or you don’t want to follow or adhere to a set of guidelines or rules prescribed by a religion, you could still probably benefit from similar practices. The book focuses a lot on meditation practice and how meditation can help us cultivate consciousness.
Harris says throughout the text that he doesn’t want you to take him at his word. He wants you to test out his theories and ideas in the ‘laboratory of your life’. And, I liked that. I liked that a lot. I like being encouraged by someone selling an idea to try the idea on to see what I think about it. I also liked that Harris presented some research on consciousness and how what we think of as consciousness relates to our brains. This is an area of much ongoing research because we don’t know where consciousness is (if there is even one particular where to pinpoint, which there probably isn’t.) Some of the research he presented in this book is on split-brain patients (note: this stuff is *not* for testing in the laboratory of your own life). Split-brain patients have had their Corpus Callosum severed. This is done surgically (as a last-ditch effort to stem the tide of epileptic seizures that are devastating other neurological processes or for other equally serious reasons) and after the procedure the hemispheres are cut off from each other. This leads to some interesting behavior like the right and left hand both reaching for the same object. Or, the right and left hand picking out different outfits to wear. These are really interesting studies and if you’ve never read about split-brain patients before this alone might be worth the price of admission.
I really enjoyed this book and if you are interested in meditation practice or spirituality but can’t handle religion I’d say this isn’t a bad place to start.
I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public libraries