This is the second part of my article on how meditation benefited me and the positive personality traits the practice brought about. In part one I wrote about how it helped me to accept my emotions without succumbing to them, to acknowledge the boundaries of the true me and to reassess my life values. In this section, I’ll further develop the theme of my personality metamorphosis.
At the end of the article I’ll write about some of the risks you could face when making such rapid changes to your personality.
I didn’t take long for the effects of meditation to begin manifesting in the most unexpected things, things I never would have suspected. At the start I hadn’t a clue what to expect from the practice. I guessed that it would bring me the serenity I so desperately needed, because in popular culture meditation is associated mainly with yogic tranquillity.
As for other effects, I had only the vaguest notions. I was sure that meditation would give me something, but exactly what, or how, I had no idea. So when changes started to happen, it came as a very pleasant surprise. I started to notice the germination of positive traits within myself and began to see that I was slowly but surely moving away from suffering and narrow-mindedness towards happiness and freedom.
Meditation strengthened the connection between my body and my mind
When I talk about the strength of the bond between body and mind, what I mean is the ability of the body to transmit information to the brain about what it needs to function properly.
Before I took up meditation, I was pretty much destroying my body methodically and with impunity. I could drink to oblivion, smoke a whole packet of cigarettes in one evening and sit in front of the computer all day long, all the while ignoring my body’s voice which persistently seemed to be telling me that it was being annihilated, that alcohol and nicotine were absolutely not what it needed.
Of course, there are very few people who don’t know that cigarettes and a sedentary lifestyle are bad for them; almost everyone is aware of this. But this knowledge becomes totally inconsequential when put side by side with the possibility of instant gratification.
Each new hangover reminded me of the harm I was doing myself. But still, I calmly tolerated it (or just started drinking again in the morning) and made it through until the next binge.
A while after I’d started meditating, I began to notice that the voice in my body was becoming more persistent than before. Every time I drank too much, my inner voice would yell, ‘What are you doing? And why?’ And the following morning, when I woke up to a tortuous hangover, I’d ask myself, ‘Why did you do that? Was it actually worth it? The whole day’s going to be wasted now! And for what?’
Nor was the voice silent when I smoked: ‘Why are you smoking? Where’s the sense in that? It’s horrible! It’s poisonous!’ It would be easy to think that an internal mentor had sprung up in me, following me around trying to stop me from indulging in my erstwhile pleasures; but it wasn’t exactly that. This ‘voice’ of awareness and intuition was guiding me, not just castigating me. It was telling me what I needed to do in order to feel good in myself, to escape the suffering that was nesting inside me.
So for example, if instead of getting drunk I went for a good long ramble, I’d say to myself, ‘See how good you feel after a walk. Nice one! You’re doing everything right now! Keep it up!’
When I talk about the ‘voice’ what I mean is simply the intuition that was guiding my actions. It wasn’t always an internal dialogue; it could be a feeling of satisfaction after spending time in the fresh air, or pronounced discontentment and a dully spent evening following an alcohol-fuelled party.
I started to understand very clearly what I needed to do in order to feel better, to not get down on myself, to be more energetic and healthy, for my body was telling me with great persistence. ‘Exercise! Walk more! Drink less! Stop smoking!’ is what it said to me.
I began to more acutely appreciate the harm my lifestyle was wreaking on my body, but furthermore I also more strongly realised the benefits of changing this lifestyle and improving my health. Thanks to the ‘voice’ of intuition and this new understanding, I gave up smoking, started to drink less (and subsequently quit altogether), bought cross-country skis and started to go out on them, took up jogging, spent less time in front of the computer, and relaxed and unwound more.
I can’t say that all of this happened because of the ‘voice’ of intuition alone; giving up harmful habits was preceded by a whole complex of personality changes. But nevertheless, the actions based on my body’s persistent requests served as a very strong impetus for changing my lifestyle.
The urge to pursue self-development arose
My ‘voice’ of intuition spoke not only of developing my body, but also my mind. I wished to move towards something, to develop my skills, and thus my inner voice insisted that it would be better for me to watch decent-quality, intelligent films rather than Hollywood blockbusters. That it would be good if I learned to play chess in order to develop my logic and memory. That I should read more educational literature.
I wanted to grow, and as I stopped being able to consistently damage my body with an easy mind, I also found I was no longer able to mindlessly spend time on stupid diversions. I felt more and more dissatisfied if I pointlessly wasted time, as I had before. Spending two hours watching TV series made me feel as though I was losing something, missing out on something important.
This was time I could be spending on self-development, improving my skills, enhancing my life. Why throw it away so easily? How could I have wasted so many minutes of my life on such nonsense before?
Again, I can’t remember the exact moment that this realisation came to me. In fact, as I wrote in the first part, there actually wasn’t such a ‘moment’. The insight came gradually, preceded by intuition – almost instinctive, unconscious acts. When I did something, I would have a kind of sixth sense that it was right. Only after my depressive symptoms passed and I became more sure of myself, people started to relate to me in a better way, and my life completely transformed for the better, did I really see that I was truly doing everything right.
It was following this that I started to articulate my actions directed towards self-development through words – the very principles I share on this site. I discovered many things through my own experience, which helped me to become better and, moreover, to help others.
I got rid of many preconceptions – false ideas which were limiting me and hindering my potential. At the same time I saw how others were suffering, not understanding the essence of some of those things that were now becoming clear to me and helping me to improve my life. I became convinced that I could avail myself to those who wanted to develop and get past the problems I’d also faced.
Thus the idea of setting up this site was born.
Until this time, I’d thought of people as complete, even perfect creations, with their qualities established from birth; now, I saw all their untapped potential. I realised that a person can become just what they want. An individual is like a clean slate which is filled up with writing over the course of their life. They have free will and as such are capable of positive transformations, development of personality traits and spiritual growth.
I stopped believing in talent, gifts, the fixed mindset, psychological ‘types’, innate personalities – things I’d taken for granted before. I became a proponent of the opinion that the majority of human traits are formulated during a lifetime, and that a person’s personality is the responsibility of them themselves, not the external environment or upbringing. We’ve been given responsibility for our self-actualisation; we bear full responsibility for ourselves, for the way we are. And we can’t transfer this onus onto external circumstances, our background or society.
Because if we try to shift this responsibility away from ourselves, we actually deny ourselves the freedom to change for the better; we disallow our free will and make ourselves dependent on fate.
This belief grew out of my own personal experience of change. I was able to change resolutely, to work on developing those qualities which before I’d thought of as an innately missing from me.
Nothing on this site has come from my intellectual speculation; it is a collection of clear and obvious truths which have been born out of personal experience.
I know very well that there’s still much waiting for me to learn. I continue to study and develop – a process which isn’t immune to mistakes and blunders…
I realised that there’s always something to learn from others
I began to notice strengths that were present in the people around me but missing from me myself. I started trying to adopt the positive traits I encountered in others, while at the same time attempting to avoid their mistakes. I asked myself, ‘Why are they better at that than me? What did they do to develop those qualities?’ When I found the answers to these questions, it helped me to inherit the strengths of those around me.
Others’ experiences nudged me towards change, told me it was possible. For example, I noticed that a friend of mine didn’t show irritation in the kinds of situations which annoyed me. I thought, ‘The fact that he can stay calm means that the issue is with me, in my annoyance. If my friend can keep his cool, it means I can too – if I work on myself.’
I tried to embrace the strengths not only of real people, but also of fictional characters. When I read the description of Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina my attention was immediately drawn to the way that Tolstoy talked about his habits. The Count did everything fluently and measuredly; he never rushed, even if pressed for time. He was always collected and organised.
When I read this, I reflected, ‘Yes! That’s how you should be! There’s never any need to rush!’ And from that moment I started to make sure I was never hurrying, as I had a tendency to race around everywhere. I tried to get rid of my hastiness.
I wouldn’t say that Vronsky was a completely positive character; there was much in the novel’s hero that I didn’t like. But I was trying to take from others, both fictional and real, only the good stuff.
I started to be more tolerant towards others
I began to drop to my pronounced critical attitude towards other people, which had been noticeable in me before. Conveniently ignoring my own flaws, I had been quick to judge others and quietly rail against them for their failings and mistakes.
I was all too ready to be indignant and get angry with others if I didn’t like something. My own culpability, my problems, remained unnoticed to me, and I foisted all responsibility on those around me.
But meditation helped to equip me with a more profound understanding of others on one hand, and to acknowledge my own imperfections on the other. These shortcomings became so clear to me that I felt deeply ashamed of myself and my behaviour. I was suddenly seeing all these failings that I’d never even thought about before.
I started to practise meditation to get rid of depression, not at all expecting that it would unleash upon me such a deluge of knowledge about myself!
Meditation pulled away the shroud of illusions which had been shielding my gaze, and I saw myself as I truly was – and I can’t say that this new view showed me to be as ideal as I’d thought before. There was much I didn’t like, and I felt regret and shame. I realised how often I’d been wrong and acted unreasonably; I wanted to change and turn over a new leaf.
When I saw this unsettling picture, I started to be a lot more tolerant of other people with their shortcomings and weaknesses.
Regardless of the fact that I didn’t always manage to maintain my patience, I made an effort to look for the good in others, to stop being so angry, jealous and malevolent in my attitudes to those around me. I started to reconstruct my negative attitude to others.
I felt as though I had more love within me, more compassion and empathy. People stopped seeming ‘bad’ to me, as a result of which I’ve rekindled relationships with people over the past few years I’d lost touch with due to disagreements and misunderstandings. I wanted to help and support others. It was as if others’ success and joy were becoming my success and joy, their sorrows partly my own.
I started to really listen to what others said to me, instead of simply broadcasting my opinions at them as I’d done before. I was sure that others had something to say, that another person’s mind contained a mass of valuable information to be shared. I realised the amount of strength there is in collective thought; it shapes such a variety of individual personalities all of which are limited in some way as individuals, while en masse they complement and enrich each other.
I realised that not only I existed, with my thoughts and problems, but a whole rich world of other people I’d never noticed before. My fears and issues stopped seeming as important as they had before.
I can’t claim that I found it easy to give support to this insight in practice. It’s not possible to say that once you ‘get it’ you can then act forever in accordance. I had to constantly remind myself of it, when egoism caused me to be angry or indignant, which led my understanding of others to vanish and my mind to be focused only on how to prove to everyone that I was right, to find ways to blame everyone else and make myself look like the goody.
The support I give many of my principles comes from the constant struggle I have with my ego, my weaknesses, my fears… Self-actualisation is born from the struggle with oneself; the many victories and losses allow the principles gain a foothold within you. Partaking in this struggle is a component of self-development.
Love, goodness and compassion became my values
Goodness stopped being fiction to me, a creation of moral relativism. I began to try to become better and help others. Although I’d always been critical of religion, the wisdom of all the world’s religions became clear to me. I became sure that compassion, love for your follow people and caring for others were more than just ideas. They truly were human virtues which would lead to happiness and freedom. Greed, vanity and malice, on the other hand, were vices which resulted only in suffering.
I didn’t begin to believe in any religion but arrived myself at the values they advocate. This synchronicity indicated to me that I was most likely on the right track, going where I ought to be, since my experience and the result of soul searching was coinciding with the experience accumulated by humankind in the development of religion.
The world’s religions contain wisdom which helps the personality attain harmony, happiness and freedom. And even if the concepts of the existence of God, life after death and the soul are removed, the wisdom remains. Religion could even be viewed in a certain way as a recipe for earthly happiness rather than reward in the afterlife.
It is possible that some great prophets in the past preached such a message, but human society – inclined to subordinate itself to the will of heaven, to invent gods which both punish and commend us – distorted the meaning of the original teachings. Who knows…
My health improved
This is a very important aspect of the influence meditation had on my life. In combination with a healthy lifestyle and exercise, it caused my energy levels to increase, my sleep to improve and for me to become less fidgety. I was almost always in good humour and less prone to mood swings than before. My head became clearer and my mind started to work much better. My concentration and attention improved along with my memory and self-discipline. I was able to relax without alcohol or cigarettes.
My depression, panic attacks, sleep problems and ADHD disappeared. I completely gave up all my bad habits, including drinking coffee.
I succeeded in working on getting rid of my personality flaws
I’ve already mentioned this in passing in previous points, but I’ll go into it in more detail here. As I’ve written, I started to realise that I didn’t have to be embittered, shy, cowardly, envious or unsure of myself. Firstly, I saw that I had many flaws and preconceptions that I’d never noticed before; I’d never even thought about them, or if I had I’d reduced them to unalterable, innate personality traits I could do nothing about.
Secondly, I stopped identifying myself with my flaws. I saw that malice and envy weren’t part of my true personality and started to perceive them as something external to my real self. It became clear why so many people struggling with their flaws describe it as battling demons.
When you stop seeing your flaws as a part of your true self, they begin to appear as something extraneous and external but which may still hold a certain amount of control over your personality. People therefore, thinking within the parameters of mystic, religious traditions, have presented these vices as demons or the voice of the devil inside.
Thirdly, I became convinced that once my shortcomings were no longer a part of my true self, I’d be able to get rid of them like shedding an extra skin. I wanted to be shot of them because they were hampering me, poisoning my life and making me suffer.
Coming through suffering and finding happiness and harmony are the main aims of self-development in my view. All the rest – improving willpower, getting rid of flaws, strengthening the body, increasing productivity, career growth – are simply means to achieving these aims.
This site came into being because I’d had enough of suffering and being a slave to my desires and instincts. I moved away from suffering firstly by feel and intuition, and then consciously and with purpose.
The risks of self-development
Spontaneous and drastic personal changes can result in various problems. It’s not always possible to adapt to these changes; sometimes the consciousness can’t keep up with them. I’ve written that meditation led me to relate more tolerantly to others, but this didn’t happen straight away.
When I started meditating, I saw all my imperfections, all my flaws, and I hated them so much that I couldn’t stand it when they were manifest in other people. When I saw someone justifying their weaknesses as I’d used to, it annoyed me. I found it hard to maintain my patience and neutrality when I saw my old self in others. I sought to judge and criticise instead of helping.
I still have to work on this behaviour to this day. Please don’t repeat my mistakes. Remember that people have a right to their weaknesses, and these weaknesses are present in us all, you included. Always try to help, if possible, instead of judging or trying to make them see that you’re right. If someone doesn’t want your help it means that they’re not yet ready, so leave them be. Remember that meditation develops love towards others however they are, and acceptance of the world as it is. It shouldn’t serve as any kind of excuse for rancour towards the world or the people around you.
Here is where I bring this article to an end. Of course, meditation gave me much more than I’ve written about here. I’ve gone through only the main and most palpable points. Some things I’ve not mentioned, while others I haven’t realised yet and am therefore not ready to write about.
One thing I can say for certain is that the decision to start meditating was vital to my life – it transformed it and redetermined my destiny. Other than the changes in my personality, daily meditation maintains my good mood and serenity and helps me get rid of fears and doubts, or simply accept these emotions. It helps me to arrange my priorities, to come to good life decisions, to remember what’s important. When I don’t meditate I feel that I’m losing my internal centre, an anchor point which stabilises my thoughts and feelings – the way the Moon’s gravitational pull holds the Earth’s axis steady. Meditation has helped me to better organise my thinking, to do it more fluidly and at the same time in a more ordered way.
I hope that this article has answered some of your questions on personal changes and the influence of meditation on people’s lives. Maybe it will help some of you adapt more organically to the changes going on inside you and help convince you that you’re moving in the right direction.
The main thing I’d like is to be useful, then interesting and engaging. If this text ends up being another reason for someone to take up meditation, or to keep the practice up, I’d consider its mission fulfilled.