Margareta Hammarlund-Udenaes
PhD, Professor, Acem Initiator

In what climate do you meditate? Is it easy to repeat your meditation sound and to let spontaneous thoughts come and go? When is it more difficult? When there are many thoughts, or no recognized thoughts, or when you have a tendency to fall asleep? Or perhaps when thoughts about certain situations come to mind?

1331710_10954270The repetition of a meaningless meditation sound with a free mental attitude can be compared to a blank screen. At the outset, it is a neutral situation. Our body relaxes, and the spontaneous activity of the mind is given free rein.

The inner movie
Our memories, mental images, and reactions are projected onto this blank screen. What is unfinished comes up. Our experiences and reactions are being processed on an inner level. This gives better psychological health and an increased ability to be in contact with the undercurrents in life. We all know this – in theory.

When we meditate, our reactions are however not only easy and neutral. Perhaps we think we have too many or too few thoughts, that our thoughts are too messy, or “just” everyday thoughts. Perhaps we think we “should have been finished” with the thoughts and reactions that come back again and again. When this happens, it becomes more difficult to meditate. Conflictual material is projected onto the neutral screen.

A neutral starting point
The content of our meditation is what it is. It may include everyday thoughts or images, or many thoughts or few thoughts. Nothing regarding the content is more right or wrong than anything else. However, in addition to the content, we also have interpretations of what we are experiencing, both when we meditation and in life outside of meditation.

meditation and interpretation

We interpret our environment and the content in our meditations based on previous experience, and act based on our interpretations (in meditation described as metathoughts). Long-term meditation can modify such interpretations and bring them closer to reality. This gives greater psychological freedom.

In meditation, these interpretations are expressed as metathoughts. Perhaps the interpretation is that we have to pull ourselves together when we become worried, that we have to repeat the meditation sound more clearly – with the implicit wish that the worried feeling will disappear. When we are restless, we want to get away from the situation. When we don’t experience as deep a state of relaxation as we have previously, it begins to feel as if we don’t get so much out of the technique anymore. We come in contact with feelings of inferiority, and begin to doubt our ability to meditate. In time, this may lead to the discontinuation of our meditation practice. The unconscious feeling may be that it is too difficult to come in contact with the self-images that are awakened.

Blind to alternatives
Our interpretations and the way in which we repeat the meditation sound are closely related. The interpretations are spontaneous; we don’t even question them. They also influence the performance of the technique. We unconsciously try to adjust the way in which we meditate, in order to make the situation less provoking. When we repeat the meditation sound with a less free mental attitude, the access to our spontaneous activity will also decrease, and so will the effect and the quality of the meditation. But in the moment, we are blind to alternatives. These come with time and with guidance. The metathoughts that are activated are perhaps the most important, most revealing, and most personal material in our meditations.

The free mental attitude
The establishment of a free mental attitude in our meditation practice and the resulting processing of inner material will have positive consequences, even for life outside meditation. In guidance sessions, we can get a better grip on how metathoughts let us meet ourselves, and we may find alternative modes of action. This may lead to an increased ability to face difficult situations in life in a less rigid manner. Recent research indicates that meditation contributes to an increase in our cognitive flexibility and our ability to make decisions. (1) We interpret reality in a more dynamic way, less colored by earlier experiences. Meditation over time can therefore bring our reactions closer to reality and give us greater psychological freedom. This has consequences for our intimate relationships, relationships at work, and our own general well-being.

The starting point is a blank screen. We may like the movie to a greater or lesser degree, but it is our history, told more in action than in words.

Copy editor: Ann Kunish