By Ellen Gravklev.

An action with ripple effects

When you throw a stone into the water, ripples are formed which slowly spread outwards. One stone, one throw, many ripples.

A warm look, a smile, a safe embrace. A frown, an angry voice, someone pushing you away. The first years of a child’s life create ripple effects for the rest of the child’s life.

A childhood with sensitive and safe caregivers will form more positives than being brought up by adults who do not sufficiently meet the child’s need for security and care.

When we meditate, a relaxation response is set in motion. This happens by itself, in much the same way as with the ripples in the water. Repeating the meditation sound can have results far beyond the recreation you experience here and now. Ripples that spread outwards.

The process is open; the ripples find their own shape. Some of them are welcome. It feels good to relax, calm down and get more energy and inspiration. Other of the ripples may be more disruptive. There may be tension in the neck, restless legs, or restlessness in the belly area. Calling in troubled waters.

The pain a child feels when he experiences something unpleasant can be difficult to contain. We acquire defense mechanisms that protect us. The discomfort is removed from conscious awareness as if it does not exist. However, what we have repressed lives on in the unconscious, and expresses itself in the form of tensions in the body, typical reaction patterns, and distorted ways of understanding the world and other people. When this type of tension becomes actualized in meditation, the immediate ripple effects can feel difficult to be near to.

The sore shoulder

We sit down, close our eyes and repeat the meditation sound as effortlessly and freely as we can. We feel that we are relaxing, and let ourselves go into meditation. This often feels good; we are in a flow. A free time that we have been looking forward to.

We open up so that thoughts, feelings, impulses, and moods can come closer to the surface. They lie there constantly like an undercurrent. By meditating, we provide the stream of thought with more freedom, making it more accessible to us.

We may have thoughts about what we should have for dinner, a disagreement with a friend, a glimpse of a work situation, sadness, memories of a trip in the mountains, a desire to move our body, a pain in the shoulder.

The pain in the shoulder! Yes, it is there quite often in meditation and feels disturbing. We feel that it takes up too much space, and prevents us from repeating the sound the way we want to. If only the pain had not been there!

Pain in disguise

The pain is a ripple effect of repeating the meditation sound with a free mental attitude. Our first impulse may be to push it away. Add a little extra effort to the sound, maybe without us noticing. Get away from the pain. Away with the bad thoughts. Away with the discomfort. Only then can we meditate properly, it is easy to think.

If we meditate regularly, deeper processes are set in motion, often without our realizing it. What is set in motion can manifest itself as restlessness, dissatisfaction, bodily pain, or a desire to interrupt the meditation. The sound may become blurry, maybe a little distant, we become unsure if we are repeating the sound correctly.

What has been repressed and hidden in us comes closer to the surface. Most often not as memories or emotions, but something more distorted. What was once overwhelming, causing despair or tears, may have become transformed into a pain in the shoulder.

In phases such as these, our perception of how we repeat the meditation sound also tends to become distorted.

Unconscious forces are at work. We think we are repeating the meditation sound with a free mental attitude. However, something is amiss. Time may pass slowly, we do not relax as well as before, we feel more resistance. Over time, it may occur to us to use a little more effort, control the speed or rhythm of the sound a bit more, or try to repeat the sound very clearly to be sure it is there.

Ripple effect with a twist, both in terms of content and practice.

Part of us takes sides with the defense mechanisms that once protected us from pain. We concentrate, often without realizing it. “I just use a little extra effort with the sound, that makes everything better.”

It often takes some time before we understand what is taking place. Long meditations and guidance contribute to that process.

Free mental attitude

It can take time to understand what lies beneath the pain. That the pain for example may be connected to a fear of getting too close to other people, that there may be loneliness underneath the sore shoulder, that the uneasiness in the pit of our stomach has to do with anxiety. Or that wanting more to happen is connected to the longing to be seen as a child by a mother or father who was absent or very caught up in themselves.

You do not have to understand the origins of your difficulties. All you have to do is repeat the meditation sound as effortlessly and freely as you can, in the present moment. Listen to it and leave it as it is, whether the sound is clear, blurry, distorted, a little strange, or often disappears.

Try to trust that the sound is good enough. Repeat the sound when you are able. Have confidence that the process is going well.

Sound with a free mental attitude, here and now, you are always in the right place in meditation.

Then come the ripple effects. Today, in a week, a month, or in half a year. A nascent certainty that this is good for you, the feeling of being on the move, the joy when you feel that you have more contact with your emotions when you dare more, there is less conflict around you, or you dare to open up more toward those to whom you are near.

There are ripples in water. There are people in quiet growth.


Translated from Norwegian by Eirik Jensen.

Ellen Gravklev is a senior advisor at the University of Oslo and an Acem meditation initiator.