ADF Dedicant Path: Mental Discipline
I knew from the beginning that the mental discipline component of the Dedicant Path (DP) would be the most challenging of the requirements for me to complete. It is, in fact, one of the reasons that my time spent on this path has exceeded a year. I officially began the DP in mid June of 2015 and attempted to begin my 23 weeks of meditation in mid September of 2015. After many failed attempts at consecutive weeks of meditation, I finally managed to begin a weekly routine by March of 2016.
Despite the rocky beginning, I was proud of myself for managing to meditate every other week or two weeks, many of which included multiple days of meditation. But impressing myself was not enough to pass the requirement. When I realized I had run out of time to complete the 23 required weeks within a year, I felt somewhat defeated, but I kept at it none the less.
My inability to meditate weekly in the beginning had nothing to do with lack of interest, but everything to do with lack of time. I was a graduate student when I began the DP. Though it is usually easy to invent or steal time for interests, meditation is an interest that requires an alert mind. Unfortunately, I spent all of my potential free time half awake or asleep. I could sleep just about any where at any time. Never before had I ever been able to sleep so easily. I must thank graduate school for curing my insomnia. It should go without saying that meditation was physically impossible for me much of the time. Nevertheless, I made every effort to attempt it several days a week in those first months. Many times I’d pull out my meditation cushion, light a candle, and proceed to the nearest comfortable location to take a nap instead.
When I left graduate school, I didn’t quite find the spare time or freedom from fatigue that I had expected, but I managed to schedule my naps more efficiently. I could finally guarantee myself times to meditate when I wouldn’t be falling asleep. Having spent most of my non-consecutive weekly meditations exploring my options, I had a pretty good idea of what worked for me and what didn’t when I started the official 23 weeks. I had previously tried meditative coloring, walking meditation, Zazen, visualization, guided meditation, and journeying. I also experimented with different background music and sound affects.
It turns out that Zazen is my favorite. Therefor, it became my default for regular meditation sessions when I started the 23 weeks for the last time. When I first began meditating, simply focusing on or counting breaths was challenging. Thinking about my breathing caused me some anxiety, as does thinking about my heartbeat. The more I focused on my breath, the more I felt like I couldn’t do it naturally. I felt like I wasn’t getting enough air and I kept yawning, which distracted me from the meditation. It was my initial difficulty with Zazen that started me on an exploration of the alternatives, though I kept returning to it periodically as a test of my progress. All of the different forms of meditation I tried presented a challenge to some degree, but I believe that each of them had a cumulative positive effect on my mental abilities which made revisiting previously challenging activities a little easier each time.
Though I encountered the bulk of my challenges before I started a consecutive 23 weeks of meditation, I am including the most notable of them for reference. When Zazen proved to be a challenge, as described above, I decided to add music to my meditation sessions, thinking that it may distract me from my anxiety about my breath. Indeed the music helped, but it took me a while to find music (or sound effects) that didn’t also cause me anxiety in other ways. As a woman with Aspergers, I have many sensory sensitivities. Many sounds, and even what seem like harmless melodies, can cause me distress. Often, I would find a meditation track to listen to only to be caught off guard ten minutes into it when a new sound is suddenly introduced. After a while, I found that I was able to calm myself of more severe sound-induced anxiety attacks because of my simultaneous work with breathing and periodic return to silent meditation.
Guided meditations were difficult for me as well because I had trouble syncing my thoughts, actions, and body with the prompts. It bothered me that my deep breaths in and out never lined up with the corresponding instruction. Guided tree and Two Powers meditations were challenging because my physical form didn’t always align well with descriptions for where my roots or branches were supposed to be growing from. If I was seated in a chair and roots grew from my feet, for example, I felt off balance because they weren’t also growing from my spine. Guided meditations have become easier since I began journey meditations, which help me attain detachment from my physical form while in meditation.
My current meditation routine involves a Zazen meditation once a week, preceding my weekly devotional. When I started the 23 weeks, I was doing daily devotionals, but I would only do a long meditation session before one of them and a quick Two Powers meditation before the others. In addition to my weekly Zazen meditation, I continue to explore other methods, though I don’t do so every week. Most recently, I have been exploring shamanistic journeying in more depth. I recently attended a shamanism workshop which, I am happy to say, was a lot more rewarding than it would have been had I not spent the last several months (or rather, year and some months) building up my mental discipline.