Expectations and the free mental attitude
Acem Meditation Q&A

Dag & MariaDag Spilde and Maria Gjems-Onstad answer questions about meditation. Dag is a chief advisor and project manager at EDB ErgoGroup ASA, while Maria is a clinical psychologist in Oslo. Both have more than 30 years of experience in teaching Acem Meditation.

Question:

In meditation, the free mental attitude is both a means and a goal. It is somewhat of a paradox, but at times I simply get tired of “pursuing” the free mental attitude. It is much easier to forget the whole thing and just sit there and relax. I need help to motivate myself to find the free mental attitude.

Answer:

You say that the free mental attitude is a goal in meditation. When we conceive of it as a goal, it becomes something we strive for. The free mental attitude then becomes something that is preconceived before we even begin to meditate. We then develop expectations as to how meditation ideally should be instead of accepting how it is.

Flow
Taka meditating in the snowExpectations bind us. They make us strive to perform. And they can easily make us dissatisfied with what is. When you make a judgement as to whether or not you have a free mental attitude, it is very easy to link this to whether or not the meditation happens to be flowing easily. This is a mistake. Depending on what your state of mind happens to be, you may experience your meditation as filled with tension, or quiet. An appropriate judgement of your meditation should reflect what you are actually doing, specifically whether you are repeating the meditation sound with as little effort as possible in the myriad of thoughts and moods that occur in your mind.

Acceptance
Striving to achieve a free mental attitude can mean distancing yourself from discomfort or a feeling of lack of mastery. It might be compared to sitting and watching TV when the job becomes too demanding. The free mental attitude is always greatest when you accept what is. Sometimes meditation is filled with tension, at other times it feels light and the meditation flows. However, are we more free when our meditation flows and we perceive it to be light and free? Not necessarily. We then simply happen to find ourselves in the lighter parts of our consciousness. We are just as free when we feel that we are not making any headway and things are proceeding slowly, if we accept that this is the way it is, and repeat the meditation sound as effortlessly as possible under these conditions. Taking the free mental attitude as a goal reduces your freedom. No wonder you get tired of pursuing the free mental attitude!

Don’t strive
If you strive to achieve a free mental attitude, and confuse it with an experience of flow, you will become disappointed if you feel you are not achieving your goal. But you must also accept your own expectations and disappointments. Do not push them away, but be aware of what happens, while repeating the meditation sound with as little effort as possible. You are quite right in not wanting to strive for the free mental attitude. Don’t worry so much about what it feels like when you meditate. Just repeat the meditation sound with as little effort as possible.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    This definitely falls in line with what I’ve learned about meditation. In a book I read called “Where’s My Zen?” it even says that you’ll “know where your zen is when you stop looking for it.” I found the book on amazon but you can get a free pdf version on the author’s site at http://wheresmyzen.com/books. It’s a great read.

  2. I often relate my meditation practice to the practice of any other skill. When one first tries to practice meditation it is difficult. Trying to live with a free mental attitude might be hard initially as well. But every pro basketball player struggled with a lay up at one point in their lives. They just kept practicing lay ups and now lay ups come naturally. I believe the same is with meditation and a free mental attitude. Just keep at it and you’ll find you have it!

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