Why do I meditate? Why do I go to retreats?

When I am surrounded by silence, things begin to happen, says Birgitta Hellmark Lindgren.

Before I left for my last retreat, a colleague asked why I regularly go to meditation retreats. I started to explain the technicalities of Acem Meditation, and she listened politely and then she asked again: “Why do you go to retreats?” It was a good question, and after the retreat, I wrote the following answer.    

Part of the answer is that if I take myself into my arms now and then I feel good.

And it has become a habit.

Again and again I embrace myself and repeat my meditation sound, as lightly and gently as I am able to, there and then.

I embrace and tell myself: You are OK just the way you are.

I touch my cheek cautiously and stroke my own back and pause in order to listen to myself.

I try to listen without judgment and analysis.

Just listen like a heart with big ears and no mouth.

I explain to myself that here at the retreat center I am welcome precisely the way I am.

And when I accept myself like this, and when I am surrounded by silence, things begin to happen.

And that is another part of the answer to why I go to retreats: I like confusion.

Confusion and insecurity attract me, with a mixture of enjoyment and fear.

As Karl (Skorpan) says in Astrid Lindgren’s story about the Brothers Lionheart: “I am afraid, but I do it anyway.”

Over time I have learned to appreciate the insecurity my confusion creates.

Because now I know that I am on my way towards new learning.

Before every retreat, it feels a little like starting anew, in some way or another.

Not in any dramatic sense, like quitting my job or selling my house and moving to India.

More like remaining in the boat, throwing up into the air what is being actualized during meditation in order to take a calm and close look at it while it is whirling around like snowflakes in the air, before falling to the earth again.

In somewhat new formations.

But at times during meditation, all these philosophical thoughts may also be gone with the wind.

Possibly most of the time.

And when I start to doubt, I embrace myself, touch my cheek, and repeat my meditation sound as softly and gently as I can.


By Birgitta Hellmark Lindgren

Translation: Anne Grete Hersoug

Copy editor: Ann Kunish


International Training in Meditation Guidance

 – first time outside of Scandinavia

Are Holen helped Taiwanese instructors Joy Lu, Susan Cai, and Denise Chang enhance their guidance skills – here at an Acem Meditation retreat in Yilan outside Taipei.

Few things are more distinctive of Acem’s way of teaching than its various forms of meditation guidance. Other schools of meditation often give standard answers to common questions about the practice: «repeat the sound effortlessly», «let thoughts come and go», «don’t try to pursue pre-set goals», etc. In addition to such general advice, meditation guidance in Acem often deals with personal and existential issues. The meditation experience is always the starting point, but quite often a guidance session develops into an exploration of the meditator’s life issues and personal mindset.

Being a meditation guide requires extensive training. During the past few years, Acem’s founder Dr. Are Holen has been in charge of guidance training, working with experienced Acem instructors in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The training programme is based on discussions of anonymized excerpts from guidance sessions that these instructors have conducted. The discussions stimulate their theoretical understanding as well as their technical skills and empathic sensitivity.

Last autumn, this type of guidance training was brought outside Scandinavia for the first time, to Taiwan. Three Taiwanese instructors had transcribed excerpts from their anonymized guidance sessions and were ready for comments and discussion. Each of the excerpts contained quite a few pages – in Chinese. All the material was translated into the course language, which was English. Since subtle linguistic distinctions can play a central role in the interpretation of a guidance session, it was by no means obvious that this would work well. There was a risk that too much of the core meaning would be «lost in translation», and that the value of the entire training programme would thereby be reduced.

Fortunately, the experience turned out to be quite fruitful. Though some details may have been lost or distorted on the way from Chinese to English, by and large, guidance training based on translated excerpts proved to be quite valuable. A few days after the training sessions, all three instructors led guidance groups at a week-long retreat outside Taipei. The participants expressed great satisfaction with the depth of the guidance discussions. The guides’ expertise had clearly reached a higher level.

By Halvor Eifring

Copy editor: Ann Kunish

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