The concept of self, or “me”, is brought into existence moment by moment through identification with thought or emotion. In a scientific sense, we provide our energy to the neurons firing in our brain that correlate with whatever thought or memory that happens to be “in the drivers seat” at the moment.
As an example, we might have some particularly painful or depressing memory that is stored inside our mind. We stop to meditate, and this particular story begins to play itself. Because of our tendency to indulge thoughts that contain a strong emotional charge to them, these are the ones that require the most time from the meditators perspective.
Indulgence has two polarities, one polarity is to resist a particular thought. It is painful, we don’t want to have it, we suppress it or push it way down. We find some distraction to keep us from having to process this pain. In the opposite polarity, we get lost in the emotional or thought process, giving our mental energy away to this story. We continuously replay and rehash the memory, and this is another way of keeping the story alive. Many people prefer to hang on to even the most painful and depressing stories inside because it keeps the story alive. It keeps the self intact. Bad press is better than no press.
Meditation is no press. It is a position of indifference and neutrality to the thoughts that come and go inside our minds. This can be extremely uncomfortable for the self, because it is basically a small death. Each thought or story is a mini-me, and all of these thoughts and stories collectively form our sense of self, or the ego. So each time one of them comes up and is simply ignored through the process of meditation, it is a small starving of the ego. A little piece dies, another slice of “me” is discarded.
The mind hurts, it tries to cover up this emptiness that is exposed. It doesn’t know how to work without the continual self-referential story. The challenge to the meditator is to understand this mechanism, both experientially and scientifically. We come to understand the ego for what it is, and how it needs to be dropped. The vacuum that remains when we let our self drop away becomes larger and larger, we start to feel that clear, timeless consciousness inside of us.