Leadership Library Review — “Waking Up” with Sam Harris: Introductory Course

September 2021

The purpose of meditation isn’t merely to reduce stress or to make you feel better in the moment—it’s to make fundamental discoveries in the laboratory of your own mind.”  –Waking Up website

What are the big take-aways?

Writing this post at the close of August, I am on Day 13 of the 30-day free trial of the Waking Up introductory course, and I love it.  A long-time meditator using a variety of techniques, I was in the mood over the summer to unlock a new set of practices from a different approach (plus, Jim Dethmer mentioning Waking Up in his blog didn’t hurt…), and I’m delighted I tried this one.  As a tool for leaders, Waking Up is a resource I’m already recommending to my coaching clients.  (And what is executive coaching but a co-creative process of making fundamental discoveries in the laboratory of your own leadership?)

Why do I like it?

More than a series of guided meditations for beginners – which, after a dozen years, I certainly still consider myself to be! – this course also includes huge amounts of excellent content in the forms of Q&A about meditation, lengthy Conversations with contemporary teachers (from Radical Compassion author Tara Brach to poet David Whyte, etc.), and short Lessons by Sam Harris himself.  The website is divided between Theory and Practice, and each is a treasure trove.

I like Harris’s intellectual-yet-well-grounded vocal presence, and in addition to doing the daily meditations (though not every day, because I’m pacing myself), it’s been interesting to learn about his own path of awakening.  For example, Harris describes his decades-long quest to understand the mind in his lesson on “Gradual vs Sudden Realization” in the Mysteries & Paradoxes collection.  Also, I appreciate his depth of exploration with the Conversations guests as well as the quality of wisdom shared in other sessions (an early favorite of mine is Joseph Goldstein on “Transforming Negative Emotions”). 

In what situations would this be useful?

The Waking Up introductory course would be useful for anyone inquiring about meditation practices in general and/or the nature of consciousness and/or freedom from egoic self.  It’s worth noting that I experience Waking Up as having a cerebral and masculine orientation, including – but not solely – due to the fact that the majority of featured practitioners and theorists are men and white.  To me, in terms of Waking Up’s effectiveness, these are overall neutral aspects of the course, but I could imagine other users having a different response to them.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Based on the same Jim Dethmer blog post mentioned above, I’ve also recently begun reading Loch Kelly’s book, Shift Into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness (Sounds True, 2015) and accessing some of Kelly’s other material, all of which has proven immediately applicable and useful.  Kelly happens to be featured in both the Theory and Practice sections of the Waking Up website.

Another practical “how-to” book with a Buddhist – and, arguably, feminist-leaning – take is the late Kathleen Dowling Singh’s Unbinding: The Grace Beyond Self (Wisdom Publications, 2019).  Hear her thoughts about how simple, and even mundane, the awakening process can be in this lovely interview with Kate Ebner on Inside Transformational Leadership.  For a more socially-conscious angle on collective waking-up, I highly recommend Krista Tippett’s stunning On Being dialogue with the queer African-American Zen Buddhist angel Kyodo williams entitled, “The World is Our Field of Practice.”

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