Dag Spilde and Maria Gjems-Onstad answer questions about meditation. Dag is a chief advisor and project manager at EDB ErgoGroup ASA, and Maria is a clinical psychologist in Oslo. Both have more than 30 years of experience teaching Acem Meditation. .
I currently find that the meditation sound is almost entirely absent in my meditation. There are either only thoughts passing through my mind, or the meditation sound goes on autopilot while thoughts whiz through my head. Afterwards I can’t remember whether I have repeated the sound properly. Is this what you call laxness? I try to pull myself together, but am only able to do so a short while and then I seem to derail again.
The absence of your meditation sound in your meditation could be a sign of laxness, of you not being sufficiently in touch with the way you are meditating. But it could just as well be a sign that you are meditating properly and are caught up in unconscious impulses as a result of the process. When you use the word laxness, it sounds as if you are condemning something, as if you are doing something wrong. It’s true that we sometimes can become too passive, and that this is an expression of a personality trait that can interfere with the way we meditate. But even this is beneficial, and provides an opportunity to change by becoming less remote and more present. Let’s look at some examples.
You are too passive when you repeatedly fail to direct your attention towards the meditation sound, and choose instead to continue to follow your thoughts. You are too passive when you start your meditation by seeking relaxed feelings instead of repeating the meditation sound, or when the meditation sound is unclear and it would be easy for you to think it more clearly. It may be a form of laxness when only the rhythm is present in the repetition and you do nothing to bring forth the sound aspect. It’s also a form of laxness if you stop your meditation prematurely because of uneasiness, restlessness, or boredom. In all these examples, you avoid becoming more present. You avoid anything that might provoke you, and you make a conscious choice to do so.
In other cases, the choice is not present as a conscious alternative. You are not aware that you are being drawn further into the stream of thoughts. You are not aware that the sound is distant. Forces within you, with which you have no contact, are in control. In such cases, it’s meaningless to say that you are too lax or passive.
To begin your meditation by seeking relaxation is more of a conscious choice, and often an expression of avoidance. You avoid doing what potentially might be provocative. Stopping your meditation before the time is out is also often a matter of choice. You choose to move away from meditation. More rarely, you can spontaneously open your eyes, or even spontaneously get up. But this also becomes a conscious choice once you are aware of what you are doing. When you choose avoidance, you are being lax in this sense.
Are you also being too lax or passive when you constantly get caught up in thoughts, when you repeat only a few meditation sounds and then you’re gone? No. When this happens spontaneously, and you have no choice, it’s called spontaneous concentration. This is a way in which the mind works through tension, and is a valuable part of meditation. Whether there are few or many repetitions of the sound in your meditation, or how long you have been able to repeat your sound, says nothing about how good or bad your meditation is. Rather, it’s the way you meditate, and not what you experience, that says something about the quality of your meditation.
Are you being too passive when the meditation sound is on autopilot and thoughts rush through your head? If you can choose to bring the meditation sound more in the foreground with a free mental attitude, the answer is yes. If you have not been aware that this has happened, if the thought “I have apparently been too passive….” only occurs to you in retrospect, then the answer is no. It’s quite natural to not always remember everything clearly from your meditation. Letting your spontaneous activity play itself out on its own terms means losing a bit of control. A meditation that you remember little from is neither “better” nor “worse” than one in which you clearly remember your spontaneous thoughts afterwards, or when you remember a good deal of what you have worked on in meditation.
Pulling yourself together is a natural reaction if you think you are being too passive. This may be appropriate in a learning context and at work. But “pulling yourself together” is rarely appropriate in recreation, at least not in meditation. To do so almost always means to concentrate and try to control what should be spontaneous. This is wrong in meditation. Perhaps it is more appropriate to ask whether you are making use of the choices you actually have in relation to the way you meditate, rather than to wonder in retrospect if you are being too lax or passive.