In Acem Meditation we can repeat the meditation sound in different ways. The sound can be clear and distinct or lighter and more fleeting, and our body and breath can become more or less involved in our repetition. A young woman had doubts about how to repeat the sound. Doubt was perhaps a reflection of her relationship with life and herself.
By Halvor Eifring
At a guidance seminar in Acem, a young woman asked a question about the repetition of the meditation sound. When she first learned to meditate, she found the technique to be simple and straightforward, but now she had entered a period of doubt. Would it be best to use her tongue and throat to help a little, almost as if she were to say the sound out loud? Or would it be better to think the sound in her mind without any attempt to make it clear? The first solution made her more confident that she was repeating the right sound, while the second solution made her more relaxed.
I did not know the young woman. Still, the little she said during the seminar gave a kind of picture of who she was. It is easy to recognize oneself in her dilemma. She is not the only one to find herself drawn between two ways of saying the sound – one light but fleeting, and the other clear and firm, but with a touch of effort.
MORE SUBTLE, LESS SECURE
In the weeks before she came to the guidance seminar, the young woman had been given a choice she had not had initially. At first, it felt completely natural to repeat the sound in a slightly harsh, but safe and straightforward way with the subtle aid of her speech organs. Now, however, she was able to repeat the sound more easily in her mind. When doing so, she did not need to involve her tongue or throat.
This was a way to meditate with more nuances and more subtlety, but with a price to be paid as well, in the form of increased uncertainty. Was it really the sound she was repeating? What was she supposed to do with a sound that was so light that her mind blew it away almost immediately? She alternated between the two ways of making the sound, and could not decide which was best.
BETWEEN FOCUS AND PERIPHERY
The woman’s dilemma reflects different ways we can use our attention. When we articulate the meditation sound clearly, our attention has a strong and distinct focus, and the contrast to the thoughts that pass in the periphery is evident and clear. In work and other demanding challenges of the day, we undoubtedly benefit from focusing clearly on our tasks and goals. When the young woman learned to meditate, it was initially natural to bring this way of functioning into her meditation as well.
When we repeat the sound gently in the mind without involving our speech organs, our focus of attention also becomes much more fleeting and less distinct, and the contrast to thoughts that pass in the periphery of our mind is almost erased. That was what was about to happen in the woman’s meditation. This provided greater room for impulses on the fringes of consciousness, perhaps even on the border of the unconscious, to express themselves. However, it also required that she let go of some of the clarity that gave her a secure foothold.
At the guidance seminar, she was encouraged to put into words the contrast between the strong and the fleeting attention. It was evidently good for her to express herself and to get a response to what she said. When she began to speak, she at first seemed a little insecure and fumbling. Gradually, however, her face became more calm and clear. Something within her was about to open up. It reminded me of the feeling you can have after a good conversation with a close friend or a quiet encounter with nature – experiences that bring a promise of something new.
LISTEN WITH THE MIND
The woman’s dilemma also reflects different ways of using the senses, in this case, the sense of hearing. Sensory impressions can be harsh and intrusive or so light and subtle that they almost disappear from the field of consciousness. Both ways of listening have their place, both in everyday life and meditation, but the clear and hard way is a little too often victorious because insecurity makes us mobilize.
The meditation sound is not heard with the ears, only with the mind. Still, when the woman articulates the sound clearly, she brings it closer to a physical form of hearing. This increases the feeling of clarity and security, but at the same time makes her stay closer to the surface and the physical sensation of her body. The less the body is involved in the repetition of the sound, the more freedom the mind has to move in depth.
This also gives the woman’s mind an opportunity to open up to a wider range of impulses, in terms of not only sound but also emotions. Maybe the woman’s everyday life rests a little too much on what is familiar and secure, so she creates too little opportunity to allow a living flame to appear that burns best when you do not try to stay in control.
The woman’s dilemma also reflects different ways we can be present in ourselves. When she repeats the sound almost physically, she is only present in quite a small part of herself, first and foremost the part that acts and on which she focuses her attention. At the same time, her mind’s spontaneous and often more fleeting impulses are probably moving towards the edge of her consciousness, but she experiences them almost as an irrelevant distraction.
Meditation makes it clear that it is not only external circumstances that constrict our self-experience, but also our tendency to stay with what appears to be safe rather than letting ourselves into something uncertain.
As the repetition of sound moves towards deeper and more subtle layers of the mind, the woman’s presence expands to include larger parts of herself. She becomes more sensitive. In this way, her existence becomes richer and more complete than what she is able to be when her constricted self dominates. On the other hand, when she meditates in this way, she may perhaps also encounter painful and confusing feelings she previously has kept at a distance. It is not without reason that she has clung to the safe way of repeating the sound. The doubt associated with the repetition of sound was perhaps an expression of fear of what a more open consciousness would bring.
Let us be realistic. Neither the young woman nor the rest of us will always have the opportunity to take the sound in this gentle way. This should not be understood as a norm or an ideal that we should strive to reach; if we do, the result will easily become the opposite. We have to accept that the meditation sound is sometimes closer to physical articulation than to a light thought in the mind.
This is rather about a kind of moment of grace, an opening for new opportunities we can choose to seize – or let pass unused. The most important thing is that we maintain our daily meditation practice, and that we put our own doubts into words, as the young woman did at the guidance seminar. Then we may reach a point where we recognize a touch of hardness in our safe and accustomed way of meditating, and we can begin to move in the direction of the milder winds of the mind.
Translated by Eirik Jensen