Lilo Woop took part in her first Deepening retreat in Acem Meditation earlier this year. What did she get out of it?

The meditations during the deepening retreat were adventurous, interesting, deep, heavy, joyful, and intense. It was not simply a question of ‘more hours, more process.’ I found myself in a whole ocean of emotions, memories, pictures, and sensations.

For Lilo, this experience has a profound relational dimension. Although she was alone in her meditation, something in the meditative activity gave her a sense of existential belonging.

I could sense a deep connection, not only to my inner world but also to other people. It felt beautiful and affected my whole being in this world. I discovered how existing in my life was related to experiences I had in my childhood and how I couldn’t see or accept them before. Now, I can allow myself to exist as I am.

What did you learn about yourself from exploring this inner, relational world?

I realized that I have a very strong need for silence and connection in my life. It feels so much richer actively to interact with whatever shows up inside of me in this working space of meditation, instead of suppressing unpleasant issues or distracting myself. It also makes me less pessimistic about my life, the world, and the future in general.

Stress

Lilo works as a social worker with employees who are dealing with addiction and other health issues. She trains former addicts to become contact persons for others who struggle, and she provides support for all kinds of difficulties they encounter.

She learned Acem Meditation in 2018 when she combined her studies with work and had to travel a lot between different cities.

I felt a lot of stress and demands from outside. My cousin recommended Acem Meditation. He talked about how meaningful it was for him and how much of a coping strategy it was, enabling him to deal with life in general. I became curious and signed up for a beginner’s course.

How would you describe your first experience of closing your eyes and repeating the meditation sound?

I remember feeling a great relief. I only had to sit there and repeat the sound as gently as possible. And that was enough. Seriously? I couldn’t imagine that this could really be all there was to it. I guess in the long run, the easiest things can often be the most challenging. But at that moment, I just felt somehow confused about the easiness of this task.

At the same time, it felt attractive, especially since I sensed that my legs were resting. I realized how I had been running around the months before. I felt calmer than I had felt in a long time.

Challenges and discoveries

Although Lilo had a positive first experience with Acem Meditation, she soon experienced something that is not uncommon among meditators: the difficulty of establishing a regular meditation routine.  “I knew that this was doing me good”, she explains.

But for some reason, this other voice also tried to distract me. This inner personal and cultural voice is that you should consistently achieve something in what you are doing, or there should be a clear goal, clear, measurable effects, a strategy, and so on. On the other hand, I felt a lot of guilt and shame about not being able to choose to take care of myself. I mean, if I cannot do something regularly in my life that does me good, am I not really interested in a good life? So, there was a lot of quite harsh judgment about myself as well.

She managed to get to the core of the problem in an Acem guidance group.

I realized that I am not a bad person if I don’t meditate. It was interesting to see how this idea contains a lot of self-criticism. I also discovered that judging myself for not being perfect is a big part of my life and that accepting these feelings and thoughts as part of me is also valuable. It opens an avenue with which to deal with these issues and topics of my life. I am able to choose more freely.

For Lilo, realizing that meditation is not something one has to do but can do was essential.

This perspective enabled me to persevere and to meditate every day. I felt that I encountered my inner world and became better able to make life-changing decisions. For example, I quit my previous job, which was, in a way, very valuable and interesting. But there were just too many distractions and a lot of confusion. Because of the meditation, I was more able to take myself seriously regarding my own needs. I realized I couldn’t make use of my talents to the extent I could and wanted to in the job I had, and that I had to move on to something else.

Restlessness

In addition to the challenge of establishing a regular meditation routine, Lilo encountered another widespread phenomenon among meditators: restlessness. Some months after she learned the technique, she experienced a great deal of it during her daily meditations.

Although today she is able to identify the feeling as one of restlessness, this was not altogether clear when the feeling first began to emerge.

It wasn’t easy for me to identify what was happening. I felt like something was fundamentally wrong. I was not meditating well but simply wasting my time sitting there.

I also felt isolated by this feeling because I thought nobody in the world could feel the same as I did. Fortunately, again, I was brave enough to share this feeling in a guidance group. And again, it felt like a relief. A bunch of other people could relate to this feeling – they had felt it themselves.

Now an experienced meditator, Lilo sees these phases of resistance as fruitful parts of the meditation process.

I guess it is a recurring pattern for me, and maybe I will experience this repeatedly. But I also think I’m more capable of understanding the process perspective of what is taking place. I have also gotten used to no meditation session being like another. My meditations are constantly changing.

There is always much more in my mind that waits to be explored. When difficult phases are over at some point, I have access to more. And there is this strong feeling of belonging, not being an individual and looking at the world from the outside but feeling connected to life.

Again, I can refer to the picture of an ocean, the idea of being surrounded by an endless dimension. It feels like I am dealing with something that both is inside me and, at the same time, around me, without being able to understand the totality of it all. Also, the deep understanding that one has no urge or even possibility to understand completely. I think this is an important aspect of Acem Meditation. To meditate is to try to understand something. We try to deal with the issues of our lives. That can be quite beautiful.

Daily meditations

How does Acem Meditation impact your current everyday life?

I experience that I am much more aware and in contact with my feelings and needs every day. Meditation is the first thing I do in the morning, so I get up with more energy. I know the first thing is to sit there in silence and allow this space for myself. I sense that I am more sensitive and capable of dealing with stressful situations. Sometimes, I realize I can see many more options in most situations.

For example, I can deal with my clients’ requests about holding back or giving advice to someone who seeks help. Every person needs to be seen and valued individually, and it is seldom a simple ‘either/or’. In most cases, the relationship defines the options. It can be valuable to stay in the situation and explore all the unique options together. This is like meditation: no situation is exactly the like another. We can try to develop a free mental attitude towards every unique situation. Usually, there is the opportunity to see more.

And how has the Deepening Retreat you just took part in in January influenced your everyday meditations?

Although I already knew Acem Meditation as a very enriching and experience-intensive form of meditation from other retreats and activities, the deepening retreat surprised me with its intensity. For a few weeks afterward, I felt a wonderful, deep silence in my life, and my daily meditations were often pleasant. After about three months, a phase of resistance in meditation began to arise, and it no longer felt pleasant at all to sit there, repeating the sound in this restlessness with the strong feeling that 45 minutes would never end.

In the end, staying there, right in this place and trying to expand my awareness is rewarding. There is always some little, tiny thing that can be perceived beyond the restlessness. Meditation feels very rewarding and gives me much hope for the future. No matter how desperate or hopeless you feel, there is always something you can take care of.

Interviewer: Mattias Solli

Language editor: Eirik Jensen