How one instructor brought Acem Meditation to Europe’s most populous country
One grey morning in April 2001, a Norwegian who had taken some days off from work was observed in the grounds of Hamburg University distributing leaflets announcing a course in Acem Meditation. The initial response was far from encouraging: only one person turned up. Now, three years later, the same Norwegian is in charge of a vast array of Acem activities in Germany, with courses being held in about 20 German cities. Courses are often overbooked. Several hundred Germans learnt Acem Meditation during the past year. Many also participate in long meditations and weekend retreats. In Hamburg, for example, groups of meditators meet regularly, and long meditations are arranged 4-5 times a year. This summer the first one-week retreat will be held in Germerode in central Germany. The retreat is open to all German-speaking practitioners of Acem Meditation. Germany is the fastest growing country in the Acem family.
“I had never believed the interest in Germany would take off like this,” says Ole Nygaard, the Norwegian in charge. A senior political correspondent by profession, Mr. Nygaard has taught Acem Meditation on a voluntary basis since 1975. With the help of other instructors, he is spreading knowledge of Acem Meditation to large parts of Europe’s most populous country. This rapid growth led Norway’s leading newspaper, Aftenposten, to publish a two-page article about Acem’s expansion outside Scandinavia, concluding that Acem courses had become a notable Norwegian export to a number of countries around the world. Hamburg is Germany’s second biggest city, with 1.7 million inhabitants. From the autumn of 2002, Acem’s courses appeared regularly in the programme of the city’s Volkshochschule, a kind of college of adult education. The Volkshochschulen of most other major cities followed suit, as did the sports programme of universities in Hamburg and elsewhere. Relaxation, fitness and well-being feature prominently in their course catalogues, and Acem’s neutral and non-religious approach fits wel with these goals. The trend is spreading to other German-speaking countries: this autumn wil see the first Acem courses in Austria. “Germans are quick at picking up new and serious cultural trends,” comments Mr. Nygaard. “The country has an exceptionally strong philosophical and cultural tradition. Just think of Goethe, Kant, Heidegger and Beethoven. This is probably part of the reason why people take an interest in an existentially oriented meditation technique. And the Germans are good at recruiting. They often bring friends and family members along to the courses. And as soon as they have learnt to meditate, they recommend Acem Meditation to friends.”
“I feel less stressed now,” says Roland Schäfer, a director in a pharmaceutical company from Karlsruhe, who learnt Acem Meditation a little more than a year ago in his home town. He has taken a great interest in the meditative process. Last summer, he attended both the First World Retreat of Acem Meditation and the following international deepening retreat in Oslo. He plans to participate in this year’s summer retreat in Germany, as wel as Acem’s tour of South India in January next year. “The World Retreat made me understand better the simplicity of Acem Meditation. Before I went, I was tangled up in concern about what to do with my breathing during meditation. At the retreat, I learnt to handle it in a more natural and straightforward way. My understanding of the meditation process changes steadily. The retreats gave me a deeper experience of what meditation can be.” His daily life was affected in a very concrete way: he quit smoking. And he did not find it difficult to stay away from cigarettes even after he returned to his everyday activities. How did he, as a foreigner, experience coming to a retreat in Norway? “I did not feel like a foreigner. The atmosphere was international. The activities of such a retreat touch upon the core of the human condition. Meditation transcends culture. Whether you come from India, Taiwan or Europe, everybody has the basic meditative experience in common. There were lots of opportunities for contact: going for a walk, making food together, doing yoga, and participating in guidance groups, seminars and workshops. In addition, I was surprised by how much Norwegians know about German culture and language.” Mr. Schäfer now contributes to the growth of Acem in Germany, especially through the translation of articles on Acem Meditation. For him and other contributors to the project, the goal is to have an Acem book in German within a year or so. Acem Germany is clearly here to stay.
Acem International Newsletter no 1 2004