Thursday, December 23, 2010

Meditation and personality change

When I was a student in Psychology, the late Rev Dr. Eric Kvan, our department head, led my tutorial group of our personality course. On his door, there pasted a prominent note in Chinese: 江山易改,本性難移 (It's easier to overthrow an authoritarian regime than to change a person's personality). I think it is more so nowadays, as we are wary about people (with sweet tongues) trying to change our personality in ways that baffle our rational thinking. I mean with so many new-age gurus trying to exert their influence in the free market, like with one saying the world will end on a certain day, claiming (correctly) that he got an inside message (in Carl Jung's terminology he was in touch with one godhead archetype), and like with another saying that our minds have been/are controlled by aliens (again influenced by an archetype - all assuming these gurus are honest people). And the disciples might buy into it not as a metaphor but as a (disprovable) scientific statement! And the Catholic Church's Assumption of Mary dogma has better not to be taken literally otherwise some Christians might try to find the where-about of Holy Mary in the Universe!

We modern men simply don't want to be influenced by irrational force. We simply can't suspend our disbelief and let our unconscious to have a chance to balance our consciousness for a beneficial change in personality. And we are not necessarily wrong, there are indeed religious cults around that do more harm than good (of course there are good ones too, but who to tell us which is which?). Our organized religions can't help either, I mean unless one is completely satisfied with boosting up one's ego during some Protestant gathering that says all things happened according to God's wish or with God's intention; and we are made to believe so through some kind of modern day group dynamics tricks learned from the psychologists.

That's why we see so many young people nowadays seeking spiritual advice from astrology, tarot card and oracles of Taoist or Buddhist temples. And they are not necessarily bad. Individual search for spirituality (alone or in combination with organized religious practice) seems to be the only option for the modern man.

Who are we? Where do we come from? Where do we go? What do I want myself to be? And after all, how can I change myself into a better person, and what is the meaning of better? All valid spiritual questions that cannot be answered through our cognition alone, but has to go through some spiritual experience that hopefully will result in some kind of personality change for good.

It seems to me that the current established religions have no problem answering our cognitive questions or questions raised by our consciousness. Experiential practice however will be needed to help us achieve our final goal. Meditation seems to be a good supplementary practice to this end. During meditation, one has to suspend one's cognition and disbelief, otherwise one cannot get into the zone. However, one can do it at one's own pace, and one's suspension is not under outside control but all within one's own grasp, most needed for the modern man who pride his own volition and decision making power.

Of course, meditation can be (and has been) approached from the point of view of purely physical and mental health. It is my belief that with a kind/moral heart (most of us do), one can get a personality change of a spiritual kind for the better through the practice - even though one doesn't think about it that way in the first place.

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