Waking Up - Sam Harris

Waking Up - Sam Harris

Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes

Waking Up

“Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious.’"

"Although the claim seems to annoy believers and atheists equally, separating spirituality from religion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is to assert two important truths simultaneously: Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn, and yet there is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.

"Our purpose of this book is to give both these convictions intellectual and empirical support."

"This book is by turns a seeker’s memoir, an introduction to the brain, a manual of contemplative instruction, and a philosophical unraveling of what most people consider to be the center of their inner lives: the feeling of self we call ‘I.’ I have not set out to describe all the traditional approaches to spirituality or to weigh their strengths and weaknesses."

"Rather, my goal is to pluck the diamond from the dunghill of esoteric religion. There is a diamond there, and I have devoted a fair amount of my life to contemplating it, but getting it in hand requires that we remain true to the deepest principles of scientific skepticism and make no obeisance to tradition.”


  • I would say that some of the statements above are controversial..  and from listening to some interviews with Sam I don't think he would disagree!
  • But sometimes topics this controversial are exactly what we need to be talking about..  So I'm glad someone as intelligent as Sam has taken time to do so.
  • Why I picked up this book.. 

For the past 12 years I would say I haven't been spiritual or religious..  I've just kind of 'been'

Before that I was raised in a Christian church and I'm sure that shaped a lot of who I am today and also why I decided not to be either..  

But lately through some of the books I've read and during my meditations I have been pondering what that meant and if spirituality had something to offer me..   

So if you're anything like me I recommend you pick up this book because it was illuminating for me!  This Mind Map only has so much room..  The book has a lot more to offer 


“There is nothing spooky about mindfulness. It is simply a state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant."

"Cultivating this quality of mind has been shown to reduce pain, anxiety, and depression; improve cognitive function; and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation and self-awareness."

"Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali word sati. The term has several meanings in the Buddhist literature, but for our purposes the most important is ‘clear awareness.’”

Clear Awareness

Mindfulness is a state of clear awareness of your thoughts..  or as Sam would say the 'contents of your consciousness'

  • The general way this is described is as being 'the observer' of your thoughts..
  • Not judging them or giving them to much emotion but instead just watching them

This is a state that most of us never get into unless we 'try' to get into it..

  • After doing a review on Cal Newports Digital Minimalism I noticed how little quite time alone with their thoughts people are now taking
  • Because of technology overwhelm we often don't even get time alone with our thoughts let alone bring our awareness to them..  

What is that causing in society?

  • Well the research on Mindfulness is pretty solid..  
  • People who are more Mindful have less pain, anxiety and depression
  • People who are more Mindful also have improved cognitive function and more gray matter when it comes to memory, emotion regulation and self awareness
  • So what does that mean of people who aren't mindful?

Likely as Cal points out in his book..  The rising rates of depression and anxiety can be traced back to the lowering of time alone with our thoughts..

Now Mindfulness isn't just about time alone with our thoughts..  But we'll talk about that in the next point!


“Happily, the benefits of training in meditation arrive long before mastery does." 

"Again, the problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without being fully aware that we are thinking."

"As every meditator soon discovers, distraction is the normal condition of our minds: Most of us topple from the wire every second—whether gliding happily into reverie or plunging into fear, anger, self-hatred, and other negative states of mind."

"Meditation is a technique for waking up. The goal is to come out of the trance of discursive thinking and to stop reflexively grasping at the pleasant and recoiling from the unpleasant, so that we can enjoy a mind undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky, and effortlessly aware of the flow of experience in the present.”

Tool For Mindfulness

Meditation is the primary tool used to cultivate Mindfulness..  

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of different ways to meditate.. 

I recommend some meditations from Dr. Joe Dispenza

There are some for free on YouTube you can find!

However most if not all are trying to help you become more aware of your thoughts..

All forms of mediation are a 'technique for waking up' as Sam puts it..

  • Coming out of the daze that most of us live our lives in..  
  • Going from one thought to another and one state of emotions to another..  Without knowing why!  

That state of daze leads us to 'Mindlessly' seeking pleasuring and avoiding pain..  Leading to all sorts of problems in our lives!

  • I know for me personally when I started meditation there was an immediate increase in all sorts of unexpected areas..  
  • For one I could focus much better, my emotions didn't run the show and I was able to understand why I was sometimes having 'bad days' and pay attention to them!

What is your mindfulness practice?  

  • Do you plan on starting one?
  • I recommend you check out some Dr. Joe meditations and then head over to my Mind Map on Atomic Habits to make it easy to stick too!

Healthy Mind

“The traditional goal of meditation is to arrive at a state of well-being that is imperturbable—or if perturbed, easily regained."

"The French monk Matthieu Ricard describes such happiness as ‘a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind.’"

"The purpose of meditation is to recognize that you already have such a mind. That discovery, in turn, helps you to cease doing the things that produce needless confusion and suffering for yourself and others."

"Of course, most people never truly master the practice and don’t reach a condition of imperturbable happiness. The near goal, therefore, is to have an increasingly healthy mind— that is, to be moving one’s mind in the right direction.”


It's fitting that meditation is often called a practice..  Because as Sam says here very few people really master it!

  • But good news for us is that it doesn't take mastery to get all of the benefits..  
  • Instead it takes deliberate practice that leads to the compounding effect in action!

"The purpose of mediation is to realize that you already have such a mind" This point could easily be missed..  But it's important!

  • The mind is already set up to be 'imperturbable' after all if some people have achieved it that means it's possible..  Their minds aren't different than ours!
  • Meditation then is not the act of building a new 'healthy' mind but instead the act of regaining! 
  • A small distinction yes..  But for me this was a revelation!

My experience with mediation isn't the typical compounding effect line.. 

  • Normally you think 1% better over time and I'll be pretty good eventually..  And that's true!
  • But with meditation I find that I will sit and meditate for days and sometimes weeks without anything really happening..  

Sometimes my mind is full and sometimes it's easier to empty or watch..  

But every now and then I get a 'revelation' about my life that feels like it catapults me forward to a healthier mind!  

What's your experience with mediation?


“Stages of spiritual development, therefore, appear unavoidable. Just as we grow into adulthood physically—and we can fail to mature or become sick or injured along the way—our minds develop by degrees." 

"One can’t learn sophisticated skills such as syllogistic reasoning, algebra, or irony until one has acquired more basic skills. It seems to me that a healthy spiritual life can begin only once our physical, mental, social, and ethical lives have sufficiently matured."

"We must learn to use language before we can work with it creatively or understand its limits, and the conventional self must form before we can investigate it and understand that it is not what it appears to be."

"An ability to examine the contents of one’s own consciousness clearly, dispassionately, and nondiscursively, with sufficient attention to realize that no inner self exists, is a very sophisticated skill.”

Stages of Spiritual Development

The spiritual journey must follow a path..  It's not one step to enlightenment!

  • This is an extremely complex skill that has a lot of moving parts too it..  
  • But again just remember that starting along the path is better than not starting at all!

Before you can let go of 'self' and be truly on the path towards enlightenment there are a few key skills you'll have to learn..

  • First you'll need to be sufficiently healthy physically, mentally, socially and ethically..  
  • Meditation and mindfulness can help you in all of these areas of course..  But you won't be able to reach your highest capabilities without taking actually action toward achieving your highest ability in these domains.. 

Sam doesn't talk about this..  But in my Self Coaching course I talk about realizing your Vision in the Seven Domains of Life

  • Physical Body
  • Mind and Emotions
  • Relationships
  • Career or Business 
  • Social Life
  • Finances
  • Spiritual Life

Video Game

“Having spent years observing my mind in meditation, I find such sudden transitions from happiness to suffering both fascinating and rather funny—and merely witnessing them goes a long way toward restoring my equanimity."

"My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again.”

Ever Had "A Day"?

One where you were having a great day until that 'one thing' happened that completely derailed you?

99% of your day could be going great and then one thing gets you completely off track and suffering..

  • That's a 'monster' and there are many many versions of it just like the boss in a video game.. 
  • I think it's important to say here that the monster doesn't have to be triggered by the same 'thing' everyday but often as humans we do end up fighting the same boss over and over..  Until we learn to defeat it!

What's the first step in fighting the monster?

  • First you have to know you're fighting it..  Awareness!
  • Next you need to accept that this is happening..  Without judgement!  Maybe even a little humour
  • Then you can work your mindfulness to move past it and level up!

Accept to Strive

“Merely accepting that we are lazy, distracted, petty, easily provoked to anger, and inclined to waste our time in ways that we will later regret is not a path to happiness."

"And yet it is true that meditation requires total acceptance of what is given in the present moment. If you are injured and in pain, the path to mental peace can be traversed in a single step: Simply accept the pain as it arises, while doing whatever you need to do to help your body heal. If you are anxious before giving a speech, become willing to feel the anxiety fully, so that it becomes a meaningless pattern of energy in your mind and body."

"Embracing the contents of consciousness in any moment is a very powerful way of training yourself to respond differently to adversity."  The paradox is that we can become wiser and more compassionate and live more fulfilling lives by refusing to be who we have tended to be in the past. But we must also relax, accepting things as they are in the present, as we strive to change ourselves.”

"However, it is important to distinguish between accepting unpleasant sensations and emotions as a strategy—while covertly hoping that they will go away—and truly accepting them as transitory appearances in consciousness. Only the latter gesture opens the door to wisdom and lasting change."

"The paradox is that we can become wiser and more compassionate and live more fulfilling lives by refusing to be who we have tended to be in the past. But we must also relax, accepting things as they are in the present, as we strive to change ourselves.”

The First Step

Before you begin to change you need to accept..  Fully accept the pain that you're feeling

Mental, Physical, Emotional or Spiritual pain has first to be accepted..  and not in a way that you're still hoping to change it!

Remember that these are transitory appearances in consciousness

Once you can fully accept them it opens the door for real change..

Second Step

Striving is simply refusing to be who we have tended to be in the past

Have you been an angry person, fearful or mean? First step is to accept that..  Then we can strive to be different in similar situations in the future!

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