Mental Discipline Essay [Dedicant Path Requirement]

My mental discipline practice spanned a period of just over 5 months – February 10th to July 10th. It was by far the most difficult piece of my Dedicant work. I’ve always thought of myself as a strong-willed person, but undertaking a meditation practice showed me that I still have a long way to go in terms of sharpening my will. During my official period of mental discipline practice, I set aside at least ten minutes for meditation at least twice a week using one of the methods I detail below. Often the time was longer or the sessions more frequent, but it was extremely variable. I used multiple methods of meditation as well: the Two Powers meditation, in various forms; moving meditation, both in terms of yoga and in terms of walking and other conscious mundane movement; sitting with the breath, sometimes with no-mind, sometimes focusing on an object; pulse control meditation; putting yet awareness in different parts of my body; and an energy center meditation method I picked up from Castaneda’s the Art of Dreaming. I think that using so many different kinds of meditation gave me a better grasp of what a state of focus or concentration feels like. The Two Powers meditation is familiar and comfortable to me. (“tried to do Two Powers meditation before bed, and I got things to separate on the inside but never quite got them to actually connect on the outside. I should not meditate in bed. Although I do wonder – if you get rooted strongly enough, and then sleep, do you expand, or contract? Do you travel in dreams? Could it create a sort of healing trance if you grounded enough?”) It’s easy to do when I’m calm and centered – natural – but getting to calm and centered is a totally different matter, so I decided to focus on other forms of meditation. Initially, I chose to use moving meditation, yoga, to fulfill my meditation requirement. I deal with severe anxiety, and my experience has been that if the body isn’t moving, the mind is running wild. Moving meditation seemed a natural place to begin. Results were variable – entries in my journal from this period are alternately irritated (“I took a coffee-break practice this morning, but my brain wouldn’t shut up and breathing didn’t work – it sucked.”) and satisfied (“Practiced for an hour and a half today, stayed right with my breath and nothing else. It was really good. Immense concentration of energy.”) A couple of times I decided to shake up my moving meditation practice and did things like walking the labyrinth at the local UU church, which was a turning point. Labyrinth-walking produced the most immediate snap into a trance space that I have ever experienced. (“It was mesmerizing in the most literal sense of the word. It was like being hypnotized, like falling. I don’t even know how to describe it; my mind went totally still, like walking a tightrope…”) At some point in the second month I decided that sitting with the breath meditation would be good forms moral fiber, so I started doing that at least once a week. That rapidly became the entirety of my meditation practice – a few minutes set aside every day to sit and breathe, or to sit and feel the trees, or the river flowing. This practice allowed me to make contact with land-wights in a totally new way – not much luck with the rivers, but with spirits of place and spirits of trees? Yes. (“..these pines are my friends. I can feel campus’ head land spirit in a way I never could before. It’s a feminine presence, unlike on the other side of the river, where the main spirit is overwhelmingly masculine. A staff with an owl just begging to be carved from the top appeared to be left for me after I’d spent a lot of time picking up litter on campus; I think it was a gift…”) Another thing I picked up in this period was a type of breathing my yoga teacher taught us for meditation – in four, hold four to eight, out four – which, when combined with pulse meditation, is hypnotically soothing and makes it really easy to slip into a meditative trance. This is still probably the method I use most often, if I’m sitting somewhere with nothing to do. Towards the end of my five months, a friend gave me a book called The Art of Dreaming, and in reading it I gained two more methods of meditation that I use regularly. The first was something I did as a kid, although I wouldn’t have called it meditation then: trying to ‘see’ out of different parts of my body. (My preferred method is to focus on seeing things as if my eyes were positioned in my neck, under my chin. It takes a surprising amount of concentration and mental flexibility to maintain this perspective.) The second is something I had never encountered before but have had huge and fascinating results with. The author of the book posits that the human’s energetic center and center of consciousness is contained in an energetic ball about six inches directly behind and in the center of their shoulder blades. Most recently I have been meditating by focusing on that ball; doing so produces a lot of crackling energetic noise that feels very similar to the quaking I sometimes experience when meditating in lotus position with certain mudras – almost as if you’re vibrating out of your body. This and pulse meditation are probably the two methods I use most often in my practice.
When I started this requirement, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through five months of regimented meditation with my monkey mind. It’s funny how, even though I don’t have to meditate anymore, the instinct to do so surfaces often. It’s habit – if I’m bored or upset or sitting, instead of just screwing around on my phone or trying to think about other things, my response is almost automatically to stop, and sit, and breathe. Prior yoga practice had taught me the value and importance of sitting down at a table with my uncomfortable feelings, or even of leaning into them, but it hadn’t become habit. Meditation covers those times as well as the empty spaces that sneak into the day. I’m actually a little surprised by how much meditation has snuck into my life. I think I’m beginning to understand something I read in a Buddhist manual on meditation several years ago – meditation is a constant state of awareness, clarity, focus. Everything that disrupts you is simply a bell bringing you back to awareness. You wouldn’t think that we need so much help learning to breathe, to be quiet, to sit and think, but it really is a discipline – the hardest, I think. While this was a difficult requirement to fulfill, I think that, for me, it may have been the most valuable.