Thoughts on the Meditator Ego

If your practice is good, you may become proud of it. What you do is good, but something more is added to it. Pride is extra.

-Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I started writing about the mind last year, but haven’t published a post in a while because some time ago I uncovered yet another layer of my meditator ego.

My meditator ego is a little sneaky, you see. Yours might be too.

I think we all start (or most of us start) as a humble beginner: “Ugh, I’m so bad at this meditation thing, *googles ‘meditation tips for beginners'”

But eventually we, we grow. We build concentration, have insights, and maybe even have some “cool” experiences.

  • At its most bottom layer, maybe we think to ourselves: “Wow, that guy is totally mindless, he needs to meditate.”
  • Maybe we think we’re beginning to get good at this thing. Maybe we start to tell others how awesome meditation is.
  • Or, maybe it’s just that we think we’ve learned at least a thing or two about the nature of the mind, and think about it with a certain confidence (or, write a blog/forum post).
  • Maybe it’s more subtle than that – maybe we now sit with an expectation of what’s supposed to happen, and seek to recreate it. We “know” how things are going to be, and so some part of us sits to get that thing or feeling.

In my own practice, it seems as if the meditator ego is a naturally emerging thing, taking on new shapes as I’ve morphed from a beginner to a more seasoned meditator.

Almost as if it’s built into the nature the process of meditating itself… as though you were building a fire and need to take care not to get burned. Play with fire long enough, and you are bound to have some experience getting burned. Hey – Patrul Riponche wrote about it!

Personally, I’m not sure how best to deal with the meditator ego – it seems to grow two different heads after I chop the previous one off.

With the clarity of thought that meditation affords (especially to experienced mediators) – dealing with these thoughts during meditation is easy. It’s just another phenomena rising and passing away. Another thing happening that’s not “you.”

But outside of meditation, back in the other 9/10ths of your waking, conscious hours, it may not be so easy. Sure, it’s simple to stand up and say, “Okay, I realize that I know nothing”  – but to actually full embody that wisdom is another thing entirely.

Experiencing a new insight (or any of the deeper concentrated states called jhanas) can be tremendously exciting. Being able to replicate them is exciting. Learning and experiencing new things is exciting.  “Progress” is exciting. In fact, it all can be rather intoxicating.

Perhaps this is why I recently heard a Dharma talk in which a Zen priest noted: “If you sit to do something, you might already be a bit off.”

In concentration meditation, we bring ourselves gently back to our breath when we find ourselves distracted. Over time, it’s as though this “concentration muscle” grows, and we just find it easier and easier to stay concentrated and return to concentration.

Maybe that’s how grappling with the ego works. Maybe it isn’t so much a hydra, as just a nature of the mind that can be quieted over time with a simple but determined adherence to technique and method.

Clouds passing in the sky. You find yourself distracted – notice it. And return to technique.

You find yourself prideful, knowing something? Notice it, and return to technique.

That’s where I’m at with the meditator ego – what are your thoughts?


3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Meditator Ego

  1. Hi,

    My main problem with following bloggers and authors and ‘seekers’ of the sort is that there is always a point in time when their ego seems to become larger than their words and wisdom combined. And typically, I brush that off, as I know that is just a part of being human and it’s not always at a detriment to what they want to say. But in some ways it has always bugged me–this whole business of blog writing always seems to be based on needing to prove that your way is the best way and that your answers are THE answers, and any self doubts seem to only be written about to further the goal of presenting oneself in a specific matter.

    Just you acknowledging this really allows me to open my mind to what you have to say. It is refreshing. I think it is the philosophical (not the right word, but you catch my drift) equivalent to reading a Hemingway novel in that is shows so much more candor and allows trust from me the reader.

    I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated this post. I’m sometimes afraid that these times call more for false confidence and it seems to me stroking one’s ego does nothing but increase page views/sales/ whatever it is that people are seeking these days. Then again, I am just delving into meditation, so maybe I will find more of what I am looking for in this community.

    I look forward to reading more from your blog, as this was the first thing I’ve read.

  2. “My main problem with following bloggers and authors and ‘seekers’ of the sort is that there is always a point in time when their ego seems to become larger than their words and wisdom combined. And typically, I brush that off, as I know that is just a part of being human and it’s not always at a detriment to what they want to say. ”

    You’ll notice I slowed down writing earlier this year. And at around the time of this posting I basically stopped. This is because I was noticing in myself a lack of sincerity and humility. I thought I need to pause and focus on my practice.

    To your quote above, I would not brush this off. When one’s words are clearly louder than their wisdom – their moment to moment carrying of themselves – I am extremely cautious and skeptical with these people. If you practice with a living teacher or with a living community, you will see that some practice (or strive to practice) in each moment of each day. And they talk the talk AND walk the walk.

    You might find the book “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” interesting and useful on this subject.

    Anyways, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I may soon begin posting again… slowly.

  3. I understand this feeling I think.

    The reason it can seem to grow is because when you fully realize you are prideful about your practice, it creates a meta-pride, if that makes sense, a pride about realizing you’re prideful.

    See, I just felt a bit of pride for understanding that.

    I guess I just gotta sit with it instead of getting sucked into thought-loops about my pride.

    Good article.

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