Beauty...Beads...Breath: Practical Alternatives to a Chanting Practice October 5, 2017 19:43
I have a friend who loves malas, and she's purchased several Middle Moon Malas and requested various custom designs; however, she's not big on chanting. She recently asked me if chanting mantras was required. She was concerned that she was misusing her malas by not incorporating a japa or chanting practice. My response--absolutely not, and I offered her the following simple alternatives.
* Setting an Intention
Setting an intention or offering a dedication at the start of a yoga class can add even more meaning and significance to the practice. Similarly, setting an intention before donning a mala can be a powerful part of a yoga or meditation practice. It can serve as a meaningful reminder throughout the day, and it can help bring your meditation or mindfulness practice from the cushion or mat into your daily life.
Let's say you set an intention to be more present, more focused on the here and now. Each time you catch a glimpse of the beads around your neck or resting on the corner of your mat, each time you feel the beads against your skin or feel the weight of the mala as it shifts and moves across your body, as you shift and move throughout your day, these all serve as reminders of your intention. Be here. Be present. Be aware of this moment.
My intention with Middle Moon Malas has always been to create designs that are both functional and beautiful. Many of my customers tell me that they frequently receive compliments on their unique designs. Each compliment, each inquiry can also be reminders--be present--be here--be in this moment. No chanting necessary.
*Working with Breath
Another alternative to chanting is to incorporate a breath practice. Variety is important and valuable to just about anything in life. Just as practicing the same physical poses over and over can lead to repetitive stress and injury, mindlessly chanting the same mantra can lead to boredom and lack of focus.
There are no benefits to simply repeating or chanting a mantra--sharp focus and clarity of mind are essential to any meditation practice. Sometimes it's good to shake things up and add something different to the practice.
While I do have a daily recitation practice, sometimes I'll sit with my mala and let the breath be my focus. My right hand thumb and second finger on the first bead next to the guru, I take a long, slow inhalation. At the peak of the inhale, my fingers slide to the second bead, and I release a long, slow exhalation. One inhale, one exhale at a time, shifting to the next bead during the pauses between breaths. Again, no mantra, no chanting required. The breath becomes the focal point--the beads become tactile and visual reminders to remain present. Each sustains the other--to remain present--to breathe--and to be.
As with any practice, it's important to do what resonates with you. If chanting works for you, great! If not, great! You have options and choices. The important point is to cultivate a meaningful practice that is beneficial to you and that works for you.
One, Two, Three: Counter Beads and the Purposes They Serve September 6, 2017 18:20
What are counter beads, and why do some malas have them? A standard mala contains 108 beads; however, some malas include counter beads as well. These beads aren’t randomly placed extras. A japa practice is similar to a road trip, and counter beads can play an important part along the path of this mindful, meditative journey.
One of the primary purposes of counter beads is they act as rest stops or pause points in a meditation practice. Just like the brief pause at the peak of an inhalation, and the suspension at the base of an exhalation, counter beads can act as natural pauses in the recitation practice. They give practitioners a moment to hold space and take stock of the quality of the practice in that moment. The point of a japa practice isn’t simply to barrel through 108 recitations of a mantra. It’s not a race, and there isn’t a trophy waiting for us at the end of the finish line. A mantra practice is about training the mind; it’s about aligning and elevating our energetic frequencies so that we can become our best selves, and experience a sense of connection and interconnection with others and our world. There needs to be a balance between effort and rest, so in our practice, when our inner world is calling, counter beads remind us, “Please hold.”
Another important purpose that counter beads offer is they act as mindfulness markers in the practice. Much like street signs or mile markers on a highway, counter beads remind us to stay present, focused, and alert in our practice. They encourage us to drive safely and to stay on course as we navigate the circuit of our mala. They help prevent our minds from wandering away from our intentions, and they prevent us from getting caught up in a tangle of mental chatter. Counters help to gauge both time and distance in our practice, and they can ease the restless monkey mind when it asks, repeatedly, “Are we there, yet?”
Finally, counter beads can add a little bling, shimmer, and character to the mala and to the meditative journey. Much like fuzzy dice, a bumper sticker, or fancy detailing on a car, jazzy counter beads add a little bit of extra sparkle to help bring balance to the design of a mala. As a designer, I like to add counter beads that are different sizes, shapes, colors, or textures to break up the pattern of the design. Sometimes, it’s just a single counter bead after the 54th bead, or midpoint. Some malas include counters after bead #27 and #81, marking the first quarter and the last quarter of the design. For other pieces, I incorporate three counters, dividing the mala into four equal segments. Counters can be aesthetically pleasing to the eye or to the touch, offering visual or tactile interest to a design, which, as an added bonus, can inspire a meditator to practice, or simply make the journey more personalized, pleasing, or fun.
Whether you prefer a mala that includes counter beads or not, a japa practice is a meaningful journey, and having a mala that motivates you to practice and that reflects your intentions will help you grow and enjoy the ride.
Anatomy of a Mala: Why Each Part Matters May 2, 2017 11:41
I recently had a friend of mine ask if she should include a tassel on a mala that she had created. I explained to her that the tassel is an incredibly important component of a mala, and that I have never designed a mala without one.
Each aspect of a mala has a specific, significant role. Together, these parts create a holistic system and tool for generating awareness, bliss, and peace. Understanding the role that each part plays can add more meaning to your personal japa, chanting, or meditation practice.
A mala is much more than beads on a string. It’s a garland that doubles as a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention. Just as we infuse each bead with our intentions with each recitation, we create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.
The Thread: "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds everything together. The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Cosmic Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.
The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends. These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.
The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger. They prevent the beads from rubbing together and cracking over time; however, they also represent life's challenges—a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life. They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.
The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit. The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness or awareness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way. These blessings and challenges lead us to find our ultimate teacher and climb that intimidating peak of awareness one step, one bead at a time.
The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together. It represents our connection to the Divine (whatever that means to you) and the interconnectedness of all beings. It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.
Consequently, a mala is much more than a collection of beads strung together. It represents the compass on your journey as a meditator or practitioner, and it connects you to all other beings who are finding their path, in their own way, one moment, one circumstance, one bead at a time.
Enduring the Knots....Celebrating the Beads December 5, 2015 17:35
A mala is a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention. We create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.
The Thread: "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds things together. The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.
The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends.These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.
The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger; however, they also represent life's challenges--a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life. They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.
The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit. The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way.
The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together. It represents our connection to the Divine and the interconnectedness of all beings. It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.
Grandmother Spider May 17, 2015 17:44
This morning I watched a beautiful corn spider sitting in the middle of her web in our front garden. She waited patiently among her carefully arranged silken cords, her intricate yellow and black coloring contrasting sharply with Hosta leaves and white rhododendrons.
To the Hopi, Grandmother Spider is an earth goddess. To the Cherokee, she is a bringer of light. Ancient Egyptians believed that the spider was a spinner and weaver of destiny. Grandmother Spider is Thinking Woman. What she thinks about, manifests, and we are all connected to this universal source of creativity.
Our lives aren't simply an assortment of random happenings. For each of us, there is an underlying pattern and design, and, to some extent, we have a little control over our lives. With our thoughts, with our actions and reactions, and with our words, we determine, to some degree, our future and our possibilities.
The word "bead" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words "bidden" (to pray) and "bede" (prayer). We all have access to the creative silk that resides within us. Where will it lead us? We are constantly assessing and reassessing our lives, taking stock, making changes, making mistakes, making discoveries, correcting, and second-guessing, but in the end, it all leads us exactly where we were meant to go.
One bead at a time, one prayer at a time, one breath at a time, each moment is a small flash in time that eventually leads us to the larger picture.
This beautiful garden spider reminded me that everything is linked; everything is connected, whether you are stringing beads, stringing prayers, stringing thoughts, words, or numbers, we are the architects and designers of our own lives. As long as we are authentic, as long as we honor our own creative endeavors, as long as we work to build a life full of meaning, our lives will, in fact, be beautiful, interconnected, and meaningful. It takes trust, it takes courage, it takes forgiveness, it takes commitment, and it takes patience, but in the end, the larger picture is well worth the journey.
Under My Thumb....or...What Is a Mala, Anyway? April 11, 2015 18:55
The Rolling Stones are slated to appear in Indianapolis on July 4 later this year. WTTS, a local, independent radio station, just played “Under My Thumb” as a tribute and a reminder to listeners to “buy your tickets now.” The iconic Stones have been around forever, and they are still rockin’ and rollin’ for their fans today.
Malas have also been rockin’ and rollin’ since the dawn of mankind. Every culture and religion on the planet has incorporated rosaries, prayer beads, japa malas, or subha as a way to deepen their spiritual practice. The materials, designs, and even number of beads may vary, but the common denominator is the same—to be still, to climb inside, and to connect with Universal Source, God, Allah, Shakti, Shiva, Spirit, Energy, Light….whatever name we choose to call that creative force that’s bigger than ourselves.
So, what is a mala?
* Mala means “garland” in Sanskrit. It is a strand of beads used for mantra meditations, recitations, or chanting.
* A mala is a meditation tool that contains 108 beads (although some contain 27 or 54 beads). Some malas include additional marker beads or counter beads, which are not counted as part of the meditation cycle. Instead, these marker beads function as reflection points or pauses, giving the meditator the opportunity to reconnect with his/her intention or focus.
* The large guru bead (teacher bead/guiding bead) or pendant acts as the starting and ending point. However, the guru is not counted, and it is never crossed if the meditator chooses to chant/recite more than one circuit.
* Malas (like prayer beads and rosaries) have been used for centuries as a meditation aid in virtually every spiritual or religious practice. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion or denomination to use a mala.
* Some meditators prefer to wear their mala as it reminds them of their intentions or affirmations throughout the day.
* Malas can also be used to decorate a sacred space. They add color and texture to an altar space or shrine.
* Some yoga practitioners wear their malas during practice or keep them on their mats to absorb the energy of their practice. A mala is a tangible reminder of the spiritual and mental benefits of their practice.
* Use a mala to recite or chant a mantra, prayer, or affirmation for each bead in the circuit. Recitations can be silent, whispered, spoken aloud, or sung.
Middle Moon Malas are hand-knotted between each gemstone bead, seed, or bead unit. This allows the meditator to see and feel more of the bead between the finger and thumb while meditating. Traditionally, full malas contain 108 beads. Why? While open to interpretation, there are more than 108 reasons why this number is so significant. Here are just a few:
* 108 is a “harshad” number, which is Sanskrit for “great joy.” A harshad number is an integer that is divisible by the sum of its digits. 1+0+8 = 9. 108 divided by 9 = 12.
* Any mathematician will tell you there’s power in numbers. One to the first power (1x1), times two to the second power (2x2=4), times three to the third power (3x3x3= 27), equals 108.
* 108 energy lines or nadis converge to create the heart chakra—and one of them, the Sushumna, is believed to be the path to realization.
* There are 108 qualities of praiseworthy souls and 108 stages along the journey of the human soul.
* The number 108 connect to the relationship between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The metal silver is associated with the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108 (well, it’s actually 107.8682, but we’ll round up).
* In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, there are 54 letters in the alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine form, Shiva and Shakti. Consequently, 54 times 2 = 108.
You can sing, chant, whisper, or think the mantra that you choose to use with your mala. Your mantra can be a traditional prayer (“Our Father”) or a traditional Sanskrit mantra (“Om gum ganapatyai namaha). It can be a personal affirmation, a phrase, or a single word that helps you connect with your intention, purpose, or source.
You can use different mantras for the same mala, or, each mala can have its own mantra. I am a collector of malas, and I tend to favor the latter approach. One of my favorite mantras comes from Aibileen Clark, a character from Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Mantras can be as personal and specific or as universal and general as you’d like. They can inspire, uplift, instruct, or honor a concept, belief, philosophy, deity, guide, or ethical code of your choosing. Each bead on your mala resonates with the mantra that you choose, and the repetition creates a soothing flow, allowing you to absorb and connect with the message more deeply. Just like the lyric goes, and in meditation, too, “It’s down to me…the change has come…under my thumb.”
I Just Wanted an Orange Mala February 24, 2015 19:39
I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years and meditating (off and on) for just past twenty. I’ve found that simply sitting in a quiet space trying clear my mind only made the mind chatter louder. However, when I use a mala, it is so much easier to dive into my meditation practice. Guiding smooth stones or seeds across my thumb and finger with a mantra, phrase, single word, or even just a breath, allows my practice to take root, germinate, and cultivate serenity.
I’m drawn to malas not only as meditation tools, but also as works of art. I started to collect them for their different colors, stones, and designs. Each mala carried its own unique energy, and I assigned a unique mantra or affirmation for each one. I had collected over a dozen and draped them across the altar space in my home office. Bodhi seeds, lotus seeds, green adventurine, lapis, amethyst, rose quartz, malachite, rosewood, jasper, labradorite, citrine…and then it occurred to meI wanted an orange mala. I had colors that corresponded to all of the other major chakras, all but orange. I decided that I could use a boost of creative energy, so I set out to find one in my usual places—online stores, local shops—but no luck. The only one that even came close was an overpriced plastic mala, and it wasn’t even knotted.
I prefer knotted malas. I can see and feel more of the beads, they don’t catch in my hair if I choose to wear them, and if the cord breaks, all of the beads don’t scatter across the floor.
When my search proved unsuccessful, the thought occurred to me…maybe I can make my own orange mala? So I changed my approach and found beautiful orange aqua terra jasper beads in an Etsy shop and a lovely carved wooden bead for the guru.
I treated the whole project like a science experiment—no pressure—no expectations—just playing with pretty beads and cord. After a couple of months of practice and trial-and-error with different types of cord and needles—and many attempts at stringing and restringing beads, I finally had my orange mala. The process, itself, had become a sort of meditation, and ultimately, after a year of continuing to practice and explore the art of mala-making with various sizes, shapes, colors, and types of beads, became the impetus for Middle Moon Malas.
My search for an increase in creative energy has led me to design beautiful malas for others. My intention is to create hand-crafted and heart-made malas for those seeking to find their own way into a meditation practice, for those who want to wear and absorb the energy of the stones, or for those who would like to adorn their sacred spaces.
I hope you find a beautiful Middle Moon Malas design that will enhance your personal practice and inspire you to find what you are seeking on your path. Or, send me a message if you're interested in a custom design.