How Does Meditation Lead to Self-Awareness?

L: Hi Jay. I’m doing some research on yoga and meditation, as I’m planning on making it a daily thing for me. What I’ve read about meditation so far only states that it increases self-awareness, but I don’t understand how the quieting/clearing of the mind leads to self-awareness.

How does that work? And is it possible to meditate on a concept/philosophy in order to gain insight? Also, how will the answer come to someone who asks a question (such as Who am i or What is my purpose in life?) in the meditation? When asking the question, is it directed at your inner self, or at God?

Thanks, and much appreciation to your time and answers!

Jay: Hi, L.

First we have to agree on what we are going to mean by the word “meditation.” There are many different forms of concentration or focusing on feelings, and so on, that are like mental exercises.

For me, sitting in stillness is a letting go of the usual attempts to control the body and the mind and simply entering into what is here, inside and outside. Usually this simple field of hereness is dominated by the activity of the brain – thinking, chatter, emotional turmoil, etc. That activity is going on all the time as we move through the world but it is not so clear that it’s going on until we sit down quietly. Then it’s painfully obvious!

If the mind is focusing on something – a concept or philosophy as you mention – then what’s going on is covered up by that focus. Maybe that is why we love to focus on something so much. It covers up the pain, the dis-ease, the anxiety or the emptiness. It is more difficult to be with what is going on without reacting to it because we are not used to doing that. It takes different existential “muscles.”

This quiet sitting is not a technique to accomplish something. It is just whole, simple presence. It’s what we are, without knowing or doing.

I don’t think it is too hard to see that by being present, much can be revealed that is not revealed when our systems are in a buzz. So, really, it’s not that meditative presence increases self-awareness. It is that our constantly overwhelmed and active nervous systems block and confuse self-awareness and create pain and suffering.

If I am walking through a wild woods with a blindfold on and a Ipod plugged into my ears, there is no question that I’m going to get hurt. And I’m also going to be real confused about what is going on.

If you have a certain question that bothers you, people have reported that it can be helpful to remind yourself of the question when you sit down to be still but then let it recede into stillness. It seems to do what it needs to on its own if it is given time and space of quietness. If you are inclined to try to think it through, then you can experiment with how far that takes you and when that comes to a dead end. Even when people wrestle with scientific or math problems, they work on it actively for a while and then often find that the answer comes in a quiet moment.

We might say we are asking these questions into not knowing. You can make up names for the space beyond knowing – God, true self – but it doesn’t need a name. It doesn’t need to be known. It is just the acknowledgement that most of the universe is beyond the realm of the knowable and to give that space, that presence, a chance to be lived in.

I don’t know if this addresses your questions or not, so please feel free to write back with other questions or comments from your experience.

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