The more appropriate image is that of a computer hacker. You're the hacker, and the computer you're hacking is your own mind. What a very curious, very interesting specimen it turns out to be. You MUST investigate further (it's called self-discovery). And so you hack on, because you want to understand your own mind.
The mind is also the only way you can know or understand anything about the universe. So what you're also trying to do is to know and understand your own universe.
There is no separation, you see. Everything you know about the universe, you know through your mind. Light enters your eyes. Sound enters your ears. Things touch your skin. All of these are sense data. None of it has any meaning, none of it has ever had any meaning, except the meaning that your mind attaches to it. That has been the way since you were born. That has been the way since before you were born.
Even what you're reading now is just light from your computer screen passing through your pupils into the back of your eye. The light stimulates the optic nerve which then transmits signals to your brain. The only meaning you find here is whatever meaning your brain attaches to those signals.
You could even put it this way - effectively, your mind is the universe. Change your mind, and you change the _____________.
There I go again. And I promised to make this a safe and simple post. Bad boy, Mr Wang.
Most people know very little about their own minds. (This actually means that they know very little about the universe, but then I shall not go into that. After all, I promised not to be strange today). Let me illustrate. I have an email from a reader, Mr CC Teo. His question:
"Can you give any tips as how to get started in meditation? The reason why I'm not heading out to the bookstores/library to purchased DIY meditation books is I've been warned by friends not to start meditation alone as a newbie. Is there any valid basis for their well-intentioned advice? If there is, is there any good centre of instruction/guru you can recommend?"
Yes, you can start meditating alone. But yes, there is some basis for their well-intentioned advice. The basis is not valid and stems from a misunderstanding of what meditation does. I'll explain.
When you start meditating, and you do it correctly, there will be a disturbing phase you have to pass through. It comes in varying degrees of intensity, and it might get uncomfortably intense. However, the fact that you enter such a phase at all shows that you are really meditating.
During this phase, things are perfectly fine when you are actually meditating. Nothing extraordinary happens. It could even be a little boring, sitting still and quiet for so long.
The disturbing part is when you finish your meditation and go about your everyday life. You go to work or school, you meet your friends, you talk to people, you go to the supermarket, the cinema, the drycleaner. On the surface your daily routine is exactly the same. Your external, observable behaviour is exactly the same.
But on the inside - you can feel that something has changed. Something has definitely changed. Your mind feels disturbed and chaotic. You sense anger in it. You sense deep fear and anxiety. Your mind feels distracted and irrational.
And you sense and feel all these things, many times each day, throughout the day. Even when there is no apparent reason. Even when you're doing perfectly ordinary, everyday things like talking to your mother or buying food at the kopitiam.
Since the only thing you've been doing differently is that you've taken up meditation, you identify meditation as the cause. You conclude that you may be doing something risky or harmful to your mind. You wonder if you might be making yourself mad.
This is alarming. You tell others, "Wow, if you ever want to take up meditation, you'd better not do it alone. You should sign up for a class and get a teacher." And you yourself immediately quit meditating.
This is unfortunate. Because you were actually meditating well, and making good progress.
As I said, most people do not know their minds. One of the key qualities that meditation seeks to develop is therefore mindfulness. Wikipedia describes it as follows:
"Mindfulness is a technique in which a person becomes intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It plays a central role in Buddhism, with Right Mindfulness being the seventh element of Noble Eightfold Path, the practice of which is considered a prerequisite for developing insight and wisdom. In a secular context, mindfulness is attracting
increasing interest among western psychiatrists as a non-pharmacological means of dealing with anxiety and depressive mood states."
What was happening? You were developing mindfulness. For the first time in your life, you were becoming aware of your own mind. You felt its anger, fear and anxiety, its distraction and irrationality.
But they had been there all along. Your mind had always been disturbed. Your mind had always been chaotic. The anger, the fear, the anxiety, the repressed impulses - they had been there all along. The only thing your meditation had done, up to this point, is reveal your own mind to you.
Yes, the average human mind is very disturbed. Most of us just don't know it. Now you do - you've come to know it about your own mind.
A major revelation - yes? ;)
This is the first step of what meditation can do for you.