When we need to get something done in the short term, keeping unpleasant information out of our awareness may be necessary. But the price to be paid can be high in the long term. This may be easy to recognize in other people, in politics, in work life, or in our family. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a well-known and entertaining example – of what happens when the emperor tries to keep an uncomfortable truth away. The others go along with him until a small child says out loud what is actually obvious to everyone. Still, what about ourselves? What kinds of information do we try to prevent from entering into our consciousness?
Into the unconscious
Both denial and repression are well-known defense mechanisms. Denial means refusing to acknowledge unpleasant information we receive from the environment. Repression is pushing our own unpleasant thoughts and feelings into the unconscious. These defense mechanisms do not make the discomfort go away, however, and they can affect us in ways we do not see. Our defense mechanisms are mainly unconscious, although, in the example with the emperor, the transition to the conscious is smooth, as it also can be in some cases in real life.
Meditation is a free zone in which our various impulses play themselves out. Ideally, all impulses should be equally welcome in our meditation. We know from experience, however, that they are not. Some impulses bring discomfort. We would rather not have to deal with them, much as the emperor did not want to deal with the fact that he was actually duped by his tailors and walked around with no clothes on. Feelings such as restlessness are usually unwelcome in our meditation. Restlessness wants us to choose the simple solution. I don’t want to be here. Stop the meditation so I can get away from what is going on.
Needs to be acknowledged
Thoughts can also be demanding. Something we didn’t succeed in, or challenges we don’t want to deal with. The mind can grind on and on about such things, which can become very tiring. On top of it all, we have the meditation sound. Wasn’t it a bit unclear? Without being fully aware of it, we remove ourselves from the difficult thoughts and direct our attention to correcting the meditation sound. In guidance afterward, it becomes clear that we are concentrating. The narrow and concentrated attention that we direct towards a clear and distinct “MEDITATION SOUND” restricts the wide-angled awareness that we may direct towards a more unclear “meditation sound”. Such awareness also allows room for the periphery, where many different impulses, including those that may be less welcome, may enter. Such impulses are also part of us and have a need to be acknowledged.
A conflict between the perfectionist in us and the more accepting and free parts of us can occasionally influence our meditation. Striving for perfection is good in many contexts, but in meditation, perfect ideals represent challenges. Acem Meditation is a gentle technique, so there we work on acquiring a greater degree of a free mental attitude not with force, but with softness. Repeating the sound as gently as we can. First focusing freely on a meditation sound, then another, and yet another. After a while, the meditation is over and we have created some free time for ourselves. This can be easy, but at times, it can also be more demanding.
Meditation combined with guidance enables us gradually to understand more about ourselves. We see better what shaped us in our childhood and youth. The influence that our parents, siblings, friends, and other important people in our upbringing have had on us becomes clearer. The people in our present environment, and how they affect us, also become clearer, as well as some of the choices we face. We become more aware of key events in the past and present and can better understand our own formative experiences.
When our own history and the influence of the times we live in become clearer to us, it also becomes easier for us to relate to others and ourselves. We work more in harmony with our true nature and achieve more without exhausting ourselves. Relationships unfold and develop more easily. Approaching life more honestly has benefits for yourself, but also for those around you. Nonetheless, life being what it is, we also have to expect some degree of discomfort along the way. “No pain. No gain.” Good luck with your meditations!
By Gunnar Brataas, Senior researcher at SINTEF, Course instructor, Head of Acem Trondheim.
Translated by Eirik Jensen