Note: The DP requirements give the option of a meditation journal OR an essay based on a 5-month period of meditation and journaling. Michael Dangler’s The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year(link available only to ADF members) strongly recommends writing the essay summing up one’s experience rather than simply handing in one’s journal. I used Michael’s publication and found it very useful, and I chose to hand in an essay. Honestly, I recommend it. It frees you of hesitating to journal personal information and, as you will see, you can provide a thematic analysis of lessons you learned in your meditation practice. What follows is an essay about my DP meditation experience.
This was, hands down, above and beyond, the hardest part of the Dedicant Path for me to walk. I have a very active mind: in my work as a fiction writer, I live almost entirely in my imagination, while in my work as a reporter and blogger, I am perpetually analyzing the world around me. I daydream to fall asleep, while I’m running, when I’m listening to music, when I’m washing the dishes, in the shower… Any time I’m not actively working on something, my mind is wandering. It took my three tries to complete a five-month period of meditation, and I believe it’s finally ‘stuck’: I muddled my way to an understanding of the Two Powers, I developed two specific and regular uses of meditation in my daily life, and Brigid worked her way into my meditation, just as she works her way into almost everything that I do.
First, to get some logistics out of the way, the date I managed to begin a consistent meditation practice was November 28, 2011, and I continued journaling my meditation experiences through into June 2012. While I continue to meditate, I no longer journaled after that point, simply because of the sheer busyness that came from planning a wedding. During that November to May period, I averaged meditating about three times a week, some weeks containing five or six sessions, others just one or two. However, I discovered that tying meditation to personal devotionals at the least (i.e., I do meditate at other times), kept my practice consistent.
My previous two attempts (December 2010-April 2011 and June 2011-August 2011) both ended abruptly when emotional disturbances disrupted my practice: the first time, my husband and I moved across the country, and the second time, my grandmother died and we learned about my mother-in-law’s breast cancer in the same week. While understandable, perhaps, this pattern is very telling: I was not associating mental discipline with my heart in any way. As soon as I became upset, I became unable to retain control of my thoughts—though, in the second instance, I quite excusably just didn’t care to try. This taught me for the third attempt that I needed to try to integrate meditation into my life in a more real way, and, because I perform devotionals at least once a week, emotional rain or shine, associating my meditation with my spiritual work made it far easier to do the bare minimum.
Overview aside, let’s talk about what I did. When I began, I found it necessary to use a prerecorded script of the Two Powers meditation to keep me focused. As I’ve said, I have a very active mental life, and stillness is hard for me to achieve. By having someone describe the Two Powers and how I should be relating to them, I could follow along with less effort than if I simply tried to still my mind on my own. The recording gave me a focus and even after I ‘graduated’ into working without it, I found that returning to the recording helped me concentrate on days when my mind refused to stop bouncing. Over the course of all my attempts, I can see a pattern of experimentation (moving meditation, meditation on questions, strict breathing-regulation, etc.), but I did find that the tried-and-true Two Powers worked the best for me. Eventually, the experimentation faded and I found myself using one form of the Two Powers or another to ground and center myself.
In general, I found that giving myself a single thing to focus on helped me more than anything else, whether that ‘thing’ was a recorded voice, a crystal, the ground beneath me, or the tree I was leaning on. I found that really enveloping my mind in an object kept my ‘monkey mind’ occupied and quiet. This is, however, a very limiting form of meditation that (for me) keeps the mind bound to the focus, thus preventing trance or any sort of detached mental exploration. One type of focus-exercise that did work well for me, however, was controlling my breath in a 3-counts-in, 3-counts out pattern and then concentrating on individual body parts, tensing and then relaxing them, until I reached my mind. I found that I could, from that relaxed state, then dissociate from my body quite easily.
This type of physical meditation helped me develop the strongest practice I still have, that of knowing the “feeling” of the Two Powers in my body and calling them up by concentrating on the sensation. (It’s very difficult to describe, but I’ll do my best.) After relaxing my body, I draw up the Earth power, feel it pooling in my body, healing and providing raw energy that replaces the physical tension I relaxed away. Then, I draw in the Sky power, illuminating the pools of earth power and electrifying my relaxed body. The resulting sensation, what I called in my journal, “the flowing-glowing feeling of connection to the earth and sky,” is one of potential energy, simultaneously relaxed and ready for action. While there’s no way to put the sensation into words, I can say that by imagining that feeling in my body, I could quickly ground myself and center my energies. This was a method that I could only build by experience: once I knew the ‘feeling,’ I could call it up without a very long visualization.
And no, the irony is not lost on me that the mentally-active girl found a physical way to get centered.
My flame-keeping shifts for Brigid also played a prominent role in my meditation. In March, I wrote, “I really love having these Brigid days to re-center on my hearth. It gives ‘grounding and centering’ a new layer of meaning, because, for me anyway, my hearth goddess is my grounding and centering. She is, at least, the center of my home and in the center of my heart. Focusing on her for a day realigns me. I found it much easier to perform a scripted Two Powers meditation when I was already focused and calm because of my time spent with her.” There are many instances in which I describe centering on Brigid, which is appropriate, given the hearth goddess’s central place in the home and practice. Brigid in particular is also a fitting deity for the Two Powers, given her association with both fire and wells.
Over the course of my journal, my ability to draw on the Two Powers and the “flowing-glowing feeling” grows strong enough that I mention using it to stay calm in tense situations. For example, I meditate to get centered and help myself fall asleep or I call on the Earth power to “ground” my temper when dealing with an unpleasant customer. I even once meditated to stay relaxed during a dental appointment! In April, I wrote, “It seems to me that I’ve developed two branches of meditation: an active meditation, that prepares me for ritual/magic/spiritual questing, and a passive meditation, for lack of a better term, that just relaxes and centers me.” This was not an intentional development, and I don’t think now that it’s quite as simple as two branches: rather, it’s two uses of meditation, two ways of directing the Third power, which I discuss in my Two Powers essay. For the active branch, I harness the Two Powers to do creative work, while for the relaxing branch, I allow the Two Powers to burn and wash away my stress.
So there you have it. I had to learn how to incorporate my meditation into my practical life in order to overcome my emotional upsets, but I discovered that associating meditation with something I do regularly helped me develop an ongoing practice. I developed my own personal understanding of the Two Powers, and I saw how my work and spiritual life are both influenced by the powers. My patronness showed me yet another aspect of the Two Powers and taught me another meaning of ‘centering’. I even learned a technique for staying calm while someone wields a drill in my mouth. I have, in spite of my best efforts, learned to quiet my overly-active mind. I’ve also become a Two Powers convert. I’d say I learned a lot, and I have a bizarre desire to make an Academy Award-style acceptance speech in which I thank ADF for finally teaching me the value of meditation. Instead I’ll just say that what felt like a chore at first turned into a skill that will help me in all aspects of my life.
I could sense my improvement during the classes when I would fall into meditating rather than keeping my eyes open or sleeping. At first, I felt like I was just giving up or giving into failure so I would just stop trying. But I felt like giving up was not an option so I kept trying. My first year I was dealing with a lot more stress but I did not know how to handle it and I did not know how to fully focus. In my second year of the meditation course, I was fully into the meditation. I was actually ready by the first class and I could get into the different types of meditations.
In the first year of the course, I could not feel anything in my mind but in the second year of the course I felt everything in my mind rushing. It was a new experience.