EVERYDAY MEDITATION PODCAST: EPISODE #202
What’s this episode about?
Meditation may be able to help you develop your sense of self... or perhaps it's just one sense of self.
By developing your sense of self as distinct from attachment (ragas) and aversion (dvesha) — from the monkey mind.
Because without these, we seem to be left with just JOY, PEACE, and LOVE
A decade ago, I would have scoffed at this idea. JOY, PEACE, and LOVE, pssht.
Mostly because I identified solely with my personal, internal stress, anguish, and fear (but not my internal joys).
For example, it was critically important that I not be late ever. Or that I fit in with what the other girls were wearing — and yet I never truly wanted to fit in….
I didn’t now that there was any other way, I didn’t believe that I could solve all of my problems in my head.
I thought I had to change from the outside to change what I was feeling on the inside. Classic teenage angst (and I’m really not the angsty type).
So why would I listen to suggestions otherwise? Suggestions that I could be happy if I just looked inside?
Because I was a teenager —and a stubborn one at that. I thought I had all the answers.
And that’s ok... if it wears off! And usually we do grow out of some of our lack of self awareness, but just as often teenage neuroses follow into adulthood in one way or another. By then, we don’t realize how and where we’re still acting like a foolish, stubborn teenager.
This “teenage” behavior lines up with what Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson call the “stickiness” of our “self” thoughts.
“Stickiness seems to reflect the dynamics of the emotional circuitry of the brain, including the amygdala and the nucleus acumbens*. These regions very likely underlie what traditional texts see as the root causes of suffering —attachment and aversion — where the mind becomes fixated on wanting something that seems rewarding or on getting rid of something unpleasant” (Altered Traits, p 162-163. *Brain regions. The amygdala scans for danger, among other things, and the nucleus accumbens seems to be part of our reward system.).
We’re stuck — in our minds — to our own attachments and aversions. Attachments and aversions themselves aren’t a problem. They don’t create suffering. Being stuck creates an experience of suffering.
And eventually, I sought or stumbled onto a different way of thinking about and doing things — a way to get a little less stuck in my own “self” thoughts.
Meditation has been a big part of my path away from stickiness.
Well, my teachers didn’t draw me in by saying “Here: To be happy, simply abandon everything you’ve ever relied on to make sense of your experience in the world.” That’s for sure.
I never would have shown up for the first class!
Instead, they said “Try to visualize a light and focus on it… and then on “nothing” if you can.”
That’s it. Furthermore they added: “If focusing is hard, that’s OK. It’s 100% OK. When your mind wanders, just nudge your attention back, gently and without judgment.”
Those last two elements were key for me. No judgment?! No “I’m doing this wrong, I suck”?! I just gotta show up and try a little?!
I was kinda hooked — I loved this thing I couldn’t fail at!
And then the brain started changing. Changes that made it possible to pause and reflect and “step outside” myself.
“Such a step outside of the self, technically speaking, suggests weakening activation of the default circuitry that binds together the mosaic of memories, thoughts, impulses, and other semi-independent mental processes into the cohesive sense of 'me' and 'mine’” (Altered Traits, p 154-155).
There is very little research looking at this particular effect from meditation, so the guys that know more than I are offering a possible interpretation of what evidence they do have, rather than drawing a conclusion. But I assume that what they suggest happens generally with meditation, happened to me, too.
And those are just the changes that happened pretty much automatically! They laid the groundwork for active reflection and deciding what to do with what you observe and learn about yourself.
What can I do with that?
The joyous thing for me is that it’s not a process you need to rush —in fact, I think that would get in the way. You just show up, meditate, and trust that the rest will unfold in the time it should. You could be a little more proactive about it, simply by making reflection a part of your meditation process, but more than that really depends on you and what kind of learner you are.
For some it helps having a structure like yoga or mindfulness to steer you in your reflection, but it doesn’t seem necessary to change your brain and feel the effects. Take for example, Dan Harris, the news anchor who started meditating after a breakdown and when it changed his life, he wrote a book about it: 10% Happier, in which he chronicles his initial journey into meditation. Adding meditation into his day seemed to initiate some big changes in his mind, which led to positive changes in his actions and interactions. And greater ability to act from principle rather than fear. If I recall correctly, he didn’t actively seek out change other than to add meditation. That’s often the way the story goes.
See, meditation, gives us a stronger sense of the “I” that feels JOY, PEACE, and LOVE.
And next I’ll walk through some of the brain changes we know about that might help explain what happens when this JOY, PEACE, and LOVE “I" is strong, and the nagging, agonizing “I” fades away — or at least learns to take a back seat when asked.
Ready to practice a meditation now?
Below is the week's "full practice" episode. Click here to listen to the "how to practice" instructions.
I'd love to hear about your experience -- and help out with any questions you have.
Practicing with you,