Meditation Misconception Summed Up in Sam Harris's Political Rant

by Jarrett Retz January 15th, 2021
sam harris mindfulness meditation

The Misconception

Sometimes I meditate in the living room. The sun comes in low, and I find a nice warm spot to sit criss-cross with my back against the wall for a little support (like any dog would do before a good nap).

Being in such a common area in the house, people may walk by, stop to ask me a question, turn on the T.V, or generally make noise. Often, to my chagrin, they'll whisper to someone else on the main floor of the house, "He's meditating..".

Now, not only would it be silly of me to seek solitude in a room that is made for socializing, it's equally as silly to assume that meditation is about complete solitude and quiet!

I'm in the living room because:

  1. the sun feels nice
  2. it's not my office where I spend much of my time working
  3. the sounds, people, and surroundings are part of the practice

Typically, I explain the third point to people and life goes on.

Enter Sam Harris

Sam Harris, according to his website, "...is a neuroscientist, philosopher, New York Times
best-selling author, host of the Making Sense podcast, and creator of the Waking Up App."

I use his Waking Up App for virtually all my meditation sessions and I've read his best-selling book, Waking Up. Therefore, my beliefs on meditation stem largely from his teachings.

Furthermore, I'm a fan of Sam's and a subscriber to his podcast. I feel that his thoughts are fair, insightful, and that he genuinely tries to speak the truth.

I was listening to one of his recent podcasts, An Insurrection of Lies, and I couldn't help but smile and nod as he spoke about this related misconception of meditation.

To set the scene, he was responding to a common thread of comments that he receives on Twitter and other social media sites. This response is often to the political rhetoric that is sometimes on his podcast. He sums up the comments as being similar to:

[quoting people on Twitter] I find your comments on politics really off-putting. These are not the sort of things that a teacher of mindfulness should be saying.

Then, he retorts this with, what I believe to be, a comical response.

[But] if you think that meditative insight should cause one not to care about the implosion of our democracy, or about our ongoing failure to deal with civilizations challenges, if you think we get to not care about the world we’re building, or wrecking, the world that our children will be condemned to live in: it’s time to take your head out of your ass. And if you think I can’t say that mindfully, or mean that mindfully, in this very tone of voice, if you think it’s impossible for me to be mindful right, non-dualistically mindful—free of self mindful—even as I tell you to take your head out of your ass, then you are confused about what mindfulness is. And about what meditation is. And, about what the whole project of living an examined life is. You have mistaken a style of communication, an annodine, religious, or new agey communication, and a pseudo-ethic about being as inoffensive as possible, for the goal of spiritual life.

Comments like these are why I enjoy Sam as a podcaster and meditative teacher. His philosophy on mindfulness is within reach of everyday life.

Additionally, he contends that the goal of his app's sessions is to teach you how to bring the mindfulness that you experience when practicing in everyday life. Even when you're telling someone "to take your head out of your ass".