“When people sign up for a meditation course, they are often at a point in their life where they are under strain in one way or another”, says Cathrine Pedersen, project manager and instructor in Acem.
Cathrine Pedersen went from management positions at the Postal Service to doing research on educational institutions and the interaction between teachers and students. Along the way, meditation has been a help to dare to try out new ways to do things.
She learned to meditate at the age of 21 in 1992. Before she got her PhD and started as a researcher, she worked for over 10 years in various management positions at the Norwegian Postal Service.
“Acem’s many activities have taught me to embrace my vulnerable sides. This is not about feeling sorry for yourself, but about being in contact with different parts of yourself.”
In the early 20s, things could come out of Cathrine a little undigested and at times in somewhat weird ways. Cathrine says that meditation has helped her to more easily recognize negative emotions without letting them interfere with her relationship with other people.
“It has become easier to sort out my own reactions before I act on them as a response in the world. It has helped me both as a leader and as a researcher.”
This too shall pass
Meditation has taught her to deal with negative emotions.
“Sometimes you can encounter demanding situations or tasks at work, and then the meditation experience can be a good thing to have with you. You might think that ‘Okay, that’s the way it is now. But it won’t be like that all the time. In a few days, I will gain more perspective on what is challenging in the present moment.’”
As a manager at the Postal Service, but also as a manager of research projects, Cathrine has received feedback that she can be quite direct, but in a sympathetic way.
“As a project manager, I work with professionally skilled and independent people. You have to understand when to let people decide for themselves, and when to take action.”
When Cathrine was the manager of a large IT project at the Postal Service, she was challenged to be able to change perspective.
“I didn’t really have responsibility for human resources. But private life affects your work situation, and it was important that I, as a manager, took that into account. The sensitivity I cultivated in meditation helped me to take in different perspectives. It became easier not to be too limited by my own personal perspective. That enabled me to change course when necessary.”
Having been out on a winter night before
After completing a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Trondheim, Cathrine worked for a period in research. She later returned to the field when she started her PhD studies in 2014.
“The PhD program was demanding. Being a student had been a good experience for me, but that muscle was in need of exercise after many years in work life. There was a transition from having to take part in daily meetings, a lot of collaboration and everything that pushes you up to speed during a working day, to sitting there alone, with one meeting with a supervisor every two weeks.”
Cathrine describes it as a lonely and highly demanding journey.
“At the start of the project, for a long time I felt like an “imposter”. Still, I had promised myself that I could give up after a year if I found that the program wasn’t for me. I chose to go ahead even though it became demanding. I also think that meditation helped me a lot. Meditation is practicing a form of resilience, the ability to face up to what is difficult. You get the feeling of having been outside on a winter night before.
For Cathrine, returning to research was about values.
“I wanted to help people, to do something more health-related. The PhD project was about getting people motivated to increase their physical activity. I worked with mailmen and drivers at the Postal Service, people who don’t easily get the opportunity to have physical activity arranged for them.
Today, Cathrine works with school research.
“It is meaningful to work on how to make everyday school life better for teachers, students, and principals.”
In Acem, Cathrine gets to practice some of the same skills by being an instructor.
“When people sign up for a meditation course, they are often at a point in their life where they are under strain in one way or another. It is rewarding to meet people at that point and teach them a relaxation method and an understanding that enables them to cope better with their life situation. When I cycle home after doing an Acem meditation course, I often feel calm and uplifted.”
You can’t just sit still and wait for insight.
The transition from working life to research did not come by itself. When Cathrine had a child and was going on maternity leave for the first time, she thought she would have plenty of time to think about what she wanted to do next in life.
“I imagined that an intuitive picture of the future would emerge as if by itself. But it wasn’t like that.” Cathrine was caught up in the many challenges and activities of everyday life.
“Meditation has taught me that you cannot sit still and passively wait for insight and understanding to come to you.”
In meditation, it is the repetition of the meditation sound that creates change. Cathrine draws a parallel to everyday life.
“It is important to be active and challenge yourself. Maybe apply for that job even if it’s not quite the right one. Meditation is good for mental hygiene and relaxing, but it also teaches you that you must dare to do something.”
Cathrine believes that one must allow oneself to grope.
“It’s easy to think that if I grope and flounder now, that says something negative about me. ‘Everyone else probably thinks I’m insecure. But if you dare to take a few steps, without knowing where they will end, then the way forward also becomes clearer. Dare to try, to challenge yourself, is an important principle from the meditation process that I carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Interview by Jonas Meyer
Translated by Eirik Jensen