|6. Mental discipline, through the use of meditation project.The experiences in the essay or journal should cover at least a five months period. (800 words min.)|
I began my meditation practice on May 18th, 2018 and continued through November 16th, 2018, a total of 27 weeks of regular meditation practice. It is now December 1st, 2018, and I have continued with my daily devotional practice that evolved out of my meditation work but am no longer consistently making time to meditate outside of my daily devotions except the occasional guided meditation. This is something that I would like to continue to work on as I see where I still need to build significant skill, particularly in being able to settle in my mind and body quietly and simply listen to myself and to the Kindreds. I also feel pulled strongly towards developing trance skills and these mental discipline skills are foundational for that, I think.
I began learning meditation with a Grove class on Zentangle and mandala drawing. I tried this technique for three weeks, sitting down at least twice a week with drawing materials. I found it an engrossing process and could easily lose track of time engaged in creating pattern after pattern; however, I struggled with the constant engagement of my critical and analytical mind. It was rare for me to be able to let go of the need for perfection, an unattainable state to be sure but one which I constantly strive for regardless.
I am a doctoral student in clinical psychology and use mindfulness with clients on a routine basis, so in week 2 I began to use mindful awareness activities at least one a week. I find these beneficial for my mental wellbeing and for being present, connected, and embodied. They are not very useful for moving into a state of detachment or a place of flow for me but were very useful for connecting to the energies of a place or a moment. In particular, I found that combining the “notice five things” in each sense modality with visiting my nature place (a tongue of land between a small manmade lake and the bayou on my university campus) brought me a deep sense of connectedness and heightened awareness of the natural world. I could spend five minutes marveling at the patterns of light and shadow on my skin and the difference in temperature between the sun’s direct gaze and leafy shadowed coolness or how a sudden breeze changed everything I sensed. I also found that using mindful awareness is the most effective grounding technique for me following ritual. Mindful eating during post-ritual potlucks where everything about a food is noticed and savored is especially helpful in this regard although I am nonetheless often left with a post-ritual high that jitters through me for a few hours.
During my second week I also began to experiment with counted breaths. I started for several weeks with a 4*2 pattern as I have asthma and holding my breath for any extended period was difficult. This was my most successful technique in terms of moving into a flow where I was focusing my attention on something so that my mind quieted. After a few weeks I became more successful at square 4*4 breaths and that became my preferred method. I can now move myself into a state of calm focus fairly rapidly using focus on a square breath pattern, sometimes in combination with focused attention on bodily sensation accompanying each part of the breath cycle. I at times also focus on an external stimulus, usually a candle flame in a darkened room, while use a square breathing pattern and find that this helps me move into a place of deep inner quiet or with raising energy. I also found in doing this practice that for the first time I am aware of my physical center, the place in my abdomen I breathe into and where my energy body is centered. I can now become aware of this center simply by taking a deep breath and opening my awareness to it. However, even as it has gotten easier to do this and to slip out of my normal state of analytical busy talkative mind, it remains difficult for me to stay there. I rarely last for more than five, sometimes ten minutes, before I become hypersensitive to environmental noise and am pulled out of that state.
Week five began with me adding work with the Two Powers, starting with recording from the Three Cranes Grove website and YouTube. The Two Powers recordings were my pet peeve for a few months. I create no mental images in any form; I cannot picture an apple or my husband’s face or my dogs. I can look at an object, close my eyes, and describe it in words but not “see” anything; I do not “see” stories as I read them either. It makes guided meditations of any kind frustrating with the heavy reliance on imagery oriented directives. I also found the pacing of many of the freely available Two Powers was too fast for me when I first started because I was trying to follow along and was not able to move beyond the directive to “see” or “picture” quickly enough. For me, energy work is less about visualization and more about a mixture of sensory stimulation and strong emotion. For example, when working with the underworld water power I must move into a state of physically feeling my roots growing down into the Earth and touching water and feeling that temperature differential and lapping waters and then that sensation moves up into and through my body, pooling at each of the 3 cauldrons, then pours over my skin. It takes time. Therefore, it was only in the last couple of months that I have been able to use the Two Powers recordings and not feel rushed as I have gotten used to the sensations I need to experience and can move into them more easily.
Doing the Two Powers in Grove ritual also helped; I have found that working with the Two Powers meditation on my own made Grove ritual smoother and that experiencing those energies amplified in the Grove helped me recognize the sensations in my personal work. Still, I am very reliant now on guided meditation for the Two Powers. I need further work on taking myself through it purely on my own. I get lost in the sensations and end up not completing the whole thing or being very strongly filled with one energy, often the underworld waters, over the other. I also find that anytime I do the Two Powers, whether I create Druid’s Mist or not, whether I intend to do a working or not, whether I ground after or not, I am left full of buzzy sparkling flowing energy. Obviously, there is a theme of needing work with grounding. I cannot help but wonder if this is because I live much of my life in my head and in narrative modes of being; not living in a very embodied way makes connecting to and grounding out very physical energies more difficult, I think.
In week 18 I began to try some inner grove work and some simple journeying. I completed the inner grove meditations available through the Three Crane Grove. I can so clearly feel and sense my inner grove and yet I cannot see it. It is hard to describe the way the sensation feels. I also used the guided meditation to travel to the isle of my ancestors with Garanus several times and the Druid Mist journeying recording. I noticed that there is a distinct difference in how my body feels when I do different types of these journeys. Going to my inner grove feels like going inward but then when I traveled with Garanus and through the mists I had this sense of vertigo, like I was about to fall down even though I was lying flat or was leaning at angle even though I was sitting upright. At the same time, my body had this sensation of buzzing or energy that I am not sure how to describe. This kind of work is something I need to take some dedicated time to explore as I feel like it is a different set of skills than the other things I have been doing thus far.
For me, the most important thing that came out of my mental discipline and meditation journal requirement was the development of a daily spiritual practice that continues. The last week of May and the third week of my mental discipline work, I started lighting a candle nightly for Brighid as part of my evening routine before I began my breathing. I began with simply lighting the candle in front of Her image and speaking to Her for a moment or two before moving into my breathing. Within a couple of weeks, I had written a virtue prayer for myself that I began reciting as part of this, and then another prayer in honor of Her. When I speak my prayer to her, I always stand in the orans position and when I say my virtue prayer I always stand with my hands cupped in front of my heart. These movements help me to feel centered and present, connected to the moment and the meaning. Every night for 3 months I combined chanting “may the fire of Brighid be the flame in my heart” with drumming on my thighs. That particular practice is excellent for loosening my grip on conscious control in favor of focused flow. I moved to a new apartment, however, and the walls are thinner, so it became obnoxious for my roommates to listen to me do that every night. Regardless, since the first night I lit a candle for Her, I have lit one every night and spoken some form of prayer. This quickly evolved into making an offering at least weekly plus any time the mood takes me; I have found she likes Irish whiskey, honeyed whiskey, and clear water with lavender. I also make a nightly prayer to her for healing for my Grove mates and anyone else I know who needs it, lighting a special candle. In the last month I also added the Cosmos prayer each morning, with particular bodily positions for each segment.
This daily practice combined with at least one monthly core order working and weekly Two Powers or inner grove meditations has formed the core of my personal spiritual work over the last few months. I find that I am more present from moment to moment in my daily life and perhaps more able to step away from a self-critical attitude. I am also more aware of my own physical self and of my energy body in relation to it, especially in terms of my center. However, I have not pushed myself enough to move beyond five to ten minutes of discipline work. I continue to struggle to not get caught up in my inner narrative and find it difficult to step away from that. I can see where I have developed some basic skills in this practice, as well as where I am have been blessed to have found such a fulfilling deity relationship and daily devotional work. I can also see where I have much to learn and much growing to do. I look forward to the work.