How can you use your meditation to evolve, grow, and realize your full potential? That’s the key question you must answer when you begin to meditate, because like everything in life, meditation needs to be meaningful and have a worthy purpose. Every individual is unique, but I’d like to offer that meditation practice—or any aspect of your spiritual life—becomes meaningful by allowing you to meet and then become your true self.
What Is Your True Self?
Your true self isn’t other-worldly, and you don’t have to call it the soul, Atman, or higher self. The experience is what matters, and experiences of the true self occur all the time. These experiences are marked by how they feel:
Those are the basic hallmarks. But as experiences of the true self deepen, a wide range of feelings begin to emerge, including:
Even though an experience of the true self is normal and natural, it is transient, coming and going apparently on its own. Why can’t you sustain the true self all the time? The most practical answer is that your other selves are constantly competing with it.
You Have Different “Selves”
The word “self” poses deeper challenges and deeper possibilities than most people realize. When someone says, “I just want to be myself” or “Be the best version of yourself you can be,” the meaning is complicated by the fact that you have different selves. You call on each self, and transition smoothly from one to another, according to the situation.
Once you start paying attention to this, you will see how the process works. Imagine yourself talking to your doctor or your boss at work, which requires restraint, respect, courtesy, and the setting aside of private feelings. This is your social self. Now imagine going home and complaining about having a bad day. This is your private self, reserved for situations when you feel safe and listened to. There is also an unconscious self where you bury your deepest fears, traumas, and wounded memories.
Being a mature adult requires you to know which self is appropriate in a given situation. Some people never overcome their child or adolescent self, which makes it nearly impossible for them to control their impulses. Needless to say, this results in awkward situations when their impulses are inappropriate. But if you try to be absolutely self-disciplined, it comes at a cost of shutting down your spontaneous side.
Your True Self Stands Apart
One thing that makes the true self so rewarding is that it doesn’t have an agenda. The other selves all do. You may spend your days fulfilling your desires, obeying your whims and impulses, meeting the duties and demands of an organized working life, and seeking to feel safe and secure. No matter who you are, your mind is occupied with the dictates of the social, private, and unconscious self, to which you can add old conditioning and memories accumulated from past experiences going back to your infant and child self.
The whole system is complex, and each person inhabits a unique self-system. Only the true self stands apart. It isn’t involved in the everyday business of “I, me, mine” or the story you build around your life. It isn’t involved in old conditioning and memories, or in habits, beliefs, fears, and wishes.
This detachment from your other selves is the main reason that higher consciousness is described as liberation. You are liberated from the agendas that create the pendulum swing between pleasure and pain, duty and desire, fulfillment and frustration. Your other selves were born in a world of opposites, or duality, and as long as you inhabit these other selves, a constant pendulum swing becomes the nature of life.
The true self exposes you to another kind of life, and as meditation practice deepens, the grip of your other selves begins to lessen. The mind has its source in pure consciousness, and once you are settled in pure consciousness, the self you automatically identify with is the true self. There are gradations of experience. You can expect glimpses of the true self to become deeper, more frequent, and more lasting. This is the evolution experienced by almost everyone. It takes time to establish yourself in pure consciousness.
How to Know You Found Your True Self
But every step along the path is rewarding because there is a charm to the true self that silently but surely pulls you toward it. By charm I mean that the following experiences begin to become normal:
- A sense of mental and physical lightness.
- Feeling more centered in yourself.
- Feeling safe.
- Knowing that your life has meaning.
- A sense of bliss in everyday activity.
- Lessening of negative emotions like fear, anger, guilt, or shame.
- An increase in “aha” moments of insight.
- The end of a fear of death.
- Feelings of love, kindness, and empathy.
- A desire to serve rather than to live only for yourself.
None of these experiences are miraculous; everyone has had them at times, even if memory and conditioning have clouded them over. Removing the cloudiness is part of the process of waking up. The ultimate value of the true self is that you wake up to who you really are. It turns out, as you eventually will discover, that all the other selves were constructs of the mind. However useful a mind-made self is, you cannot escape the fact that it contains an illusion, specifically the illusion that your personal identity is a mental construct. Reality can be defined, in fact, as where the true self lives. For all these reasons no project is more valuable than finding your true self.