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Waking Up, Once Again

April, 2022

Dear Friends,

There are some things you shouldn't do more than once---get a mullet haircut, hit "reply all" on a gossipy email, eat Scottish haggis. But meditation training isn't one of them. 

I myself have done meditation training about six times, either in person or via an app. Each time it's been a similar process of closing my eyes and trying to focus on my breath, and each time the hyperactive monkey who lives in a back room of my mind takes the opportunity to escape. 

I recently started meditation training once again, because as a veteran of many beginning courses I've found that going through the basic introduction multiple times can be a good thing. The Buddhists talk about "beginners mind," a state in which we are fresh and open to all possibilities, with no preconceptions of what is to come. That's what I try to cultivate, starting again as if I've never tried it before.

I'm using the app Waking Up, and because I think so highly of it I want to tell you about it, as maybe you're also looking to find more peace in an exceedingly stressful world. It's done by Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher, with the assistance of well-known meditation teachers who include Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Henry Shukman. It's the best app I've come across in terms of clarity, breadth, and quality of instruction. 

I realize that listening to an app isn't a substitute for in-person instruction. But I haven't yet found a meditation teacher who's willing to meet me in my bedroom just after I wake up, so for now the app is a good choice.

Meditation (and its subset known as mindfulness) has become fashionable during the past decade, but Sam Harris's teachings go deeper than many contemporary approaches. In addition to his academic training, he's spent decades studying with Buddhist and Hindu teachers. He doesn't focus on how meditation can be good for you (though it certainly can be) but instead on how it can help you understand the nature of your mind as you confront some of the deepest questions of human life.

The app begins with a 28-day introductory course, with each meditation session lasting about ten minutes and a separate daily session on the theory behind the training. After that there are a variety of practices you can try, as well as question-and-answer sessions with master teachers, discourses on the philosophy behind various approaches, information on the science of meditation, and occasional mindfulness reminders throughout the day. Or you can just do the daily meditation, which lasts for either ten or twenty minutes. 

The app is more "talky" than some I've done, but I appreciate Harris's precision in dissecting the nature of mind. As he puts it, the goal is to "wake up from the unhappy dream you call your life." By transforming your sense of who and what you are, you can then use these insights to make the world a better place. And that's certainly useful training, whether you're Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or have no religious affiliation.

The first seven days of Waking Up are free. After that, the cost is $99 per year, with a scholarship program for those who can't afford it. If you're interested in exploring meditation but don't want to try the app, here are some other resources that might be useful:  
  • Headspace is another well-designed app. It's a good choice for those who aren't as interested in the theories behind meditation.
  • The Insight Meditation Society of Barre, Massachusetts has many online resources as well as retreat options, including free talks by teachers
  • Tara Brach is a meditation teacher with an extensive online library of talks.
  • Centering Prayer is a Christian form of meditation with roots in the contemplative practices of the early Church. 
One day I'd like to do an extended meditation retreat. But for now, I'm slowly exploring the inner reaches of my mind with the help of teachers who are waiting for me every morning, ready to impart wisdom as soon as I touch the button on my phone.

All the best,


(photo credit: Bob Sessions)

Recommended Reading:
You can learn more about Sam Harris's approach to meditation in his book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

Jack Kornfield brings Buddhist teachings to life through compelling stories, guided meditations, and gems of wisdom in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life

Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness is a classic introduction to the benefits of mindfulness.


My Recent Media Appearances and Reviews: 

I was on the Travel with Rick Steves Show on NPR to talk about prehistoric monuments in Ohio that rival Stonehenge, including a serpent that stretches for a quarter mile. 

I'm pleased with this review of my new book The Soul of the Family Tree in Little Village:  "Erickson welcomes us aboard a literary longboat, dragon heads fore and aft, and sets sail on a genealogical and spiritual pilgrimage to explore all things Nordic, past and present. . . [The Soul of the Family Tree] is carefully researched and informative, concisely expressed, lighthearted in tone and woven together with humor like fine, handmade Scandinavian linen."


My Books:

My newest book is The Soul of the Family Tree: Ancestors, Stories, and the Spirits We Inherit. See my website for a full list of reviews and media, including my NPR interview with Rick Steves (my portion of the show begins at 13:25).

Interested in doing The Soul of the Family Tree in a book group? You can find discussion questions here



Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper is about places that have helped me come to terms with mortality. 

“This book’s journey to spiritual places near and far is worth taking.” Library Journal (starred review)


Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world.  

“Whether describing mystical visions or the rhythms of everyday life, Erickson turns the spiritual journey into a series of exciting transformations.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)


If you've read and enjoyed any of my books, I hope you'll post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites. Your review will help other readers discover my work.

Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She's the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world. 

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