Is meditation stressing you out? — the self cannot quiet itself
Stressing Out Over Happiness — exploring the effects of stress, meditation and happiness
What is your meditation of choice and what is your goal? Disclaimer: I am in favor of all types of meditation that relieve stress, lessen suffering, and create a better world.
There are all kinds of meditation — mindfulness, self-enquiry, Christian contemplation, prayer, walks through nature, and even focusing on manifestation. It seems that the most popular forms of meditation have to do with trying to get the mind to be quiet, which, by the way, is not possible unless you’re dead — and then it’s not certain whether it makes any difference. What kind of meditation do you practice, and is it possible for your practice to be stressing you out? Wouldn’t that be ironic?
Why do you meditate?
Millions of Buddhists worldwide say they are interested in being enlightened like the Buddha, but the truth is they don’t meditate at all like the Buddha did before he became the Buddha. Instead, a great many are trying to control and shape the mind. While various kinds of meditation have their use, most will never result in what is called enlightenment, or awakening to the truth of a reality beyond the sense of self, the conditioned mind. This is because the sense of self cannot undo itself. It doesn’t want to and it is afraid to. After all, the self, which is the ego, ultimately has one goal: to protect and perpetuate itself by clinging to whatever gives it a sense of security. Ironically, meditation offers security to the ego self. But meditating on who you actually are creates insecurity for the egoic self. It’s as if this egoic self, the “me,” is saying, “I’ll help you meditate on all the problems that you have and to help you achieve silence so I don’t have to face myself. Everything else is okay, but don’t ask me to eliminate myself.”
It is the sense of self, the “me,” that is the problem and cause of your suffering and the world’s suffering. And if this “me” is leading the meditation then you will never find lasting peace and freedom from suffering. This brings up the question of what it means to meditate without involving the egoic self.
Trying not to try
Effort is an act of the egoic self, the person you take yourself to be that has been conditioned since birth to believe that you are separate from all else and that everything that authority figures, from parents to teachers to religious leaders, have taught you about yourself. Because effort is an act of the self, it can never get past itself and meditate to uncover its own makeup. What we are talking about, then, is the difference between meditation guided by the egoic self versus meditation that is not controlled or directed by the egoic self.
Effort is an act of the egoic self
Effort causes stress. How could it not? Effort implies going against the grain, using force, planning, and focus, resulting in conflict and friction. And so the self who meditates can easily cause stress, which is ironic because most people who meditate are trying to alleviate stress. Quite the conundrum, isn’t it? The self that tries to meditate is conflicted, and in turn it creates conflict when it tries to control and quiet itself.
Realizing what you are
If your goal is to awaken to reality that is not determined by the images made by the egoic self, then meditation would have to take on a new meaning. One of the definitions of meditation is reflecting on or pondering over some thing or issue. As Joseph Campbell once said, most people meditate all the time — they are always thinking about money; how to make it and how to hold onto it.
According the mystic philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti:
Meditation really is a complete emptying of the mind. Then there is only functioning of the body; there is only the activity of the organism and nothing else; then thought functions without identification as the me and the non-me. Thought is mechanical, as is the organism. What creates conflict is thought identifying itself with one of its parts which becomes the me, the self and the various divisions in that self. There is no need for the self at any time. There is nothing but the body, and freedom of the mind can only happen when thought is not breeding the me. There is no self to understand but only the thought which creates the self. When there is only the organism without the self , perception, both visual and non-visual can never be distorted. There is only seeing ‘what is’ and that very perception goes beyond what is. The emptying of the mind is not an activity of thought or an intellectual process. The continuous seeing of what is without any kind of distortion naturally empties the mind of all thought and yet that very mind can use thought when it is necessary. Thought is mechanical and meditation is not.
Knowledge is not realization
If you truly realized who you were, including the “me” and consciousness that lies beneath it, would you have a need for meditation? I use the word “realize,” because just knowing intellectually is not enough to change anything. People who know cigarettes are bad for them smoke anyway. Every alcoholic knows that alcohol is terrible, but they drink anyway. People who are overweight know that being in bad physical shape is very unhealthy, but they don’t stop eating foods that are bad for them. Knowing is not enough; realizing is the only thing that makes a difference.
How can you realize something? You have to really look closely at the situation, not by analyzing, judging, critiquing, or using effort. You do it only by observation, observation without the overlay of the sense of self is unalloyed, unattached, and unaffected. Just observe. See what you are; see why you are stressed; see what you are not; see why you believe you need to meditate; see what this sense of self is made out of and how it came about and how it leads to specific tendencies to act or think in certain ways. Just observe.
When there is observation without the interference or overlay of the self there is no goal and no effort. There is only observing without the self. When there is no self there is no observer, just awareness of what is. There is awareness of the situation. In this state there can be a realization that filters into the mind and makes a difference.
Meditation is good for you
Before we wind up this little article, I want to make sure that you understand that I’m not condemning meditation. To the contrary. The practice helps reduce stress and inflammation, no doubt, as shown in university laboratory studies. Meditation is a wonderful first step to understanding what you are, and it seems that mindfulness meditation helps a great deal, because it is an observational practice in which effort may play no part. Theoretically anyway. But many people use a lot of effort anyway because they’ve heard that the goal is to make the mind quiet because they’ve been taught that that’s the way to enlightenment.
For what it’s worth, my advice is to stop trying to be enlightened and just observe the sense of self — not only while sitting still with your legs crossed like a guru, but also throughout your day. Find out what you are not and you will find out what your true nature is.