Sam Harris ON: The MEANING OF LIFE & Finding Wisdom Through MEDITATION | Jay Shetty | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Sam Harris ON: The MEANING OF LIFE & Finding Wisdom Through MEDITATION | Jay Shetty".
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There really is a tension between being and becoming. On some level, being isn't enough because you know that life is also an unending series of problems to be solved. We're all gonna die, right? So we have to find some mode of being at peace with impermanence. - The best-selling author and host. - The number one health and wellness podcast. - On purpose with Jay Shetty. - My question is what's worth pursuing? Or what is worthy of pursuing life? - Yeah, well there really is a tension between being and becoming, right? I think we live with this tension every moment of our lives and I think the domain of our spiritual concerns really focuses on the being part. Rather than just spirituality, for lack of a better word, is whatever you put in the space provided, it is an answer to the question of how is it possible to be fulfilled in the present moment in the midst of whatever's happening? Knowing that experience is always changing, knowing that you can't possibly create an experience that doesn't change. How is it possible to be at peace with the flux? Right, so that's, and really finding a mode of being that wherein you can recognize a type of fulfillment that isn't predicated on the next good thing that's happening, right? The story you're telling yourself about the future that may in fact never arrive. On some level being isn't enough because there are all the ways in the world might be, right? I mean, there's the possibility space of what we can create and what we wanna create takes effort. And so there's all these things that are not actualized now even if we're content now. And I think the domain of our becoming, I mean, there's all kinds of healthy ways of becoming, but the healthy mode of becoming, at least one part of it is, it really subsumes our ethical lives, right? So what would be good to do? What is positive? What is pro-social? How can we make the world a better place? How can we raise our kids to be wise and honest and content? And all of these are projects that take work. And so it's not just a matter of just chilling out perfectly and watching what happens. We do have to do things. So the tension really is in being at peace in the meditative sense and the contemplative sense in the spiritual sense, even while you make great effort to accomplish things. And I think the peace part comes when you recognize that your happiness is not actually predicated on getting any of those things done.
Exploring Worthwhile Pursuits, Spirituality, Emotions And Social Impact
What is worthy of pursuit in life? (02:34)
I mean, you have to learn to love the process. You have to learn to recognize that goals themselves as valid as they might be to achieve. The experience of achieving them is very brief and it has this mirage-like quality where it just, it recedes, I mean, you've been thinking about this thing for a year and you finally get to that landmark. And what is it? Well, it's just another moment of being alive and now you've got your thoughts about the past and the future still. And the question is, can you actually make full contact with the present moment? And so in the quote you read, my main point was, most people, if you don't know how to meditate, you're basically trying to arrange the world to give you a good enough reason to recognize that the present moment is enough. And number one, once you actually know how to meditate, you can sink into the present moment regardless of what else you're struggling to accomplish. And so you can sort of take the goal as the path, I mean, emotionally and cognitively. You've already arrived in terms of your own concerns about your own wellbeing. And yet you know that life is also an unending series of problems to be solved, right? But we're all gonna die, right? There's no solution to the massive problem of impermanence, right? So we have to find some mode of being at peace with impermanence and that's really, that's where the contemplative life comes in. So we're talking about pursuing peace, we're talking about pursuing this ability to navigate between as you were saying, being at peace with where you are now, but at the same time growing and progressing and loving the process as well. How do you define, just for everyone who's listening because I know you do this a lot in the book and in your work as well, how do you define spirituality and how do you define religion so that people can just make sense of those terms as we use them throughout this conversation? - Yeah, well I say, so I tend to use, you probably know I tend to be a critic of organized religion because just forget about the tribalism that religion so often engenders and the conflict born of that tribalism. I just think we need a 21st century conversation about human wisdom and human happiness and spirituality is a word I use, although I use it somewhat in scare quotes because people have associations with it that I think are just not helpful. So my argument is really, you can have a 21st century conversation about reality and how to live within it or you can have a 7th century conversation or a 5th century BC conversation where you can locate yourself at any point in human history or you can at this moment decide to avail yourself of all of the best ideas and just recognize that we have really a common inheritance of wisdom and insight and we can use whatever works, right? And ultimately we have to be the best judges of what works given the needs of the moment, given technological changes that could never have been foreseen by our ancestors, right? So whether we do this with the US Constitution or we do it with the Bible or we do it with the polycanan, the Buddhist scripture, it's just you can, there's no question that our ancestors have created documents and ways of thinking and methodologies, science being one, the contemplative practice being another that are incredibly valuable to us, but we have to recognize that in this moment in time, all we have is human conversation and human intuition and human insight by which to navigate. And so I just, for the religion piece, to be dogmatically attached to a specific religion as though we're the one true way of seeing everything that just doesn't make any sense to me at this moment. I mean, it's analogous to wanting to say that, you know, the physics is a Christian phenomenon because the Christians, for the most part, were the first people to actually make real breakthroughs in physics, well, it's just, there's no reason to speak of Christian physics or Muslim algebra. And ultimately I think there'll be no reason to speak of Christian or Buddhist or Hindu spirituality.
The difference between religion and spirituality that truly transcends culture (06:47)
I think we have a common human project and whatever is true of the human mind and its possibilities, there has to be a way of talking about that that truly transcends culture and certainly isn't sectarian in any usual sense, right? In the same way that science, when it's working transcends culture and isn't sectarian. I mean, there's no Japanese science versus American science versus, you know, there's just science. Spirituality, for better or worse, is a word that I think we still need to use because I might tend to, I'll talk about the contemplative life or wisdom traditions and specific practices like meditation, but it names an approach to wellbeing that isn't predicated on all of the usual seeking to become happy, right? So it's not about getting wealthier, it's not about getting healthier and fitter and those are all worthwhile projects and they're not in conflict with spirituality. But the spiritual piece in spirituality is, how is it possible to pay attention in this moment so as to not suffer unnecessarily, right? And what are the actual mechanics of our psychological suffering such that we do suffer unnecessarily so much at the time? And when you look closely at all that, it really is a matter of being lost in thought almost all of the time. And there's kind of this waking dreamscape of thought where we're talking to ourselves moment to moment, we're not aware of it. And so much of that conversation is an unhappy one and meditation is really a way of breaking that spell and waking up from the dream of discrecivity and identification with thought. So you can recognize that consciousness, that by which everything is seen and known and experienced and felt, right? Just the qualitative character of your own being in this moment. Consciousness has certain qualities that are intrinsically peaceful and gratifying and free of problems, right? And it's really the layer of thought that we fail to recognize all that and feel that our every waking moment is some form of emergency that has to be responded to or reacted to. - Yeah, and I think the way you define spirituality and the way you talk about it, I feel like it's definitely more and more appealing today. I think it's definitely something that, as you said, we need a 21st century version of what we're pursuing and how we think about reality. And I think those conversations are happening more often and more strongly and in more important circles. I have this question because I've often thought about this. You've well documented the pitfalls of organized religion and the challenges that come with that. What do you think are the pitfalls or challenges of spirituality in the fact that we move away from something, as you said earlier, was like, you know, this very defined, structured way of living that we've now come to look at it and gone, okay, that doesn't make sense all the time. And at the other end, we have a complete kind of open paradigm of spirituality, which can often be confusing, lacking structure, lacking somewhat of a map. Like, do you see certain pitfalls as to how we practice and become contemplative about spirituality? - Yeah, well, so I should say that much that goes by the name of spirituality is also something that is worth being skeptical of, right? The many beliefs that people form and many of these are imported from religion, they just can't be squared with a sophisticated, scientific view of just what reality is like. It's not to say we've figured everything out and we certainly haven't, but we just know that certain superstitious, magical, otherworldly beliefs are just not likely to be true. And yet, the most important spiritual claims, traditionally, like the fact that unconditional love is a possible state of mind, right? Or that the self, as it's normally felt and conceived is actually a lucery, right? That we're taken in by a powerful illusion of separateness and that feeling of separateness can be inspected and ultimately penetrated and felt through and felt beyond. Those are really, those are the babies in the bathwater of religion and spirituality that I think everyone, if they think about it long enough, wants to conserve. And those are fully supported by a modern discussion of the human mind and even a neuro anatomical discussion of the human mind. As you know, my PhD is in neuroscience that I can tell you there's no place in the brain for an unchanging ego to be hiding, right? I mean, the sense that we have a self that is unchanging, that's carried through from moment to moment, that is the place from which we appropriate experience that is separate from experience. That is just granted, it's a powerful illusion for many people, but it's an illusion that can be dispelled and once dispelled, it actually brings your experience into closer register with what we have every reason to believe neuroscientifically about just the way the mind should be based on the way the brain is.
Why we need to be wiser in finding what is worthy of our credence (12:14)
If you wander into the spiritual side of a bookstore, if you can even find a physical bookstore these days, it's been a while, so I've been in one. - I've been going through quite a few over Christmas, yeah. But there are few and far between at the moment. - Yes, definitely. - But in that section of the bookstore, there's a lot on the shelves that is bogus or semi-pogous or filled with wishful thinking and not so interesting intellectually or ethically, frankly. But there's a lot that is truly valid and I think we just have to become wiser curators of the totality of human conversation and the world's literature to find what is worthy of our credence at this point. And this is what we do this naturally and I think we just need to be honest that we are the ones, like when you go to an ancient text, when you go to the, I mean, if you take your favorite spiritual or religious book, in almost all of them, there are passages that are obviously anachronistic and just not suited to a 21st century view of just how we should live. So there's a lot about how to sacrifice goats in the Old Testament and it's just, if it was ever useful, it's not especially useful now. People effortlessly ignore those passages and that's fine. So you're performing editing on the fly and then you find a passage in Ecclesiastes or Jesus giving the sermon on the Mount and you know, you're the golden rule and you say, okay, this really encapsulates a lot of wisdom and it's very hard to improve on the golden rule. The golden rule is a fantastic heuristic for just living ethically with people. So great, there's nothing we need to believe on insufficient evidence to use the golden rule as a great kind of navigation tool ethically. And when you think about ethics and morality, it really is a question of what to do next and we're always faced with this navigation problem essentially 'cause there's this total space of possible experience individually and collectively and we're trying to figure out how to navigate in this space given that the possible experience is on offer and the truth is there are horizons here which we can't see beyond and we don't know how good life could get for us individually and collectively. There's so many things that are in play now. I mean, we are living at a time where it's possible for us to change our own genomes ultimately, right? I mean, there's not many people doing that at the moment but that is just a few short years away where we're gonna be confronted with the question of, I mean, do you actually wanna modify the genes that are expressed in your body and brain and even in the germ line, so we're talking about the inheritance of your future children. So we can do in a few short moments what evolution has been doing for hundreds of thousands of years in our case and millions and millions and millions of years before that. So these are choices that we have always had to make but now we're making them in the presence of increasingly powerful technology and our engagement with the internet and information. I mean, we're finding it hard to even have a conversation about the most basic facts now at scale because there's so much misinformation and much of our conversation is being piped through the social media platforms which are essentially outraged machines, right? They're preferentially amplifying the most agitating and divisive content because that's what spreads faster and they're amplifying misinformation more than the debunking of misinformation, right? So there's kind of an asymmetric war of information here. And so we're suddenly, we've got these functionally, we have the genes we had with a few tweaks, we have the genes we have maybe 75,000 years ago, right? So we are these ancient primates now armed with nuclear weapons and an internet and increasing AI technology now. And so we're faced with, continually faced with the conundrum of what to do with all of this and how do we solve these massive coordination problems where we get now eight billion strangers essentially to cooperate peacefully. The landscape of possibility here is always shifting. And so again, we have human conversation as a means by which to navigate this. And so, yeah, I mean, to come back, this is a very long way of getting back to your original question, which is, once you recognize that our legacy thought structures are not well suited to this, right? So to be a fundamentalist Christian or a fundamentalist Buddhist or a fundamentalist Hindu in the face of these new opportunities and new challenges is not the best operating system for your mind. And you're forced to be far more eclectic and non-sectarian and non-dogmatic and just open to the best evidence and the best arguments, really perpetually open to the best and new evidence and better arguments where the guardrails, right? It's no longer simple, right? I can no longer just consult a single book or a single list of do's and don'ts to guide me. Ultimately, it's a far more flexible and intelligent way to proceed because we want, let me just ask yourself, do you want your next decision or your decision 10 years from now to be, do you wanna be available to the best evidence and the best arguments at that moment when making that decision or not? Do you want some belief system that guarantees your unavailability, right? Do you want some kind of cognitive and emotional closure that walls you off from better arguments and better information? I think almost no one would sign up for that kind of, you know, that's ignorance by another name, right? So I think we wanna be persuadable, we wanna be open to better arguments and new evidence. We also wanna be skeptical and conservative in how we revise our map of the world because we know that most new, you know, published studies have sent a very good chance of not being true or, you know, or not being replicatable, even in science. We have a legacy, we have an inheritance of institutions that have proved themselves over generations. And so we shouldn't be eager to tear everything down to the studs and build again, right? I think there's a reason to be conservative with respect to institutions and norms and things that have worked for centuries that tend to be a reason why they've worked for centuries. And so there's a sort of a tinkering and an iterative process here that I think makes sense, but ultimately, yet we want a modern wisdom tradition to be the common property of a non-sectarian, non-parochial, non-provincial humanity at this point. - And that nicely comes back to the waking up part of your work, right? - The idea that we can't create something or use something fully aligned with human values because we as humans aren't fully aligned with human values in the collective sense and the idea that I've always felt that the reason why we should be scared of technology is because I guess we're scared of some humans. So if humans have the ability to create something, it will have all the imperfections that we have internally in the creator of it. And so it will inherit all the same manipulative tendencies, exploitative tendencies, it's hard to free something of that if you inherently build something with that. And you see that with any sort of social media technology today that even if it was built with the best intentions of trying to create good in the world, either it amplifies negative or inherently has some questionable morals and ethics to it as well. - Yeah. - And so it comes back to the waking up part of your work, which is this self-reflective, contemplative idea of, "Who am I becoming? "Who do I wanna be? "Who am I?" I mean, at the very deepest level, as you said. One word that I've always loved from my studies was this idea of the word purifying. Like there was a need for purification of some of these elements. And you talk about this in the beginning of your book when you, I believe it was one of the first times you did MDMA and then you had this feeling of complete love for your friend, free of envy. And when I was reading that, I was thinking about how much this word purification is often not talked about. But it's probably my favorite word that I've learned through my study of the wisdom traditions because to me I was thinking, "Yeah, what's really required, as you said, "is that love's already there. "It's already there. "It's not like you're finding or discovering something, "but there's almost like a detoxing, a cleansing, "a letting go of these other things "that cloud our ability to be there." Is that part of what you're doing, what you feel meditation achieves? Or no, that's a completely different thing as well. - The thing you want to accomplish is already accomplished. There's dualistic and non-dual ways of conceiving this whole path of practice. And the dualistic way is very much a purification model, which is that there's something that's currently dirty. And you can clean it. And it's gonna take effort to clean it. And I would argue that most spiritual traditions are framed in that way. And there's definitely a place for that, but the mature approach to meditation practice is, and the one, frankly, that is just free of the stress of seeking is to recognize that consciousness, as it is, ordinary consciousness, regardless of what its current contents are, regardless of what you're currently experiencing, you could be feeling a classically negative emotion. I mean, you could have just gotten angry, right? And then you remember, oh, wait a minute, I'm supposed to be meditating. Okay, what's true now? And the physiology of anger hasn't even had time to dissipate yet, right? So that'll happen over tens of seconds, right? But still, if you know how to recognize, what I call over and waking up, consciousness without a center, in that first moment of just recognizing that you are the condition in which anger and everything else is appearing, there's already no center to that condition. There's already no ego in the middle of it. And it doesn't actually get emptier of self than that ever. And even if you have a very different experience, I mean, you take MDMA and you feel unconditional love, or you go on a long meditation retreat and you get really concentrated and you're having just regularly having experiences of bliss, say, so you can be very, you know, drug-like. All of those changes in the contents of consciousness are transitory. I mean, you take a drug and it's gonna wear off. You get very concentrated and you feel bliss, but when you're watching Netflix two weeks later, you're not concentrated in that way and you're doing something else with your attention and presumably you're not gonna be blissed out in the same way. So all of those changes in the contents are temporary.
Sam explains what’s the mature approach of meditation and how this can be achieved (24:57)
What's not temporary is the availability of this recognition that there's just this open condition which everything is spontaneously appearing, thoughts and sights and sounds and sensations and emotions and moods. And the energetics of experience is always occurring in a condition that is fundamentally mysterious really. And it's not, 'cause if you engage it prior to concepts, I mean, there's a layer at which you can just think about it and describe it in psychological terms. There's a lot to understand, you know, correlating changes in our minds with changes in the brain, right? So there's a possible neuroscience of contemplative experience and people are doing that work. But as a matter of your own experience, there's this ever-present mystery that anything is any way at all. Me like, you don't know what you're going to think next until the thought itself arises, right? It's just 'cause you'd have to think it before you thought it in order to know what it is, right? So it's just on some level, you are a witness to everything that's appearing and in the beginning, it feels like the witness has the structure of a self, of a subject. But as you look into that more and more, that structure goes away and there's just this condition in which everything is appearing. And that doesn't feel like I, it doesn't feel like me. And whatever feels like I or me is yet more appearance, you know, it can be a pattern of energy on your face or a contraction in the body. So as you keep dropping back and witnessing that, it has, the purification model makes less and less sense because what is there to purify, right? There's not like even anger is no longer anger, right? In the moment of recognition, it's just this, just a feeling of heat on your face, right? It's just a feeling of tension in your chest and there's no one to whom those feelings refer, right? And so the moment you recognize that you have, by definition, broken the connection to whatever thoughts were telling you why you were angry and why you should be angry and why you have every right to be angry and what you're gonna say to that person next time you see them, you've broken that spell of thinking. And so the emotion is dissipating. And so anger is no longer anger, but it's in purification mode, it is still possible to do that dualistically. I mean, in the beginning when you're practicing, what I tend to teach in, over waking up is a technique called mindfulness, which most people engage dualistically in the beginning where they're strategically being aware of sites and sounds and sensations and the breath and thoughts and emotions. And so even dualistically, you can learn the difference between being lost in thought and identified with an emotion like anger and just witnessing it from the point that seems to be outside of that thought and that emotion. And even if it feels like a subject that's paying attention strategically to the physiology of anger or the arising and cessation of thought, that's fine. I mean, that's a starting point, that's and a necessary one for virtually everyone. And that does accomplish this de-identification from the whole process that's giving you this negative emotion. So there is a freedom even in the dualistic awareness of the flow of thought and emotion, but ultimately, and that very much has this character of purifying the mind. It's like this is a anger is a classically negative thing to be stuck in and identified with and acting out of and it's divisive. It's you're gonna say the thing you regret and that for which you have to apologize for and you're just, you know, and the normal person who doesn't know how to be mindful and doesn't know the difference between being lost and thought and not is really the mere hostage of that process. So they're gonna stay as angry as they're gonna stay for as long as they're gonna stay that way and they're gonna do all of the things that are life deranging and reputation harming. They might do on the basis of that emotion for as long as they're gonna do those things and then they're gonna have all the reaction to what they did and said. And it's the complication of life born of that, you know, one moment where you got angry. Even dualistic mindfulness gives you a degree of freedom that most people don't have. And it is a kind of superpower to be able to say, "Oh, well, I just got angry. How long do I wanna stay angry for?" For me, an emotion like anger or fear is useful in so far as it is, it is a salient skew. It's telling you that something just happened that's worth paying attention to, right? There's somebody just walking to the room who, you know, doesn't have your well-being at heart, right? And they've got some intention that is in conflict with something that you were trying to accomplish, say. Or at minimum, it's telling you something about yourself and about your own priorities and about what you were trying to do in the world and, you know, for better or worse. So it's worth paying attention to, but it's almost never the state of mind you wanna be and to then solve the problem that you just noticed. So I'm not saying that the goal is to be completely without any capacity for anger or fear or any of these emotions, but it's, I do think psychological health and just the health of one's relationships and just the whole project of living wisely in the world is more and more the result of being able to get off to unhook from that negative emotion more and more quickly. I mean, I think you wanna stay angry and fearful and even sad for much shorter periods of time. - Absolutely, yeah. - And then you can, then there's just more to recognize about the circumstance. It gives you a degree of freedom by which to navigate. - Yeah, no, I fully agree with that. I've, whenever I get asked that question, which I'm sure you get asked a lot, it's like, well, don't you ever get angry or don't you ever, you know, get upset or sad and what you just said has always been my response that I still feel anger, I still feel sadness, I still feel envy. I still and always believe I always will feel all of these things just for less and less time. And I don't think I'll ever get to zero just as you could never run a mile in zero seconds. I won't ever get to a point where I'm able to deal with it in zero seconds. It's just not gonna be possible because it needs to live. - I think there are more impersonal and ethically necessary modes for these emotions that I don't think we wanna get rid of them. I think outrage, moral outrage has its place and it is the basis from which we would react to grave injustice in the world. But it's not, it doesn't have to be, it's not a personal anger, right? But it just, you see something, some unnecessary harm being created deliberately by deeply unwise people in the world and you just think, all right, this is an emergency, this is worth responding to, right? And that can feel that the energy of anger can be behind that. And so I would tend to call that outrage rather than anger, but I think moral outrage is useful, but it's just, the question is, when does it tip over into personal psychological suffering that actually diminishes your capacity to do something useful? And that's where that's the line that I think we wanna be more aware of. - Yeah, let's use that as an example and take it through that process because I think that's exactly it. Like I was gonna bring that up earlier, the idea that just as the outrage or the emotional experience can stop us from being practical, so not to go down this road again, but so too can the skeptical, like if you can be overly skeptical and overly analytical and never practically apply anything because you can constantly find flaws in pretty much most ideas in the world if you keep looking for them. So let's take the outrage idea, like what does someone do? They feel their outrage, the moral outrage, where they feel pain, the suffering of another, where do you go from there through your process? Like what's step two, three, four? - Well, I think it's important to be again, cautious and skeptical of one's own emotional hijacking. So it's like you wanna know that this isn't a personal, petty, egocentric reaction. And it actually is born of what it purports to be, a compassionate engagement with the world. Like you actually want the best for other people, perhaps including yourself, but also, I mean, we're all on the same team, that's the mode that you're in. And so it's not an expression of your own greed and narcissism and a self-focused and divisive emotion. - But it probably will start at that, right? - Well, I think it can have something of that character in that it's, it can have the character of contraction. I mean, outrage feels like anger. It's like, you know, it is the same thing that would get you to raise your voice if you were angry, right? It's like, it's like you're gonna raise your voice, if you're gonna raise your voice in defense of humanity, right? Well, you're still raising your voice. And so it's just that there's energy behind it. And I think that energy at times is necessary. Or to take another somewhat adjacent situation, but analogous, it's like, you know, if you're in a situation in which you have to defend yourself from actual physical violence or defend someone close to you, you know, someone's attacked you and your child. So what should you do? They're just gonna lie down and offer yourself up as a human sacrifice. No, I like, I think pacifism is not actually the, morally the wisest position, ethically. So I think the energy that would allow you to violently defend yourself against an aggressor should be available, right? But it's not necessarily anger, but it could look a lot like anger and feel a lot like anger.
There are many levels of outrage and it mostly depends on the presented situation (36:02)
It's certainly not necessarily hatred. And here I would ask you to consider how you would feel like, I mean, defending yourself against a person, you know, you think of some malicious psychopath who's broken into your house and is now wanting to harm you and your family because that's what he likes to do, right? That's like the quintessential circumstance where one you'd feel, you'd feel fear, you'd feel a lot of things, but you'd probably also feel hatred for this person, right? I mean, there's a few circumstances where hatred feels more apropos than that, but I do view hatred as always being, somehow extra, even inextremists like that. Because imagine just how you'd feel, very superficially similar situation, you know, you're still, you have an attacker in your house and you have to defend yourself violently, but that attacker now is not a person, it's a wild animal, you know, a grizzly bear has broken into your house or a mountain lion, right? How, it's still an absolute emergency, right? You're still gonna have to fight for your life. You're still looking for a weapon to defend yourself with, right? You're still contemplating killing a living being to defend yourself, right, and your kids, but there's an emotional shading there, like as energized as you would be in the presence of a mountain lion or in the presence of a grizzly bear, there's this layer of hatred doesn't quite fit, you know. - Because you feel they have less choice. - Yes, of course a mountain lion is gonna be a mountain lion. You know, it's like a mountain lion can't be other than a mountain lion. On some level, a malicious psychopath can't be other than a malicious psychopath, right? So I think we do have to view people on some level as equivalent to forces of nature, right? You know, we don't get angry at hurricanes, but we certainly don't hate hurricanes in the same way that we could hate another human being. But if we could lock hurricanes in prison, we would, right? I mean, they're immensely destructive, you know, we're still trying to figure out what to do about them, but it never gets, we never take this extra step of actually hating them. And I do think we could have, ethically speaking and psychologically speaking, we can't have a similar relationship to even the worst human beings while doing all the things we need to do to defend ourselves against them. We can put people in prison, we can, you know, we can, I'm not in favor of the death penalty for, for actually these reasons, but, 'cause I don't think anyone creates themselves. I don't think anyone is truly at bottom responsible for being who they are. And if you had the same genes and the same life experience of whoever, Jeffrey Dahmer, you'd be Jeffrey Dahmer, right? So there's no mystery there. But, so I think at bottom, when you're looking at these very stark differences in life outcomes, you're looking at differences in luck, right? I mean, there's biological luck, there's circumstantial luck, there's all kinds of luck. And there's what we do with the luck, but your capacity to do good things with even your bad luck is yet more good luck, right? I mean, something is giving you, there's some genetic and environmental reason why you are set up to pick yourself up by your bootstraps when somebody else in the similar situation wasn't, right? And so on some level, there's, we have an ethical imperative to acknowledge the massive role that luck plays in our lives. And I think we should want to cancel the most egregious differences in good and bad luck between people. So when we look at a whole society that is suffering from immense bad luck because it didn't have the natural resources that some other society did or it had those resources, but even those resources created perverse incentives and so it has got a terrible political outcome based on all the level of corruption that's layered on top of the resources. I mean, there's just terrible disparities in luck there, right? And so I think we, as a global civilization, more and more, as we grow wealthier and wealthier and can take advantage of good luck over here, we should want to engineer a tide that raises, upon which most are all boats rise more and more. It's not to say that capitalism is wrong, it's not to say that we're ever gonna completely nullify differences in luck. And I think some asymmetries may in fact be the optimal way to encourage people's creativity and innovation, right? So it's like, I'm not, I'm agnostic as to, on some of the questions of how to organize a society and an economy there, but I do think more and more we need to recognize that so many of us, I mean, certainly anyone has got the free time to listen to this conversation right now, stands a pretty good chance of being in the top 10% or even 1% of humanity with respect to luck, all the variables, whether it's with respect to health and wealth and education and just having the free time and attention to listen to this and be interested in this and to be asking the kinds of questions we're trying to address in a conversation like this, we're immensely lucky and with that comes a certain responsibility but also opportunity to spread the luck around. - Yeah, yeah, to create luck for others. - Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I loved where we were going with that and loved where we went, but going back to the outrage piece, the understanding of, you know, almost differentiating our hate from outrage, almost extracting some piece of the ego from it being petty and individualistic but that it's for a greater cause, then yeah, how do you go forward with that? Like, what do you do with that thought, that idea, that feeling? So you feel pain when someone else is in pain, you feel stress, you feel outrage, as you said, there may be a petty personal anger to it that triggered us in the first place but we were able to carve that out and understand that that wasn't the basis of our real outrage, that there was something bigger. - Yeah, well then it really just depends on what the problem is and what the situation is and whether you can influence it. Right, I mean, if you can't do anything about it, well then it's not useful to be just grinding your gears without rage. I mean, your outrage needs some kind of outlet, you know, so if you have some kind of platform upon which to try to make sense on these important topics, we'll then do that. But yeah, it's never useful to just be privately seething without rage that has no outlet, right? So you have to figure out one, what pragmatically can you do to accomplish anything useful on the basis of this emotion? And if there's nothing to do, it's great to have the tools by which you can just let go of it, right? And that's, and again, that's where meditation comes in. I mean, that really is a kind of superpower. You can just decide, okay, there's nothing to do here with this negative emotion. So now I can just let go of it. And that's true for public facing emotion like outrage, but it's true for an inwardly facing one like just anxiety about something that is coming up in the future, right? So like you've got some medical condition, now you need to get an MRI to see if you've got something scary and you can't get the MRI until next Tuesday, right? So now you've got this time to wait. So the question is, in the intervening days, how captured are you gonna be by this feeling of anxiety? Is there any utility in feeling anxious between now and Tuesday? And if there's not, wouldn't it be great to actually just let go of it, right? And most people feel like that's pretty hard to do, right? I mean, most people don't have tools apart from just diverting themselves, getting, distracting themselves with something else to take their mind off the thing that they're really sort of thinking about in the background, that they don't wanna think about, but they're helplessly perseverating on it. But as far as acting in the world so as to make the world a better place, I think based on outrage or some other emotion, I'm impressed more and more by how much that's a story of changing incentives at the system level more than it is a story of getting individuals to improve themselves. I think individuals should want to improve themselves and I want to improve myself.
How do you handle the feeling of outrage or any other strong feeling that may be difficult to deal with (45:00)
And so far as I can share wisdom about how to do that, I do that more or less full time. But there's another level of analysis and another level of discussion that needs to be applied to the systems in which we're all functioning. And we need to recognize that in so many places, we have systems of incentives that are aligned so as to make it actually hard to be a good person. You need to be some kind of moral hero to be truly ethical given how the system is tuned. And conversely, totally normal people can be lured into behaving more and more like psychopaths in a badly tuned system where the incentives are all wrong. And I think more and more we need to be alert to that and we need to want to design systems where it just becomes easier and easier for ordinary conflicted mediocre people, people who are not even thinking about ethics all that much, don't even don't want to, they just want what they want. It's easier for them to behave more and more like saints because the incentives are aligned to that way. To take an example that's recently top of mind so like we have the problem of climate change, we have well intentioned people want to do something about it, we don't want to create the most profligate harms for ourselves unnecessarily. So it'd be great to have a system of incentives and economic opportunities and technologies that just made it easier and easier to be wise with respect to carbon or carbon footprint. And there are a lot of great ideas in this space and one of them is listless by electric cars. Let's transition from a fossil fuel economy of transportation to an electric one. Well, that sounds wonderful and I've just, I've had an electric car and I just had to get a new car and I was poised to buy another electric car. But then I hear on Joe Rogan's podcast from this guy who's just published a book, it's coming out, forgive me, I've forgotten his name, I think it's Shree Ram Krishnan I could have that wrong, but his book coming out called Cobalt Red, but he had just did to our podcast with Rogan, which was just this litany of horrors that attend the extraction of cobalt from Congo, right? It's like 72% of the world's cobalt is in Congo, we use cobalt in all of our batteries. Basically our supply chain for cobalt is on top of just slave labor and child labor and just kids getting buried alive. I mean, it was just as bad as you could imagine. And so here we have a system where we all, we just, we all want to buy the next electric car because it's the good thing that this was the virtuous thing to do, but now we find out that the batteries are soaked in blood, there's no good option, right? And now we have to pretend that we didn't hear that podcast and the people designing the batteries or pretending they don't know where the cobalt comes from and there's like, we need to figure out, I mean, this itself should be a simple problem to solve and there would just, it's probably a few percentage points of profit margin that would make the extraction of cobalt an ethically defensible practice, right? And then it's probably, there's probably some cobalt free technology that we could design in the future, but it's just to get these things right really matters and if you don't get them right, you've got people who are deeply conflicted about what they're doing or just not completely unaware of what they're doing and creating these massive negative externalities that they might not even know about. Like I could, I literally was, I mean, I was 24 hours from buying another EV, right? So it's not that my loan purchase or not of a single car is gonna matter that much in the scheme of things, but it's like, I would have had I not heard this particular episode of Joe's podcast, I would have bought that EV thinking I was doing an unimpeachably virtuous thing, right? And now I have a much more conflicted decision to make around, you know, what's the right car to drive in light of my climate change concerns. This is just to say that the individual can't solve the cobalt supply chain problem, right? So like we need these solutions to come at the system level and the institution level. And that's where being a good person is sort of beyond the scope of anyone's individual choices. Like you need to, we need to collectively solve a massive coordination problem together where in the act of gratifying our desires, we are creating less and less harm and doing more and more good, more or less effortlessly. And that's, and that really is, you can have people who are just not thinking about purifying anything, behaving in really impeccable ways given good incentives. And that's some more and more I'm thinking about that. - Yeah, I love that you're thinking about then. And I think it's, and I do to put forward though, is that it's also that the people that are setting up the institutions and the systems are also individual. So it's like a vicious cycle. It's like the leaders at the top, the people who have made all these decisions to go out and, you know, take all this cobalt and make sure that it was picked by child slaves or child labor or whatever it may be. I haven't listened to the podcast, I don't have to context. But someone made that decision and some system never thought to correct that because that was led by some people. So I think, I mean, I agree with you, but I think it's both. It's like, you know, I think even where systems have been made tight, you still see people trying to find a loophole. I mean, that's how the human mind is set up. And so you've got the loophole mindset of like, okay, well, let me find a way to exploit this and manipulate this towards my benefit anyway. - Right. - And so you've got both. I think both are important. I think like if you were the decision maker, if you were building EVs, you would be able to make that system in your company and you'd set it up. But that would come back to you. - Yeah. - Yeah. - But if we taxed carbon instead of taxing incomes, I don't know how that works out in terms of the balance sheet, but something like that. So we're using a tax to disincentivize something we want to disincentivize pollution. And we're not penalizing something that's intrinsically good, just creating value and being paid for that value, which is what income in the best case is coming from. So there's that and then like all of a sudden people would, all right, if it's costing me money to be polluting, well, then I'm gonna figure out how to not do that. And that's just gonna be, our interests are gonna be aligned there, right? - Yeah. - And so there's probably a hundred or a thousand cases like that, but where I was going was, I've been thinking a lot about what has come to be called the effective altruism movement, which is how to do good, more reliably, more systematically. Many of us have been disillusioned with how philanthropy has been done traditionally. It's like there's a distinction between, this actually comes back to some of what we've been talking about with the difference between being led by one's emotions and actually understanding what the outcomes are in the world that one is accomplishing. When you're trying to do good in the world, when you're, let's say you're giving to a children's hospital, say, I mean, that just seems an intrinsically good thing to do, but so much, we know that so much of our impulse to do good, our impulse toward altruism, our impulse toward effective compassion, is driven by the single compelling story, the single identifiable protagonist, the one little girl who's got cancer and we can help her, right? And that we sort of go to sleep when we're told statistics, right? So like we, perversely, we care more about the one little girl than we care about the tens of thousands of little girls just like her, maybe even the tens of thousands of little girls including her, right? It's like you can run psychological experiments where you show people one little girl and you ask them how much they're inclined to help and how much money they give, they give them maximum amount, you know, under those conditions. If you show them the same little girl and you layer on a story of just how many other girls there are like her, their people's compassion impulse reliably diminishes, right?
Sam shares the philanthropic charities he has been investing his time in (54:19)
So this is clearly a moral bug of our operating system. So we know that the good feels we get from giving are separable from the actual effects of our given in the world. So anyway, I've thought more about this and I've brought on various moral philosophers to speak about this on, but both on the app and on my podcast. And one change I made in response to one of these conversations was I just decided that waking up as a company would give a minimum of 10% of its profits to the most effective charities each year. And I personally would give a minimum of 10% of my pre-tax income to charity each year. Now I was already giving money away to charity and that felt good, but once I decided, all right, here's the formula, I have to give this minimum amount. This minimum amount is already allocated to these ends. And what's more, these ends have to be not just charities and causes that I feel really personally engaged by or just things that I wanna support, like some, I wanna give money to a college or a symphony or something that I see somebody go fund me page and it tugs at my heartstrings, I wanna give money to that. No, that's all separate. Here's 10% that's going to charities that I in the sober rational analysis have decided are gonna do the most good irrespective of how I feel about these things. 'Cause there are certain causes that I just don't find, especially sexy, I just can't, I have to continually rethink my interest in them, but they are objectively, if you wanna save a life per unit, per dollar put into the system, this is the best use of your dollars. One has been malaria mitigation in Sub-Saharan Africa, just, just, a malaria bed nets, right? Like that's, I just can't get too excited about handing out bed nets, right? But that's something that's worth supporting. So I just decided that, okay, givewell.org has done, run this analysis. They're a great source of information about effective charities. Here are their top 10 charities. Whether I find these sexy or not, I know I can outsource the cognitive labor to these people because I've spoken to them enough, I've analyzed what they've done, they're doing enough, this is their full-time job. All right, until I hear otherwise, I'm going to take their advice. It doesn't matter how I feel about these charities, right? I'm gonna get my good feels elsewhere. But what's happened is once I decided that I'm gonna give this amount of money to charity each year, and it's happening by default, whether I'm thinking about it or not, whether I'm gratified by it or not, a very interesting thing flipped. One is when I confront all these other opportunities to give money away that are tugging on my heartstrings, they almost show up as a kind of guilty pleasure. Like I literally have had the feeling of giving money to a children's hospital, or giving money to somebody's GoFundMe page. And it's almost leveraging the same greedy circuits in the brain as you'd get, if you're opening a catalog, and you want everything on both pages. It's like, it's a very visceral experience of selfishness and selflessness totally emerging. And it's like, why selfishness is the same thing as selflessness. But it has the energy of like, I really want to do this. And because I sort of know I've rationally allocated to this certain amount of doing this good, kind of automatically, sort of even out of sight and out of mind. I'm not spending a lot of time thinking about where that money's going. It sort of changed my relationship to all these other occasions where I'm having to decide on the basis of my intuitions, moment to moment, whether I want to give and how much to give. And it's really just kind of flipped everything upside down in a way that's interesting. And again, it's all based on having made a sort of system level default change that is a sort of hidden structure in which I'm now moving. 'Cause again, I'm not, until you make a decision like that, you're constantly rethinking what you want to do. It's almost like going on a diet. Like you decide, like, I don't eat dairy anymore, right? So once you don't eat dairy anymore, I eat a lot of dairy, but if one, it didn't eat dairy anymore, you're just a bright line. And then you're not constantly rethinking whether you're going to have ice cream and if so, how much. And so it's massively clarifying in the story. - That's a great example. That really hit true. Yeah, the clarity of constraints, right? Having borders and boundaries and constraints, allowing you to not waste as much time and energy on figuring that out moment by moment. I've got two more questions for you, Sam, that I want to make sure I ask you today. How does someone like you as a meditator for so many years, as someone who's so thoughtful about these topics, as somebody who wants to see change in the systems and institutions as well, how do you interact with the news? Because I find that to be such a source of anxiety and stress for so many people who are probably listening to us right now. And so I'd love to hear how you've built a healthier, hopefully systematic, logical relationship with the news. - Well, it changed recently for me because I deleted my Twitter account, which is where I was getting a lot of my news. And I was not getting the news from Twitter per se, but I was just seeing, I was following lots of smart people and seeing what articles they were recommending. And so I was just going to going through that as a, it was kind of like my news feed. So I still, I read the New York Times, I read the Atlantic, there's many things I read. And so I see the news in various channels, but I was using Twitter as the first filter on that. And that for a variety of reasons became really toxic for me. And toxic in a way that I was convinced was misleading. I mean, that was the thing that got me to finally just kind of rip the bandaid off because it wasn't just that I was seeing the worst of people and that was having a certain effect. I was convinced that I was seeing people at their worst who are actually not as bad as they were seeming to me on Twitter. Like what Twitter was calling out of them was just a misleading picture of who they actually are. 'Cause in some cases, I knew the people in real life and I'm seeing them behave in abominable ways on Twitter. And I just think, all right, this is an all, this is just a fun house mirror that isn't psychologically healthy to keep staring into day after day after day. And also just so many of the things that I was, it was amplifying stories that I was, as a podcaster, I was tempted to react to and I felt like I was getting a misleading signal as to just how salient or representative those stories are of the way the world is, right? So like it was just the phenomenon of being too online ultimately, right? Yeah, so in so far as Twitter was news or a simulacrum of news, that has really changed for me.
Lessening time on social media can help avoid getting exposed to toxic and unhealthy content (01:02:02)
I just, I'm not seeing it. And now I just, yeah, I mean, I have a few sources of news that I go to as more or less reflexively. But again, it's more and more I'm asking the question, what do I want my moment to moment life to be like? And who do I wanna be at the end of the day when I'm hanging out with my wife and kids, right? And what are the consequences of having spent my attentional budget over the previous hours, in one way versus another? And I mean, Twitter for me, honestly, was a big change because it was like getting out of an unhealthy relationship. And now it's just, for all my talk about meditation and being able to unhook from anger in other states, I mean, I could unhook and I could let go of negative emotion and et cetera. I mean, it's not that the tools don't work, but I was spending a lot of time looking into this very deranging space. And it's not deranging for everybody, but for me, because what's unique about my job and my approach to my job is that, I criticize the right and left politically a lot and with sort of equal ferocity. And so I get, so I'm not, I'm not tribally aligned with anyone and I get a lot of pain from both sides. And it's a lot of, it's not honest pain. It's not like, it's not like honest criticism of views I actually hold. It's like lots of line about views that I don't hold. And it's just misrepresentations and people take clips out of context. And I mean, people cut together clips of my podcast that where I'm seeming to say the opposite of what I in fact said in context and they release those and people with big platforms retweet them. So it's a, it was a pervasive experience for me of seeing myself lied about and then wondering whether there's anything I should do about that, right? And so it was this very sticky invitation to getting sucked in because like, okay, that's not what I said, that's not what I meant. Now I'm seeing the evidence of lots of people being misled by this misrepresentation. And it bothers me and I'm pretty sure it should bother me because I like, this is not the outcome I want, right? And this is not why I have a podcast and it's not why I went on that other person's podcast. And so there's some burden on me to try to clarify the misunderstanding and I was continually getting sucked into the illusion that clarification was possible, right? So I would try, 'cause I really wanted to use Twitter as a channel of communication. It was the only social media platform I ever used. I'd ever use Facebook or I may have Facebook and Instagram accounts, but those are just marketing, you know, channels from my team. I'm never on those. So I was on Twitter, it really was me. And I was, you know, as much as I could step away from it because it seemed unhealthy for a time, I kept seeing the evidence of confusion and misrepresentation and I thought, I'm just gonna try again to clarify things, right? And that was such an unrewarding experience that it was just, it was creating a residue of despair and contempt. And I just felt polluted by, I just felt like I had met like all the psychopaths in the world on a daily basis. Like there can't be as many psychopaths in the world as I was seemed to be meeting online. As much as I could step away from it and just sit and put it down, I kept picking it up again. And so I just thought, this is crazy. So I just ripped it off. And that's been an immense change. I mean, it's really, so sometimes you need to actually do the thing that is, you can't just keep putting yourself in this dysfunctional situation and then processing your reaction. It's like, you have to ask yourself, why are you doing this? Why are you spending your time and attention that's way in the first place? And so for me, it was Twitter. I mean, I understand other people, depending on what they're, they're just be putting, if they're sharing cat videos on Twitter, they're just getting nothing but love, right? And they have no idea what I'm talking about. But trust me, it's possible to have a truly lousy experience on Twitter. What if anything would bring you back? Because I love what you're saying there, that, if you're doing the same thing, it's giving you the same result. You've tried a new thing with it, it's giving you the same result. Sometimes you have to cut it off to create a healthier balance, to reconfigure to do the work you wanna do. What if anything would allow you to go back to it? Or how would you see yourself if you were to go back to it in a healthier way? I'm thinking of all the people who cut things out their lives because they need to feel that distance from it because it's taken a hold of them. But then they know that in reality, they might have to go back and work on it. Yeah, well, I'm not planning to go back. I don't really see that. I don't think I'm in for marketing, I don't need it. You don't miss it, you don't. Well, I missed the good parts of it. Yeah, that's what I mean. Because I was following a lot of smart, funny people and I was entertaining. But the truth is, even the good parts were ultimately diverting in a way that, in retrospect, feels like a bit of a waste of time. It was just like, I'm getting, I didn't have to spend as much time even with the good parts of it. It was kind of like, like too many carbs in that part of my information diet. That's what Twitter was, it was all carbs. I mean, if I went back, I would probably use it much more like I use or don't even use my other social media channels. I would just use it as I would have someone post for me or I would post without ever looking at what's coming back. I mean, there are people who get a lot of negative stuff coming back at them and they just never see it 'cause they just never look. And that's, I could have been one of those people. And I was that sort of person for some periods of time. But I just kept getting lured by the promise of clarifying confusion. 'Cause here, the person just says something to me and I can say something back, why not? And strangely, none of the other social media platforms have ever hooked me in that way. I've never been tempted to get on Facebook or Instagram and use it in that way. And I'm not looking for a substitute for Twitter. I mean, so that is interesting. There's many, people are recommending substitutes where they're building their new platform. They got off Twitter for whatever reason. But it's not, I'm just not tempted to fill that the Twitter-shaped hole in my life with anything else. So that's good. - I love that. And then one last question before we dive into the final five is we spoke about this right at the beginning and you mentioned the, you know, the problem, the impermanence problem. Like how do you see yourself thinking about or meditating on or preparing for death or the impermanence of life? Like how does that come into your consciousness? - Well, there are really two sides to it. I mean, there's your own death. And then there's the deaths of everyone you care about. And that's, those are really different problems in a way. And it's, yeah. So when I think of the experience of having those close to me die, that's, I mean, I know, it's already happened. I've gone through that in the cases of certain people. And, you know, if I'm lucky enough to live a long time, well, then it's gonna happen, I'm sure many times again. And I mean, it's a fundamentally mysterious thing. I mean, the fact that we drop out the bottom of this place is just, it's truly imponderable, you know? And yet I know that it's possible to be happy in the absence of everyone, right? I mean, there's some paradoxes here. It's like you and I are having this conversation now. Basically everyone we love is not here, you know? Like you and I just met, you know? So it's like, we're just getting to know each other. You know, my mom's not here, my wife's not here, my kids are not here. You've got your list of people you love who are not here. It's okay to not be with the people we love. So we know that, right? And to take the other side, like what it's like to personally die, say, you know, we go to sleep each night and we, we not all, it's not only is it okay to completely relinquish our hold on this world. I mean, we yearn for it. Like if you're, if you got insomnia, if you can't fall asleep, that becomes a problem. You're desperate to lose your scene and hearing and smelling and tasting and touching and thinking of it. You just want to completely get zeroed out every night and that's, you know, if nothing happens after death, I mean, we can leave aside the possibility that, that they're, you know, they're, the death is in some sense an illusion. But if death, if you really just get a dial tone after you die, right?
How will you deal with the death of a loved one and of your own? (01:11:16)
Really there's just nothing. It's somewhat analogous to sleep. I mean, it's like the lights go out, right? Every night we do that and we do it happily and it's not as, there's no, you know, I guess some people have sleep issues where they're afraid to fall asleep, but that's certainly not the common case, right? And so to the contrary, we yearn for it. So it is somewhat paradoxical that these, like the worst thing about life, that the thing that people are terrified to experience themselves and they're terrified to experience in the case of losing the people they love, we, in the most routine way, we have really analogous experiences that are fine, right? So like, you know, you're fine alone in a room and you're fine to go to sleep. And these are, there's a bit of death in both of these things. 'Cause everyone you love really is absent. And when you fall asleep, you really forget everything about your life in this world, you know? Until you start dreaming and then you're completely confused about your life and some other circumstance, unless it's a lucid dream. Which is to say that it's actually, it's possible to be okay, ultimately even with the reality of death from either side. You know, I'm certainly expecting to grieve with the next time someone close to me dies, you know, I'm not expecting peace. But that is a, I understand that that as an expression of love, first of all, ask yourself if you'd even wanna be without the experience of grief. I mean, ask yourself, for instance, what you would want to do in the event that we had designed a perfect cure for grief, right? Like I'll say a pill, like the perfect, it's not an antidepressant, but it's an anti sadness pill. You know, and that's not conceptually incoherent. I mean, we might one day have that pill. You know, it might be a pill that you would compassionately want to, like there are people who are suffering some just intractable, unendurable bereavement that just never lifts and they're just, you know, they can't get their life back together and you'd wanna give that pill to that person. But the question is, how soon would you wanna take that pill? And would you wanna take that pill 15 minutes after your closest connection in this life died? You know, it's like, the body is still warm and would you be popping this pill? I don't think so. I think, I mean, there's something like, how carefree do you want to feel in the immediate aftermath of a person you love dying? You know, you want the gravity of that to land. You know, you want to feel that loss because that's in some sense the only appropriate register of what they meant to you. You know, and the life you live together, right? You know, so if you pop the grief bill and then you're just thinking, okay, what's on Netflix? Right, that would be a kind of a desecration of all that you would share it with this person. So I don't know if it's a very interesting question where you would, because I think ultimately you would want to be able to give that pill to someone whose life had become completely derailed by grief, but just where is the line? I mean, that's an interesting question. Yeah, that's a great answer. Yeah, all right, so we end every episode with a final five, which have to be answered in one sentence, maximum each one. Okay, that's a challenge for me. So this is the challenge for you. For sure, I'm excited to hear some of your answers. The fifth question, which we've asked to every guest on the show, is perfectly designed for you after today's conversation. So, and I just want to say on camera, we just cut because the cameras were getting reset because we've been taping for so long, but I was just saying that the conversation I've had with Sam today has been so different from the one I thought I'd have with him after reading his book. And that to me is the sign of a good conversation because it was true curiosity, mystery, and creation in the moment, and presence in the moment from both of us. Yeah, nice. I love that. Question number one, what is the best meditation advice you've ever heard received or given? You are not this next thought. Second question is what is the worst meditation advice you've ever heard received or given? Well, I practiced for a long time in a very goal-oriented tradition where it was just, you know, spent months and months on retreats with Burmese meditation masters who had a very dualistic goal-oriented seeking kind of model. It's not to say you couldn't benefit from that, but I will get you a sentence out of this, but I got you set up to the sentence. The primary analogy being used was you're gonna rub in two sticks to get fire, and the moment you stop, they cool off, right? So it's just, so whatever the sentence is, you're just like, meditation is like rubbing two sticks together to get fire. You have to continuously do it. And the moment you break, you're back to zero, right? You've made no progress. Yeah, wow, that's a painful one. That's really painful advice. Okay, question number three, what's the biggest lesson you learned in the last 12 months? Honestly, it's humbling to admit it, but it really was getting off Twitter. Just with the recognition that this whole super set of preoccupation here was not worth it and not healthy. Even the good stuff, it was every side of this diabolical jewel was sort of ugly when I really looked at it. And yeah, so that was it.
Sam on Final Five (01:17:04)
Great, question number four, what's something you think people value highly but you don't value anymore? Identity. In what sense? It really in every sense, I mean, just tribal identity, your religious identity, your ethnic identity, your, I don't even think you need to identify with the face you see in the mirror each day, right? So I said, how much less should you have to identify with people who just superficially resemble you in any way? So, but even just the identity of feeling like, like in my career or in any mode in which I'm showing up in the world, it's less than like who I feel I am while doing that is less and less substantial. It's like I don't, I don't really, it's not really graspable, you know? And so I don't, like, you know, I spend a lot of time teaching meditation in, on waking up, but because it's, because of the technology, because it's an app, I don't actually feel like a meditation teacher. I'm not showing up in the world as a meditation teacher. I don't have a, there's no place you can go sit. It would be with me in a, in a hall, you know? So I don't have students in the ordinary meditation teacher way. But the reality is that through waking up, you know, it seems strange to say it, but I could be teaching non dual mindfulness to more people than anyone on earth at this moment. I mean, it's just, it's really quite crazy how it has scaled. But yet I don't, I never think of myself in that role. So like the, the role based identity, you know, I'm a writer, I have got a bunch of books, but you know, I'm not, I don't really think of myself as a writer as much as I used to. I mean, there's just no, I just don't feel like, there's no, anything that I would, any way in which I would label what I'm doing, the label really does feel like it's, it's barely adhesive to the, to the project. You know, it's just, it's, it's, it's there just for the, for the, the utility of just summarizing, you know, just like, what do you put on this form? You know, what's your, what's your occupation, right? But it's like, it's just doesn't get at what I'm actually doing and it doesn't get at how I see myself. So the identity is something that I mean, people think, yes, I'm sure there's some stage in life where you want a healthy identity. Like I've got two daughters. I want them to have healthy identities. I want them to have healthy egos. But ultimately, it's not about being someone in any kind of sense that feels, it's like, identity feels like a fist, you know, and I really want an open hand in life. And that's, and so it's not that, it's not that I never make a fist, but it's like you want to, you want to relax that as soon as you notice it. - It's really interesting from a personal practice point of view and from a human scale practice point of view, because what you just said is the, the perfection of the idea almost the way I see it is like, with your daughters, I don't know how old they are, but you know, I'm guessing they're young. - Not nine and 14, yeah. - Yeah, right. And so it's like, you want them to have a healthy sense of identity because at that stage of life, that's such an important thing. And it's almost like the evolution of the idea is like, well, there's a stage of life where that isn't, you know, the directive thing. And I think that's what's so hard because you find everyone who's listening, watching, experiencing life at such different levels. And it's almost like someone being able to, it's the same as what I was saying earlier with the identity from a systematic point of view. It's like some people, that's where they are. That's just where they are, where their identity is, what gives their life meaning. And then you see as someone's, so yeah, it's just fascinating to me how a different stages of life identity can mean different things. - Yes, it's really, the emotion of pride really crystallizes it for me. It's like, for my daughter is, it's totally appropriate for them to feel, I want them to feel pride in the right moments. And I feel proud, it's not quite the right framing, but something like pride for them. It's like, I want to play that healthy pride game with them, but I don't feel pride in my life at all. Like my pride just does not map, but I just have the right shape to map on, to my sense of what it is to be a person, really. You know, it's like, I'm not responsible for any of my gifts such as they are. It's like, I just, again, it comes back to luck in so many ways and what you do with that luck. But again, even the doing with the luck is more, more good luck, you know? So I just feel immensely grateful for everything that has gone well in my life. And I just, I mean, it's just, my gratitude is overwhelmingly, and my primary positive emotion now, it's just that I have so much to be grateful for. And pride just does not fit. It's a puzzle piece that you maybe once fit and maybe granted if you're a kid, yes. - Yeah. - It's a, it's a, it's a totally appropriate game at a certain stage of life, but later on, it's a game that you just really, you have to outgrow. - Yeah, I can relate to that completely and I fully, fully love that, love hearing that. Fifth and final question, if you could create one law, this is the one that I said, we've asked every guest, but I feel like it's perfectly designed for you. If you could create one law that everyone in the world had to follow, what would it be? - The price we pay for dishonesty into at every level of society is so enormous and there's so little price paid for a line. I mean, when a politician is found to be lying, right? Or a person who has immense responsibility is found to be lying, but for like specific cases of fraud that are actionable, like lying is just under the purview of free speech, really, it's like it's not illegal to lie, right? - I think, I mean, it's not so much a law. I think if we had lie detection technology that we could rely on, which is, there are various interesting reasons why we don't have that and may never have that, but if we had that, if a lie detection technology was like DNA analysis in a court of law, like you just put someone on the witness stand and you could tell whether they were lying, right? I think that would be the overnight, that would be the biggest ethical change that we could ever imagine in society. So I think, so anything that brought the appropriate level of a program to lying, right, and so especially lying when it matters, that would be some version of that law. The, you can't lie when it matters law, whatever that is, you know, but I do, it would be a technological solution if we just could, more and more if people knew that they were in a situation where they actually can't get away with lying, right? Because the technology is such or the information space is such that it's, but the added piece is that the norm, the norm violation needs to be just more urgent, you know? 'Cause most people are walking around with the sense, oh, everybody lies, all politicians lie, so it's like this normal lie, what do you expect? And so it's not, but just the amount of harm and the amount of good that would be accomplished if you just knew people were being honest and you're not gonna be unpleasantly surprised by, so there's a lot of growth, cultural growth in that direction, but yeah. - Sam, I hope you get involved in changing some systems. - Rob, Rob, some of the stuff you said today, I'd like, it'd be great if you were influencing the influences and-- - Well, we try with our humble podcasts. - Yeah. - That's what we do. - Maven has been listening and watching the podcast is called Making Sense, the app is called Waking Up. The book is also called by the same title. We'll put the links in the captions, in the notes, that you have access to all of Sam's work. Go and make sure you grab a copy of the book, meditate with him on the Waking Up app, and of course, subscribe to the podcast, Making Sense. Sam, I hope this is the first of many conversations we get to have. - Yeah, really a pleasure. - Yeah, it's really, really been, it's really been a phenomenal conversation. I hope we have many offline too. - Nice. - And anyone who's been listening and watching, make sure you grab your favorite segments, points, insights that really stood out to you, share them with a friend, start a conversation based on it. Tag me in, Sam, and let me know what really stood out to you, what resonated with you. Maybe some things that are making you question or think differently. Like I'd love to see what came out of it for you. This has been a very different type of conversation on on purpose, and I know you're gonna appreciate it. But a big thank you to Sam again for his generous time. Big thank you to every single one of you who've been listening and watching. And we'll see you again for another episode of On Purpose. Thank you guys. If you love this episode, you'll love my interview with Dr. Gabor Maté on understanding your trauma and how to heal emotional wounds to start moving on from the past.