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.
Dag Spilde and Maria Gjems-Onstad answer questions about meditation. Dag is a chief advisor and project manager at EDB ErgoGroup ASA, while Maria is a clinical psychologist in Oslo. Both have more than 30 years of experience in teaching Acem Meditation.
In meditation, the free mental attitude is both a means and a goal. It is somewhat of a paradox, but at times I simply get tired of “pursuing” the free mental attitude. It is much easier to forget the whole thing and just sit there and relax. I need help to motivate myself to find the free mental attitude.
Some forms of meditation are technical, such as meditation on the breath, body sensations or sound. Others are topical, centring on life themes, devotion, scriptural content or ideas. One meditative topic that has been commonly used both in the East and West is death.
The Greeks exhorted us to remember death, the Buddhists went to charnel grounds to see dead bodies rot, and the Daoists compared death to the natural changes of all things. I recently visited the basement of the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome, where the monks used the bones and skulls of dead monks as wall decorations. In the innermost room there was an inscription, speaking to us who are still alive: “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will be.” In order to avoid any vain hopes of posthumous glory as a venerated skeleton, the different bones of one and the same person were scattered all over. Over the centuries, four thousand monks ended up in the “gallery”.
Even in forms of meditation that do not focus on death as such, the idea of letting go and of not clinging to your individual existence is often central. A free mental attitude is a question of not being too attached to the things you have and are, but to be able to “die” from them – even while you’re still alive.
During the past year, Acem Spain has experienced an explosive growth, with hundreds of participants at beginner’s courses and retreats. Now the first book on Acem Meditation in Spanish has been published. Inner Strength – The Free Mental Attitude in Acem Meditation by Acem’s founder Dr. Are Holen has been translated into Spanish: Fuerza Interior – La actitud mental libre en la meditación Acem.
After an interview with Acem’s founder Dr Are Holen in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, one of the several hundred readers who went ahead and learned the technique asked for the advice of a local yoga teacher who writes for the paper:
I joined a beginner’s course and found it very stimulating. Years ago I practised meditation based on maintaining the right attitude towards the world and oneself, as well as visualisations. In contrast, the Acem method places no importance on any of this, but is simply based on repeating a sound mentally for half an hour twice a day. Nor is there any emphasis on the breath. And instead of the classic lotus position, you sit in a chair with support in your lower back. … What do you think?
The yoga teacher appears to be open-minded:
As I often tell my students: “If you’re ok with it, then it’s ok.” Let each person take advantage of whatever can help him become more mature, more balanced and more wise.
There are many areas in life where it is useful to have a free mental attitude. One of them is climbing. How is it to keep a free mental attitude in the situation of the climber on the picture? Not very easy for most us.
Nevertheless, there are some features of climbing that tell us something about how to meditate. When climbing, it is important to take one step at a time. I am here now, how do I most easily get on? How can I climb without using too much energy? How to climb will be different for each step. Sometimes, the climber needs to use his legs, sometimes his arms, sometimes he may have to move towards the side. In other ways, he cannot go for one single way of doing it.
There are both similarities and differences between our attitude in climbing and meditation. While the climber is concentrated, when we meditate, we should only lightly place our attention on the meditation sound. Nevertheless, in both cases, we move in different ways at different times, adapting how we repeat the sound to what is in our mind.
By Monika Wirkkala
“The sextant helped me determine my position at sea. I was at an unidentified position in the Pacific, with no captain, and still I could find my way. But I had no map of my inner self, nor any course through life.”
It is easy to identify with the main character in Carsten Jensen’s novel We, the Drowned. He navigates unknown waters with ease, but experiences great uncertainty when it comes to his own life. What does he wish for – from everyday life, his career, relationships and the private realm?
Meditation is not about wishing. The repetition of a meditation sound, effortlessly and with an open mind, does not mean choosing a specific direction for ourselves. Meditation does not involve pursuing an objective or a goal. Rather, it brings us closer to the ongoing spontaneous activities in our mind, and to the resonances they generate.
Øyvind Ellingsen, M.D., Ph.D.
The free mental attitude of Acem Meditation involves, on the one hand, a supple, effortless repetition of the meditation sound and, on the other hand, a free and accepting awareness in relation to impressions that appear during meditation. Acting to bring about this free mental attitude is a process. In our daily lives, this process provides breathing space for unprocessed experiences from the day. At meditation retreats, it helps to loosen the grip of undercurrents in our personalities.
The free mental attitude of Acem Meditation is an attitude of acceptance. Thoughts, bodily sensations, moods and evaluations are allowed to enter the mind. We let them appear and disappear in our mental awareness, neither avoiding them nor actively pursuing them.
This accepting attitude is a central and effective element in psychological processing. Like the ‘free-floating awareness’ of psychoanalysis, it allows associations to come and go without censorship. A supple, accepting attitude reduces psychological defence mechanisms and repression: we are more ready to accept and take in whatever is on our minds. Difficult themes that we have suppressed become accessible for processing.
by Halvor Eifring
Driving a foreign visitor around Oslo, he gets lost, and all of a sudden they are back where they started. “It seems we have been here before,” he says, slightly embarrassed. “Well, isn’t that also the way it often is in life?”, his guest says with a smile. “We think we’re moving forwards, but we keep discovering that we’re back where we came from. The wheel of life!”
But at a recent meditation retreat at Lundsholm it dawned on him that the notion of a wheel is only one side of the story. The other side is more like a corkscrew: it goes round and round, but each rotation takes it deeper. It may feel as if we are back where we began, but in the meantime we ourselves have changed, and what initially feels like the same old place is actually a door into something new and untried.
by Øyvind Ellingsen, MD PhD
Do you remember your first meditation? The gratifying feeling of being calm, relaxed and restful. We bring it with us when we sit down to meditate – a longing for peace of mind and liberation from stress. No wonder the advertising industry uses the image of the meditating Buddha. Nirvana is not only global shorthand for inner peace and well-being; it is also the brand name of the perfect mattress. But when the longing for nirvana becomes too strong, we sometimes encounter the thought goblin…
Longing for nirvana
Who does not wish for a breather from stressful routines and incessant demands – a little everyday-life nirvana? You sit down, close your eyes and repeat the meditation sound. And then the miracle happens. The tightness in your shoulders relaxes, your breathing slows down, your thoughts flow almost imperceptibly by. After half an hour you open your eyes, take a deep breath and are – completely rested! Ready to meet the day with renewed energy. Experiences like this create an expectation that good meditation will produce a pleasant feeling. Often this is the case, but not always.