By Carl Henrik Grøndahl

Not a feeling

The free mental attitude is associated with action, with the way we do something, sense, think, speak, act. When we enter the driver’s seat of a car for the first time, we aren’t able to drive effortlessly while simultaneously participating in a joyful or interesting conversation. The mental capabilities required to do so are not yet available to us. The challenge appears too complex and dangerous, and the fact that we may not be able to cope with the situation puts us on our guard and makes us close our minds. In order to be alert and present in traffic in an effortless way, and to have sufficient control of the technical aspects of driving, we need practice. Only then can we drive with a free mental attitude. Even so, new traffic situations beyond our control can pop up, and then we again find ourselves outside the mental zone where we have a free mental attitude. We become irrational and it’s easy to do stupid things.

Most of us try our best to live within the area of our free mental zone, where we can act without conflict and struggle, and without straining our self-image. There we behave in constructive ways and interact creatively. A soccer coach has named this the zone of flow. When however we find ourselves in situations that leave us with bad feelings, we are outside our free mental zone: “Those stupid things I did! I shouldn’t have said that! Why wasn’t I able to stand up for myself?” In such situations, we don’t have access to the free mental attitude in our thoughts, our speech, or our actions. We return to the free mental attitude only after we have left the situation.

Stress shrinks the free mental zone

When we are tired or stressed, things we normally do in an effortless way can become difficult and tense. Daily meditation is a superb tool to vacuum the free mental zone of dust and get rid of debris that can blur our thoughts.

The fear of losing a free mental attitude can limit our self-expression. We can avoid situations where we feel we don’t perform well enough. Stay at home, and keep away from things that challenge us. Maybe our zone of freedom will gradually shrink, and our relaxed coping will be reduced. Maybe there is a reason so many actors remain vital at an advanced age. They have lived at the edge of their free mental attitude – both by frequently having had to memorize large amounts of text and by having cramps and anxiety about going on stage every evening.

A life governed by the fear of being outside the comfort zone can become a routine; empty, perhaps a life unlived. Most long-lasting and intimate social relationships offer ample opportunities to experience things that are difficult to cope with. Life often presents us with actualizations, which involve situations where we are under the influence of irrational sediment left behind by previous relationships and interactions. We lose the capacity to act freely. And we feel bad afterward.

Toward the edge

Nobody likes to live like this, but in order to expand the area of our free mental attitude, we must at times go to the edge to expand our limits. This is where Acem Meditation brings us – particularly long meditations. In meditation, we actively explore what life brings us, in the freedom of our mental attitude, in the way we practice Acem Meditation.

The repetition of the meditation sound helps us to move towards the edge of our zone of freedom.  When we arrive at the edge, it is because we are under the influence of actualization – the gradual emergence of unconscious resistance to change. In meditation, this can have various forms and expressions. It might feel like something is glued to the sound and causes trouble. It might feel like a squabble about the repetition, or meta thoughts – like a hammer – about how ridiculous and inadequate we are. It might be a silent resistance that makes us irregular in our meditation habits or makes us want to skip meditation altogether. Being at the edge is not comfortable. There are many reasons to avoid it. Life at the edge breaks with our customary experience of good meditation and the good life. “It wasn’t as good as I thought,” one participant claimed at a weeklong retreat.

But if we want to reach beyond our limits, we sometimes need to approach the edge. “It was better afterward than I had expected.” And in long meditations, reaching beyond our limits is done in a methodical way, which makes true change more available than in our blurred everyday lives, where others push and pull us in different directions and have their own shares in our self-image. When we arrive at the edge with the repetition of the sound, this initially triggers our established routine of alarms and reactions, and we respond automatically, without the free mental attitude. We struggle, worry, feel scattered, accuse ourselves and those around us, get angry, feel inadequate, as if we stink. Traffic is so intense and dangerously obscure that every attempt to drive with a free mental attitude seems impossible.

Moment of change

This is the moment! This is when we have the option to make a change. Instead of being hit and pushed around by all our inner conflicts, we try to be there with a free mental attitude. Find back to the effortless repetition of the sound, even when our insides are snotty and dirty. It isn’t easy, life isn’t like that. We need to make difficult choices, with our own free will. But it is doable. Again and again. It is about finding our own resources. We let them emerge and release them into new areas of our inner wilderness.

This means that we must also finetune our understanding of what a free mental attitude involves. Only a cool, easy-going phenomenon in nice weather and tailwind? With no hard feelings or high temperature? Hardly. We may just as well be mentally free when we are angry. There is a huge difference between someone who acts with a free mental attitude when angry and someone who doesn’t. The one who acts freely has contact with the anger and is at the same time able to take in the responses this anger evokes in others. His or her anger doesn’t trigger the undercurrents of rage with origins in earlier relationships and situations. We are all acquainted with the person who doesn’t have a free mental attitude when angry.

It is this mature, generous person inside us who we seek when we sit there in the actualizations at the edge of our free zone. This enables us to navigate with the steady part of us amidst all the mental distortions that are thrown at us. In our free mental zone, we make use of our maturity, generosity, carefulness, and steadiness – and, not least, we accept our own imperfections.

Something in us wants to chase away what is experienced as a disturbance to our meditation practice – strangle it and get rid of it. When we repeat the meditation sound with such a mental attitude, it isn’t effortless, it’s a fight. A fight that we have experienced many times before. It doesn’t change a bit. On the contrary, it reduces the area of our free mental zone, narrowing its borders.

The free mental attitude changes something because it accepts that even the unpalatable, deplorable, and undesirable are part of us.


Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug
Language editor: Ann Kunish