From Rut to Groove: Diving Deeply into the Heart of a Mantra Practice May 10, 2016 12:27
Repeating a mantra is like chanting the rhythm of your own heart. A mantra practice is a journey that spirals inward to the center of your capital “S” self. According to the Zen master Huang Po, our true nature “shines through the whole universe.” It is our “all-pervading radiant beauty,” and a regular mantra practice can be a vehicle to access and appreciate that shimmering, radiant beauty at the heart of the Self.
I’ve been exploring the adventures of a regular mantra practice for nearly two years. I’ve embarked on various forty-day sadhanas with different mantras—logging patterns, side-effects, and reactions much like an anthropologist or biologist in the field jots down notes and observations. After several months, I’ve finally hit a wall. Granted, my life has picked up momentum—I’ve grown busier with “have to’s” and domestic obligations. I have bills to pay, classes to teach, workshops to take, malas to create, yada, yada, yada.
Last night I found myself hurrying to complete a round of the long version of the Gayatri so I wouldn’t miss the opening scene of Penny Dreadful. That’s pretty bad (on many levels). When my mantra practice becomes another item on my checklist to complete, I know it’s time to make a change.
In the midst of managing the distractions and obstacles that life is hurling my way, I’d grown weary and bored with chanting, and my practice had become stale and mechanical as a result. Fortunately, a mantra practice is not a hindrance; it’s designed to help us navigate life’s challenging, murky waters.
My resistance is an indication that I’m ready to dive more deeply. At the surface, a mantra practice is the parrot-like recitation of spiritual formulas—the memorization of Sanskrit words—the tactile sensations of beads sliding between finger and thumb. However, this is just the surface—there is much more waiting to be discovered at the heart of the practice and within the heart of the Self.
Boredom, anger, and restlessness had settled into my practice —and while it’s easy to blame the busyness of my life, I know that’s not entirely true. It’s time to start listening to my heart—to begin to pay attention—to really pay attention to what I’m feeling—to be patient—to sit with those feelings–to allow them to surface—without judgment—without repressing them—to hold space for my heart to speak—to make time to listen and to honor its messages.
For now, I’ve suspended the forty-day sadhana experiments with supplemental mantras. I’m focusing my attention solely on the long Gayatri—rededicating—recommitting to my practice—but I’m also refining my intention and attention. I’m not simply reciting words and counting beads. I’m listening to my heart, I’m reconnecting to this practice, I’m trusting that it will take me where I am supposed to go, and I’m diving deeper, escaping the rut and plunging into the groove.
Seizing the Present Moment: One Bead at a Time July 8, 2015 09:07
Like clockwork, the first warm July days bring one of my favorite sounds—that spiraling whir of cicadas grinding away the summer in the trees. Their song is bittersweet for me, reminding me that the summer is passing quickly. Their jarring, cyclical songs function much like a natural mantra, reminding me to “be present…be present…be present” and to enjoy what’s left of the summer.
Repetition is soothing and comforting. It creates a familiar and recognizable pattern that can offer reassurance when stressed and bring a sense of order to chaos. Everything in the universe is made of vibration, and all sounds create movements of energy. Mantra is a Sanskrit word that means “sound tool.” A mantra can be a word, phrase, or affirmation that is repeated in the mind, whispered, chanted, or sung in order to set an intention or aid in concentration during meditation practice. The mantras we use represent the qualities or traits that we wish to embody or to permeate our consciousness. When used in conjunction with a mala, the practice becomes even more visceral, and each bead is infused with the essence of the mantra.
The most effective mantras are the ones that are simple, significant, easy to remember, and phrased in the positive. In order for mantras to make a beneficial difference in our lives, they must be repeated often….and believed.
Example Sanskrit Mantras
Om—Primordial sound of creation. Brings us into harmony with the universe
Santośa (pronounced san-tōsha)—Contentment
Om Namah Shivaya—Honors Shiva, the god of transformation
Om Gum Ganapatayai Namaha—I honor Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. I ask for blessings and protection.
So-Hum or Ham—Sah—“I am that” or “That I am.”
El Shaddai—Hebrew name for God
Om mani padme hum—invokes blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion in Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Modern Examples—or Create Your Own Mantra
Today, I choose joy.
I am strong, I am confident, I am healthy, and I am well.
I love myself. I respect myself. I am worthy.
The universe is my source and will provide.
I send you joy. I send you peace. I send you health. I send you love.
In addition to calming the mind and silencing the incessant mental chatter of that nagging inner critic, reciting, chanting, singing, or simply thinking mantras can have other positive effects on the body:
*stimulates the relaxation response
*lowers heart rate and blood pressure
*stimulates immune function
*increases physical vitality and energy
*alleviates depression by decreasing stress hormones in body
*promotes breath control
*helps synchronize the left and right hemispheres of the brain
*oxygenates the brain through increased blood flow
*calms brainwave activity
*stimulates melatonin production, which can improve sleep quality
Hearing the cicadas’ collective song of celebration and endurance today inspired me to take my meditation practice outside. I sat under a white oak tree, mala in hand, and chanted along with the cicadas: “be present…be present… be present…enjoy this moment…this moment…this…moment…of…summer.”