June 1, 2012 (Friday)
Came back from Wellspring. Discouraged by Mr. Corrigan’s remarks on “people who say they can’t meditate are like people who say they can’t walk”. Some days I *can’t* walk, the bursitis and fibro are so bad. For those days, I have a cane. I suspect by the time I am 60, I will have to trade in the cane for a wheelchair.
Nonetheless, even though every attempt over the last twenty years has failed — Zen, TM, Wiccan grounding and centering, ADF’s Two Powers form (we’re told to imagine ourselves as trees, with branches in the air and roots in the ground; invariably, the first thing to pop into my head is “What kind of tree am I?”, and it only gets worse from there), Buddhist breath meditation, dyhana, and Mahāyāna techniques (my knees scream in agony if I try to get into the lotus position any more), Hindu japa mala beads, New Age forms — I’m going to try again, starting tomorrow. Having read through a number of DP journals of other members for this, I’ll be experimenting with other forms than the Two Powers one. I intend to start making the attempt 2-3 times a week and see if that helps, and I will be starting with Kevin Silverstag’s Three Powers variation.
June 3, 2012 (Sunday)
I started by shutting myself in the bedroom (so my five cats couldn’t interrupt) and lighting some incense and a candle. Well, tree, fire inside me. I went through the Three Powers meditation steps (found here: http://atthesignofthewhitehart.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/the-three-powers-meditation/ ). I can see the images he describes — I have no problem with visualizing things — but I was able to last only two minutes of holding those images in my mind, before my mind began to wander. Every time I jerked my thoughts back to where they were supposed to be, the amount of time they stayed focus before being derailed by the babble in my head got shorter. I needed to remember to make a grocery list, I needed to remember to call the pharmacy to have some prescriptions refilled, a cat was scratching at the door to be let in, I needed to take the garbage out — on and on and on it went. I tried acknowledging the thoughts and then dismissing them, but the problem is that my mind has a seemingly endless stream of minutiae to bring up, and every time I dismissed something, that void would be filled with three or four other things.
Ended it after ten minutes, very discouraged.
June 6, 2012 (Wednesday)
Three Powers meditation again. Trying to focus, before I began I went through most of the same steps before: candle, incense lit. Distracted the cats by leading them to the back porch and giving them kitty treats. Showered first and washed face and hands with khernips, ritually blessed water in the Hellenic style, in the thought that perhaps the distractions were as much from miasma as my recurring distractedness. Then shut myself into the bedroom.
Brain didn’t want to settle into one track from the get-go. My streak of procrastination tried to remind me that I had a number of other essays to write up for the DP program, and not to forget about them. Well, tree, fire. I tried to concentrate on them. Well, tree, fire. What kind of tree? Bizarrely, my brain fixated on that for almost five whole minutes: was it an ash inside me? An oak? Red oak, or black oak, or pin oak, or burr oak? Or was it apple, or hawthorn, or blackthorn, or cedar? A tree sacred to the Irish? To the Gauls? To the Norse? To the Greeks? My mind seized the tangent and tried to run off with it. I hauled it back, kicking and screaming.
Well, tree, fire. Well, tree, fire.
And then my phone rang, shattering the quiet. I had forgotten to turn the ringer to silent. I tried to ignore it; they called back three times. By then I had a migraine blooming. When I gave up and called it quits, got up and went to go see who had called me, it turned out to have come from a blocked number. Lovely. Time: 12 minutes, most of which was not spent in focus.
June 9, 2012 (Saturday)
Bathed, distracted cats, turned phone to silent, lit candle and incense. Retreated to the bedroom. Loose sitting position with my legs out straight in front of me, rather than in lotus position, which hurts far, far too much to hold it for even fifteen seconds (and the pain, of course, interferes in trying to concentrate). Lights off; window covered; room dark except for the candle’s flame and the glowing ember at the tip of the incense stick.
Dull ache at the base of my spine after sitting for five or six minutes, same spot my tailbone was broken back in 1994. Pain was very distracting. Realized that, next time, I should probably take some ibuprofin or Tylenol about an hour before I do this, then realized that I’d been distracted into a tangent again. Tried re-centering and managed to hold it for an entire minute and a half before there was a huge crash from outside the bedroom, toward the direction of the kitchen, and then the sound of five cats running hellbent for leather. Got up and went to look. Found that they’d gotten up on the sink counter to investigate the scent of lunch and knocked the empty hot dog pan off the counter. Cleaned up, then called it quits for the day. Apparently I have to start locking them all up in their travel carriers before I do this. Fifteen to twenty minutes in a cage won’t kill them.
June 12, 2012 (Tuesday)
Cats locked up. Showered. Tylenol taken. Lights off, candle and incense lit, window covered. Dark. Bedroom door shut. Phone ringer turned to silent.
Well, tree, fire. Well, tree, fire. The room mostly silent, although from time to time through the closed door, I can hear the cats’ meows as they protest being locked up. Try to ignore it. Try to ignore usual tangents. Lots of tangents. Start to wonder if so many distractions indicates the possibility of adult ADHD, then realize I’ve been distracted again. Refocus. Well, tree, fire. Cool water. Branches gently waving in the wind. Warmth of fire.
Knock at the door.
Try to ignore it. Knock comes again. And again.
Finally go to answer it, on grounds it might be an emergency. What if something happened to my husband at work, and they tried to call me, and I didn’t answer because the phone’s ringer was turned off? Panic a little.
Get to door and find it’s just Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassing the neighborhood. Try to refuse them politely and instead spend the next fifteen minutes explaining to them I was pagan, and if I wasn’t pagan, I’d be a humanist agnostic. Wish them a nice day when they leave. Go blow out the candle, let the cats out, and spend the next three hours sulking.
June 15, 2012 (Friday)
Even with the Tylenol beforehand, ankle I turned while cross-country hiking yesterday is hurting far too much to concentrate. End it after only three minutes.
June 17, 2012 (Sunday)
Began beforehand with a fervent plea to the gods to let this attempt work. To be able to focus, uninterrupted, for even just five minutes. Five minutes would give me something to build on. It would be, at least, a good start.
Went through the usual preparations. Candle, incense, placated and locked-up cats. Dark room, pain meds taken beforehand. Put some quiet, melodic, instrumental music (specifically, Dead Can Dance) on the stereo at a very low volume to help screen out cat meows. Phone off, new “no soliciting or proselytizing” sign on the front door. Have made appointment with shrink for ADHD testing in the future.
Got comfortable. Loose, cool clothing so I won’t overheat in the hellish, high summer temperatures (it’s in the 90s and not, technically, even the first calendar day of summer yet, for pete’s sake). Tried to relax, to focus.
Fell asleep. Didn’t wake until my husband came home from work.
June 21, 2012 (Thursday)
Summer Solstice. Contemplated, beforehand, the fact that apparently I am not the only one who finds this difficult (a friend sent me a link to Ceisiwr Smith’s page on mental discipline for his DP work, here: http://ceisiwrserith.com/dp/mentaldiscipline.htm ). Tried the Three Powers meditation form today for the last time, with no more success than previously. No interruptions this time (thankfully!), but just could not keep focused for more than three or four minutes at a time. Distractions came up — mind going off on multiple tangents — and even though I dismissed each one in its turn, there was an endless supply of things to actually think about, rather than being able to remain focused on what I was doing.
Since I’m already incorporating a lit candle in my attempts, am going to try Smith’s “gazing at a lit candle” method from now on. Will see if it works any better than all the other methods I’ve tried.
June 23, 2012 (Saturday)
Candle-gazing…helps. It doesn’t completely make everything “work”, all of a sudden, nor does it banish the distractions completely, but with something tangible to focus on, instead of having a million clamoring voices in my brain each shouting something different at the top of its lungs, the voices are much more quiet. Properly prepared beforehand (cats locked up, incense lit, phone silenced), I was able to manage seven whole minutes, uninterrupted, before the distractions got to be too much to handle.
Only folks who know me well and know how much trouble I have with focus will wholly understand how much of a sea change this is for me, but nonetheless, it’s an amazing improvement. At last, and at least, I feel like I might be on the right track.
June 26, 2012 (Tuesday)
Continuing to use the “stare at a lit candle” technique. (Needs a better name.) My eyes follow the flickering without drifting off as much as usual, and afterward today, I wondered if this is akin to a form of self-hypnosis. Even if it is, it’s working better than every other form I’ve tried. It’s not perfect, of course; after about ten minutes (I know!), I could hear ambulance sirens some ways off. Tried to ignore them, but they got closer, and louder, and closer, and LOUDER… Eventually stopping in what sounded like my driveway. Had to get up and check, at that point. Turned out to be half a block down; no idea what for, of course.
But frankly, to get as far as ten minutes without being distracted by my own brain every thirty seconds is nothing short of miraculous for me. My main concern now is that, having found a method that seems to work, I’ll eventually get burned out on it, and it’ll stop working.
But I’ll tackle that crisis if and when it happens, and try not to worry about it beforehand. Much.
June 29, 2012 (Friday)
Realized today that, if I continue updating this as often as I have been, and in the depth I have been, it’ll be much longer than the maximum length cited as acceptable for the new DP work guidelines. My desire to be thorough and clear conflicts here with what’s on the rulebook. I can sacrifice frequency or thoroughness, but not both. So from here on in, I’ll just be updating once a week, I guess.
Began with the usual preparations (and will note that this should be taken for granted from this point on, in the interest of brevity). No headaches, no catastrophes. Managed to go for a full twelve minutes before my mind began to wander uncontrollably. Have been reading about counting my breathing, and I think I will combine that with the candle-gazing from here on in, and see if it works. If it proves to be more of a distraction than the candle alone, I will go back to just the candle.
July 6, 2012 (Friday)
Today was a disaster. The idiots in my neighborhood are still going ahead full-steam with the firecrackers, even though Independence Day was two days ago. Having something loud exploding outside my house every thirty seconds did NOTHING for my concentration efforts, and I quit after eight minutes and went to yell at the damn kids to get off my lawn. (Seriously. They do this every year, and then I spend the next two weeks picking spent fireworks cartridges out of my garden.)
July 13, 2012 (Friday)
Added counting my breaths to staring at the candle. Ended up breathing too deeply after awhile and got hyperoxygenated and light-headed. Quit after ten minutes so I wouldn’t pass out. Still dizzy.
July 20, 2012 (Friday)
Fifteen minutes, no interruptions, no ill effects. Feels like a minor miracle. Will probably never have it go so smoothly again.
July 27, 2012 (Friday)
Only three minutes in before the mailman pounded on the door with an unexpected package to deliver. The regular mail had already come, and I’d figured it was safe to start. Had to spend the next half-hour calming down before I could get back into the state of mind to try again, at which time I managed ten minutes.
August 3, 2012 (Friday)
Eight minutes in before the cats started fighting between the bars of their carriers. Moved the cages a couple feet apart, came back to the practice, managed another four minutes. Not sure I was meant to be able to meditate, given how often I get interrupted. I note no specifically-connected effects on my concentration or attention span.
August 10, 2012 (Friday)
Ten minutes with no interruptions. Cautiously, attempted ten minutes more. Got them. Tried for ten minutes more. No phone calls, no cat fights, no leg cramps, no one at the door. Note to myself: check to see if the stars are aligned perfectly for the first time in a thousand years.
August 17, 2012 (Friday)
In the middle of a horrendous three-day-long (so far) migraine. Made the attempt anyway; it’s not like sitting in a darkened, quiet room would make my migraine worse, right? So much medication in my system, my bloodstream would be deemed a toxic waste dump by the EPA. Managed twelve minutes before a new head-spike broke my concentration to bits. Put out the candles and went to lay down for a bit.
August 24, 2012 (Friday)
I have discovered, quite accidentally, that if I am sitting at my desk with my eyes closed, the hum of my computer’s CPU lulls me into an almost meditative state. Interesting, but unfortunately, I can’t switch where I’ve been doing my practice, as I couldn’t keep my cats from jumping into my lap; they’d howl pretty loudly if I locked them all up. Still, I wonder if some sort of white-noise generator when I do my practice wouldn’t help?
Managed at least ten minutes each time I sat this week. I think that’s some sort of minor record.
August 31, 2012 (Friday)
Am now managing about ten minutes each time I try, without fail. I have gotten to the point that I can hold on to that timespan through minor distractions (though not major ones, yet). Getting a humidifier for the bedroom and using it as a white-noise generator helps, screening out noises outside the room that might otherwise distract me. Have learned which sitting positions remain comfortable for longer periods of time and which will instantly start building up joint pain from my sciatica, bursitis, and fibro.
September 7, 2012 (Friday)
Worked my way up this week to twelve minutes each time. Managed fifteen minutes on one day. Baby steps, I guess.
September 14, 2012 (Friday)
Amusingly, noticed today after practice that there is a fairly large soot stain on the ceiling above where my candle sits. Will have to clean that up soon.
Fifteen minutes/thirteen minutes/fourteen minutes.
September 21, 2012 (Friday)
New candle, cleaned the ceiling (mostly). Am on my way to working my way up to fifteen minutes per session, which is a thing I thought I’d never achieve. Almost done with the five-month period, but I have to wonder if it’s possible to reach twenty minutes per session by the end of October. Probably not, but no reason not to try.
Now that I’ve learned how not to hyperoxygenate myself, the counting breaths thing is a useful adjunct to staring at the candle. I also think it might be a good idea to abstain from caffeine in the two hours leading up to each practice. Will try it next week and see if it helps.
Fifteen minutes/thirteen minutes/sixteen minutes this week.
September 28, 2012 (Friday)
Sixteen minutes/eight minutes/sixteen minutes.
Second session was cut short by the early arrival of a thunderstorm. Weather Channel didn’t have it due for three hours yet, but the pouring rain and howling winds made it too hard to concentrate, even with the white-noise dehumidifier.
The other two sessions went pretty standard; however, the rapidly-cooling weather/approach of Autumn means I’ll be turning the heat on in the house soon, which will blow all the dust out of the air vents for the first few days. Will probably alter my pattern from M/W/F to Th/F/Sat to give the first half of the week to let the dust re-settle.
October 6, 2012 (Saturday)
Abstaining from caffeine is helping, although not as much as I initially thought it might. This might have something to do with the fact that I don’t drink that much (I drink diet soda, tea, and hot cocoa, rather than coffee). Nonetheless, cutting back on the stimulants helps slow down my brain enough that my sessions this week were all at least fifteen minutes (17/15/16), even with the fact that the house is still a bit dustier than usual, having turned the heat on.
Twenty minutes no longer seems out of reach, although I doubt it’ll be possible to get to over 20 minutes for all my weekly sessions.
October 12, 2012 (Friday)
Bursitis and fibro are getting worse with the advent of cooler weather, alas. Making sure to take heroic amounts of pain medication (well, half again my normal dosage) two hours prior to sitting down, so the pain won’t keep me from the work.
I still really don’t enjoy meditation; it doesn’t seem to add anything to my path. One reason, of course, is that I consider what I do to be religion, and don’t do anything that could be considered magic, so being better able to concentrate (and visualize, or whatever) isn’t really a necessity for me. I can pray wherever and whenever I am, and generally meditation isn’t something that’s ever been a part of that for me.
Nineteen minutes/seventeen minutes/nineteen minutes.
October 19, 2012 (Friday)
Another thunderstorm, this time on Wednesday. Fortunately, after my session, but I could feel the changing air pressure while I worked. No great epiphanies this week; it’s started to feel a lot like having a job I don’t hate but don’t particularly like, either — something to get through and get over with. I doubt that point of view will win me any friends, but not every technique or practice is right for everyone, and meditation has simply never worked for me. It doesn’t harm me, but it doesn’t help, either.
Twenty minutes/eighteen minutes/twenty minutes.
October 26, 2012 (Friday)
Last week. Fibro has been particularly bad this week, even with the medicine, knocking my times down to where they were more than a month ago. Winter is always the hardest season for me, and we’ve been having unseasonably cool weather of late — more like early December than late October. I won’t be surprised to see snow soon.
Fifteen minutes/sixteen minutes/twelve minutes.
October 31, 2012 (Wednesday)
Monday and today were my final sessions. No sense of nostalgia as I took my last practice today; no desire to continue with this after my five-month period is over. Just relief that I’ve finished. Wish things might have turned out differently, but despite some improvement, the practice of meditation never really became easy for me; instead, it was like trying to jog uphill through a slough of half-set oatmeal while wearing heavy lead boots. The amount of environmental intervention I had to undertake each time I went to go do this was disproportionately high, and I reach the end of the five-month period still so easily distracted that it’s ridiculous. I still have random thoughts pop into my head at any moment, and I still have to stomp on them hard to have any chance at being able to continue. Glad I’m done.
Twenty minutes/eighteen minutes.