“At times, I feel inadequate when I meditate. The meditation sound is never easy and effortless and is always linked to my breathing. What should I do?”

“Meditation is not only easy for me, even though I feel that it should be. It is difficult to repeat the sound the way it is supposed to be. Some say that they can find comfort in repeating the meditation sound when something is difficult and that it is easy to repeat. For me, it’s not like that. In guidance, I am reassured and am told that everything is all right. But it’s not. So sometimes I wonder why I keep on meditating. But I’m pretty stubborn and tend to want to face challenges, rather than give up.”

Feelings of inadequacy are difficult to deal with in all aspects of life that are important. Some of us tend to give up when feelings of inadequacy overwhelm us. Others go into fight mode. Others again become curious about what the feeling implies. We pursue every single thread. Other words that suggest the feeling of being inadequate may be: Second-rate, powerless, poor, miserable, wretched, worthless, pathetic. These are words that describe something that is far from what we want to be. In meditation, we make our own judgments of our meditation performance. Still, we feel that others would make the same judgment if they could only see for themselves how deplorable our performance is.

Our assessments are made in relation to a standard, which is defined by our expectations. Someone who runs the 100-meters in 20 seconds may consider this to be a good time if he does not expect anything better. But someone who runs the 100-meters in competitions would despair over such a bad time. Or you may think that you should be better than you are. You should expect more from yourself. One is still on the low rungs of the ladder of achievement.

But striving to achieve does not belong in meditation. You are always in the right place in your meditation, you may have heard. So why can’t the meditation sound be allowed to go along with your breathing, without triggering the feeling of inadequacy? Or further, and perhaps even more fundamentally: Why can you not feel inadequate and accept that this is the way it is? It is the feeling that happens to be there, and it must be allowed to be present. The basic rule is that you should repeat the sound as easily and effortlessly as you can, and leave the rest to be as it is. Processing takes place when what comes in meditation is allowed to play itself out, and emotions are given the space to be there without being driven away.

“OK”, you may say, “I accept that. But the sound is not light and effortless.” No, if you act on your feeling of inadequacy and constantly try to adjust and correct the way you meditate, everything becomes an effort. If, on the other hand, you allow the repetition of the sound to be as it is, despite your negative assessment, you add some free mental attitude to the meditation. In non-directive meditation such as Acem Meditation, there are no objective rules that require a specific degree of clarity in the meditation sound, that it must be properly rhythmic, or independent from your breathing. All these parameters will vary depending on where you are in your meditation and to what extent you are under the influence of meta-thoughts that tell you that you are not meditating the right way. If you relax your requirements for your meditation performance, things can become messy and unclear. Great! You will then enter into a field that is unknown and where you can practice not allowing the meta-thoughts to be in control of what you are doing. To become familiar with what is there, you must sometimes allow the meditation sound to take a form that does not satisfy what you demand of it in the way of clarity or completeness.

This does not mean that you should not adjust your performance. However, the adjustments we make should always go in the direction of a greater free mental attitude and less effort. If there is an opening for this, you can try it out. If it becomes a struggle, you let it be. This is not giving up. It is to meditate based on the principle of the free mental attitude.

  • Listen to Turid Berg-Nilsen’s webinar on what to do with your negative thoughts here.

By Maria S. Gjems-Onstad and Dag Spilde

Translated by Eirik Jensen