Will meditation make me dull and lacking emotion?
The short answer is no! Absolutely not. It’s a hard, no. The people who I know and I have known across decades who meditate are the most expressive emotionally. They’re full of joy and lightness and playfulness. They’re open to being vulnerable. They acknowledge the brevity and fragility of life. They understand we’re only here for a short time and life can be precarious. We need to live it fully, enjoy it fully, express ourselves fully while we’re around. While we continue to have the precious gift of body, mind, heart, and breath.
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Back in the day, I spent some time with the people in my life that I’ve come across who meditated the most. This was in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, back in the 1990s. The monks at this monastery spent hours upon hours every day, meditating sometimes getting up at three or 4:00 AM. They were the most expressive, cheerful, playful, happy, laughing group of individuals that I’ve ever come across.
Doing a lot of meditation did not make these monks subdued or dull. In fact, it brought brightness to their life.
So you’re not going to lose your emotions by meditating. Now I can hear you thinking but there are emotions I do want to lose, like my anger or my frustration.
Your emotions will always be with you. And in many cases they might intensify and amplify.
So why meditate? What’s the point to if everything is just going to become more intense?
A common analogy in the ancient meditation texts compares meditating to polishing a metal. Sometimes they talk about meditation is like polishing copper. Copper over time out in the open oxidizes. It becomes covered in a patina of tarnish which a dark, dull surface layer. Polishing copper reveals the bright, shiny reddish brown natural color of the copper.
Sometimes the metal being discussed in the meditation texts is silver. It’s the same concept as copper in that silver also oxidizes over time. I friends with silver jewelry who dunk it in a cleaning solution and leave it for a few minutes or sometimes an hour or two.
When they pull out the silver jewelry after it has been soaking in the solution for little while, it comes out bright and shiny.
Sometimes the metal being referred to in the meditation texts is gold. It’s the same idea about polishing it to reveal the bright colour under the surface build up.
The aim is to remove the tarnish, the patina from the surfaces of these various metals.
To make the analogy a bit more modern, we can think about a mirror. By meditating we are just cleaning the mirror. You’re trying to see your unblemished self. If a mirror is fogged over or it’s really dusty you’re not seeing your clear self.
In these analogies, the mirror and the metal what are the tarnish or surface dullness we are trying to clear? The tarnish is how are minds are covered with our cultural assumptions, our family expectations, our peer group expectations. All of these cover up the real us deep inside. The idea is that meditation helps us just polish these away or dust them away.
Another modern day analogy could be, we could think about a selfie camera where there’s smudges on the camera. You’re not going to get a good selfie. You need to clean the camera first. Now in this analogy, the benefit of meditation is that it will allow us to be more fully gloriously, gorgeously narcissistic. If that’s what you’re looking for, meditation can provide you with that as well.
You know, I’m only kind of half joking when I say this, because earlier we asked what about my anger, my frustrations, my annoyances? I don’t want them to amplify. I mean, people that would really want their narcissism to amplify our narcissists. So that would be consistent. But for most of us is probably not desirable.
Is meditation going to make these feelings grow?
Yes. There is a chance those feelings will grow. Those behaviors will grow.
But what else can grow is our awareness of these feelings, our ability to see them happening as they’re happening. Hopefully meditation has boosted our awareness of those feelings.
Nevertheless, it’s a real danger that unhelpful or unproductive or damaging feelings will grow as we meditate more. Which will bring us to the next episode. It’ll be our 15th episode and it’s high time we asked the question can meditation be bad for us? Tune in next time to find out that answer.
But until then, don’t worry about meditation making you more dull or making you unemotional. The point of meditation is not to dull our personality. It’s to bring it forward more, to express it more, to scrub away the worldly programming that has created a patina, a green coating that covers our deeper expressive selves.