How to Meditate 2 - Mantra

The word mantra means a thought or intention expressed as sound; it might also be understood as prayer, hymn, plan or counsel.  We talk nowadays of having a mantra, as of having a phrase or set of words which are meaningful and which motivate and inspire us.  In truth, a mantra might have a meaning, or no meaning at all; it might be a word, a sentence, a sound, or a set of sounds with no meaning.  And it's purpose is not to spur us on to action, but to draw us inward.   

Ram Dass describes a mantra as "something that protects the mind from itself ... by giving it some fodder other than the thinking process."  Carlos Pomeda describes it as something that unifies your thought waves, so that instead of myriad thoughts, you find one continuous thought wave going through your mind. 

When I sit to meditate, I tend to go through several typical stages.  The first stage, for me, is usually thinkingthinkingthinkingthinkingthinking thoughts.  Thoughts about people; thoughts about myself; memory; things I've just remembered I've forgotten; things I think I might forget; things I have to do.... on it goes.  Some of the thoughts are particularly seductive, so if I remember that I have to buy someone a birthday present, I might follow that thought along the line, planning what I'm going to get and where I'm going to get it from, until I notice what I'm doing and come back to what I'm sitting here for and return to watching the thoughts pass by, rather than following them anywhere.

I use a mantra almost every time I sit to meditate, because I have a very busy brain and it helps me to concentrate.  I was also given a mantra by a teacher who is important to me and I find that this mantra in particular has a profound effect on my meditation practice. 

The mantra I usually use is Om Namah Shivayah.  As with all translations from Sanskrit, there are many ways to translate this... adoration to Shiva; I bow to Shiva; I bow to God/the Divine (of which Shiva is a manifestation).  There are other mantras, from the simplest Om, to things like the Gayatri Mantra, spoken daily for centuries...

tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

let us contemplate the beautiful splendour of the divine Savitri (sun God) that he may inspire our visions

But your mantra might be as simple as thinking love with the inhalation; peace with the exhalation.  Or any other words or invocations that feel good to you.

Mantras repeated silently are more powerful than those spoken aloud.  Eventually, when you have practised with a mantra for a while, you end up feeling like you are hearing the mantra from inside yourself, rather than consciously thinking it.  It's a very peaceful and beautiful feeling when you get to that point.

Practice
Choose a mantra that feels good to you.  If you are not sure, then choose Om namah Shivayah. It's a simple and beautiful mantra that works for everybody.
Set your timer (if you use one)
Close your eyes; find your usual comfortable position for meditation.
If you have any mala beads, you can hold them and move your fingers along them with every time you repeat your mantra (I find this helps me to concentrate).
Settle your breath.
If you are not too shy, you can repeat your mantra aloud three times, before beginning to silently repeat your mantra, once with every inhale; once with every exhale.
Every time you realise that you have stopped repeating your mantra, simply notice (without judgment) and return to it.
See if you can allow the beauty of the sound of the words to fill your mind and body and thereby lull you into ever deeper meditation.

"The mantra and the reciter of the mantra are not separate from one another, and the power and effect of the mantra depend on the readiness and the openness and the faith of the one who's doing it"
Ram Dass


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