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Posts Tagged ‘mental grove’

“An essay or journal covering the Dedicant’s personal experience of building mental discipline, through the use of meditation, trance, or other systematic techniques on a regular basis. The experiences in the essay or journal should cover at least a five months period (800 words min).”

I began my meditation journal at the beginning of November, 2012 and am continuing to journal as of mid-April, 2013, covering my five months of systematic meditation. I was already a regular practitioner of sitting (or breath-oriented) meditation before I began journaling, so this process was one that I used as a set of experiments to see what I could add to my existing practice that would deepen and enrich it. As well, I am intending to do continuing work in ADF, and I wish to have a solid foundation from which to build.

My first meditation journaling was just a record of the meditations I was already practicing, on average several times per week. (I do breath-centering daily, several times a day, but for this exercise I only counted intentional meditation lasting more than 5 minutes.) Though my mid-week meditations are not done on specific days, I made sure to meditate at least 15 to 20 minutes on weekend days each week. Frequently I would use a 9 breath counted exercise, doing nine repetitions of nine counted breaths. I usually do this practice sitting or lying on the floor in the room where I have my altar, often after having done my daily devotions of lighting incense and short prayers. I have done some meditations outside, either in my yard or in the park, but I am plagued by lawnmowers – I have yet to find a time to do meditation outdoors where someone in my neighborhood is not operating heavy machinery within earshot. This is, I suppose, a side effect of living in a development. My meditations at the local park, which stretches out onto Armand Bayou, have been more successful, especially when I can go out onto the boardwalk and sit undisturbed.

I have found, through my practice, that I am able to more easily enter trance while lying down as opposed to sitting or standing. I think this is due to the “ease” of lying, as well as my yoga practice and finding a common thread in corpse pose. I can frequently maintain better concentration while lying down than sitting upright (though I continue to use both postures). The only point where this did not work as well was during the Two Powers meditation, where I found it much more powerful and successful to be upright in some fashion as I connected to the Sky power.

I also experimented with movement based meditation, through walking meditation and use of the “Embracing the Tiger, Return to the Mountain” movement from Tai Chi. While walking meditation was somewhat successful, ultimately it proved difficult to maintain any sort of focus, as I was too worried about getting hit by cars or running into things or tripping on uneven sidewalk. The Embracing the Tiger, Return to the Mountain meditation, which consists of a series of movements repeated several times, was more successful. At it’s very basic, it’s two full, slow breaths – Reach up, reach down, pull in, push away.

  • Standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent, inhale and bring your arms up in front of you, moving your hands along your midline until they reach up over your head. As you do this, straighten your knees.
  • When your hands are fully above your head (but elbows are still soft), exhale and swing your arms out to the sides and down, rotating your palms to face down once they reach shoulder level and bending your knees again. At the bottom, cross your hands at the wrists, left hand in front, so your palms are facing your body.
  • Now inhale, uncrossing your arms, and pulling your elbows back at your sides, drawing your hands to your waist, palms face up, straightening your knees.
  • Then exhale and push away from you, keeping your elbows close to your sides and your palms rotating around so they are facing away from you, knees bending again.

I usually did 9 repetitions if I was seeking a short, but very calming meditation, or (if I had more time and was looking for a deeper meditation) would allow myself to continue the practice for a certain amount of time. I find this exercise to be extremely good at creating mental balance (as well as physical balance).

I made heavy use of the iPhone app “Meditator” – which tracks meditation through use of unobtrusive sounds. Over time, I increased the space between the “reminder” sounds as well as increasing the overall time of my meditations. I usually meditate for about 20 minutes now, sometimes continuing after my timer has marked 20 minutes. I also use incense as a measure of time, meditating until the stick of incense burns out (25-30 minutes usually).

As a continuing part of my spiritual discipline, I began over time to add object focused meditation to my sitting meditation time, concentrating not only on my breath, but on deepening my understanding of the Kindreds and the cosmology of ADF. As part of this discipline, I endeavored to create a “mental grove” – a place where I could go as part of trance meditations whenever I needed to center myself. This was perhaps one of the most fruitful exercises of my meditation journey, as I now have a visualization I can turn to whenever I need to center myself and enter a light trance state. This mental grove has a fire, a well, and a tree, and while I am there I am often visited by various members of the Kindreds, especially nature spirits. I have, through this practice, deepened my relationships with several nature spirits, including Rabbit, Toad, Owl, and Stag. This is also the mental state where I had my first encounter with a spiritual being that I have come to associate with Freyr, which was extremely exciting and also a bit disorienting.

I fully intend to continue to work from my mental grove and to add more trance journeying to that work. So far I have found that spirits are willing to visit me there, but I would like to place more work on visiting them – especially because as I currently practice, I am dependent on whomever would like to visit. I would like to be able to go, via trance, and speak with specific spirits when I need them (if, of course, they are open to the idea), so more work with journeying is needed.

I also plan to continue my meditation journaling on my blog, through the completion of the Dedicant Path and forwards into more study with ADF. I’ve found the exercise of weekly journaling to be very beneficial. It helps me to keep track of what I’m doing, and serves as a reminder to stick to my practice. I write my journal entries every Sunday night, and that means I have always meditated at least once during the week, since I sit down at a specific time to write about them. It’s been a good practice of accountability, as well as one that I’ve found spiritually enriching.

Overall, in the last five months, I feel like I’ve deepened an existing meditation practice from something I did “fairly regularly” to a crucial part of my mental and spiritual life. The basic trance state of my mental grove has become a very important discipline for me, and I use basic meditation throughout my day as a way to increase focus (and decrease anxiety, something I struggle with a great deal). While I certainly can’t sustain focus for the entire duration of a 20 minute meditation, I am definitely better at not letting distractions get to me too much, and I’ve become more skilled at returning to my point of focus without much fuss. I’m also better at detecting distractions early, as opposed to following them mentally until I suddenly realize I’m no longer focused. I’m pleased with my progress and glad I had the discipline to stick with this requirement.

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I did sitting meditation every day this week, as part of a re-set of my mindfulness practice and in an attempt to help with some mental health issues. I did 15-30 minute meditations, usually starting with 10 minutes seated and then moving to lying on my back on the floor. I’ve found I definitely have better luck meditating lying down than I do sitting up, at least when it comes to getting to that state of calm half-awareness.  I think partially this would be alleviated by sitting on a cushion instead of on the floor itself, so we’ll see if that helps this coming week.

I usually end my meditations with the Two Powers, which I’ve found feels very different lying down than it does standing up in ritual. Not sure that one is “better”, but I feel more grounded when I’m lying down for sure.

I continue to light incense to Freyr several times a week, and have started including a short prayer to him in my morning devotionals (beyond just saying “good morning”, as He asked).

I have also continued to see the Crane in my mental grove at night before I go to bed. In that light, I’ve downloaded some of the materials for the Order of the Crane and will be reading through them to see if this path is for me. I’d also like to do some focused meditations with Garanus in mind – he is not a Nature Spirit that I’ve worked with much in the past, though I have worked with and talked to local great blue herons and green herons in my area. The one major conversation I had was about the state of the waterway behind where I live, so it was not a devotional relationship like the Order is.

One noteworthy meditation this week had a little visitor. I was lying on the floor, in a sort of half-trance state, moving between my  breath and my mental grove, when something MOVED on my ARM. I looked down, and there was a tiny green anole lizard on my arm, apparently having let himself in through the open window. (I’m not sure how, there’s a screen) It definitely ended the meditation, as I then chased him around the room for 10 minutes before catching him and putting him outside.

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I’ve finished 20 weeks of documented meditation! Yay!

I went back to check though, and my first documentation was on November 5, and I don’t want to lose credit for this because I did “20 weeks” instead of “5 calendar months”, so I’m going to do another two weeks just to make sure. Since I’m doing a lot of meditation right now, that’s not too hard, I just have to remember to write it all down every Monday.

This week I did several sitting meditations (some were very short, so I’m not sure how to count the little 3-5 minute ones, versus the usual 15-30 minute ones). I included one meditation that included the Two Powers, and combined that with Embrace the Tiger, Return to the Mountain moving meditation – I really do wonder if they serve the same purpose. I’ll definitely be writing about that practice as part of my Two Powers/Grounding and Centering essay, since it helps me so much to balance the powers around me, and involves drawing in energy and balancing it within my body.  (I’ve also discovered that there’s enough room in the larger bathroom stall to do this moving meditation at work, which is useful, since I am both very stressed and extremely visible at work. I share a cubicle with three other people, and it opens across from the break room, so it’s a high traffic area.)

I’ve returned to a focus on my mindfulness practice, since I’m struggling with some mental health cycling, so I’m trying to do at least 15 minutes of sitting meditation daily. This, when combined with more trance-like visualization meditation (like the Two Powers, or visiting my Mental Grove) has been really powerful for me, and will probably be the one practice that I continue doing with solid regularity after I finish my “requirement” for the DP.

This week also included my Ostara celebration, and the devotional aspects of that ritual went very well. I’ll have a full write-up tomorrow.

Also, of note this week, when I was sitting in my Mental Grove, I was visited by the Crane. I’m not sure if this is “just” because I’ve been reading about the Order of the Crane (and considering joining it), or because there are bigger subconscious forces at work. I’ll be seeing if I can nurture that relationship. Usually in my Mental Grove I see animals and spirits that I have relationships with, or who are symbolic of the Gods, so this would fit into that pattern if the Crane is seeking me out as well as I am seeking to see if that path will be right for me.

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This week’s meditations included my winter solstice ritual, where I felt hurried to get through the Two Powers meditation. Fortunately I was able to slow myself down and take some extra breaths, so I didn’t feel hurried through the rest of the ritual.

Also I did a bit of mental grove work, which is quickly becoming my favorite meditation. The combination of visual with a still mind seems to really work for me. Some of this week was spent away from home, so it’s nice to be able to take a hallows with me wherever I end up.

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As a note – this is a fuzzy sort of post. I’m not really sure exactly what I’m doing, since as a meditation exercise, this is pretty new for me. Still, I’ve been asked to put together what I have so far, so here goes!

Before I start my visualizations, I do a grounding and centering meditation, like the Two Powers meditation. You generally want your mind to be stable and clear before you start introducing new imagery to it, and I need to get better at the Two Powers meditation anyway, so I’m using that one. Any grounding and centering meditation will work.

I start my visualization exercise by creating a Hallows (a Fire, Well, and Tree, consecrated as the Sacred Hallows, ADF style). I like to do a simple consecration of each, followed by sprinkling and censing the area while saying “By the Might of the Water, and the Light of the Fire, this Grove is made whole and holy.” This sets up a ritual space that I do need to take down at the end (don’t forget that part), but isn’t a formal ritual where I need to worry about offerings to the Kindreds.

I do make an offering of incense to the gatekeeper though. I’ve tried this with Cernunnos and with Garanus (the Crane), and it worked equally well both times, though I liked the energy of Garanus better. I ask the Gatekeeper to open the gates and to help me to feel their power as the sacred center.

Because I play video games, the main image I’ve been using for this type of connection is that of a Portal – an oblong “hole” in the fabric of the universe that you use to travel from this place to some other, presumably distant (or just different) place. Depending on the game, these are either cast by magical spellcasters, read from a scroll that enables a portal, or fired out of a dimensional portal gun that you point at things. Still, the image is pretty consistent – you get a glowy sort of oval that you can step through and be transported to another place.

Since that image is one that is ingrained in my brain pretty strongly, it’s something I can refer to easily and that works with the kind of image and connection I’m trying to build. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, think about maybe an arched doorway, or the center of a ring of standing stones, or even a tunnel. Watchers of science fiction television shows might envision something like a stargate. Basically, you want an image that works for you, that suggests an opening from wherever you are now into another place that might be distant or otherwise removed.

After you do your grounding exercise, I start to visualize a portal.* (I’m going to use the term portal since that’s the image I’m using. Feel free to substitute in a word that suits your own imagery better!) I concentrate on seeing in my mind’s eye this dimensional opening that leads into an unknown place. I try to see the edges of the portal grow distinct, and they glow slightly, but are a little out of focus. In the center there are stars – sort of like the deep, universal stars that you’d see in a truly dark place on a night with no moon. Endless sorts of stars.

And as I peer into that portal, from my little Hallows, I start to put together other portals, there in that deep dimensional starry place. Those portals lead to other Hallows, which I can’t quite see, because as a solitary, I really am working off my own imagination (with a little help from YouTube) about what other Hallows might look like. But there are always fires, or  wells, or trees, or all three. Some of them are elaborate, and others are simpler, like my own. They are imaginary Hallows, kind of like my Mental Grove (which, now that I think of it, is a place I should be trying this work from!) You could think of this step like a hallway of other “doors”, or, if you’re using the stone circle imagery, as though you’re looking through stones on one side, but can see portals out between all the other stones.

Basically I’m trying to establish that even though I’m here in my own Hallows, I’m connected through that sacred center to all the other Hallows, both linearly in space and vertically in time. I’ve not tried actually looking for any specific places to visit, I’m just looking to create that connection to something bigger.

Once I’ve sat for awhile and built up the visualization, I slowly allow my mind to come back to center and present, usually by making sure I’m mentally back in front of my own Hallows instead of out looking around. When I’m solidly back in myself, I close the Gates (with the help of the Gatekeeper), and return the fire, well, and tree to their normal, material selves. The whole process makes for a smallish ritual that takes 5-15 minutes, depending on how long you work with the meditative aspect of the visualization.

I think repeating this exercise will help me fine tune it (right now it’s a little fuzzy still, since I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do). I also think practice will help me think less about the actual setup and more about what the experience/visualization is symbolizing. Right now I still feel more like I”m setting it up, and less like I’m actually connecting to anything. I don’t wonder if the reason I had better luck with Garanus as a Gatekeeper was simply that I’ve got a stronger connection to the Nature Spirits than I do to the Gods and Goddesses, of any stripe. (Not to mention my lack of a true hearth culture – I sometimes work in Celtic, but I have been drawn to Gaulish lately) I want to really *feel* a connection to the sacred center though, especially since creating it is such a big part of the CooR, and since feeling that connection is a big part of having a religious experience, for me.

 

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This wasn’t a particularly innovative week for meditation. I did the two powers meditation twice, plus my usual evening meditations. I continue to “visit” my mental grove, though I haven’t seen any new animals there. I see the Stag there most often, and Toad pretty regularly as well. I’m working on some outlines of a meditation journey to do at an established Hallows, as a way to better connect to the cosmic center that is created there, but that’s still embryonic. I don’t have any concrete visualization exercises for it yet.

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As part of the Dedicant Path, meditation is stressed as a way to increase focus and mental control and as a way towards trance and strong visualization. These are all elements necessary for successful magic, but also have other benefits, like stress reduction and lower blood pressure and better sleep.

I’m not very good at “trance” style meditation. Ok, I’m not that good at sitting meditation either, but that one seems to be easier to do with no practice. You just need a place to sit. For trance or journeying meditation, you need somewhere to go. While I suppose I could go looking for some published guided meditations (and I do already use the Two Powers meditation as a recording), I’m working on building a Mental Grove – a place I can start from in trance journeys as a way to enhance my focus and meditation.

I figure if I do this frequently enough, I’ll have created enough of a memory that it will become automatic to go there, and I can work on journeying outside my Mental Grove as part of my other devotions. I’d eventually like to use this as part of my way to discover/reconfirm my Patrons. The God and Goddess that I worked with as a solitary, before I was doing coven work, are actually from two different Pantheons (Irish and Gallic), though related, and I know that’s generally frowned upon in ADF, plus I’d like to be more open to other Gods and Goddesses.

But that’s for later.

I started this process after I’d done a 10 minute sitting meditation, doing the Fire, Well and Sacred Tree chant that I described yesterday in my meditation journal. From there, I started building, in my mind, a grove of trees, centered on a giant, ancient oak – the sprawly, long limbed kind that we have down here in Texas. This tree is enormous and gnarled, but still very much alive, and its branches reach out and touch the ground in some places. I walk through the clearing around it and up to the big tree, and I duck under the branches.

That’s as far as I got on the first day, except that I very clearly saw a Stag there under the tree.

The next night, I did a sitting meditation again (though probably only for 5 minutes, I didn’t time that one), and then rebuilt the grove in my mind, this time going up to the tree itself. Next to the roots of the tree, welling up from some rocks, was a spring of water. Beside the water I kindled a small fire in a circle of stones. (My rational brain says NO DON’T LIGHT A FIRE UNDER A TREE, but this is an imaginary exercise, so I tell that part of my brain it’s OK, that no trees will be harmed, because it’s a magical fire. My rational brain needs to be talked to gently, or it gets a little out of control.*)

From there I sit down in front of the Fire and the Well, under the branches of the Tree, and I allow myself to look around. I saw the Stag again, and a Rabbit. That’s as far as I got the second day.

I skipped a few days after that, because life got crazy, but then last night I did the full Mental Grove ritual and allowed myself to really look around. The Stag returned, but this time there was also an Owl in the branches of the tree. I did not speak to them, but they seemed to be comfortable with my presence.

I’m looking forward to continuing this, if only because I find it extremely calming. It’s obviously not a replacement for getting outside into actual nature, but I can’t always get away from neighborhood noise. Also, in my Mental Grove, there are no mosquitoes. I’m hoping to build a strong mental memory around it, and then see what’s around outside the little Mental Grove.

I’m excited to see what I find.

*now I sound like a barking moonbat. I promise, I’m only the good kind of crazy.

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