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.

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Beware of the Hazardous “I know things” Phase

Most of us interested in meditation and the world of the mind will spend a huge amount (if not a majority) of our time in an awkward middle phase.

This awkward middle phase lies somewhere between the beginner and the expert, and comes with one particularly insidious trap:

knowledge graph

As beginners it’s easy to admit to ourselves that we know nothing.

But as we advance our ego steps in – we’ve been doing this for a while… two weeks, two months, two years, two decades, two centuries (hey Yoda). So, hey, we feel like we know some things.

But are you really in the Expert phase (even if you just know something specific), or are you actually in the Hazard phase?

While the graph above isn’t exactly a scientific endeavor, it matches up with the psychology in this area. A phenomena known as the the Dunning-Kruger effect provides evidence for a common intuition: that people with partial information do a bad job at evaluating just how partial their knowledge really is. In other words, the less you know, the less apt you are at recognizing how little you know. And as you know more, your ability to fully understand your own ignorance grows. Or, in the psychologist’s language, the unskilled lack the ability to “to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately.”

In meditation circles, everybody thinks they know how it is. On Facebook, on Reddit, on Youtube, in person. “Conscious experience? I know something about that.”

And as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about and writing about this stuff, I get it. I fall into this trap on a regular basis.

I’ve revisited beginner techniques that I thought I’ve mastered, and have been truly humbled by the realization of how much power my ego had over my sense of “what I know.” I don’t want to be at the same place “on the path” in ten years because I was wrong about something I thought I knew.

So, do you know things?

Or do you “know nothing?”

If so, you’re in good company, standing right alongside Jon Snow and I. Come on in. Our minds our open, and we’re ready to learn.


You are NOT your first thought: Understanding Your Dual Mind

thought light bulb

We usually think of ourselves as having one mind. You’re you. I’m me. We’re each one person.

But if you’ve ever set your keys down and realized you have NO idea where, weren’t sure if you left the iron/stove on, or skipped ahead and lost time because you went into “autopilot” mode during a commute, you should know your mind isn’t so simple.

Sometimes, our “observing” mind takes a back seat entirely. Othertimes, it’s there, but without any power:

  • You look back and get angry at yourself for watching TV instead of doing work. In fact, you feel guilty in the moment, but just keep going!
  • You rationally KNOW and WANT to exercise more or eat healthier, but when the time comes to make a healthy decision, you just can’t make it happen.
  • You know you need to start that big project, but… you will in an hour. Promise.

Most of us can intuitively conclude that something tricky is going on here.

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