By Halvor Eifring

It may seem like a paradox that closing your eyes and repeating a sound may help you to see yourself better. But that is what you do when you meditate.

Meditation and nature

Going for a walk in the woods may give us a chance to perceive the nature around us with increased awareness, not because we look hard, but because we are present with an open mind – as in meditation. Both nature and meditation give us chances to see, not with our eyes, but with our own presence.

The moment that never ends

“Some moments never end,” says the main character, Sidner, in Göran Tunström’s novel The Christmas Oratorio. For both Sidner and the reader it is obvious which moment he refers to – the moment when his mother rides her bicycle down the hill, but ends up being trampled to death by cows. His mother is dead. Both Sidner’s, his father’s, and later on Sidner’s son’s lives carry this moment with them all the time. They are governed by it, driven by it, stopped by it, and, at least in the father’s case, perish in it.

For most of us, life isn’t like this. Even when we meditate, we don’t see clearly the moments that never end, the influences from past life experiences that govern us, drive us and stop us. Yet they are there. Meditation is like a mirror. Everything that comes to the surface is part of us: relaxation and calm, emptiness and restlessness, drives and fantasies, bodily and psychological pain, insecurity and disquiet. We see ourselves in the mirror, but don’t always recognize our own face. Most of the time we don’t understand what we are seeing.

And we don’t want to see everything, either. Sometimes meditation provokes resistance. We see ourselves in the mirror, but try to smooth out some of our wrinkles, pull in our belly, tighten up, avoid seeing that we are getting older than we are comfortable with. Or we see an insecurity that has always been part of us, like a moment that has never ended, a part of us that we somehow dislike and detest, and would rather pretend not to see. In some meditations, particularly longer ones, we may feel like getting away, or just lie down. We may not understand why, but we feel an urge to do something that brings us away from the pain, away from the moment that never ends, towards something that helps us put a veil over our eyes so we won’t have to see.

A reflection of her life

A meditator was concerned about how things had changed lately. Her meditations had always been full of thoughts and impulses, but now they were nearly empty. Somehow it felt good. But it also felt like an open space within her that she didn’t know how to fill. When she took a closer look, it wasn’t difficult to see that her meditation reflected her life. She was an enterprising business woman, but now the business went well without demanding much effort of her. Also, her three children, a son and two daughters, were about to leave home and didn’t need her as much as before. It felt good to be able to relax and have some calm, but this also made her feel insecure. In meditation, this feeling came to the surface.

Acceptance and cultivation

Seeing ourselves in meditation brings with it two challenges. On the one hand, we need to accept all the spontaneous activities of the mind. On the other hand, we must cultivate the tools we use: the meditation sound, the free mental attitude and our attention. We must practise all we have learned in the beginner’s course: don’t force yourself, don’t push away anything or strive for specific states or feelings, just allow whatever comes to mind to do so, even if it is a feeling of emptiness.

Acceptance sometimes implies going into areas where the tension is stronger, so that we are carried away by spontaneous activities, forget to repeat the meditation sound, or start to push, struggle and strive to achieve something and avoid something else, mostly without even realising what we are doing.

Cultivation implies sharpening the tool of the meditation sound, in an effortless way. This increases our sensitivity and awareness, in the same gentle way as when we are present in the woods. We may for instance become aware of our own tendency to reduce the sound to a rhythm or an image, or to repeat the sound on auto-pilot, habitually, in the periphery of our mind. This awareness may be all that is needed to easily get back to a gentle repetition of the sound itself.

Through acceptance and cultivation, we create inner conditions for increased sensitivity and awareness, similar to the presence in nature during a walk in the woods. But this may also bring to the surface some of the mirror images that reflect the moments that never end, the uncomfortable influences from past life experiences that tend to shape and direct our lives. This is what we may begin to see more clearly when we close our eyes in meditation.