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.
The Subtle Side-Effects of a Chanting Practice March 2, 2016 15:00
Everything we are, and everything that is, is vibration. All sentient beings and all inanimate objects in the cosmos are teeming expressions of vibrational flow. When this flow is disturbed or disrupted, disharmony is the result. A mantra or chanting practice can help restore harmony and balance again by kneading the cells of the body with sound. One of the best ways to recalibrate and reboot your own system is through a regular practice of chanting Sanskrit mantra.
I've been practicing forty-day sadhanas with various mantras over the course of the last two years, and upon reflecting on this practice, I've noticed some interesting side-effects.
* Increased Presence
I'm finding it's much easier to stay in the present moment. This can be both a blessing and a curse. For example, I'm not writing nearly as many lists on Post-it notes, and I'm not as caught up in the trance of future thinking--the endless streams of "I have to do this," and "I have to do that," etc.
However, I'm finding that I immerse myself completely in the most mundane tasks. I'm totally engaged in loading the dishwasher or flossing my teeth, and time slips away from me. Last week, I spent twenty minutes in the produce section at Target--totally mesmerized by the colors, shapes, and smells of fruits and veggies, as if it were an art exhibit at the IMA.
*Managing Difficult Emotions
When anger, frustration, fear, resentment, and general crankiness rise to the surface, I'm able to stay with these unpleasant feelings for longer periods of time without casting judgment or pushing them away. I can sit (stand, walk, or drive) with them with an objective heart and mind--simply noticing and holding space for these feelings--until they dissipate on their own.
This morning as I was driving to school, a man in an old pick-up truck tailgated me all the way down Morgantown Rd. Every time I glanced in my rear view mirror, he made various aggressive hand gestures, clearly indicating his disapproval of me driving the speed limit. Instead of responding with equal and opposite frustration, though, I remained calm and focused, and when he barreled past me across the double line, I didn't take it personally, and I didn't feel the need to speed up and chase after him, which is evidence of significant growth for me.
*New Teachers and Adventures
One of the most pleasant side-effects of my mantra practice is that it has been sending new teachers and adventures my way. I've met amazingly creative,supportive,and nourishing people outside my usual circles who have helped me learn and grow in so many ways. They've helped me stretch beyond my comfort zones, offering guidance and encouragement at just the right time.
For a long time, I've wanted to visit the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, and in the last few months, I've visited several times, attending various pujas, lectures, and events there.The monks have been very kind and warm-hearted, and their welcoming and open spirits have been both inspirational and refreshing.
In addition to honoring the Divine that dwells within, I've found that the heart of a regular mantra practice also includes elevating your vibrational frequencies. Each forty-day sadhana brings new experiences and insights, and each spiritual formula has its own unique lessons to teach. I'm looking forward to exploring the treasures that dwell in the next Sanskrit mantra.