Using a Mantra to Meditate
We can all probably imagine a meditating monk. They’re sitting there, either in a temple or forest or mountain, clothed in yellow robes or next to nothing at all, shaved head or long hair with a matching beard. Their bodies are twisted into the lotus position, their palms up, forefingers and thumbs touching.
And their lips are pursed, and from their lips comes a simple sound. Usually that sound is a modulating hum. Well if truth be told, it sounds like just a hum, but it’s actually a word being pronounced very slowly, one syllable at a time, held and extended. That word changes, but the term for that meditative word is “mantra.”
The word mantra has entered our vocabulary, though in slightly different terms. When we think of a mantra, we usually think of a personal or corporate slogan. “Work hard and play hard” might be an individuals’ mantra, and “customers first” might be a businesses’ mantra. According to that use, we think of mantras as something that we repeat to ourselves that defines us.
In some ways, both uses of mantra are the same. They both are an attempt for an individual to connect with a word or phrase, which they use to connect and personally identify with an idea. That most common Tibetan mantra, AUM, is a sound that encompasses all sounds and all silences. Essentially, it says “I am all things” (to put it in extremely simplistic terms). While that’s certainly a more ambitious identification than working hard and playing hard, the underlying notion is pretty similar.
In meditation, a mantra is a word or sound that you repeat as an object of focus. To use a mantra in meditation, first you need to select one. It’s good to select a positive word that you feel good about that has general connotations. You don’t want anything too specific when starting out, as you don’t want to lose the meditation because you’re too invested in the word. The mantra is nothing more than a tool to get you to the proper state, so don’t focus on it too much.
Once you have a word, you want to then get into position to start meditating. Sit down comfortably somewhere quiet where you can be alone and have some uninterrupted time to yourself. Make sure there are no distractions or things that can provide surprise distractions, like cell phones or computers or TVs, around you. Get into a comfortable position that you can hold for about twenty minutes.
Once you’re seated comfortably, begin to breathe deeply and slowly, calming and clearing you mind. Keep breathing until you slough off most of the surface level tension you were experiencing. Go deep inside, and notice how you’re feeling, and breathe out any addition, deep seated tension you might be holding in your body.
Now that you’re feeling reasonably relaxed, focus on your breathing and begin to recite your selected mantra. You can recite your mantra silently in your head, or out loud with your voice. Say the word over and over; see the word clearly in your head. Repeat it again and again. Find a comfortable timing and rhythm to your repetitions. If you lose focus, don’t chastise yourself, just slip back into the proper state.
Try to maintain your meditation for about twenty minutes. If you can’t, don’t worry about it. Just resolve to sit there for the twenty minutes and continue attempting to enter and maintain the proper state, without tensing up when it doesn’t go perfectly. At first, it helps to practice this as many times a day as possible. Once you’re confident about your ability to enter the state, practice once or twice a day, or as needed.