Don’t Let Your Mind Get in Your Way

By Sam Harris
Mindfulness is often taught as though it were a glorified version of an executive stress ball. But that actually undervalues what mindfulness really is and its true potential. It’s more like the large Hadron collider in that it is a real tool for making some fundamental discoveries about the nature of the mind. One of these discoveries is that the sense of self we all carry around from day to day is an illusion. Most of us spend every moment of our waking lives thinking without knowing that we’re thinking: a kind of scrim thrown over the present moment through which we view everything. And it’s distorting of our lives. It’s distorting of our emotions. It engineers our unhappiness in every moment because most of what we think is quite unpleasant. We’re judging ourselves; we judging we’re judging others. We’re worrying about the future; we’re regretting the past. We’re at war with our experience in subtle or coarse ways. Meditation is a tool for cutting through that.

Every experience you’ve ever had, every emotion, the anger you felt yesterday or a year ago, isn’t here anymore. It arises and it passes away. If it comes back in the present moment by virtue of your thinking about it again, it will subside again when you’re no longer thinking about it. Rather than merely feel an emotion like anger, we spend our time thinking of all the reasons we have every right to be angry. The conversation keeps this emotion in play for much, much longer than its natural half-life. If you are able through mindfulness to interrupt this conversation and simply witness the feeling of anger as it arises, you’ll find that you can’t be angry for more than a few moments at a time. If you think you can be angry for a day, or even an hour, without continually manufacturing this emotion by thinking without knowing that you’re thinking, you’re mistaken. And mindfulness is the tool you would use to test it.