Meditation, Self-Discovery, and Our Mind
Understanding Our Mind
Our minds change modes of consciousness through-out the day, and most of the time we are not even aware that it is happening. Think of the last time you caught your self day-dreaming for example. While day-dreaming about a subject we enjoy may be pleasant, getting caught up in negative thoughts can have a harmful effect on our emotional lives. To be more precise, our mind has the ability to “take us with it” in a way that we lose our sense of time, and our connection to the present moment. Even though, most of us are able to concentrate during our work hours and daily chores, for the most part we tend to zone out during our free time. But then again, even during routine tasks our attention tends to wander. Consider driving for example, if the route is familiar and one we use often (like driving home from work) we drive on autopilot, to the extent that we may not even remember half of the trip. Evolution has made our subconscious able to take on most of the load during repetitive tasks, while the conscious mind is free to think of other things. This allowed less of our mental energies to be spent on nuanced activities; which in primitive conditions meant we were able to look out for possible dangers. In today’s world, we are not in constant threat from our environment, thus our conscious mind is left unoccupied. In an attempt to distract our self’s and lessen our boredom we seek out stimulation from music, video games, social media, and other sources. Alcohol and drugs can be used as a distraction, as well. However, in order to self-actualize we need to be present in the moment. And that is where meditation can be helpful.
Meditation and the Monkey Mind
Meditation is a practice that originated within Hindu traditions, and is used today in various contexts. In the east it is used as a way to gain spiritual enlightenment. However, in the west meditation is mostly used as a tool to calm the mind, and gain emotional peace. The various forms range from Zen to mindfulness. Many techniques allow the meditator to be present in the moment, by quieting the monkey mind. The term “monkey mind” refers to our mind chatter, which is part of our conscious mind, and it is called “monkey” due to how our minds can often jump from one subject to another, resembling the restlessness of our fellow earthly creatures. The monkey mind can bring up events that happened during our day, anxieties about the future, family and relationship problems, or totally random thoughts like a pink cat. I know silly, you are thinking of a pink cat!
Self-Discovery through Meditation
Most meditation practices are used to calm the monkey mind, and induce a more peaceful state of consciousness. However, it can also be used as a way of becoming the observer of our own psyche. For the sake of self-discovery, at least in the beginning, meditation techniques that go deep in to a trance-like state are not very useful. In order to self-actualize we need to acknowledge the content of our minds without criticizing ourselves. To accomplish this, all we need to do is sit in a comfortable position, and monitor our own thoughts. If you are new to meditation, you will come to know that it is a lot harder than imagined. However, with patience and practice we become able to just be aware of our thoughts, without becoming absorbed. It is very important not to criticize ourselves throughout this process, because doing so will distract as from recognizing our repetitive thought patterns. Recognizing our thought patterns is key to self-discovery, and once we start recognizing which thoughts trigger certain emotional reactions within us we can start to develop self-mastery. Our personalities are a combination of reactions, feelings, general moods, and inclinations that developed during our childhood. For example, if someone was highly criticized as a child he/she may react strongly to criticism as an adult. Generally, when we have a strong emotional reaction we go “unconscious.” And when we get in to that state the monkey mind takes full control, and we may say or do things we normally would not. Once you start practicing you will realize that the monkey mind is not easily tamed, thus letting it have full control can be a disaster. But, even underlying or weak emotions can have a similar effect to a lesser degree. During a meditation session, various emotions will arise in connection to our thoughts, and by observing these patterns we will learn to know our selves better. In addition, we will slowly be able to train our minds not to react unconsciously.