Q: Why is self-knowing important for learning meditation?
A: One facet of the self, the ego (not capitalized), is the number one obstacle to learning meditation. The term ego is used here to refer to a combination of the Freudian Id, Ego, and Superego functions. The Id consists of primitive and immature drives of aggression, survival, thrill-seeking, sex, and pleasure-seeking. The Superego controls our behavior to make it more politically correct and socially acceptable. The Ego is the mediator that attempts to balance the Id and Superego influences in order to meet one’s needs.
Disclaimer: I am not a Freudian. I.M.H.O., other scientists have created theories which more accurately portray the self and human nature. Creating or selecting theory, however, is not meditation.
The term ego is used for several reasons. It is the most common translation of the concept of ego used by meditative traditions. It is the most common colloquialism that refers to the ordinary, pedestrian everyday self.
~ “She has a big ego.”
~ “He is egotistical.”
~ “Her ego got in the way.”
~ “She bruised his ego.”
Id, Ego, and Superego operate only in the realm of conditioning. Later we will consider dimensions of the self that may be free from conditioning.
Q: What does the ego do to interfere with meditation?
A: Its fears, desires, ignorance, anger, beliefs, attachments, and identifications distort the mind. Freedom from these requires understanding of how each skews our life. Meditation may only be done with active attention of the mind. It is not passive mental drifting or imagination. A primary objective of meditation is to see things as they are. This requires letting go of the ego filters. Instead of seeing things as something we fear, believe, or desire; meditation entails seeing things without self-referencing.
During meditation it is the ego that agitates the mind. When the ego rests, it is easier for the mind to rest and see clearly. The mind naturally needs periods of rest (e.g., deep sleep). The inherent wisdom of the mind knows how to rest when asleep and when awake. Deep rest of the meditative mind occurs only when the mind is free from ego domination. Because the ego chronically feels threatened and insatiably greedy, it has no interest in taking a rest.
Q: What is the mind?
A: It is basically awareness. This is required to operate all cognitive functions, including discovering who we are. The mind that is free from egocentricity gravitates toward the meditative state.
Q: Does the body interfere with meditation?
A: It is disruptive only if it is ill, intoxicated, or stressed. The body is comprised of elements manufactured in stars. When there is symbiotic harmony of the elements, cells, and systems; wellness prevails: This state is conducive to meditation.
Q: Is there more to the self than body, ego, and mind? Some books declare that one has a soul or divine spark.
A: What is the nature of the you which possesses a soul? Do you have a visceral experience of the underlying being? Why not free the mind by examining the facts?
Knowing whether there is more requires experience. Disbelieving and believing each prevent knowing.
Q: Is there a role of belief in learning meditation?
A: It is not necessary to adopt any new beliefs. Joining or leaving any organization is irrelevant. Belief is a kind of thought. During meditation there is no deliberate thought. Once something is known, belief becomes irrelevant.
Is seeing believing or is believing seeing? Neither, actually. Seeing is direct perception of fact. A belief is a thought that one regards as true or false. Belief may or may not be based on perception. It is oft used to connote a hypothesis that we hope or wish to be true, e.g., “I believe Santa Claus will save my marriage.” The trouble is that we ‘forget’ that it is merely conjecture and carry on as if it were true. This hebetudinous process of self-delusion is a sign of mental illness.
Shall we blame Plato for the misleading association of these two concepts? He distinguished two kinds of belief: a) true, and b) false. There was no implication that belief: 1) made something true or false, 2) helped to determine whether an idea was true or false. Please think this through: What is the utility of belief?
Consider the statement, “X is Y.” Now let’s add the two concepts.
~ “I know X is Y.”
~ “I believe X is Y.”
~ “I believe and know X is Y.”
Next, let’s substitute words about you for the variables.
~ “I know that I am a winner.”
~ “I believe I am a winner.”
~ “I believe and know I am winner.”
Would you rather know or believe? When your manager asks, “Do we have a sufficient sales force to cover the N.W. region?,” is she interested in what you believe or what you know? Would you rather know what you feel, or believe that you have a feeling? Yes, we are talking about self-knowing 101.
You are no doubt considering a fourth type of proposition:
~ “I neither know nor believe that I am a winner.”
This honest innocence opens our minds to the meditative state and is the alpha of learning and intelligence. Meditation helps us to distinguish mendacity from verisimilitude.
When we know, there is no benefit in belief. When we do not know, there is danger in belief. Some contemporary schools of philosophy regard the concept of belief as obsolescent, immature, tentative, obfuscating, and superfluous. During meditation it is vital to set aside all belief. To clear your mind, turn each into a hypothesis to be examined after practice. Plato was not incorrect: Some beliefs are true and some are false. However, this has no utility. All beliefs are ideas: The term idea is to be used instead because it is less ambiguous than belief and does not refer to a believer.
We are programmed from childhood to swallow certain beliefs and reject others (1984, Animal Farm, The Matrix Trilogy). All institutions collude in perpetuating belief in belief and the belief that some beliefs are: a) correct if popular, b) incorrect if unpopular. This group-think stifles creativity and prevents us from ascertaining truth. A focus on perception, not arguing about beliefs, leads us out of darkness and conflict.
Attachment to and identification with belief increases separation, conflict, defensiveness, and egocentricity. Perception frees the mind from egocentricity. It has been well-proven that belief impedes and distorts reasoning, learning, relationships, and perception.
Is that famous quote, “belief shall set you free?” Or is it, “truth shall set you free?”
Does belief facilitate your functioning? First, do a familiar task while refraining from thinking of other topics. Then do it while thinking, “I believe I can do this.” Then test an unfamiliar task, e.g., reading a paragraph for the first time or configuring your new P.C. with peripherals. Was performance superior with or without belief? We have a limited attention capacity: Multitasking by simultaneously adding reiterative self-talk diminishes task attention. Consequently, performance degradation is probable – especially for challenging tasks. This is also the case for tasks done while reiterating, “I believe that I cannot do this.”
Why do we adopt beliefs? At times it is because we believe that something is incapable of being known, which obviously prevents discovery. Also, it is the disconcerting fear of not knowing. To quell the terror we either make up a belief or adopt one from an authority. We desire a coherent world view. If we have not yet understood something we fill in the blanks. Were science and technology to do this, the infestation of beliefs would perpetuate ignorance and chaos. Were psychology to do this we would be incarcerated in prisons of delusions that prevent self-knowing.
Belief is the predominant cause of misunderstanding, conflict, and war amongst nations and religions. It also generates conflict among other groups and individuals. We can still enjoy cultural diversity, customs, folklore, and festivals without belief. Conflict degrades meditation.
Hundreds of cognitive psychology experiments have shown that beliefs are a major cause of mental illness. Evaluate the ramifications and implications of a belief before adopting it. Question its underlying assumptions and premises.
Why not fearlessly acknowledge that we don’t know? Such is a requisite for learning. This is more honest than making up or borrowing beliefs. Is learning not expedited by excluding beliefs? We are able to live with the fact that we do not know millions of things. Why not accept self-knowing as one of those unknowns? Let go of any effort to formulate a belief.
Q: What happens when we look into the self – setting aside all beliefs, theories, and preconceptions?
A: Take a minute to notice each of your body parts. As you move each, get a feel for it on the surface as well as deep inside. Then look at each sensation, emotion, and thought that arises. Note how each is influenced by the surroundings. The state to maintain is like that which accompanies star-gazing for the first time in a dark rural area. It is awe and wonder. You are learning about the self. Meditation is taking this to the next level.
Belief in a conceptual self prevents self-knowing. The self-knowing required for meditation is insightful comprehension of the egocentric bundle of memories, expectations, habits, fears, opinions, desires, prejudices, attachments, identifications, biases, paradigms, anger, plans, beliefs, and self image which we call the self. Like a cancer, virus, or parasite; ego is a vampire which devours the life hosting it. The hundreds of twisted, self-destructive thoughts studied by cognitive psychology are signs of the ego at work.
These thoughts prevent accurate perception of nearly everything social and psychological. This bundle is “grist for the mill” in psychotherapy as well as meditation. Psychoanalysis interprets “grist” according to theories. Thoughts, including theories, are insufficient for unlocking the doors to therapeutic comprehension: Insightful perception is effective. Seeing how our “grist” changes from moment to moment is revealing.
Self-referencing beliefs, especially if reiterated during meditation, prevent learning. Examples follow. “I believe I can do this.” “I believe that I can learn faster than my friend X.” “I believe I will benefit from meditation.” The I that believes is the ego. The ego is not only incapable of meditation, it is the greatest impediment to learning and holistic self-knowing.
Q. What is the ego made of and what does it do?
A: The ego is the survival instinct maniacally over amplified as if intoxicated on Red Bull and alcohol. It incessantly wants less misery and more satisfaction. After a moment’s happiness, it soon craves more toys, praise, achievements, popularity, etc. This is what we face in meditation. Nothing works to pacify it. It keeps whining like an insecure infant. We need to understand its needs and meet them in our ordinary life. During meditation we merely see how its desires are insatiable and that chasing them is futile, harmful, and preclusive of the meditative state. This insight is automatically accompanied by letting go of the whole circus. If we can’t let go during meditation, how can we let go in ordinary life? This is necessary to understand others, relate to them in non-exploitive ways, and help them. (Pursuing non-harmful desires when not meditating is fine as long as we do not become attached.) Thought creates the ego and modifies it daily. Can you see it at work?
Q: Is there a dimension of self that is free from egoism?
A: There is apparently a diversity of doctrines amongst traditions regarding the Genuine Nature (GN) of humans. However, all concur that to discover that nature the ego must be seen clearly and its domination of the mind must end. The ego is not up to the task. Another awareness/energy, which is found within, is required. The name GN is not important: If you prefer, give it another name.
By closely examining our little fortress of identifications, paradigms, beliefs, and ideals; we comprehend that they do not provide security. One then may experience a kind of security which is not based on these. This security is world-centric rather than egocentric. This new identity may not be known by thought and is not what we think it is. In contrast, the ego is what we consciously and unconsciously think it is.
Traditions have declared or implied that GN is either divine or indeterminate. If you too are lazy, you could believe one of these options and forgo the hassle of doubt and investigation. If truth is more important to you than ease, this will eradicate laziness and awaken perceptual clarity.
The first sort of clarity to experience is that you are a process within a larger process, i.e., the world. When this factuality is an everyday feel-of-living, you may then grasp this mutual interdependence holistically and synergistically. Then you are ready to explore whether this Whole is GN, transcends this, both, or neither. No barriers have been proven to exist between: 1) unconscious and conscious, 2) one person and another (at ego, mind, and GN levels), 3) self and society. In meditation these are seen as a dynamically interdependent Whole. Thought creates separation. Absence of thought dissolves separation.
Consider these metaphors. Each person is like a bubble in a stream. The water exterior of each is the ego. When the ego evaporates, the air inside is released. The liberation of the air is freedom which is not separate from the rest of the liberated air. The shell of water of each bubble dissolves, over time, with others. They float downstream; forming a collective ego that no longer imprisons the air. Alternately, adopt an ecologic perspective. Each person is like a cell within an organism having trillions of cells. Collectively, the sum of all of the members of one species is a larger life form. Collectively, the sum of all species in one niche or habitat forms a greater life. Collectively, the sum of habitat and niche life forms interdependently comprises the global ecosystem. Smaller life forms making up larger life forms is Gaia. Self-knowing in this analogy is the cell realizing that: 1) the atoms and molecules comprising its components are changing daily as catabolism and anabolism transpire, 2) it is inextricably part of the global life.
Can you see how compassion could easily arise from the above? We learn more about it from the conduct of others rather than words. What would improve your life more than everyone being compassionate?
Q: Is meditation dwelling upon thoughts?
A: The thing, fact, truth, actuality, or experience is not the symbol, definition, name, belief, word, formula, paradigm, map, image, or model. Meditation frees the mind from addiction to these superficial abstractions. It intensifies our sensitivity and experiencing which provides a more holistic comprehension of things as they are. Viewing life through abstractions reinforces the deceptive tenacity and sense of self-importance of the ego. Meditation is not a practice of thinking. It is a happening which occurs spontaneously as thinking ceases. Belief is thought. No kind of thought is effective for opening the door to the meditative state. The symbol, e.g., thought, is not the thing.
“Those who know do not speak,” right? Then why write about meditation? As long as what is written is based on non-egocentric experience and directs the reader toward experimental experiencing it may serve as a learning aid. Anything written about meditation is to be questioned.
To enter the temple of meditation, one must leave both shoes and ego baggage at the doorstep.
Sampling the meditative high in periods of isolated meditation and then pursuing an egocentrically-driven lifestyle is not transformative. Only when there is self-knowing does the meditative state transform our lifestyle and dissolve suffering. BTW, did anyone mention that self-knowing is a lifelong journey?
Q: Is a constricted lifestyle required?
A: Indeed not. Traditions have demanded that disciples conform to a lengthy list of disciplines. E.g., Southern (Hinayana) Buddhism has over 250 prohibitions and guidelines for moral conduct. I knew a monk in one of these temples who was ‘excommunicated’ permanently for munching on a small snack one afternoon. This violated the rule that no eating is permitted between noon and the sunrise begging rounds.
Q: Has science studied these?
A: Many of these lifestyle guidelines have been corroborated by science to have numerous benefits and they probably accelerate the learning curve of meditation. Anything which improves medical or mental health makes it easier to learn meditation. Anything which prevents or resolves problems and improves relationships also makes it easier. When you comprehend the reasons for these and their importance for your meditation learning curve, they become like breathing instead of an ego-driven discipline.
Be considerate and live in harmony with other animals including humans.
Maintain a low carbon footprint.
Enjoy a vegan diet that is very low in fat and excludes refined carbohydrates.
Eschew all forms of tobacco and recreational street drugs. Avoid abuse of prescription and OTC medications.
Consume little or no alcohol.
Avoid accumulation of abdominal fat and excessive body weight.
Engage in aerobic exercise several times per week. This is the only type which has been proven to diminish incidence of major killer diseases and prolong longevity.
Obtain ample sleep. If you are burning with spiritual ambition and try to force yourself to sleep only a few hours per night, you will be sleep deprived. This will degrade the quality of meditation, which is more important than the quantity.
Understand your addictions, attachments, fears, frustrations, beliefs, identifications, misery, and problems.
If the above sounds aversively austere, blame that institution which is worshipped as widely as religion, i.e., science!
Q: What are some reasons for scheduling an appointment?
A: Whether or not you have selected a tradition to follow, you are welcome to schedule an appointment. Entering or departing from a tradition will not interfere with our meetings and your learning. Each of us has had many teachers. During our years of being a high school student, we learn from many teachers each week. To break the chains of authoritarianism, having many teachers helps more than having one. However, the best teacher is oneself.
What indicates that it is time to schedule a meeting?
~ if you have never meditated regularly
~ if your current practice is accompanied merely by occasional, mild meditative states ~ if you prefer to practice with an advanced meditator, which is a nonverbal learning experience even if utterly silent
~ if you want to develop skills in performing meditation during common activities
~ if there is disturbing content that is persistently invading your mind during meditation
~ if you want to improve relationships and problem solving using meditation
~ if you want a better understanding of lifestyling guidelines and savvy ways to ease into such, without inflating the ego.
Q: Is it better to study with a teacher or a group?
A: Think of the advantages of consulting with an unaffiliated advanced meditator with insightful communication skills. Shopping around is very inconclusive and time consuming. If you visit three centers, none of them may be very suitable for you. Though you may think one of them is a fit forever, you may soon outgrow it. I show you how to discover a compass so that you are not dependent on others.
Commuting to centers for learning opportunities is inconvenient, costly, and time-consuming in contrast to meeting in your home or a nearby park – on your time.
Many of the instructors at centers speak ESL. This is usually inadequate to handle your questions adroitly and convey the subtleties necessary for accessing the meditative state.
Nearly all centers entangle students in a web of rituals, ornaments, symbols, costumes, beliefs, metaphysical conjecture, technical foreign verbiage, and competitive spiritual claims that they are the closest to God. This is all so alluring to the novice but it soon becomes a distraction of little relevance to those who are insightful. These exotic elements provide an escape from the daily grind, but they do not facilitate self-knowing. Neither external influences nor another can give you self-knowing, which is required to open the door to the meditative state.
An individual consult can provide a brief sampling of many styles, without the above time-consuming baggage which is usually a distraction from self-knowing.
Children have benefited from brief durations of practice. Meditating together as a family has numerous benefits and is most convenient in your home or nearby park. Centers may prohibit children from participating in classes or meditation practice.
Conformity to statuesque postures may be required. I encourage frequent postural adjustment, movement, and conversation during our meetings. One group with whom I practiced had a mattress on the floor for each individual. Their custom was to lie down for group meditation.
Some curious individuals feel unfaithful or uneasy about checking out a center. Studying with an individual maintains confidentiality.
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