Meditation As Self-Defense

Sam Harris, a practitioner of meditation and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, connects the two:

Almost all our suffering is the product of our thoughts. We spend nearly every moment of our lives lost in thought, and hostage to the character of those thoughts. You can break this spell, but it takes training just like it takes training to defend yourself against a physical assault. You are thinking every moment and not aware of it, and the initial experience of anyone who seriously tries to meditate is one of discovering how incessant this cascade of thoughts is.

Graeme Wood sparred with Sam:

Harris likened training with an expert fighter to “falling into deep water without knowing how to swim.” He sees BJJ as a cycle of mock death and resurrection, wherein an expert may kill you many times per session. “To train in BJJ is to continually drown—or, rather, to be drowned, in sudden and ingenious ways—and to be taught, again and again, how to swim.”

Having read all this, I asked Harris to drown me.

I am several inches taller and several pounds stockier than Harris, who is 5 foot 9 and weighs 165 pounds, and I am undefeated in single combat—though only because I have never been in a fight and flee anytime I see anyone who looks even vaguely threatening. …

I soon found myself in what BJJ practitioners call a “rear naked choke,” which, while less alarming than it sounds, is lethal if applied unmercifully. At one point, I resisted by pushing my jaw between Harris’s elbow and my throat. That didn’t help. “He can choke your whole jaw into your throat,” [instructor Ryron Gracie] said. “It affects the carotid—through the jaw!” He said this with an air of Isn’t that cool? Later, once Harris had let me go, I had to agree: Yes, very cool.