By Tor Hersoug
Are there any links between low self-images and meditation? Quite a few, actually. Low self-images may emerge in the meditation as spontaneous thoughts and feelings; they may influence the way we meditate, often without our awareness, as well as our motivation to continue to meditate.
Few things influence our lives more strongly than low self-images. Most of us have experienced feeling stupid about something we have said or done; or we have felt inferior because someone didn’t want to be with us; or felt insufficient after failures – «the others did better». Children may feel valueless when they don’t feel loved or appreciated by their parents.
Feeling inferior may be painful. Some try to repress their low self-esteem. If you always try to think that you are important, successful and competent, it may help in the moment, but has its costs in the long run. You would avoid situations and relationships to others that might activate the underlying feeling of inferiority. You may choose to do things in order to impress others and gain respect. You may try to be surrounded by persons and objects that may strengthen your self-esteem. But all of this makes it more difficult to handle certain psychological themes in an open and genuine way.
Even those who haven’t repressed their low self-images tend to struggle to avoid being captured by them. The fear of being rejected – and feeling inferior – governs how they relate to others: who their friends are, and who they try to establish romantic relationships with. It may also govern their choice of a professional career – what they have the courage to do – or believe they can manage. Many choices are made in order to avoid the feeling of failure and shame.
The central aspect of Acem Meditation is to repeat the meditation sound with a free mental attitude – i.e., create an open attitude towards anything that emerges spontaneously in the mind during meditation. At times, we may doubt whether we meditate in a good way – or correctly. The doubt may develop into certainty: «I don’t do it right. Others meditate better than me. Too many thoughts are coming. The meditation sound disappears too quickly. There is something wrong with me that makes it impossible to do it better.” This is one way the low self-images unfold.
The examples above describe the phenomenon of metathoughts in Acem Meditation. At the outset, we do not see them as anything particular. They are just part of our perception of ourselves and the world. Though we seldom reflect about it, they influence the way we meditate. We often end up using more concentration in the repetition of the meditation sound, for instance in order to avoid having the sound disappear too easily. We may also delay going back to the meditation sound when we have the option, because we have given up, since we «cannot meditate properly anyway».
One step further
However, over time, we may become more aware of the negative thoughts. Then we may discover that it is an option not to believe blindly in them, without reflection, and that we can let them come and go like any other thought or feeling that emerges during meditation. Then we have the option to repeat the meditation sound with the free mental attitude even when the metathoughts are present. We have got one step further. We no longer let the negative metathoughts automatically influence the way we repeat the meditation sound – in other words, the way we act.
This is what the world is like
In our daily life, negative thoughts about ourselves may at times govern our ways of acting. Low self-images may contain thoughts about who we are and what others might think about us, although they may not be true. Often, we do not reflect upon them, they are «just the way I see the world». To become conscious of their influence on the meditation practice – in the way we repeat the meditation sound – is to be conscious of certain aspects of our low self-images and how they influence us. This awareness helps us to see how the low self-images have an impact on our ways of behaving in daily life. This gives us freedom not to be governed by the «instructions» from the low self-images. We may see new options and make different choices based on true reflection.
In daily meditation, the content of the spontaneous thoughts is often trivial. However, by continuously trying to meet ourselves with a freer and more open attitude, via the repetition of the meditation sound, we gradually become more open for what is inside of us. Thoughts and feelings about various situations in life may emerge, for instance experiences when feelings of shame and failure were present. To meet psychological themes with a free mental attitude in meditation enables us to become more conscious of ourselves and our emotions. When we let the emotions come, and unfold, we will obtain more distance to them, and we become more likely to see how low self-images often influence our decisions. This gives us more freedom and makes us less governed by the low self-images.
Easier to live with
The low self-images don’t disappear forever, but the quality of life improves when we are less governed by them. We become more able to live with them and accept that they are part of us, and a natural part of life. When we see that they do not reflect the truth, they become less painful, and we can choose more freely what we want to do.
Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug
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