By Rolf Brandrud
Most who learn Acem Meditation find it a positive experience. The method is easy to learn, simple to practice and gives us benefits such as relaxation, increased energy, and greater bodily well-being. This is the case not only for those who continue to meditate regularly but also for those who do not continue their practice. Why do they stop meditating? They often simply state that they «just didn’t do it anymore».
Ceasing to do something that is good for us is something we may do not only with meditation, but also with many other activities we experience as positive, for example, physical exercise, losing weight, learning a new language, or trying out new challenges at work or in private relationships. Despite having the motivation, many simply do not pursue a further practice of regular meditation beyond the first weeks or months.
We may want to, but somehow are unable to manage – without knowing why. Experience shows that there are three challenges that particularly may make us stumble: Giving sufficient priority to meditation, tolerating discomfort during the process, and tolerating the burden of low self-esteem.
«Don’t you have any 30-second meditations to offer?»
The question came up during a course at a PR agency in New York City. The main office in the agency is lively – two large, open office landscapes with 1000 employees who commute to work over long distances, have strict deadlines, and often have high ambitions, for example about winning the world’s highest PR awards. In this stressful environment, there may be great benefits to be gained from a meditation practice – if one manages to find the time. The challenge is to integrate meditation routines into an already busy day. The dilemma is easy to recognize. How can it be solved?
«Why do I meditate? Because I am so busy that I don’t have time not to »
The statement is from a meditator who maintains a regular meditation practice. What is most important, he claims, is not how many hours one works on a project, but how alert and awake you are while you are working. Tired minds make work burdensome, while alert minds find better solutions more easily. The half hours of meditation may, therefore, be timesaving!
«If it has to be like this, I don’t care to do it»
It usually feels good to meditate. We relax, feel more awake afterward, and may continue our activities refreshed. But it isn’t always like this. At times it feels like time passes more slowly, we become restless and we may also get bored. The temptation may then become strong to clench our teeth and fight to get rid of the discomfort. Or – when we don’t succeed with that –give up. «We didn’t learn meditation in order to get bored!»
However, here it is easy to miss something important. In a scientific study, a group of meditators was asked how they felt about their meditation. Was it good or not? During meditation, the changes in their breathing and galvanic skin resistance were measured. These measurements indicate to what extent the meditators actually relaxed. Surprisingly, there were no correlations between their judgments of good versus bad meditation and the degree of bodily relaxation that actually occurred. Even though «bad» meditation feels uncomfortable, it still provides good relaxation both during and after.
«Why should I try something I do not master?»
Nobody enjoys struggling, trying to master a skill when their feeling is that they are not able to. The more hopeless it all seems, the less meaningful it feels to continue. But this is actually a challenge we may constructively meet. Be it dance, sports, studies, work tasks, or meditation, nobody has perfect skills from day one. In order to make progress, there will always be phases of learning ahead of us, where we have to try, practice, fumble, and try again. If we consistently avoid the trying out process, learning becomes difficult, if not impossible – in meditation as well as in life.
Endurance and sensitive practice – Stay and Play!
Usually, meditation gives us good benefits. But not always. When what emerges from the spontaneous side of our mind does not feel comfortable, there are two challenges. One is simply to persist. This involves accepting what is there when we often want to be in a different place where we are not restless, bored, or afflicted by self-criticism. This means accepting that such thoughts and feelings are like the weather – we cannot control them or push them away. We must develop stamina and gradually acquire greater freedom in our relationship to our spontaneous activity.
The other challenge is to develop a sensitivity in how we repeat the meditation sound when we encounter spontaneous activity that does not feel pleasant. Not to be rigid and inflexible – following an impulse to «Fight». And not to give up and become indifferent – following an impulse towards «Flight». It is better to try out with sensitivity to how the repetition of the sound and the spontaneous flow interplay. Not as confrontation, and not as indifference, but as a reciprocal interaction in an arena where «Stay and Play» is the rule.
When we are able to get there, we know that «this is good, and something will come out of this».