Here are a few things I realized through the continuous practice of meditation. Perhaps this is all wrong, but at the time of writing, this is my experience.
1. You are not your thoughts
People usually associate their thoughts and feelings with their "self", their personality, the way they "are".
However, this appears to be mostly false.
Yes, it's true that we do behave largely based on our emotions and the thoughts in our head. And since behavior defines a person, it's easy to assume that our thoughts and emotions define who we are.
But under the light of meditation, I believe this to be false. First, because thoughts and emotions are largely not controlled by us (when I say "us", I mean the "self", the consciousness that exists in us).
You can try this experiment right now to see this for yourself:
Sit calmly and relaxed in a comfortable position. Consciously decide that for the next 30 minutes you will have no thoughts or emotions of any kind. Close your eyes and sit for 30 minutes without any thoughts or emotions. Watch yourself fail.
Now, open your eyes and reflect on how it is possible that you both control your thoughts and yet after consciously having decided not to have thoughts you still had them.
Conclusion: we don't really control all of our thoughts. At least, not without some serious training.
2. Feelings of anger, hatred, worry, etc are mostly useless
Someone wisely said (and I can't find the original author to attribute this quote properly): "Feeling hatred is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die".
Most of these negative feelings have little use in life.
Yes it's true that some of them might in some cases have positive outcomes.
Take anger for example. Anger might compel someone to act initially. But it's love and passion that make one finally complete the action in most cases.
Worry can keep you alert at night and help you spot the tiger that's preying you, but it also takes a huge toll on one's health and sanity. Virtually all worry and fear are baseless and the most tragic outcomes imagined by worry rarely happen. And when they do happen, all the worry until then has probably done little to mitigate the tragedy anyway.
Hatred is one of those feelings that is truly useless. There's absolutely nothing good that comes out it. I challenge you to think of one positive of pure hatred.
And yet, we all have these feelings to various degrees. Why? Why do we harbor these feelings? How to stop them?
I was once told by someone who's almost 70 that since he was 5 years old he has hated a man. This man's sin? Having ignored what this 5 year-old was saying. This man who ignored the child probably lived everyday of his life without ever noticing the kid's anger. And yet, the kid grew up to be a 70 year-old man having this anger inside of him. For what? What has this accomplished if not maybe having shortened his life by a few years or an uncomfortable feeling inside of him?
If you're now reading this and worrying you worry too much, stop. If you hate or harbor anger or resentment or guilt inside of you, stop.
And how do you stop?
The best answer I have at this point is to realize that these feelings are also not part of who you are. They were implanted there by external things that happened to you and by your thoughts (which are also not you). So, the best way to free yourself from these feelings is to realize through meditation that just because they're inside of you and appear to be very real, they're not real.
Think of it this way: if you cut your hand and your hand now hurts, do you get mad at your hand for hurting? Do you think the cut in your hand is part of who you are? Is the cut something that now needs to control your life? Are you the cut in your hand? No, no and no! To get rid of the cut you take care of it, acknowledge that it's there, treat it and move on. But if you make your whole life dependent on the fact that you have a cut in your hand, it will overpower you and you will eventually "become" the cut. So, don't let it grow.
You may read this and intellectually understand it. But If thoughts don't define who we are, how can we use an intellectual understanding (i.e. "thought") to fully "get it"? How can we change by having yet more thoughts? We can't. One needs to experience it to get it. And the way to experience is through insight from meditation.
Now, I don't claim to be a very experienced meditator. But meditation has brought a little clarity to me. At the very least it helps me be aware of some of the negative thoughts and emotions before I get too engulfed and lost in them. And awareness is the first step to melt them away. In fact, it's probably the only step. With awareness, negative thoughts tend to simply vanish if one does not follow them and does not give them more fuel to burn. It doesn't yet work on all my thoughts and emotions. But it works in more cases the more I practice meditation.
I could write about the mechanics of meditation here, but as I said, I'm not an expert and I'm still experimenting with it to figure out what works and what doesn't. So I'll just list some resources (books, videos) that I've found useful around the general topic (most are not even directly related to meditation, but will lead you there).
Even though books and videos can only give you an intellectual understanding and not the actual experience, I believe without the intellectual understanding it will be hard, if not impossible, to get motivated to practice or even to find the right practice that works for you.
Here are some books I've found useful, loosely ordered by ease of reading versus benefit obtained (i.e. the two things multiplied together in some arbitrary scale that I reserve the right to change after future re-readings). There are many more but these are my favorites so far.
- The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
- Are You Ready to Succeed?: Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life
- The Most Direct Means To Eternal Bliss
- The Art of Power
- Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
- Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
- Radical Acceptance
A few recent videos I've watched that I think are related to the general topic. There are many more I'm forgetting now.
- Mindfulness as a Foundation for Health: Thich Nhat Hanh
- The Art of Living Every Minute of Your Life
- Matt Killingsworth: Want to be happier? Stay in the moment