By Ellen Gravklev

office workersIt’s a busy evening like many others. There are e-mails to answer, bills to be paid, work-related tasks you should complete. You start out optimistically, get some stuff done, check your Facebook account, and move on.

You’re interrupted by a couple of phone calls, then try to pick up where you left off. Yes, this is not too bad. Then you get tired and look for some chocolate in the cupboard. It helps for a little while. You read the latest news in an online newspaper, get halfway started again, you look at your watch… That late already – oh, well…

When the illustration below was posted on Facebook, there were many likes, shares, and comments. Maybe you recognize the pattern yourself.

What I planned

Take a little break before you read further, and look at the illustration to the right.

What do you think of when you see it. Trouble? Real trouble?

Or is it a little colorful, full of life? Does anyone associate it with meditation?

What I planned

You just came home from work or studies, are tired, a little hungry, wondering whether to cook or meditate first. It feels good when some of the stress is reduced so you get calmer and have more energy. You decide to meditate. You hope that you’ll get a break from all the thoughts about work. They tend to be quite troubling. As you sit down in the chair, get comfortable, and start repeating the meditation sound, you might think that it’s important to repeat it in a way that enables you to hear it well. You may have experienced that there is a link between clear sound and good relaxation.

What happened

You pay attention to the meditation sound. There it is: the whole sound. You repeat it as gently and effortlessly as you can, while thoughts come and go. The sound is there, your thoughts flow nicely, and you feel the muscles in your neck and shoulders relax. It feels good. Then you start thinking about a colleague with whom you find it difficult to work. You continue repeating the sound, but it seems the last part of it is becoming weaker. An image of your colleague’s face appears in your mind. How irritating. You think a lot about him throughout the day, and now he appears in your meditation as well… Then you remember your desk with a stack of papers to be dealt with, and your mind goes to a couple of deadlines you have missed. No wonder you’re tired. The meditation sound is there, yes, you should include the last syllable, fine. Then you start thinking of the time and feel a bit restless. You do your best; meditation sound and thoughts merge. Then you suddenly realize that you’ve been carried away in thought. The sound is absent. You are quick to focus on the sound again, there it is, this is better. You’re a little surprised by the content of the thoughts you were in. There was an image of a field there. It’s not a place you’ve been, so it’s hardly important, you think. You do not remember much more, it was indistinct and you wonder if you slept a bit. Then you notice that the sound is in the background, as if you can’t get a good grip on it. There is the restlessness again, and the image of your colleague comes back. This isn’t exactly what you expected.

office workers againGlimpses from a course session

The meditation above could have taken place while you attended a follow-up course in Acem Meditation. It’s motivating to meet others, and you get to meditate more regularly. Yet you’re just semi-happy with your meditation, and somewhat reluctant to join the next meeting. You’re quiet for a while, then eventually start to talk about your meditation. “Yes, but the images of your colleague, that’s just a thought as any other,” says one of the other participants. “I notice that you are concerned about the sound being clear,” says the instructor, “why is that important to you?” “It’s the way it should be, isn’t it?”, you say, while “a thought as any other” passes through your mind. “Should be?” the instructor says. The dialogue goes back and forth, and it gradually dawns on you that you spend more energy on the sound than necessary. You push away thoughts about work.

Your thoughts go back to the beginner’s course and you remember an illustration the instructor used. It explained the value of letting the thoughts pass freely through the mind. You also remember her mentioning that the clarity of the sound may vary. You haven’t seen the connection between what you learned then and your meditation recently. At the meeting, you are also reminded that it’s OK if the sound is completely gone for a while, and you realize that you tend to put some extra effort into repeating it again, to do it “properly”. On your way back home, it occurs to you that the topics you talked about today have been discussed in earlier sessions, but it was as if you had to rediscover them.

Inner rationales

You may know the phrase “can’t see the forest for the trees”. It applies to meditation as well. You may be in the middle of something important, but can’t see the big picture, and wish things were different. We’ve all got some inner rationales that control how we experience our meditation. It can make you somewhat blind. It’s then easy to devaluate both your meditation and its results. Letting yourself into the meditation process is to see that “what happened” is full of inner life and quite OK. That may, over time with regular meditation, expand your horizon and give you new perspectives.

Photo: Chris Ballard
Copy editor: Ann Kunish

Ellen Gravklev meditationEllen Gravklev is an Acem Meditation initiator and a senior adviser at the University of Oslo. She learned to meditate in 1984, became an instructor in 1991 and initiator in 2009. She has taught meditation in Norway, the US, Luxembourg, and the UK. Ellen holds a Bachelor of International Business, is married with one child, and lives in Oslo, Norway.