Hello, I’m knew to the board. I’m excited to post here, with what appears be a bunch of interesting minds, which is what I would expect out of a forum filled with people who appreciate Sam Harris’ books. I’d like to share with you, as briefly as I can, the “meditation” experience I had resulting from my reading TEoF.
As a avid “atheist”, I picked up TEoF last year and devoured it. Since I’d never read anything at all about Buddhism up until that point point, I was extremely skeptical of the claims made by Harris in the last chapter regarding meditation and introspection, that meditation can cause “happiness”. Since rational egoism is the basis for morality, I laughed at the idea that “there is no self”. The ego is your consciousness, and since your consciousness is your basic means of survival, it would appear that any philosophy that encourages you to banish your ego is the epitome of immorality. And from what I can so far tell, Buddhism philosophy is, at the very least, outwardly evil for that reason alone, despite any insights it may have to the way the mind operates. I openly admit that I know nothing of Buddhism,aside from a general over view of the philosophy. Until further investigation, I suppose I mainly credit Sam Harris for influencing the experience I had that I am about to explain to you.
One day last spring, as I was relaxing listening to music, I started reflecting on TEoF, on the last chapter where Harris suggested focusing on the statement “There is no ‘I’ “. I’d previously laughed at the notion, but I decided to give it a try. I began thinking that perhaps my dislike of that statement boils down to nothing more than a difference of semantics. I thought that, perhaps by the statement “there is no ‘I’ “, what is really meant is “there is no inherent self”, because a self obviously exists. “there is no intrinsic self”, I thought to myself. The self is the sum of the actions performed by the rational mind. What the rational mind chooses to do will form the self. I focused on this concept, as well as on the idea that action is based on belief, another idea from TEoF. Belief, as it happens, is based on action.(You acquire knowledge based on the amount of thinking that you do and you act based on that knowledge). If you focus on operating out of rationality, on elimination emotion from decision making, you will create a more desirable self. “This is morality”, I thought. The process of thinking is a mathematical process. The act of thinking is literally pleasurable, because it’s in your nature… Solving a problem will always bring a feeling of joy. (Nobody solves a problem and then says , “Shit, I solved a problem!”. Thinking creates a heightened consciousness, whereas evading thought depresses the mood and the nervous system. It is inherently pleasurable and it is your basic tool of survival. Thinking is
your basic moral choice.
With these concepts in mind, I focused intensely, on the idea that there is no intrinsic self, on the idea that belief is based on action, that thinking is my means of acquiring the right beliefs. Suddenly I began to feel a strange feeling and I thought it felt like that “separation of self” that I have heard of before. As strange as it may or may not sound, I felt a certain feeling in my head, in a certain area of my brain, behind my eyes. Perhaps somebody who has a better knowledge of the brain might know what it was. Anyway, it was a fuzzy, pleasurable feeling that intensified the more I focused on it. (Don’t ask me how I knew how to focus on it. I just knew the feeling and was able to reproduce it)
I must have reached some level of introspection, because I became aware of myself being aware. I felt like an inside observer of myself, which sounds like that’s something commonly understood to anyone who knows Buddhism, from what I understand. The first thing I noticed was my eyes darting around, as though my body was separate from my mind, and I was observing myself functioning on some base level.(Please, someone tell me you know what-the-hell I’m talking about)
The next thing I noticed was an intense, and I mean extremely intense, feeling of elation which lasted for a number of hours. Immediately I knew that, whoever coined the term “enlightenment”, this is what they meant. I knew without any doubt that this was what most people called a “spiritual” experience. I went for a walk. Colors were more vivid. Sounds too. I felt a peace that I’d never felt before.
Is it true that people have tried for years to achieve this, and it happened to me by accident?
I’ve told this story to a number of people since it happened. As of yet, nobody knows what the hell I’m talking about. The experience is hard to put into worlds, although I’m hoping and guessing that some of you here are somewhat familiar with contemplative literature, or even just meditation in general.
Can someone please let me know by responding or sending me a message, so I don’t feel so crazy?
Here are two small books that I find helpful. You can order them from Amazon for around $15 each:
‘ZEN LETTERS - Teachings of Yuanwu’
Translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary
‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’
Translated and Edited by Thomas Cleary
A student once asked Joshu Sasaki Roshi if he believed in God.
He replied, “Zen does not believe in God. You are all god-nature.” Possibly many people on this forum think that Zen is a religion or a belief system and for that reason are not interested in it. However, what you describe is not a belief. It’s something that happened to you spontaneously, though you triggered it, I guess, with a kind of Zen introspection. (“Turn the light of mind around. Who are you? What is the self? Reflect carefully”).
I think Sam Harris will write and publish more about Zen.
This morning, reflecting on one of Yuanwu’s letters to a student, I paraphrased:
‘It Doesn’t Come from Outside’ -
“Where has there ever been any separate creation apart from a creator, or any separate creator apart from creation? From beginning to end, fuse everything into one whole.” (note this significant difference from Genesis).
“Make yourself completely untrammeled, washed clean of holy books, washed clean of Buddhism and all the rest. If there’s a trace of the ‘I’ as small as an ant’s gas you are not manifesting your true nature.”
“If you become aware of getting at all stuck or blocked, this is all false thought at work. Moving or still, going or coming, it doesn’t come from outside.”
The experience you describe will have lasting effect without trying to hang onto it. People may be attracted to this light, but it’s still easy to fall into triviality, obsession, habit, and all the rest. Take care, and welcome to the forum.
It isn’t enough to be self-aware. Even insects are self-aware. But only a human can be aware of being self-aware (which you have now done!). This is much like being self-aware that you are in a dream when you are dreaming. It is very hard to do! So for that, congrats!
I reached this state for the first time as a teenager while using LSD. Then a couple years ago I was able to deconstruct this notion of “I” and see my ego as a merely a pyschological tool that the lump of matter that is me uses to better navigate the world and the situations it encounters.
The high point of this self-awareness results in enlightenment and a very deliberate understanding of what it means to exist in the ‘now’. This is the pinnacle of what it means to exist in the universe. And now you know how to do this.
Unsmoked was right when he said that it is hard to stay in this prolongued state of enlightement. Your ego will come knocking on the door of that quiet room you are in inside your head. It will yell, “Hey, remember me! I’m hungry, I’m horny, I’m better than this, that, and the other. What if we don’t get that assignment done on time?” and so on…Then you will be snapped back into the leading role of the character that is the star of the movie of your life. And you will continue to do a mediocre job of acting out as your friends, family and coworkers expect you to, just as your ego expects the same of them.
But the real question, and the one I continue to struggle with…is where do we go from here? How am I supposed to exist in the universe with the is profound understanding? Is it enough to just ‘be’?
You’ll probably have to find the answer to this yourself.
I found your story interesting and thanks for sharing it.
I have spent a lot of time meditating. I don’t do it everyday and there are periods when I don’t do it at all. I find overall, meditation for me is simply a tool to relive stress. It helps neutralize whatever (negative) mental state I may be in.
You explained the situation of sitting and thinking about TEoF and something triggered your “spiritual experience.” I’m wondering, did you intentionally set out to meditate that day? Where you just sitting around and suddenly this experience came about? Where you actually meditating when it happened?
My understanding is meditation attempts to focus on nothing—within the discursive thought processes going on in your mind—and to reach a point in your thinking where you are not actually thinking at all. My experience with meditation is to disengage from thinking and to let my mind fully relax and take on “a life of its own” so to speak. This is what “pure” consciousness is. Sam Harris describes it as an “alternative to being continuously spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves.” I think that’s a good description. I’m not trying to tell you anything here or judge your experience.
The experience you described was similar to one that I had, which had nothing to do with meditation. I was actually going through a grieving process when my first husband died about 18 years ago. I was very young, his death was very sudden, and I was very far away from my family. I went into what is normally called shock (or denial) by psychologists, but that is not the way I experienced it at all. I understand shock as a “shutting down” not as a change in consciousness. I didn’t feel like I was shutting down. I felt just the opposite.
Instead, I felt a certain separation from what I would call “ego” or self. It actually reminded me of a drug-induced LSD type of experience that I had (once) when I was in college. But it was also different than that in many ways. What I remember most about it was a strong experience of feeling completely and indescribably connected to the universe. It was this experience of “oneness” that is very difficult to explain in words. I felt an undeniable sense of peace and calm (yet paradoxically) also thinking in my mind about the chaotic emotions of dealing with the death of my husband. So part of it was an experiential sensation with the universe and part of it was an emotional reaction to my husband’s death. Yet for several days I felt this oneness, peacefulness and contentment with the world. Later, when all of this experience dissipated, the real pain of the death loss came barreling down on me for many months. Yet that experience of oneness would return occasionally and kind of envelope me “in its arms” so to speak. The best way I can describe it unfolding over time was a great sense of comfort, awe, peace and joy with everything.
Some might say I was experiencing God (many told me that) but I never felt that this was in any way a supernatural experience or that there was a God involved. Whatever it was, I believed my ego was suspended, I didn’t even experience “myself” as myself. I experienced everything as a connection to the universe.
I don’t know any other way to explain it. It sounds silly and ”New Agey.”
Over the years, the experience terminated. I haven’t had any semblance of it for at least 10 years or more. Sometimes when I meditate for long periods of time, I will have very short “mini experiences” although I often wonder if it is simply a memory of the experience that I am experiencing. Whatever it is and whatever it was, I find myself wanting very much to repeat it, to have it again (without all the grieving that goes with it) and to be able to understand what it is. I haven’t been able to rectify it in any way or even begin to comprehend it.