Wednesday, December 10, 2014
LEADING ATHEIST SAM HARRIS ENDORSES MINDFULNESS AS RATIONAL SPIRITUALITY
Leading ‘new atheist’ and neuroscientist Sam Harris’ latest book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion presents what the author [pictured left] describes as a ‘rational approach to spirituality.’
Not only that, this man, who is so opposed to conventional religious faith and expression, wants us to lead ‘rich, spiritual lives.’ He says that is quite possible without religion. And there's more---indeed, much more. Harris encourages us to meditate and, especially, to practise mindfulness.
Confused? Well, you shouldn’t be. Spirituality does not require religion.
Waking Up is a rare and unexpected find, and a real treasure. Drawing upon neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and empirical philosophy Dr Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape) demonstrates that there is no separate, permanent ‘self’ at the centre of our being. This is perhaps the central thesis of the book. Consciousness is real. The person that you are is real. But your sense of 'self' is illusory.
There's more. Harris says we suffer because ‘we are all prisoners of our thoughts,’ and that includes our beliefs, prejudices, biases, opinions, views, ideas, memories, and all other attachments and aversions. We have a ‘habit of being distracted by thoughts,’ says Harris, and we fail to see things-as-they-really-are, and for most of us our experience of both internal and external reality is filtered through, and distorted by, our thoughts and the other things mentioned above.
Now back to the so-called 'self.' Harris writes that our illusory sense of self can be altered and, wait for it, even ‘extinguished’ by the regular practice of mindfulness, which in Harris’ words is ‘simply a state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant.’
The book describes Harris’ own meditative practices and spiritual experiences, and also has much to say about the nature of consciousness which, says Harris, gives our lives a moral dimension.
There are some helpful exercises and instructions in sidebars throughout the book. You can also find two audio guided meditations on the blog of Harris’ website including one titled ‘Looking for the Self.’
Waking Up is a gem. It’s also a most important contribution to naturalistic, non-religious spirituality.
I heartily endorse the book.