The Tim Ferriss Show, Episode 14: Sam Harris, PhD on Spirituality, Neuroscience, Meditation, and More

Sam Harris, Ph.D.

Sam Harris, Ph.D.

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Now, on to our guest… Sam Harris.

Sam Harris is a neuroscience Ph.D. and the author of the bestselling books, The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. His work have been discussed in The New York Times, Time, Scientific American, Nature, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and many other journals.

In this episode, we explore the science of lying, uses and types of meditation, psychedelic drug uses and risks, spiritual experiences, and more. It’s really a discussion of the human experience, and how to optimize it without harming others.

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Once you’ve listening to this episode, let Sam (@samharrisorg) know on Twitter what you found most valuable or compelling.


Show Notes and Select Links (Resources, Books, Etc.) from Ep 14

  • Where Tim and Sam first met, and why shaking hands was not required…or really an option.
  • What are fMRI machines, and how does Sam use them for his studies of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty?
  • The faults of traditional lie detectors and the future of belief detectors.
  • Why “micro-expression” analysis is probably overstated.
  • Using meditation or pharmacology (drugs) to help present-state awareness and well-being.
  • What types of meditation Sam recommends and why.
  • Sam’s most controversial beliefs (or perhaps positions) of the last several years.
  • Why Malala Yousafzai should have won the Nobel Peace Prize…but why it’s probably a good thing she didn’t.
  • Are self-righteous but guilt-ridden white males ruining freedom of speech?
  • Examining self-transcendence and love.
  • Psychedelic drugs as an important rite of passage for human beings.
  • Which psychedelic drugs Sam has found most therapeutically valuable.
  • What are the powers and liabilities (or risks) of psychedelic drugs?
  • Why the only way to ensure you don’t have a bad trip is not to take a trip at all…
  • Debated by Tim and Sam — Is it only possible to truly hit the center of the spirituality bullseye through meditation (a.k.a. “try rugs, not drugs”)?


Who is Lucius Annaeus Seneca?

Sam Harris’s Blog

Paul Ekman’s work on Micro Expressions

Who is Malala Yousafzai?

Who is Ayann Hirsi Ali?

Brandeis University controversy with regards to Ayann Hirsi Ali

On the “freedom to offend an imaginary god” blog post

Vipassana meditation

How to meditate — blog post

Drugs and the Meaning of life — blog post

6 Health Benefits of Yerba Mate Tea

The Riddle of the Gun — blog post


Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion – by Sam Harris

End of Faith – by Sam Harris 

Lying – by Sam Harris

Mindfulness in Plain English – by Bhante Gunaratana

The Experience of Insight – by Joseph Goldstein

Wherever You go, There You are – by Jon Kabat-Zinn


Posted on: June 18, 2014.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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83 comments on “The Tim Ferriss Show, Episode 14: Sam Harris, PhD on Spirituality, Neuroscience, Meditation, and More

  1. Tim, i think you could have easily improved the podcast if you asked the interviewee to record their voice, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the quality dissonance.


    • I’ll work on it, thanks. Alas, I think “easily” is relative. This is a passion project for now, and I’m still learning the ropes. Suffice to say, I’m trying to keep it low-labor enough that I keep doing the episodes. Sorry if the quality wasn’t ideal.


      • Not to discourage Van or anyone to offer suggestions for improvement, but I totally hear you Tim.

        You often do these passion driven, high value projects at no cost to your audience. I just wanted to remind you that there are plenty people who really appreciate what you do.

        Please keep it fun and low-labor for yourself, first and foremost, and the rest will follow.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dr. Harris should also emphasize the significant consequence of full human internal alchemy on the scientifically predictable attainment of profound and sustained states of higher consciousness. Mindfulness is but one initial step that activates certain parts of the energetic process which ultimately leads to a body-centric raising of consciousness.

    Mindfulness meditation can be harnessed to properly initiate the process of body-centric energetic unfoldment and growth, by taking into account the locations of energy centers in the body and the manner in which they function within the larger process of alchemical change. Specifically, one needs to focus mental intention and tactile sense on the lower dantien during meditation, to activate the conversion of vitality into qi/energy.

    Truly, to become a Superhuman, like the title of Tims book, one needs to activate ones energetic growth by jump-starting the primary storage center, the lower dantien, and by practicing the very specific alchemical exercises discovered and verified by so many true Taoist and Yogic practitioners.

    Simply performing mindfulness meditation or taking psychedelics, one gets out of the starting blocks, but it leads to a mind-centric ‘enlightenment’ that falls short without the energetic foundations established by a proper internal alchemical practice. I suggest looking at Yan Xin for a truly scientific verification of human energetics, and reading ‘Opening the Dragon Gate’ on the training of Wang Liping.


    • I think Sam might have a problem emphasizing a lot of the things you mentioned because they’re bullshit and he has a very good “bullshit detector”.


    • @John: What the hell are you talking about? You just mix words together to describe stuff that doesn`t exist.

      “body-centric raising of consciousness” – What?
      ” body-centric energetic unfoldment”
      “activate the conversion of vitality into qi/energy” – What kind of energy are you talking about? Electric energy? How is it measured? How do we know that there really exists some kind of energy when nobody ever proofed it?

      ” truly scientific verification” – in contrast to just normal scientific verification which doesn`t include woo-woo and bullshit?

      I am certain in his vast research Sam came across some of the stuff you are talking about and disregarded it as there is not the least reliable scientific evidence for any of the phenomenons you tried to describe like “human internal alchemy” (which sounds as bogus as the other alchemy but works as a buzzword for laypeople).


  3. Sounds like Sam is one of those guys that you could have a long slow dinner with and never scratch the surface of his depth of knowledge. I do hope you have another podcast with him soon. I felt like it was just getting stared and then suddenly finished.

    Tim, as a long time Yerba Mate(your non-Argentine pronunciation of it kills me “cher-ba”) drinker myself I find the real way of drinking it is 100x better than the crap in bottles or even mate cocido(tea bags). Based on the analogy drawn do you find yourself getting more out of consumables, whatever they may be, that has a ritual associated with it? Is it the staging that elevates the experience?


  4. Hi Tim,
    Psychology and neuroscience are passions of mine, so you know I enjoyed this episode. For a second conversation, I would recommend asking about Your friend Nassim Taleb’s extreme skeptism of neuroscience and his criticism of atheism. Or better yet, have him participate in the discussion. Also, I’d suggest having Dr. Richard Davidson on a future podcast. Thanks! Jeff


    • I would love to see this interview with Nassim Taleb. I love, love, and love Taleb. It would give a great comparison of brilliant men with a bold view. Unfortunately, Sam Harris doesn’t excite me as he like posed as rational man but he is pretty irrational and contradictory in many areas. Taleb will balance this out and providing a maybe pardigam-shift thinking

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joe – I think you should provide some examples of Harris being contradictory and explain exactly how it is, in fact, contradictory. Throwing around “pretty irrational” and “contradictory” without specifics is half-baked defamation.


  5. Sam Harris is super. He’s a real inspiration for those who enjoy thinking. Thanks Tim for featuring this interview with Sam. I wonder what tripping under LSD with Sam Harris would be like. Freedom from self, or freedom from ego. I think of it as the latter.


  6. I’m Half Pakistani & Half European or white as you guys call it in the USA. A lot of what Sam Harris is talking about does hold truth in my experience about Islam, although I must admit I am not a muslim myself.

    If it weren’t for Islam the Western Civilization would have never advanced. There was a time in Islam in Islamised Spain where Arts, Science, Mathematics, Philosophy were revolutionary and changed the world. However, in short, religious extremism (through various Dictators) destroyed this from continuing and the islamic world stopped advancing.

    As far as religious extremism is concerned, unfortunately, what was not mentioned in the PodCast was poverty & education. People that are being recruited into the Taliban and other terrorist organisations are usually the poor and uneducated. Poverty & Education need to be tackled as well as promotion of a new breed of modern Muslim leaders who aren’t afraid to change the muslim status quo.

    How can we change this?

    While we’re trying to be get rich, have great families, go to great schools and live peaceful lives it’s scary to know that there are people on the other side of the world who want to kill us at any cost. That’s my 2cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “If it weren’t for Islam the Western Civilization would have never advanced.” No evidence for that claim. True, some knowledge would have been lost but the majority of scientific and societal advance didn`t come from Islam (and even stands against islamic (or christian) “knowledge” like women rights, model of our universe, evolution,…)


      • There actually is evidence supporting that claim. If you read up on the moorish conquest of Spain and the Islamic Age of Enlightenment you will see how concepts which shape our western society today were developed by the Muslims.

        What I didn’t mention was that I’m half Greek as well so I agree that the model of our universe was shaped by Greek philosophers. Religion in itself has had very little role in women’s rights, and is not “Christian Knowledge”. Religion has been used to conquer and divide by those in power. FYI, I’m not biased in any way when addressing this issue.


      • We can’t overlook the fundamental injustices that extremist Muslims are committing but we can’t classify all Muslims into that subclass of people. It’s like classifying every German or every Anglo Saxon as a racist for their ancestors actions against Jews and against the black slave. Every great religion speaks great truths and specific followers of Islam have to make progress into the modern world which includes respecting the Christ consciousness. But is fighting and war the answer?


  7. The “download” link doesn’t appear to be an actual download link: It’s not a simple URL pointer to a playable media file, so you can’t do a “Save As…” Is there something I missed?


      • I take that back – obviously I didn’t bother to check and see if there actually is a download link until now. On my iPhone, when I click that link it plays the file in QuickTime.

        But I guess that still doesn’t really address your question, does it? Ah, minutiae. Let’s call a meeting to figure out what to do.


  8. Sam (or Tim), are you familiar with Napoleon Hill’s concept of “Infinite Intelligence” (from Think and Grow Rich) and “The Other Self” (from Outwitting the Devil) or Maxwell Maltz’s concept of the “Automatic Success Mechanism” and “Theater of the Mind” (from Psycho-Cybernetics)?

    I’ve been searching for my own alternative to traditional religion and after reading those three books my view of God transformed from an old guy with a beard to more of an interconnected universal energy force. Once I had that change in perspective, huge chunks of the varying religious dogmas and even scientific theory, all began to complement each other, rather than contrast.

    Hill and Maltz (re)discovered success principles that are currently embraced by our secular/modern, sports and business worlds. At their core, they aren’t much different than things in the New Testament, Proverbs or Ancient Eastern Philosophy. You can even grab a glass of wine on a Sunday night and throw on some Cosmos and feel good when Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about how we are all just atoms of star dust, destined to return to star dust. Nothing comes crashing down, it just makes more sense.

    I think Jesus was misquoted when asked if he was God. He never denied that he was God, but I think the truer story was that he was teaching that we are ALL God. Each of us with an ability to tap back into the Source (connected universal energy)(This is where the teachings of the Wayne Dyers of the world, also start to complement the idea). So whether it’s prayer to a Saint, Meditation at a Dojo or Theater of the Mind in a locker room at half time, I think they are rooted in the same “something” (that “something” is still too abstract for me to articulate).

    Anyway, I think Hill and Maltz teachings are the key bridge from the secular world into the more spiritual philosophies, if you are looking for one. (There are probably others, but those two seem to be the Godfather’s everyone else spun from).

    Would love to hear your thoughts if you have time to give them. (this is my first time connecting and articulating these abstract thoughts in my head so everything above is far from my Dogma, more like my current jumping off point, into future discovery)

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is so articulate – you are spot on, and you’re not the only one who feels this way but you have definitely broken the door of the hold society likes to have on us. Things will be changing even more for you Steve. thank you for writing this up! I am sharing it on my FB wall.. too good not to :) – Nida


    • You are just equivocating words until they are meaningless…

      Also, why throw around names like “Jesus” to add legitimacy to your ideas? It seems completely irrelevant. Especially when you just put words in his mouth.


      • Sam specifically mentions Jesus in his talk. I was addressing that part of the podcast. Did you listen to it?

        Also, I didn’t put words in his mouth. I pointed out that the text from the Bible is often misquoted. Much in the same way people go around saying “Money is the root of all evil” when the actual quote is “Love of money is the root of all evil”.


    • Based on what you’ve described here, there’s no reason to subscribe to those theories, as there is not evidence to support it. The lack of contradiction, or the inability to disprove an idea, is not sufficient to believe in it. Supportive evidence that can be tested is the reason to believe anything.

      Lacking much for unified belief systems, the need for evidence is likely the most common thread among the secular world, so I would doubt that these fellas are the ‘key bridge.’

      As for Sam Harris, my understanding from his writings is that he also finds evidence to be a requirement for belief.


      • In reply to stevebuschta –
        Apologies, I cannot reply to your post, as there is no reply link available for whatever reason.

        I have read Napoleon Hill’s Think And Grow Rich, and know only a bit about Maltz.

        However, their specific works are not the big issue in your post. You appear to be tying together multiple different ideas, beliefs, and authors whose claims are mutually exclusive and contradictory, which have lingering holes in their claims about the world, which can be explained within the natural world without the need for metaphysical elements, which have no evidence to support the notion, and appear to be mangling semantics in a way that co-opts or distorts the language’s actual meaning. There’s ‘energy,’ as you’re apparently using it, and then energy as as scientifically educated people know/utilize it, and they are not the same.

        Long story short: Making unsupported claims about the world is problematic enough. But believing in multiple mutually exclusive claims suggests that you aren’t fully fluent in the origin belief systems, or you wouldn’t be trying to marry them together. Not without evidence for each and every claim.


  9. I really enjoyed the discussion of islam and religion. I was troubled by the discussion of using illegal drugs, reality vs legality should be emphasized — that is, if drugs help the person somehow, the legality risks should keep everyone away.


  10. A very thought provoking episode…

    Just one disclaimer I would add for those inspired to go out and try psychedelics, especially the synthetic variety…

    Don’t forget about possible contaminants or impurities – a friend’s sister died from her second use of ecstasy, and apparently she had been doing everything the “right” way (hydration, proper dose etc.)

    According to the police, it was found that the pills had been laced with pesticides.


  11. This is great Tim/Sam. However Tim we spotted your ‘lie’ while introducing Sam. No one believes you’d forgotten you met him in the urinal


  12. Tim, I love your show and thank you for doing it. I clicked on this episode because it resonated with me on the subject of “Spirituality, Neuroscience, Meditation” – What I did not expect was for Sam to berate a religion thoroughly based on the actions of extremists who are clearly the results of poverty and illiteracy – although I am not a practicing Muslim for the most part, I did grow up in it and most of what he talks about is an issue totally separate from the actual religion.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, its been an AMAZING show so far, but my humble suggestion; religious and political rants are not the theme I’ve been getting from your show. Those are touchy subjects and I couldn’t listen to the show beyond his rant, It was a total turn off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think you listened properly Nida. SH explained about extremists,he has nothing against Muslims. He points out the difference between extreme Janists and extreme muslims and why one is dangerous and not the other.


      • @ Margaret Johnson. Have you actually ever met a Janist or for that matter a Muslim? I mean properly talked with them and actually made a real effort to understand them? Because Sam Harris probably hasn’t, that’s why he makes these ignorant comments.

        Other than skin colour and few other differences all human beings are the same. Science fact, all of humanity comes from one woman, scientists call her Mitochondrial Eve, look it up. That’s right every single one of us is related.

        There are extremists and crazy’s in every nation, including the US. Black people in America were enslaved and murdered by “extremists”. Native Americans also suffered at the hands of “extremists”, as did Japanese Americans, the victims of gun shootings and many more.

        It’s easy to judge others who are different to us, but when we get to know each other we realise, we are all the same. They are not superior to us nor are we superior to them.

        Liked by 1 person

    • "...most of what he talks about is an issue totally separate from the actual religion."

      Good point, Nida. I felt Sam should have at least included other significant factors s.a. poverty, illiteracy, or military intervention.

      In any case, it seems this discussion came about more or less accidentally. Tim usually starts off these interviews by asking his guests about their work, and in this case Sam ended up talking about some of the most controversial topics he’d written about. As intended by Tim, the discussion did eventually shift towards meditation and spirituality, something they’ll likely continue to talk about in a follow-up episode.

      In an interview with Dave Asprey (which can be found in the previous blog post), Tim mentions that, when interviewing, he basically asks the same questions as described in the 4-Hour Chef when trying to become world-class at a certain skill. So I think it’s safe to assume that future episodes of this podcast, like his blog and books, will always be centered around practical topics s.a. Lifestyle Design, Hacking the Human Body, Learning, etc.


      • Sam doesn`t deny that poverty, imperialism, politics,… also has an influence (even a significant one).

        But what he says is that Islam gives people perfect reasons to act in such an evil way that in other religions wouldn`t be possible (he cites the Jaines, where the extremer someone gets the more peaceful he gets, something that`s not true for the abrahamic religions).

        And the treatment of women in Arabia/Pakistan,… has nothing to do with poverty and is based on their scripture. Also the stoning of adulters, death penalty for leaving Islam,… are doctrines, which exist and can`t be denied (luckily most muslims simply ignore them).


      • Tim S.- when I hear such statements about Islam, it is evident that it is not Islam being discussed but rather the cultural and societal effects of what is in simple terms “not understanding the religion, making complete BS out of it in an attempt to control others, turned into a hot mess of what is now thought across the world as Islamic Terrorism.” Christianity and hinduisim has a long history of evils done in its name, none of which is in the actual religion.

        Everything these terrorists and extremists do is plainly and clearly denounced in Islam. here’s the crazy part, for example, there is no such thing as head covering or Hijaab in Islam, the only thing it suggests for females AND males is modesty as a means of self respect. Anything that came after the Quran, is written by human beings who by the way are no more or less intelligent than you and I, so therefore wrote “doctrines” in “the name of Islam” but that which has no relation to it in reality. To this day it is done to control the masses from a fear based angle. Its rather brilliant, it clearly works.

        Its like saying guns kill people rather than the people holding the guns choosing to pull the trigger. or the “war on drugs”. These fools are just using Islam as a scapegoat so when Sam suggests that Islam is a religion worth worrying about, I suggest its illiteracy, poverty, poor social economic conditions that we need to focus on.


    • Nida, please do elaborate on the “poverty and illiteracy” of the Saudi hijackers who flew those planes.

      And as to the “actual religion” you might wish to reread the Koran and explain how the following directives, found in the Koran and which the Koran is laced with, are “totally separate” from the behavior seen in the world today perpetrated by those who proudly proclaim their adherence and submission to Islam and loudly proclaim acting in the name of it, Allahu Akbar:

      Koran 4:89: “Take not unbelievers as friends until they fly in Allah’s way; but if they turn back, seize them, kill them wherever you find them”
      Koran 8:12: “Instil terror in the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike off their heads and cut off fingers and toes.”
      Koran 9:5: “Fight and kill the disbelievers”


      • “Everything becomes so much easier for the Anti-Islamists when they remove the context”

        It seems that quote is taken completely out of context. for example the first verse you gave was revealed at a time when Muslims of Madinah were under constant attack from the Makkans such as when the Makkans conducted the public crucifixion of the companion of the Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an clearly prohibits aggression. The verses explain that fighting is only for self-defense.

        “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors. And kill them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for persecution and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, kill them. Such is the reward of those who reject faith. But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression”


      • And as to your comment regarding poverty and illiteracy, let me redirect you to close to home to the Timothy McVeigh oklahoma bombing. “According to the United States Government it was the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to the September 11 attacks and remains the most serious act of domestic terrorism in United States history.”

        This is just one example of domestic terrorism – and this kid was a result of divorced parents but had a fairly normal life and he went to this length.

        Poor parents in third world countries are approached by these terrorist ringleaders/recruiters who tell them that they will feed, clothe and educate their children for free. these poor parents think to themselves that they certainly can’t provide a future beyond poverty for their children and allow these recruiters to take their children who while they are taken care of are also brainwashed into their own agenda. These kids who grow up to “hijack planes” have no idea what they are doing. They are literally brainwashed into believing that this is the way life should be and if they don’t they will be shot to death, or their mothers/sisters will be raped and killed. So death by shame or death by what they are told is “honor”. If you haven’t experienced the environment of extreme poverty, you can’t possibly imagine how easy it is to brainwash and manipulate people.

        hell we’ve still got people in this country who think smoking is healthy for ya :)


    • Osama Bin Laden was from a family of billionaires… I consider myself similar to Sam, I have nothing against anyone for their colour, or in fact their beliefs as long as the beliefs don’t cause them to be intolerant; but having been interested in religions all my life and studied them I came to the conclusion that Islamic terrorists are just following to the letter what the Koran and Mohammed recommend, to put the world under the control of Islam, including Sharia law, and by violence if necessary. I don’t know of any other religion that has such an aim, most religions are more interested in spiritual matters and so not such a threat. I started off with no animosity towards Islam at all, but ended up feeling worried about it due to studying it. Also, if anyone who criticises it is wrong and is racist, then a lot of well-educated ex-Muslims are wrong and racist.


  13. This is incredible for me because I’ve been running into a ton of ayahuasca discussion lately & wondering if it’s pointing to something. I’ll be super interested in follow up from your experience should you choose to divulge. Also, you may be interested in a program I’m learning about right now The Nature Process by Tabi Jayne. I believe it’s her dissertation project but anyhow we’re in the middle of a 5 week program. [Moderator: link removed.] So far, it’s been amazing and has greatly enhanced my mediation practice. :) I think you’re doing a great job via podcast.


    • Sam Harris has been such an insufferable jerk about religion, I won’t even bother listening. He’s okay at what he does and great at selling it but, like most scientists, pretends his discipline has no limitations. Then add that smirk and you’ve got the whole package.

      Liked by 1 person

    • If I were you I would take 10 minutes to focus on your predispositions towards drugs. This blog is about experiments. If you have never ingested a psychedelic yourself, maybe consider the possibilities that insights about the nature of self have benefited Tim. It is easy to immediately put up blinders and a wall once any drugs are discussed. This is not a matter drugging out and escaping reality, it is a way to find tools that help you come back and experience a deeper sense of meaning.


    • I like to think Tim’s real reason for doing this podcast is to get info on how to be a spy.
      “My, eh, audience want to know—how do you make a fake passport?”
      “Starrett, what flexibility drills should I do if I wanted to fold myself into a suitcase? It’s for the podcast”


  14. Very interesting and insightful podcast. I really enjoyed it along with the previous one with Sam Harris. I was glad to hear Sam’s insight into meditation and how he thought he was doing it right and then he noticed he had just been thinking while sitting cross-legged the whole time. I’ve often thought that, and I’ve asked myself whether I was doing it right or just wasting time, so I read 3 books on meditation just to make sure. I haven’t had any long lasting experiences such as the ones described from psychedelics, but I’ve had some very interesting seconds of seeing something wonderful out of something so mundane. The first time was after I did my meditation, sitting in lotus on a chair in front of my desk, I opened my eyes slowly and I noticed the grain on my wooden desk, it seemed extraordinary somehow. As quick as it came, it left…my mind had to kick in and start talking, it said “What the hell!” Then the grain was just your typical grain. Another time it happened during the meditation. I close my eyes when I meditate, as opposed to the Zen style that instructs you to have your eyes slightly open and out of focus. If you pay attention to your eyes when meditating, you’ll notice that you have rapid eye movement when you are thinking, just like in REM sleep. So I noticed it, tried to control it, and when my eyes stopped moving, I stopped thinking. Then I started paying attention to what my eyes where “seeing.” They were closed so you might say I wasn’t seeing anything, but I think it’s impossible to see nothing, there’s always something there to see unless your unconscious or sleeping. So I started noticing what I was “seeing” and the patterns seemed to flow like waves moving to my heart beat and breathing, and then the mind kicked in again and it was gone.

    So now I’ll look into Vipassana and try it. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people