I sometimes wonder what my life would have looked like if I had started meditating at 25, because that is roughly the age that I made my first attempt. At that point it was not too hard for me to follow the instructions in a meditation-booklet and so I concluded that I did not need to meditate.
Ah well. In hindsight that is one of the disadvantages of trying to practice without guidance.
We will never know how my life would have been different.
I do know however, that I have learned a lot since I did start meditating regularly a few years ago.
- I handle stress better.
- I know how to stop myself from dwelling on dreams too much.
- I waste less energy fighting myself and the situation as it is.
- I am better able to laugh at my own illusions and other people’s little quirks.
In other words: meditation has helped me become more aware of my own emotions and thoughts, so that I don’t get lost in my own stories as much.
That is very useful.
Does that mean that meditation is the only road to self-knowledge? Of course not. Studying psychology, keeping a diary, analysing dreams, going into therapy, facing fears, trying out things you have always avoided – there are all kinds of ways to develop self-knowledge.
I am convinced that it is also the other way around: it helps, when starting to meditate, to already have a basic level of self-knowledge. If you have never looked inward, trying for the first time to face yourself for an hour at a time may be too much. Even a simple yoga-class can be too confronting.
Is it possible to meditate too much? Perhaps – one way to grow in self-knowledge is to deal with the way you respond to people. That is a route that full-time meditation closes off. There are stories of yogi’s who have meditated on patience for years and yet lose it the first time someone insults them after they come out of meditation.
Self-knowledge is not, any more than inner peace, an on-off-button. Meditation can help, but it is not a universal panacea.