Updated: Nov 14
If you’ve ever tried to meditate, you know that it isn’t easy. The instructions may be simple — sit comfortably, close your eyes, become aware of your breathing or silently repeat a mantra — but the mind does not easily cooperate. This raises the question: if I can’t control my mind, whose mind is it really? Better yet: who am I, really, if my thoughts are not my own?
The origin of our thoughts is mysterious. The mind secretes thoughts continuously. That’s what it does. We don’t have to start thinking and we can’t stop our thoughts - the thinking process runs seemingly without our needing to do anything. Of course, we can direct our thoughts, we can choose to think deeply about one thing or another as I’m doing now while I write this article. But we also know how hard it is to tell ourselves not to think about something. Try not to think about a pink elephant and see what happens.
Meditation is not about stopping our thoughts.
Even in deep meditation, the mind will continue to secrete thoughts. This leaves many beginners feeling frustrated because they “can’t do it.” In fact, sitting with your thoughts is the practice of meditation. And, yes, over time, the mind will naturally come into states of deeper stillness, although there will always be activity even if only a subtle vibration. Consciousness itself is activity, and through meditation we begin to experience the fundamental nature of our consciousness. We begin to experience our true selves.
Consciousness typically holds something other than itself in awareness: what you have to do today, something scary or exciting on the horizon, or just the random song stuck in your head. These thoughts carry us along, sliding naturally from one topic to the next without our choosing where they take us. And yet, these thoughts and the emotions they trigger are our very experience of life. What it means to be me is to be in this body and mind, thinking and feeling the way I do.
Meditation turns awareness inwards to experience our fundamental nature.
The practice of meditation interrupts the default mode of awareness, which is always directed outwards. Through daily repetition, the mind slowly lets go of outer objects and begins to hold itself in awareness. At first this may only happen in the slightest moments, too short to register. These moments will expand over time until we can rest more and more in the space of inner awareness, experiencing only the silent vibration of consciousness itself.
Many describe this as a spiritual experience; a feeling of connection to something divine, something universal, or something deeply personal - our true selves. It’s often accompanied by a feeling of deep satisfaction that lingers long after the meditation practice ends: a feeling of being at home in the world, at home with ourselves. This experience of pure consciousness has no distinguishing characteristics, no shape or color or attributes that define it. We can’t put it into words. And yet, when we experience it, we know it to be something truly important.
Once we’ve tasted this inner awareness, we only want to experience more of it. The daily practice of meditation becomes a fixture in our lives we never want to be without. And then we begin to see the changes it brings to our experience of everyday life: the ease with which we navigate formerly difficult or triggering situations, the expanding capacity for love and compassion we have for ourselves and others, and a greater ability to direct our lives towards their highest, most fulfilling expression. These are the natural byproducts of learning to know ourselves better and better.
On top of all the common reasons for meditation - stress reduction being the most common - perhaps the most important reason is simply this: to know who you are, really. Knowing yourself will surely change your relationship to stress, but it will do much more than this. You will come to feel at home in the continual motion of consciousness, which even in its deepest stillness, vibrates still.
At first this feels frustrating, when we try and fail to achieve the stillness we think we see in the fixed objects of the world. But science tells us even these objects, at their fundamental level, are in constant motion. Perhaps that subtle vibration we experience in deep meditation is the same fundamental vibration in everything that exists. Perhaps this is why it feels so important when we experience it. In coming to know ourselves, perhaps we come to know what is fundamental and common to all of us and to everything. If that’s not worth knowing, what is?
About the author:
Recovering lawyer, training to be a meditation teacher. Anxiety used to define me.
Now I am devoted to bringing peace to the people and communities
that continue to suffer from it.