By Andreas Tryggeset

When being touched by a good book, you come closer to yourself. Longings, dreams, unease, shame — all sorts of feelings are activated.

Maybe you recognize this? That reading a really good book brings you closer to yourself. What about meditation? In meditation, there is no elegant story to be seduced by. You are alone, you are naked, you are left with those parts of yourself that you don’t want to accept or include.

In meditation, you are always in the right place. There is nothing to achieve. You may want things to be different. You may want to get rid of challenging spontaneous activities, such as bodily restlessness, or thoughts you would rather push away. It is understandable that you want to get rid of them. It is understandable that you want to be somewhere else. But that doesn’t mean that anything is wrong.

Only the bright side of life?

When you sit down and start to meditate, you open up for the unresolved issues within you — including things you don’t want, things you don’t like, understand or accept about yourself.

Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being is about a conflict most of us have inside: a longing for a life that is easy, positive and that makes us happy — in contrast to moments in life that are heavy, but also rewarding. Nobody wants the dark sides of life: illness, sorrow, death, difficulties in relationships. Yet, a fully lived life always includes them. If we manage to get through these periods in a good way, we will develop as persons. We become more complete, stronger, humbler, more aware of what is important and what is not.

Unwelcome guests

In meditation, we may experience this dilemma. We get closer to ourselves, closer to unresolved issues within us, in order to heal ourselves, become more open and reconciled with all that life has to offer. However, when these unresolved issues arrive with their restlessness and inner turmoil, we want to get away from them and get back to what is comfortable, perhaps to fall asleep, or to a meditation sound that flows freely, or the relaxation that comes with it. The restlessness and turmoil were invited in by us, but they are not welcome guests.

A stone in the shoe

The unresolved issues within may appear like a storm in the night, shaking our foundations. But just as often they emerge without our noticing it, like a stone in our shoe, not causing serious discomfort, just being slightly irritating, not giving us peace of mind.

So, what do we do, when something grates on our nerves? It may be barely noticeable — like a weak sense of frustration, a feeling that something isn’t the way it should be.

How do we welcome those parts of us that we do not want to have?

Fight or flight?

Do we grasp the meditation sound and repeat it very clearly, or repeat it more softly? That’s a basic impulse when we experience discomfort: Do something! Fight or flight — either get away or go into battle with whatever emerges from somewhere deep down. The greatest challenge in meditation is, perhaps, that we don’t know what to do. We can never be sure what is the best way. There is no right answer.

Sure, we can try to change something. Or choose not to and accept the discomfort. What is right? The fact that there is no right answer feels like a very basic challenge: to take responsibility for meditation, as well as our own life.

Stay on or break up?

This is at bottom what meditation encourages us to do: take responsibility for our own lives. We are always making choices. We choose what to study, and then which profession we want to pursue. We choose a partner. We choose to get children — or not. And then we must continue to make choices — all through our lives. Among all the things we choose, what is most important to us, and what is something we can easily do without? Should we stay on in a relationship if it becomes difficult, or should we rather break up? Should we change job — or even profession — when we are frustrated, or should we try to be reconciled with the way things are?

A deeper understanding

We know that living life fully doesn’t always mean choosing the easy way. But we also know that sometimes it is best to leave things behind and go on in life. To meet frustration, doubt and uncertainty in meditation is a training in being autonomous and mature.

Our lives unfold in larger contexts that include riddles without definite answers, longings that are never satisfied, as well as despair and fights that will only be reconciled in a deeper understanding of life.

Life has no right answers. Perhaps this is the most important lesson meditation can teach us. In meditation, we must try and risk failing. Gradually, we may reach a kind of certainty about what is best. But we must also accept uncertainty as a part of meditation – and of life.  

Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug