By Dag Spilde and Maria S. Gjems-Onstad

Acem is a nonreligious organization, with little talk of spirituality. That is fine with me, although I myself am a religious person. Being down to earth is good. Nevertheless, I seek in meditation something that goes beyond pure psychology. I am curious about what is meant by the term «existential», which is sometimes used in connection with Acem Meditation. Might it be interpreted in the direction of something spiritual?

Maybe we can say that existential growth takes place in the periphery of psychological development and that it is of a more basic nature. While our psychological patterns are rooted in early childhood and genetic factors, existential maturation relates to our ways of being in the world.

The existential challenge

Perhaps all of us have a particular existential stance, a typical way of relating to others and to the world. Although this may partly overlap with our psychological traits, it is also independent. This basic attitude toward existence is influenced by the family we are born into and the time we live in. Recognizing and making use of our opportunities in life is part of every person’s existential challenge.

Meditation trains our ability to meet our spontaneous impulses with an open attitude. We try to let come whatever emerges of impulses, thoughts and bodily expressions. Our task is to accept them, not to judge or exclude them. This helps us develop a more basic acceptance of who we are as human beings.

Existential honesty

Over time, regular meditation and long retreats will help us develop what we call existential honesty, which involves accepting both our capabilities and limitations. Then we no longer need to distort our self-perception, and we can see our environment as it is, rather than the way we would like it to be.

These effects of Acem Meditation come from the fact that there are no predefined standards for a «good» or a «bad» meditation. We do not try to obtain a specific state of mind. This distinguishes Acem Meditation from many other approaches to meditation, which typically seek to attain particular states or experiences in order to confirm the effects of the technique and the development of the meditator. Acem’s teachings stimulate us to reflect on the practice, in particular, the way we repeat the meditation sound. The focus is not on attaining anything particular, but on reflection on how we relate to ourselves.

Our existential profile

Every meditation involves many repetitions of the meditation sound, and each of them is a mirror of our psychological patterns. Our daily meditations are influenced by personality traits that are often quite familiar to us: «My mind is dulled, I am too intense, or too critical, or too lax». With regular meditation over time, particularly in retreats with long meditations, certain traits may stand out more clearly, and we may start to perceive the first signs of an existential profile. The experience is seldom clear-cut or unambiguous, but we begin to recognize something deeper within ourselves: «This is me. This is how I am.» Getting in contact with these parts of ourselves is an important experience that often provides a sense of wholeness.

Contact with underlying sides

Getting closer to basic parts of ourselves, and learning to accept them, brings calm and inner contentment, independent of external circumstances and shifting inner moods. Some may associate this with spirituality or religiosity, while others do not see it in such perspectives. Most of us will connect the experience with inner calm, silence and contentment.

Hopefully, this gives some input to important reflections about what existential growth involves.


Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug