As always, I hope you are all doing well. In this letter, I would like to say goodbye. Well, at least for the time being. Tomorrow I will be leaving for a five-week-long meditation retreat and will not be in touch with anyone. So this will be the last letter I send you in a while.
My interest in meditation
It all began in 2012, I was a university student back then and I was becoming increasingly interested in the topic of religion. Much to my parents' distress, I had revealed to them that I didn't believe in a god and no longer wished to attend church with them.
In the spirit of open-mindedness, I searched the internet for debates and conversations between Christians and Atheists, I felt like I had to be sure there wasn't anything I was missing. Unfortunately, time and again the arguments put forth by theologians remained unimpressive.
This was when I started thinking about the problem one's desires leaking into their worldview. I have been careful to try and prevent this in myself, to this day. Have I succeeded? I will let you be the judge of that.
In this talk, he bravely put forth the case in front of an entire hotel room full of committed atheists that we shouldn't identify ourselves as such. Both Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett were in that very room.
His reasons mirrored those that I used in my piece Insert Label Here, which was largely inspired by the talk.
But it was the end of the talk that truly captivated me. He talked about the spiritual experiences people from various traditions have had, and how atheists tended to discredit those. That there have been sincere and reasonable efforts to gain insight into the human mind and its capacity for well-being under the banner of spirituality.
Please watch this ten minute excerpt from the talk:
For those of you that aren't so keen to click out to a YouTube video, I have typed up a transcript. I really want you to be exposed to this. It isn't an exaggeration to say that by getting me interested in meditation, these words completely changed the course of my life:
Does this resonate with you as much as it did with me? I feel like I owe Sam a lot. He has done tremendous work in communicating the value of these practices to many like myself.
Why go on retreat?
As Sam said, the logic is fairly simple. If there is a form of well-being that does not depend on the pleasures we are accustomed to, then it should be available in a context far from them. I have now gained a level in confidence in the practice and can say first hand this is invaluable. As you should all know by now I am quite enthusiastic about this.
The levels of happiness and well-being that most of us experience regularly in our lives are like a drop compared to the oceans available.
I am confident that it is possible to reach lofty peaks of happiness that remain uncharted territory to most of us. I am confident that our day-to-day lives can be experienced as far more profound than we tend to treat them. I am confident that our most treasured emotions; bliss, self-transcending love, reverence, awe, wonder and gratitude can be felt with a far higher frequency than we tend to feel them and that we can train our minds to do so. And I am confident that none of these requires even a trace of self-deception.
Nothing needs to be believed in on bad evidence to unveil this way of being in the world. The practice is simply training ourselves to pay more attention to what is already the case.
In fact, the Tibetan sgom which we translate as meditation, literally means "familiarisation", or "getting accustomed to", or "getting used to".
By taking part in retreat it provides me with a context away from all the usual tasks and distractions of day-to-day life and gives me the chance to devote all of my time to this. To find the well-being intrinsic to consciousness itself and to learn to rest there.
At the start of Sam's guided meditations on his app Waking Up, he often tells you to put aside the concerns for the rest of the day and devote the ten minutes to simply paying attention.
Well in retreat, I will be putting aside the concerns in the rest of my life... and I will see what remains!
Needless to say, I will not be able to respond to any replies or comments in the next few weeks (but would be happy to see them when I return).
If you have been reading these letters each week I truly thank you for listening to what I have to say. Writing up these letters each week throughout the year has been an incredibly rewarding experience.