As I've been postings this twice now, in different contexts, I felt it might be useful to actually post this "at home" as well. Originally, this was the answer to someone asking on Quora after he had a Vipassana meditation retreat and experienced some not-so-nice aftereffects afterwards. Then, on Reddit, someone posted a nice article about "The Dangers of Meditation" and I felt this little article was also relevant to that. I'm offering my perspective on Ego, Mind and Mindfulness which is based on what I've learned in the Sambodha teacher training offered by my friend and Saumedhika seer Aaravindha Himadra.
Original posting as reply to: Has Vipassana meditation ever been counter productive for anybody? (Follow me on Quora)
Re-posted on Reddit as a reply to: [OC] The Dangers Of Meditation (Follow me on Reddit)
There's quite a bit of knowledge one needs to have to properly practice meditation and be safe on the spiritual journey. Unfortunately, it's kind of rare to find it all in one place. You certainly won't find it on Quora [or Reddit ... or The Internets ;-) ] - but let me try to give you a few pieces that I personally find helpful (this is based on my own, personal experience and plenty of details I have learned in the Sambodha teacher training; I just noticed the sidebar requests to disclose if we're part of a particular school of meditation ;-) ):
First of all - "EGO":
Your ego is very useful. "Ego" is nothing but how you see yourself. It's who you believe to be. And that really is not a problem. The problems start when you hold on to an identity and start trying to defend that identity. In other words: Having an idea of "who you are" isn't a problem until you start holding on to that idea. So, instead of trying to dissolve the ego, you make it gradually more transparent and light so that the "divine"° can shine through more and more (°if you wish to call it that - feel free to replace with "self", "true self", "high self" ... "noself", if you wish ;-) ). It's not about making the ego small - it's about making your ego so big that the whole Universe has plenty of space inside of it while staying aware of that "reference point" that your individuality represents ... without making it your reference ;-)
While there usually are bumps on the path, it's a more or less gradual process for most people when they do have the right knowledge and they do apply it correctly.
Second - "MIND":
Your mind is actually very useful, and it's job is to help you participate in life ... and it does so by offering you thoughts and ideas, and also emotions (which are a huge subject in themselves that I'm not going to cover in this posting because it's already quite long). Trying to "still the mind", when done in a controlling, willful, effortful way, is actually quite dangerous. Instead, release the pressure you put on your mind with your rigidly focussed awareness. Have an object of meditation ... breath is most approachable for beginners, bija mantras can take you much further much more quickly but you'll need a teacher who really understands the mantra meditation (it's a pretty deep science and really has not much to do with repeating Sanskrit-sentences in your mind ... or singin' them out loud, which of course is nice, too, but just not really "meditation" in the transcendental sense of the word but certainly a great way to cultivate the heart). There's more advanced techniques but those aren't talked about that much ;-)
Let your awareness rest gently on that object of meditation with less and less effort. "Less effort" is the key! When thoughts, emotions, whatever, arises, acknowledge it, then let go a little deeper, into a little more effortlessness. If your body starts hurting, do something else: Move your body. It hurts because it tells you it is not meant to sit still for a long period of time ... give it what it needs: A little bit of motion.
This won't hurt your meditation - it will actually deepen it ;-)
There are cases where body sensations are actually a kind of release or a distraction - be cautious to not develop a habit/pattern of reacting to those. But most of the signals the body sends are sent for good reasons and should be heard and quite often, acted upon (you'd be surprised how many people have damaged their bodies by meditating without listening to those signals).
Be gentle with yourself. In the end, meditation is all about love - and the first being that needs your love is you. Always remember that!
So ... basic mindfulness is mostly about realizing that you are not this, not that.
Advanced mindfulness - Surasamiksha:
But there's something more to it, a little detail that is very important to understand: At the same time, you are this and you are that. You are both the creator, and the created. And deep within you, there's a shine, a charm. One could call this "the illumining power of consciousness".
In a way it's subtle - but at the same time, it's the creative force that from moment to moment, creates this universe, maintains it for a split second, lets it all fall apart and re-creates it ... ever cycling forward. So, Samkisha ("mindfulness") becomes Surasamiksha ("mindfulness of the inner sun").
So ... if you feel you're cut off from your creativity (this refers to the Quora question), there's definitely something wrong because what you really are connecting with in meditation is the creative force of life itself. You're probably missing the "sura" in samiksha ;-)
A true spiritual life fully embraces life - even though retreats where you "go deep" for a little while are useful - but that's something you do when you have the right knowledge and techniques because if you don't, you might get yourself into trouble.
Like - and that's the third and actually most important thing I'm mentioning in this answer:
The importance of Seva to go beyond just Sakshi
There's a problem with just trying to cultivate "Sakshi", the witness: Even though having fully established Sakshi is in fact the first level of enlightenment, it's not such a great experience if that's all that you have. Basically, what happens is that you have realized that whatever drove you, whatever motivated you, was just the attempt to validate who you think you are. And when you've lost the need to validate your personality, you also lose all motivation.
With that realization, all your motivation in life collapses. Don't worry: This (usually) does not become permanent after just doing a 10-day retreat (this refers to the original question on Quora but applies generally) ... and it's actually not really something you need to go through ... see the good news below.
There's quite a few people out there who believe they are "enlightened" (and they may actually have achieved that "first level" of enlightenment) and who will say "it's really not that great" because they feel disconnected (there's actually books available by some of those people, which are quite an interesting read). Somewhat similar to what the person asking the question on Quora might have been experiencing. There's also people who end up in caves and starve themselves to death because life simply lost all attraction.
The good news: This isn't permanent. Eventually, you'll start identifying with something and do it all over. You'll get your second chance and it'll be easier with the wisdom you've gained from going through the experience ;-) ... or you get lucky and move towards a deeper level of enlightenment.
This is why any tradition that can really take you into full awakening will put quite some attention on "Seva". The term "Seva" is often completely misunderstood, sometimes with not-so-noble intentions (I guess the same would apply to "Karma Yoga"). Seva is not about "doing service for free". That's how fake gurus will make you work for them for free. If you find someone like that:
What Seva really is is learning to do things not to validate your ego but just because of the joy of serving the Beloved° in everything (°once again, replace with terms you feel convenient with, "God", "Nature", "High Self", "Infinite Potential" ;-) ). Your "Beloved" is everywhere, everyone, every creature - every tree. Every stone. And - it's you, yourself!
There's an art to Seva, and unless you're fully awake, there will always be a little (or not so little) bit of "validating your ego" in there, even if it's "validating your spiritual ego" (which is actually the trickiest kind of image of yourself you can have).
But: Doing your best is enough. Whatever you do, give your best to do it in service as much as you are capable of. If you realize you did have ego motivations in there - don't judge yourself! Just like in meditation, when your awareness wandered off with thoughts that your mind innocently offered, acknowledge, let go, give in to the sweet shine from within and let it pull you a little deeper.
Your Destiny: Advanced Levels of Enlightenment
Eventually, this creates a habit of falling in love with everything on deeper and deeper levels. It creates a tendency of doing the things that really matter in life not because you need to do these things to validate yourself - but because the world needs you to do these things. Seriously: No one in the world can replace you. You are unique, and you have a unique role to play - and it might look "spiritual" but it also might look completely different from what people might consider "spiritual".
Once you have fully established Sakshi with that habit in place (that really is what "Punya Karma" means: having established life-supporting habits/tendencies), the experience is completely different from when you don't have it established or worse - don't even know about it:
Now, not having (or holding on to) any identification, not having any motivation based on your ego-desires suddenly becomes a tremendously valuable asset. Now it's the only piece that was missing: Now you are finally ready to master the "Art of Seva": Give without any expectations at all just for the sake of letting creativity flow out of you and help relieve the suffering in the world in your unique, individual (and often completely unexpected) way. Totally honest, in complete integrity. The Lover caressing the Beloved with every action - the Creator falling in love with the Created.
What happens then is the opposite of becoming reclusive: From moment to moment, you fall more and more in love with everything surrounding you. Like an innocent child in a beautiful garden you are in awe - and you have your cultivated wisdom with you, so you're innocent but not at all naive!
You realize on deeper and deeper levels that everything is divine. You don't just know it as a concept, it's a direct experience. You can see that every movement is motivated by divine love.
And the more you fall in love with everything, the more you become one with everything.
Eventually, you realize that you are everything around you, and you realize the greatest joke in history: You have been that all the time, while you were struggling with that little ego you had created because your divine self wanted to play with itself. And how can you play with yourself when you are the only thing that exists? The divine wanted to know "who am I" ... but you made a little mistake: You were satisfied with an answer. But really: When the "divine" is infinite potential, how long do you think that answer will take to be completed?
Little mistake, rather severe consequences ... but we were at the resolution of that "little mistake" ... so ..
You realize that actually, everything is inside of you. Your "ego" is no longer the small self: Now your "ego" is ever-expanding, experiencing the answer to God/Goddess's° question "who am I" one moment at a time (° you know what to do ;-) ). Instead of drawing a conclusion "this is who I am", you open up and realize: I'm that, and that, and that ... and at the same time, you realize that you are not ;-)
Welcome, Neo, to the Real World!
That is when you - the divine child - are really born.
It's not the end of the journey, it's the real beginning ;-)
That's what Jesus meant when he said "I am the son of God". And what he really wanted was for as many people as possible to realize was that THEY are the children of God just like he is. That is how Buddha realized that not all life is suffering - but life is suffering until that journey begins, from that moment, all life is ever expanding-bliss!
That's what any illumined master, like Krishna, Tjehute, Rama, Quan Yin (to name a few that are fairly well-known) experiences.
And it's our destiny to walk in their footsteps.
The world needs us!
The world needs you!