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Meditation Boosts The Ego Instead Of Silencing It, As Many Think
I spent ten years of my life meditating 2-3 hours everyday, and never missed a day. I was probably one of the best meditators in the country toward the end of my stint with the practice. I feel uniquely qualified to confirm what a recently replicated study on meditation’s influence on the self found:
Meditation gives you a big, arrogant head.
I think the immediate inclination of most people when they hear this is to object, which I do understand. They see something pious, humbling, in most eastern practices, almost all of which advance some flavor of asceticism, florid philosophies about the importance of self-nullification in achieving peace. And, you know, it does all sound interesting. Maybe if I let go of everything, I’d be more at peace? Less self-righteous, more compassionate?
But exactly the opposite happens for reasons explained in the study. When you train in letting everything go, letting go becomes a skill, and an unusual skill which no one else has, which not only differentiates you from everyone else, but sets a firm base for ideas about how you’re better than they are.
I was part of some meditation communities back in the day, and if there’s one thing I learned about meditators, it’s that they were extremely self-impressed. Impressed with their own strange mind skills almost to the point of obsession, and I was too. I wasn’t more patient or more compassionate. The burgeoning inclination of my mind toward itself made me worse in ways that are hard for people to understand.
I wanted nothing to do with anything besides the strange skills I was developing alone in my room, I didn’t have time for them. The affairs of the entire universe seemed less important than my own head, and naturally it became hard to value people who didn’t value their inner world more than their outer lives.
Here’s the abstract of the study:
Mind-body practices enjoy immense public and scientific interest. Yoga and meditation are highly popular. Purportedly, they foster well-being by curtailing self-enhancement bias. However, this "ego-quieting" effect contradicts an apparent psychological universal, the self-centrality principle. According to this principle, practicing any skill renders that skill self-central, and self-centrality breeds self-enhancement bias. We examined those opposing predictions in the first tests of mind-body practices' self-enhancement effects. In Experiment 1, we followed 93 yoga students over 15 weeks, assessing self-centrality and self-enhancement bias after yoga practice (yoga condition, n = 246) and without practice (control condition, n = 231). In Experiment 2, we followed 162 meditators over 4 weeks (meditation condition: n = 246; control condition: n = 245). Self-enhancement bias was higher in the yoga (Experiment 1) and meditation (Experiment 2) conditions, and those effects were mediated by greater self-centrality. Additionally, greater self-enhancement bias mediated mind-body practices' well-being benefits. Evidently, neither yoga nor meditation fully quiet the ego; to the contrary, they boost self-enhancement.
I always say that eastern practices are in the top ten worst things I’ve ever put my time in, and the reasons I think are obvious.
There is no peace through being able to stop thinking about our problems at will, our problems are still out there. And there’s no humility in withdrawing from the world, true humility follows from giving ourselves to other people, in total rejection of the idea that we could ever be too important to give our time to them. We were made to live in and interact with the world, not on the bank of the river of our imagination. That’s just plain weird, it’s anti-human.
Peace comes from victory over our struggles, from winning the heart of the pretty girl we wanted so badly, from taking risks and seeing even small payoffs, from moving forward even when we think we can’t move at all, from advancing the health and welfare of those we know, and so on.
I completely reject all philosophies of self-withdrawal, and I think everyone else should too. These are all basic ideas in Judaism, which I think is more perfect than anything on earth, but thats another conversation. For now I’ll just say, as a rule, we shouldn’t trust anyone or anything that wants us to nullify ourselves as if the problem in life is our desires and not the things in the way of fulfilling them.
There are a lot of messages of self-renunciation these days, best to avoid all of them.
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