Book Review: Waking Up, Sam Harris

I really enjoy the intersection that Sam Harris navigates between rational science and spiritual discovery. I’m not religious but I value my religious upbringing and principles I was taught in my formative years. I refuse to align with the anti-religion atheist types like Hitchens and Dawkins. I actually think there is a lot of truth to be gleaned from religious teachings. That being said, I relish my investigation of non-religious spirituality and I appreciate Sam’s contribution towards this pursuit.

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I agree that an ethical and spiritual life is possible without religion – it certainly presents a different set of challenges though. Many will find it simpler to take direction from centralised authority and I can see why. My free-market and anti-authoritarian inclinations probably contribute towards my desire for a decentralised spiritual journey. And maybe other people’s commitment to religion, contributes towards their trust in centralised authority figures…?

In Waking Up, Sam encourages people to investigate spirituality through mindfulness meditation. I support this pursuit. The way we think directly influences our experience of the world. Positive emotions like patience and compassion are teachable, while negative emotions like anger and jealousy can easily dissolve if we realised that they are usually generated by our ego. Meditation is an amazing tool to practice self-awareness, allowing people to contend with the trance of discursive thinking, to stop reflexively grasping for the pleasant and recoiling from the unpleasant so that we can engage in the present moment.

As an economist, I enjoy the challenge of reconciling this motivation to focus psychologically on the present moment vs. my inclination for long-term thinking because it produces more constructive economic outcomes. I think these are entirely reconcilable! One can definitely have long-term plans and simultaneously a mindful awareness of the present. The approach should, hopefully, allow one to differentiate what is truly important about the future from what is merely noise. Additionally, it should enhance appreciation of the uncertainty inherent in the future and reduce hubris, rather trying to guide the future than foolishly predicting or controlling it.


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