Knowing When It's Time to Move on... November 23, 2018 17:46
Anything that requires practice requires patience and dedication. Whether it’s driving a car, playing the piano, or dancing Argentine tango, all meaningful skills require time, effort, and practice. What’s just as important to recognize, though, is when it’s time to move to the next level of challenge or to add variety to the practice in order to prevent boredom, disinterest, or complacency. This is true for mantra practice, too. How do you know when it’s time to move forward in your mantra practice? Here are a few things to consider.
- A Natural Progression:
I fell into mantra practice when I fell in love with designing malas. I started small—short and sweet mantra (Om Nama Shivaya, Om Shanti Om, Namo Kwan Shi Yin Pu Sa) for forty-day stints. I wrote in notebooks, keeping track of my practice—but also the side effects of the practice: thoughts, priorities, events—keeping track of subtle (and some not so subtle) shifts and changes. These 40-day mini-sadhanas were like energetic arpeggios. Mantra by mantra, bead by bead, these fun-sized sound tools helped me navigate through various changes and transitions in my life. Some were dramatic (major career change), and some were mundane (switching to decaf tea). These mantra were steady companions, but after several months of exploring short mantra, I was ready for a new challenge. When I found the Long Gayatri, it resonated. It took me a bit to memorize, but working with short mantra helped me break up this new, longer mantra into manageable chunks until I was comfortable reciting it. I created a special mala just for this mantra, and I was off on a new, energetic adventure.
- Are You Still Growing, or Are You Growing Bored?
I worked with the Long Gayatri mantra for over four years. It’s a purification mantra, and I enjoyed chanting it in the car, on the track, in the kitchen, and on the cushion. It was a portable, practical mantra, one I could take anywhere. It became a loyal companion and friend, and it helped facilitate my own emotional, spiritual, and energetic growth. As I was moving through my life, it was moving through me, leading me to new levels of awareness.
However, nothing is permanent; nothing is fixed, and the transition to the next level in the practice was very gradual. Over time, though, my japa practice started to become more of an obligation, and when I was practicing, discursive thoughts were interrupting the practice more frequently. Distractions and “have to’s” are clear indications that something has to change. I’m not going to lie; it took a while for me to let go of this particular mantra. After all, we’d been together for so long. Just as driving around neighborhood streets or doing the same dance steps over and over gets old, you know it’s time to shake up your practice when you’re no longer growing, or when you’re growing bored.
- Patterns and Synchronicities
Finally, and most important of all, are patterns and synchronicities. A few months ago, I happened to catch a series of online teachings, and Venerable Lozang Yӧnten mentioned the importance of the Vajrasattva practice. Unbeknownst to me, a seed had been planted at this time. A few weeks later, I was headed to Crestone, Colorado, for a meditation retreat. I sat next to a woman on our shuttle bus who recently spent over two months in retreat working specifically with the Vajrasattva mantra—reciting it 111,111 times (It’s a 100-syllable mantra and takes a hot minute to chant). At this point, I’m starting to pay attention, and a pattern is emerging.
When we arrived at the retreat center, my seat in the shrine room happened to be right in front of the altar, and the statue at the center of the altar space was, you guessed it, Vajrasattva. It was a beautiful statue, and I spent many hours during the week meditating before it. It was at this point that I could feel the gentle pull of change stirring in regards to my practice.
A few weeks after returning from retreat, I had a dream that Geshe Kunga, my dharma teacher in Bloomington, was dressed in his traditional gold robes. He was holding both of my hands as he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Vajrasattva.” I could not deny the clarity of the message at this point. The following week, I asked Geshe Kunga if I could work with this particular mantra, and he gave me a copy of a sadhana.
This Vajrasattva practice involves much more than mantra recitations. It, too, is a purification practice, but it’s a full sadhana, complete with preliminaries, visualizations, mantra, and a dedication. I’ve only been working with this new practice for a couple of months, and I realize now that it was time for me to move onto a more dedicated practice. The synchronicities keep coming, validating that the necessary mantra shake-up and upgrade was the right thing to do. I created a special mala exclusively for this practice. I don’t wear this one, photograph it, or even take it outside the home. It stays on the home altar space.
Sometimes, when you let go of something, you make room for something even better to come into your life. Giving yourself time to start small and practice a new skill set, paying attention to clues along the way as you continue to practice, and honoring clear patterns and synchronicities can help you determine the right course of action in whatever you do. If this inspires you to start your own mantra journey, or to graduate to a specific mantra practice, great! Let me know. I’d be happy to create a mala for you to commemorate your practice.