Mental Discipline Essay

3 03 2014

I began the mental discipline aspect of the Dedicant Path course in late April and continued until early December. Throughout that time I usually meditated once per week but sometimes managed three or four times. My average was twice a week. One of the key lessons I learned was there are many different types of meditations and ways to meditate and I experimented with a wide variety. I started off trying to do ten minute sitting meditations focused on my breathing. After each breath I counted a number, going from 1 up to 10 and then I counted back down to 1. I felt I achieved some success using this method and usually found myself feeling calmer afterwards. Later I increased this to 15 minutes (or 20 minutes when outside).

The next method I tried from week five onwards was the Two Powers meditation. This took about ten minutes. I found this very difficult as I struggle to visualise things. I didn’t really enjoy it but persisted with the method for most of the time. Despite this, I don’t feel I really made any progress in this area.

Most of the time I meditated inside but I also tried to add 20 minutes of sitting meditation focused on my breath when I went to spend time out in nature each week. This helped me be more disciplined about it, but distractions were a real problem. I enjoyed meditating outside and feeling nature all around me – the birds singing, the sun or wind on my face e.t.c. When meditating inside, I would sit in front of my altar and often do a short devotion before beginning meditation.

One of the highlights for me was that the mental discipline requirement inspired me to go on a weekend trip to stay at a local Buddhist monastery. While there, I did 5 periods of hour long meditation sessions (focused on my breath) as well as a couple of walking meditation (mindfulness) sessions. These were the longest period of time I had done meditation and I felt they were very beneficial. By the end of this weekend, I was finding it easier to focus and keep my mind clear for longer periods. I enjoyed meditating in the dark as it provided for a more calming atmosphere. During the year I also experimented with metta (loving-kindness) meditation and found that to be quite peaceful and even emotional, although the visualisation aspect was difficult as usual.

Towards the end of the period, I took part in Exeter University’s Stoic Week which recommended several ancient mental discipline practices from Stoicism. These included planning and reviewing one’s day, contemplating the vastness of the universe and visualising how one would deal with difficult situations or people which might arise during the day. I found these to be very worthwhile exercises and probably the most useful mental disciplines I had tried. The big benefit I found from these Stoic meditation exercises was that, even in the space of a week, I became more calm in my daily life and less frustrated when negative situations arose.

I never managed to develop a consistent daily or weekly routine and so I learned that discipline is something I need to improve. Rather, I tended to meditate when I remembered. The other big problem I had was posture, which probably contributed to my lack of enjoyment of the practice. During the first few weeks, my back was in a lot of pain throughout the meditation sessions but eventually I learned that it was because I wasn’t properly pivoting my pelvis. Once I had solved that issue the back pain went away and it was easier to focus. However, I also found myself regularly slouching during meditation practice and this issue has not been resolved. A Buddhist monk in the monastery I visited suggested taking up Tai Chi, but essentially this problem is down to the fact that I slouch so much in daily life.

Despite the many setbacks during these attempts at meditation, I learned a lot of different methods and discovered verious things about myself. I am not sure whether it helped me grow spiritually, however by the end of the period I had come to the conclusion that my focus needed to be on regular devotionals and perhaps some stoic practices rather than the breathing or two powers meditation as a mental discipline practice. I still want to learn to develop a disciplined meditation practice so I will try again in future, however I think part of the issue is the need to have a clear reason or goal to carry it out. I have discovered that I can meditate for reasonably long periods if I put my mind to it, but its having that initial desire or reason to prompt me to start each time. In future, I would like to explore mantra meditation and trance to see how I get on with those. Overall I think I tried hard to meet this requirement but, while it was an interesting and educational experience, it certainly wasn’t my favourite part of the course.