Have you ever sat back and wondered, who am I really?
Am I more than just these bones, this skin, and these thoughts?
At the core of it, we all have an unchanging essence. Meditation helps us to sift through the layers of our being to discover our true inner self.
When you sit simply in meditation, you begin to observe the body, the breath, and the mind. At first, your mind may frequently wander. You may think about your to-do list, or something that happened yesterday. You may wonder why that happens, and why you can’t control it- your thoughts just seem to happen automatically. The first step is just to acknowledge that this happens.
There is no use in fighting the mind.
If you constantly feel like your mind has a life of its own and you cannot control anything it does, you may feel disconnected from your true self. You may feel overwhelmed even when relaxing or trying to sleep. The reason for this is because of 3 areas in our brains: the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the pre-frontal cortex.
The amygdala acts like a guard dog in your brain. When there is danger, the amygdala reacts to protect ourselves. For instance, if you are hiking in the woods and come across a dangerous animal, your amygdala will help you remain calm until the animal leaves, or run away from a threatening situation. The problem is that this part of the brain is often overactive- it wants to protect us too much- which creates a constant fear response.
When this happens, the other parts of the brain cannot function as well. The hippocampus is responsible for our memories while the prefrontal cortex helps us to focus. When the amygdala is overworked, you may become more emotional, forgetful, and have trouble problem solving or even sitting down to read.
You can, however, learn to control your mind through different meditation techniques. The process of stilling the mind takes practice, just like anything else. It will not happen overnight or in one breath (unless you are one of the few enlightened ones!).
Various meditation techniques such as breathwork and visualization give the mind something to focus on so the thoughts can dissipate. Once the exercise is completed, you can try to sit quietly in your meditative state, enjoying a more calm and peaceful mind. The true inner self is timeless and unbound by the ego and constraints of the physical world. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has a good analogy for this:
“We usually say, ‘I went to this school 20 years back’, or, ‘I did this job 25 years back’, but who was that person? Even if you look at a picture of you taken around 20 years back, you will not find much resemblance. Your body, mind, intellect, thoughts, feelings, everything has changed. But certainly, there is something which has not changed because of which you can notice this change. That is why I say, first identify the changes that are happening within you. Once you identify these changes, then slowly you will be able to identify that what is not changing. And once you identify that which is not changing, then you will realize ‘This is what I am, this is what I have been searching for.”
Meditation is a practice of coming into the present moment. Sometimes dealing with the present moment can be scary. Many negative feelings may arise- worry, fear, anxiety, sadness, or guilt. You may want to run from them as fast as you can. Then you may be left with a negative self image. However, meditation can be used to transmute negativity into positive emotion- happiness, bliss, compassion, and love.
You can learn to calm the amygdala so the other parts of the brain can do their job better through meditation. This process will unveil your habitual thinking patterns and tendencies, which can eventually manifest as your feelings and actions. When we try to get to know our self a little better, we are not only doing us a favor, but also presenting a better version of ourselves to the world.