Book Review: Waking Up

Book Review

I’ve been meditating on and off since 2017. When I first read about it in Sapiens, I was astonished. I was reading a book that didn’t focus on spiritual trivia, yet here was the author explaining how he has a daily meditation practice.

I started using an app called ‘headspace’ in 2017, which you can get added into a Spotify subscription (I guess they are sister companies or something). It’s an app headed up by someone called Andy Puddicombe, who is a former Buddhist monk and teaches the basics of mindfulness, in a non-religious way.

I found it really interesting as I began to look at my own consciousness and how (as I found out) I really have no power to control what does and does not appear in it. I spent the next few years (until Summer 2019) using headspace. My children do still use it on an evening before they go to bed. There are a few brilliant meditations made for young children, well worth a look.

After a while, I started to read more and more books by Sam Harris (as he is a leading voice in the anti-religious world), and subsequently I started listening to his podcast ‘Making Sense‘. Sam Harris is one of the most eloquent and helpful authors I have ever read (please note – I am not saying he is right about things), and when I heard him reflecting on the Covid-19 crisis as it began to unfold, he also started to talk about the importance of meditation in an emergency.

My meditation practices had slumped in the summer of 2019, and I was listening to this specific podcast in early April 2020. Things were getting really serious out in the world with a pandemic sweeping the globe. I decided to give his app ‘Waking Up‘ a go.

I don’t have much money, and both the podcast and the meditation app are subscription-based services (you can get limited access for free). But Sam Harris doesn’t think anyone should ever go without these things due to their financial situation. I managed to get a year free for the podcast and the app (I am now saving to pay from April 2021 onward myself). So, if money is an issue for you, and you want to explore these things, you can ask for a free trial, or pay for the service and request your money back if you are not happy.

Anyway – Waking Up the book ended up being on sale in July 2020, after I had been using the app for three months and I just had to work my way through it.

I am going to be reviewing the book and the app in this blog post. Both sit side by side, though the app wasn’t available when the book was first published.

Waking Up (the book): Sam Harris has spent a lot of time on formal retreats, he has explored religions as well as spirituality. He has spoken to some of the most intelligent and respected people on the planet, about some of the most controversial issues we currently face. He has explored his mind whilst on drugs, and he has explored his mind day in and day out in the ‘normality’ of life.

It tackles the issues we all face when we are lost in thoughts and/or feelings.

Waking Up aims to help you realise that you are merely the contents of your consciousness, and how you experience this. We might not be able to change the contents of our consciousness as easily as we might think we can, but we can definitely make a marked difference in how we experience these contexts. To do this, we need to learn how to meditate.

‘There is now little question that how one uses one’s attention, moment to moment, largely determines what kind of person one becomes. Our minds—and lives—are largely shaped by how we use them.’ Harris, Sam. Waking Up (p. 31). Transworld. Kindle Edition.

We are able to puncture the consistent threads of conversation that occupy our minds. Even as you read this book review – there will be things that are trying to take over your attention, things bubbling up from the subconscious or the world around you, that you can’t control, are appearing all the time.

‘In my view, the realistic goal to be attained through spiritual practice is not some permanent state of enlightenment that admits of no further efforts but a capacity to be free in this moment, in the midst of whatever is happening. If you can do that, you have already solved most of the problems you will encounter in life.’ Harris, Sam. Waking Up (p. 50). Transworld. Kindle Edition.

When we regularly practice this ‘puncturing’ technique by meditating then we begin to become more and more aware of its effectiveness to allow us to be present in the here and now. We can puncture the chain of conversation, for a little while at least, throughout the day and live in the reality of our conscious state.

This might all sound insane. But this book really has changed my life. It tackles consciousness in a very clear and accessible way. It also looks at some of the religious claims about the experiences people have in their faith traditions, and how we can experience similar things through meditation, as they are just states of the brain which are available to most people given the right conditions and stimuli.

All in all, this book has really helped me understand how meditation is able to condition my experience of consciousness more and more. It’s enabled me to reflect on the idea of ‘I’ or how I think of myself as an ‘individual’. It has given me a great awareness of self and the ability to utilise this within my day-to-day.

All of this information is great, and this book should be read by everyone. But one must also practice meditation, and for that, we turn to the aforementioned Waking Up app.

Waking Up (the app): Since April I have spent about 18 hours meditating, this doesn’t include the theory, conversations (with experienced mediation practitioners/trainers/yogi’s) and Q&A’s which are also available in the app, and I have been working through.

In all honesty, this app has ruined my YouTube and podcast time. I seem to be listening to books in-between a morning meditation and listening to either a theory session, a conversation or a Q&A at some point in the day. I think this is a good thing, as this has really helped my mental health so much.

The app is really well laid out and clear in how it’s meant to be used. There has been a lot of content released on it in lockdown and Sam Harris keeps saying that he is going to be constantly releasing new content, removing content if needed and updating things to make the app as useful as possible to everyone.

For example, at the end of July 2020 (when I write this), we have just been told in the latest theory session (Spiritual Materialism) that they have removed the ‘streak’ function from the app, as Harris doesn’t want to make meditation about coming to the app every day to get another number. Rather it is about coming to the app because you want to meditate and become more aware of the contents of your consciousness, and as this drops away (as sometimes happens), what consciousness itself is like.

I am fairly sure I could keep writing about the book and app for a long time, and I think I have made it clear why I think both are a ‘no brainer’ for anyone reading this blog.

Meditation is not a religiously spiritual practice. It holds spiritual experience but within a completely secular setting. If anything, it shows us why the religious claim spiritual experience in relation to their God’s, and how we can claim them within the here and now reality of life. It’s another arrow in the quiver of the nonbeliever.

Take a moment right now and answer this question: do you want to begin to be able to witness the substrate to your existence, your consciousness, more readily?

If so, meditation is the right next step for you.

_End of Blog Blurb_

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.

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Podcast: If you like what you read then you could always check out the podcast ‘When Belief Dies’, it is available on all major podcasting platforms or you can listen/watch via YouTube. I upload and publish via Anchor FM each Wednesday at 7 am. For early access, support me on Patreon.

Grammar, spelling, capitalisation and punctuation: I am massively dyslexic. It has taken me years to get to the level I am currently at with writing and I have done this mainly through reading. I want to be better and ask you, reader, to please forgive any errors in my writing. I hope you notice improvement upon improvement over the coming years.

Time Frame: This blog is roughly twelve to twenty-four months behind where I currently am in my journey out of religion. It’s important to remember that when reading and commenting.

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I’ll see you back here at the same time next week 🙂


Farewell For Now When Belief Dies

It's time to stop, even though it breaks my heart. This episode serves as my reason why.   -Sam
  1. Farewell For Now
  2. When Belief Dies #100 – 'Psychedelics, Philosophy & God' with Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes
  3. When Belief Dies #99 – 'Open and Relational Theology' with Thomas Jay Oord
  4. When Belief Dies #98 – 'The Take Over' with Daniel Kelly & Roger Bretherton
  5. When Belief Dies #97 – 'The End?' with Daniel Kelly

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