Monday, October 6, 2014

Mental Discipline Writeup

I began working on my meditation requirement in early October of 2013, and have continued at least twice a week up until the time of this writing, and I plan to continue doing so into the future as well. When I first began trying to work on meditation, I unfortunately had a great deal of difficulty with it. I downloaded a copy of Ian Corrigan's recording of the Two Powers meditation, and for the first month tried nearly every day to follow along with the meditation.

This turned out to be an incredibly difficult task for me. Though the meditation itself is just short of ten minutes, I found myself asleep before the end of the meditation every single time I attempted to work through it. This isn't to say that I didn't make any strides – in fact, I experienced some definite growth and changes during the first half or so of each attempt – but the outcome was always the same. About the middle of October, I began noticing that I could feel energy flowing within myself when the meditation directed me to reach my roots down into the cool water below the earth; I felt a cool tingling come up from my feet and spread across my whole body. Likewise, when I reached my branches to the sun, I could feel the warm sunlight, and its warmth suffused through me and mixed with the cool tingly energy just as the meditation described. Unfortunately, I don't think I have ever gotten beyond this mixing point when listening to the Two Powers.

This continued on for another month or so, each time failing to even make it through to the end of the meditation. After awhile, I posted on the ADF facebook page, begging for help figuring out my problem. I was getting incredibly discouraged – I know the point of the DP is to at least try a variety of things, but I felt as if my attempts were getting me absolutely nowhere. I'd discovered a great way to get myself to sleep at night if I was having trouble with insomnia, but I wanted to go deeper and discover more.

On the facebook page, a few different ideas were presented that I decided to try out. The idea I liked the most was a walking meditation, but unfortunately by that time of year it was much too cold outside for me to comfortably walk about for more than a few minutes. So I began another form of moving meditation: I returned to doing a Sun Salutation morning devotional, this time with a focus on clearing my mind as I moved through the yoga poses. I practiced this meditation almost every morning for six months, and I did enjoy it, but it wasn't quite the traditional sort of blank-mind meditation that I suppose I had in mind when I set out to learn to meditate. Once spring came again, I decided to try out some of the warmer-weather ideas.

The first was a walking meditation, which actually turned out to not work for me at all. Continuing to do my sun salutations, so I could actually have some productive mental discipline time, I added a walk in the afternoon when I could have some time without my children. I found the actual act of walking calming in the same way that my yoga in the morning was, but unfortunately there were way too many distractions in my neighborhood – neighbors would say hi, family (since we live in the same neighborhood as my in-laws and my husband's aunt and uncle) would drive by and honk and wave, and overall I found it the very opposite of peaceful to be constantly jarred out of a meditative state. I think it might work better for me to walk in the very early morning or in a different location, but I'm not able to make that work with my children-limited schedule.

The second idea I tried was a focused meditation – the idea is to focus on a square of ground or some other part of nature and to let one's thoughts quiet while contemplating it. This was something I had a great deal of success with. I think having some visual input is very helpful for me to stay awake; I am a fairly powerful visualizer, but with my eyes closed and no one else around, the signals for sleep are apparently just too strong. My usual practice involved climbing up my backyard oak tree in the afternoon, putting my hands on the trunk, and just studying that tiny patch of trunk or leaves. I did not set a timer when doing this, because I only had action to an old-fashioned ticking type which was often distracting. I found that I usually was done in about half an hour, including time to climb up and down the oak; so it's probably somewhere around 15 minutes of actual meditation. Once I had realized how effective this was, after about a week, I switched to this form instead of my morning yoga; and began doing a simple version of the Core Order of Ritual as my morning devotional instead.

Now that the weather is beginning to get colder again, I've been driven back inside and can no longer climb trees in the afternoon. Luckily, before it began to get cold, I attended the Midnight Flame Festival and was able to attend Nick Egelhoff's workshop on different types of meditation. I found a great affinity for a square breathing meditation – where I breathe in for three, hold my breath for three, exhale for three, and hold again for three more. Something about the counting and the concentration that it requires from me is very engaging, and I am able to clear my mind without it being so unoccupied that I slip into sleep. It's not as lovely as meditating in a tree, but it is very relaxing.

I never have had as physical a reaction to meditation as I did when feeling the energy in the Two Powers; that was a unique experience that I don't think can be replicated with the simpler, less visualization-heavy kinds of meditation that I've been trying since. I find meditation very relaxing and calming, and it helps me deal with the stress of the day. When I switched my meditation from morning to afternoon, I did notice a change – but it was not a drastic one, since I was still doing a morning devotional that was calming and centering for me, though not exactly a meditation. I found that doing something both in the morning and afternoon was really helpful; it's the natural midpoint of my day when my children are either asleep or at school, so I found it a great time to pause and recharge, and it really increased my patience in the later half of the day. I also found it easier, after a few months of practice, to get into a ritual mindset immediately at the start of a rite, which was very helpful for me both in my solitary practice and as a leader of ritual.

All in all, beginning a meditation practice has been incredibly beneficial to me, and honestly I wish I had started sooner. I meditate almost every day, and have done so since beginning this experiment, and it has enabled me become better at both concentration and entering and staying in a ritual mindset. Once I tried something new, and overcame the problem of falling asleep during meditation, it became a powerful tool; one I will absolutely continue to practice.

1 comment:

  1. I came across your blog while on a blog perusal via 'next blog' button.
    It's good to read that you're getting to grips with meditation, I've been a meditator for years and I can't tell you how beneficial it's been to me in so many ways.

    When I began, almost 31 years ago, I found facing the east and acknowledging, being aware of the 7 directions whilst meditating made it easier, as it follows the suns direction as we perceive it through the day.

    I shall never forget the first time I actually 'got it' in meditation: I couldn't feel my body at all and then I had a amazing 'whooosing' sensation when I felt my consciousness expand and I realised I had no limits, I felt like a consciousness suspended in space. Things have settled down a bit since then! good luck with it.