To Know Your Mind, Pay Close Attention To It

Sam Harris


Awakin FeatureCertain rare and wonderful experiences are possible. But this is all we need, to take “spirituality” (the unavoidable term for this project of self-transcendence) seriously. [...]

We spend our lives lost in thought. The feeling that we call “I” — the sense of being a subject inside the body — is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking. The moment that you truly break the spell of thought, you can notice what consciousness is like between thoughts — that is, prior to the arising of the next one. And consciousness does not feel like a self. It does not feel like “I.” In fact, the feeling of being a self is just another appearance in consciousness (how else could you feel it?). [...]

I argue that spirituality need not rest on any faith-based assumptions about what exists outside of our own experience. And it arises from the same spirit of honest inquiry that motivates science itself.

Consciousness exists (whatever its relationship to the physical world happens to be), and it is the experiential basis of both the examined and the unexamined life. If you turn consciousness upon itself in this moment, you will discover that your mind tends to wander into thought. If you look closely at thoughts themselves, you will notice that they continually arise and pass away. If you look for the thinker of these thoughts, you will not find one. And the sense that you have — “What the hell is Harris talking about? I’m the thinker!”— is just another thought, arising in consciousness.

If you repeatedly turn consciousness upon itself in this way, you will discover that the feeling of being a self disappears. There is nothing [religious or specifically] Buddhist about such inquiry, and nothing need be believed on insufficient evidence to pursue it. One need only accept the following premise: If you want to know what your mind is really like, it makes sense to pay close attention to it.

Excerpted from a NY Times interview with Sam Harris, an American author, philosopher and neuroscientist.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that the feeling of being a self is just another appearance in consciousness? Can you share a personal story of a time you were of consciousness that did not feel like a self? What helps you repeatedly turn consciousness upon itself?

Add Your Reflection:

4 Previous Reflections:

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    On Feb 6, 2020 steve rogers wrote:
    I have been trying to understand my mind for a long time and I think this post has something that I could take away form it. And I got something while searching the world of macsales and it provides apple products like iPhones. Here you can get more about it.

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    On Aug 11, 2017 Jagdish P. Dave wrote:

    Consciousness is self-transcendental. It is nether subject nor object. It is beyond subject and object.We cannot know it by our mind. And when we try to know it by our mind, it becomes a thought...

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    On Aug 8, 2017 Sunil,Bangalore wrote:

    I relate: Adopt thoughtlessness & practice mindfulness. Impermanence is the only permeance. Thoughts are bodily-connected with self while consciousness is just soul without any self.Kabir said the path to God(soul) is so narrow that only one can exist either I or HE.Meditation on such mindset and "AMAR ATMA HAI MARANSHEEL KAYA, SABHI PRANIYO KE HAI BHITAR JO SAMAYA" helps indeed.

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    On Aug 6, 2017 david doane wrote:

     My ego is just another transitory appearance in consciousness.  My true self, my essence, is eternal consciousness expressed as me.  I've had some moments in meditation when I felt amorphous, part of all that is, bigger than my usual sense of self -- that was my real self and I relish that state of awareness.  For me, turning consciousness upon itself means being conscious of my consciousness which happens for moments at a time as thoughts do constantly intrude.  What helps me turn consciousness upon itself is practice -- practice putting aside or letting go of my thoughts and being conscious without content.

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