A meditation mantra is a powerful psycho-spiritual practice that has the proven power to improve your health, ease your emotions and transform consciousness.
I want to say a belated THANK YOU to a little old Irish nun, Sister Agnes. She “threw me the life preserver” of the mantra practice 31 years ago at an overwhelming time in my life. I grabbed on to it and it saved me. It is still a fundamental “peace practice” for my life. A mantra is simply a positive repetitive phrase or prayer you dwell on silently.
When I was 28 years old I slowly lost my first child to muscular dystrophy. Four months after burying Ruthie I buried my father. I then had to return immediately to Italy as the primary breadwinner for our family. Economically, we were living under the poverty line. I was isolated from friends and family, exhausted, grief-ridden and overwhelmed. I had never heard of the mantra or “prayer of the heart” practice before. Sister Agnes gently explained it this way:
"It is the nature of an elephant’s trunk to explore and meander here-and-there, willy- nilly. If an elephant is taken through an open-air market bazaar, its trunk will create havoc and destruction with its undisciplined wanderings. The elephant driver solves this issue by simply placing a stick in the elephant’s trunk. With something to hold onto, the elephant easily passes through without causing destruction. It’s the elephant drivers job to pay attention and be sure to keep putting the stick back in the elephant’s trunk.
Our minds are like the elephant’s trunk. It is the nature of the mind to generate a stream of thought and mental chatter. Left undisciplined, it can create anxiety, depression, resentment, anger and fear. We are all so much more than the thought or emotion of the moment. There is a part of us that is the elephant driver and can choose to set limits on the mind. With on-going practice we can master where we allow it to take us. A mantra or “prayer of the heart” is the stick we give our minds to hold. Repeat a phrase that you want to “seed your mind with”. Repeat it silently wherever you are so that intention can take root. It will take no extra time out of your day. It costs nothing."
For those of you who “want proof”:
“Harvard University scientist, Herbert Benson, Ph.D., became curious and wondered if people from differing belief systems, or no belief system at all, could benefit from the repetitive phrase practice. He studied repetition and scientifically documented its benefits in practitioners of repetitive prayer, simple words, Tibetan mantras and even song. In his findings, it didn't seem to make much of a difference what was repeated, as long as it was repeated for a length of time on a regular basis.
His findings have been conclusive… Repetition for 10-20 minutes leads the human being:
- Into a relaxation response
- Out of stress
- Into a state that is conducive to healing body and mind.
- Lower blood pressure
- Pain relief
- Increased motivation and productivity
- Better decision making
- Improved sleep
- Less anxiety
- Lower stress hormones
- Ease of awakening
- Increased immunity and the prevention of stress-related illness”
Be the Elephant Driver NOT the Elephant’s Trunk
We need to make choices and develop ongoing practices to support wellbeing that will see us through the inevitable slings and arrows of life. I call these Strategies of the Spirit. Trying to “control your thoughts” does not work. It puts you at war with yourself and increases any struggle. Instead, you must give your mind another focus and keep returning to your chosen phrase when your mind wanders (which it naturally will.) If you do not choose to begin a practice that eons of wisdom traditions recommend and science now affirms, you are still making a choice. A choice against yourself. What are you waiting for? Well-known meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran recommends:
“Select a mantra that appeals to you deeply. Once you have chosen it, do not change it. …Repeat your mantra silently whenever you get the chance: while walking, waiting, doing mechanical chores, and especially while falling asleep. Repeat it whenever you are angry, afraid, nervous, worried or resentful until the agitation subsides.”
You can use a line of poetry or the phrase of a song. Every spiritual tradition has repetitive mantras that you can research and use. My husband says the repetitive prayer of the rosary as a "prayer of the heart"on his way to work each morning to become more centered and present to the day ahead.
Thank you Sister Agnes. What a gift you gave me. It has been my “go to” life preserver for decades.
I've gone on to explore other helpful practices over the years. Have you seen the post about the free meditation app A Monk, a Doctor & a Psychic go into...?
Do you have a mantra practice? What has your experience been?
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