Note: This article contains 2 parts: Part I highlights the ancient Indian and Greek traditions where “Self-Study” and meditation was an integral part of formal education. These traditions gradually faded as time went on. Part II explains how understanding your own self helps you understand others and thus relate to others better.
Thousands of studies have been conducted to explore what meditation can do for you. These studies conducted in the Eastern and Western hemisphere on the benefits of meditation show meditation reduces blood pressure, cortisol (stress hormone), inflammation, anxiety, depression and chronic pain, elevates immune function, mood, and sense of well-being and even brings changes at the cellular level, the most basic matrix of human life.
I had heard a lot about what meditation can do for you, but never heard “Meditation will introduce you to yourself.” First heard it from my Guru (with a mischievous smile I should add).
Being a psychologist and having been extensively psychoanalyzed by an expert psychoanalyst I didn’t think meditation can tell me anymore about myself that I already don’t know.
However, the scientific evidence of meditation benefits was undeniable I decided to pursue meditation seriously. Since then I have regularly practiced meditation for 20+ years and that “introduction” by me of me has never stopped. Much of that self-introduction, I might add, has been rather unflattering.
One ophthalmology text book says, “The eye can only see what the mind knows.” True, the eye can only see what the mind knows. Likewise, you can only know that about yourself what your mind allows you to know.
But there is a way for striking the breakthrough, that is through meditation. Ancient texts say when you practice meditation for a long time, persist and persevere, meditation gradually lifts the “veil” between yourself and your mind. Ancients referred to this veil as Avarana, a Sanskrit word which meant “covering, concealing, obstructing.” Jains defined this veil as “mental blindness.”
Budhha taught his followers a meditation technique, Vipassana, meaning “insight.” What a refreshing idea! Instead of trying to guess what everyone else is up to, gain insight in to your own self!
Philosophers, scholars and seekers of advanced knowledge, in times past, regularly practiced meditation as part of Svadhyaya, “study of self by self.”)
Similar tradition of knowing your own self was prevalent in other ancient societies. At the lofty gates of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi the inscription said, “Know Thyself”
Greek philosopher who is accredited with the phrase “Know Thyself,” says in the Dialogues with Phaedrus that a man can make a fool of himself when he tries to know about obscure things before he knows himself. Socrates’s disciple Plato said when you understand yourself you can understand other people.
The great Master and philosopher Lao Tzu said, “One who knows others is wise but the one who knows himself is enlightened.”
It is evident that great thinkers and philosophers both in Eastern and Western hemispheres put a heavy premium on meditation and self-understanding because they had figured out that the most successful, peaceful and joyful journey in the outside world is through the self by using the tool of meditation. Meditation frees us up, makes us comfortable with ourselves and loosens the control our Ego has over us. Incidentally, the ego in ancient Indian texts is referred to as Ahankara, literally, the maker of I, me and mine.
Ego builds walls between you and everyone else. It does not want to allow anything to enter your awareness that is unflattering or makes you ashamed or embarrassed of yourself. Pride, shame, fear and the like are barriers which make it difficult to penetrate erstwhile referred to as the veil. Meditation helps you transcend the barriers and hurdle so you can directly encounter the reality about yourself.
To paraphrase Socrates, A life not self-examined is not worth living.
In Part II we will discuss in practical terms how meditation helps you understand yourself and in return how understanding yourself can help you to improve relationships with others, deal with challenges of life and augment your level of overall satisfaction and happiness.