Personal Mantra Chanting: Day 4

Today, I decided to try a different approach to being comfortable with chanting aloud: chanting to the frequencies of recorded Tibetan singing bowls.

I first tried finding a Tibetan Bowls channel on Spotify, which worked well until the ads interrupted the music. For about a minute each, at different pitches, I was able to harmonize and chant along with the bowl, forgetting to be embarrassed by the sound of my own voice. Of course, once the ads started, it was game over.

So, I started looking at YouTube, although many of the top tracks included other music or guided meditations as well. So, a more general search landed me at Shanti Bowl and their list of 11 best recordings, along with the reminder that the best way to really hear the bowls is in person.

However, with a good headset — and the house to myself for a while — I enjoyed chanting along with the pitch of various bowls quite a lot more than just chanting (whispering, really) to myself in a quiet room.

Personal Mantra Chanting: Day 3

Today, I gave a mid-term exam in two of my class sections. The classes are an hour and a half long … so that is three hours of the day spent mostly watching students write.

I used to resent proctoring exams as a waste of my time in a busy life. I can’t do any another work because of the potential interruption of a question. I need to be present and (to some extent) paying attention to what students are doing (yes, I have caught students cheating, unfortunately).

So, I decided to experiment with using it as a time for meditation via mantra chanting.

It was not a complete experiment with chanting because I could only subvocalize as I walked sedately through the room, counting the repetitions on my mala. Other than the buzz of electrical devices and the sound of pencils on paper, the room was utterly quiet. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the difference it made in my attitude!!

Instead of resenting the time “waste”, I felt that being present, aware, and caring for my students in that moment was important. I was doing something that was valued and valuable – not a useless black hole in my calendar.

In the second period of the day, I switched up the content of my chant and focused on the traditional metta prayer. I almost stopped this prayer because as I walked around the room, when I prayed for all beings to be safe, I couldn’t help thinking about Ukraine. But since I do have international students from that region, I pulled it together and blinked away the threatening tears.

I am not sure if I will keep chanting in my daily practice, but it certainly has earned a place in my life.

Personal Mantra Chanting: Day 2

So, I’m experimenting with using a personal mantra in various contexts. The aim is to disrupt the rather snippy person I’ve become lately and be more relaxed, open, confident, and compassionate.

Day 2 found me busily grading one exam while writing a second one. Answering questions as usual . Figuring out how to manage students who missing classes, assignments, and tests because they are ill with the usual variety of viruses plus those who are isolation because of the big one. Oh … and don’t forget Spring sports. A bigger batch of special cases that need to be handled consistently but kindly.

Truth is that none of this is all that hard, although it does mean that I need to make a lot of unexpected decisions and record them while trying to adjudicate fairly and speak compassionately. We’re all stressed for various reasons right now, however, and my temper flares more quickly than I would like. Which is what lead me to try something new in the realm of meditation.

And today, I used the personal mantra when I started to find myself frazzled and snappish, using it as a way to interrupt negative thoughts and self talk. I decided to try this based on work by Jack Canfield (2022) and his practice of stopping negative thoughts with a phrase. In his seminars, he advises people to stop and tell themselves “Cancel, cancel” when they find themselves engaging in negative self talk or thoughts. I decided to try my mantra (“Head up, heart open”) instead.

And I was pleased that, no surprise, it works quite well. Not only does it stop the downward spiral, but it reminds me of my aspirations and goals as a knight. I didn’t get a long meditation session in, but the brief reminders seem to have helped overall. And a good workout at CrossFit worked out the rest of the day’s tensions. I am not sure that I’ll keep the long form of chanting as a daily practice, but the short positive interruption is a new tool in the collection for sure.

References and Resources

Canfield, Jack. (2022) Negative Self-Talk: 5 Ways to Stop Negative Self-Talk Once and For All. Retrieved from: https://www.jackcanfield.com/blog/negative-self-talk/

Personal Mantra Chanting

I became interested in meditation and yoga in my early teens, but I generally stayed clear of mantra chanting and transcendental meditation at the time, preferring to stick with the “following the breath” meditation practices. Personal mantra chanting was a practice that was esoteric enough in the 1970’s that some caution was advised in entering the practice without a teacher.  Stories such as this one Gayathri Mantra Greatness – Lost voice is back inspired some trepidation about trying to learn and practice on your own or with only a book or tape as a guide.  

Also, we were told at the time that one should not pick one’s own mantra – it should be given by a teacher to the student.  Possibly, this was because transcendental meditation was popular and the “best” mantras were passed from teacher to student after training (Luenendonk, 2019).  

Additionally, it was “common knowledge” that each person’s mantra should not be shared with anyone.  I suppose that was part of maintaining the mystery and sense of sacredness of meditation.  But it also would circumvent the vexing question of “what should my mantra be?” and the temptation to keep switching it rather than picking something to stick with for long enough to have some impact on one’s spiritual development.  

Previous History with the Practice

I have, despite the early warnings and a sense of awkwardness, occasionally tried meditation with a mantra.  During my studies at the Temple of the Jedi, I used “peace” as my mantra.  It is positive, but a single syllable word does not suit itself well to synchronize with the flow of the breath.  

While studying with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I’ve been encouraged to use “Awen” as my meditation focus.  It has the benefit of being multisyllabic as well as meaningful.  Most often, it is translated as “poetic inspiration” ….. which is appropriate for Bard training.  Arguably, it is something that I need as a professor, but it does not resonate with patience and compassion for me.  

So, when a gentle nudge to try it resurfaced, I realized that I would need to find a mantra that I’d be willing to stick with for at least a week, if not longer.

How to Pick a Mantra

One of the things that tends to turn me away from this practice is the question of “what mantra should I choose?”.   I always felt awkward and worried that I would not pick the right one.  This is where a teacher would certainly come in handy.

A problem is that finding a teacher can be a real challenge.  You might try an internet search for meditation centers, religious centers, yoga studios, or even unaffiliated teachers.  When I search, I find a few opportunities about an hour away in one of two large cities, although it is hard to determine if they are offering instruction and practice in mantra chanting.

So, that leaves me (and you, Dear Reader) with the task of learning the method and picking a mantra on my own.  The internet is a wonderful place to find general guidance and a wealth of potential mantras.  Reading through quite a few, I relaxed regarding picking the “right” mantra and just started looking for something that invoked a feeling of both confidence and compassion …. two qualities I am in great need of cultivating right now.  That was a bit of a deep dive that took about two hours of internet surfing while we watched television.  

Ultimately, I spent some time browsing at the Zox website: https://zox.la/. It is full of short, mostly positive, phrases intended to be used as personal motivations and reminders of intentions.  I hit upon “Head up heart open” which inspires self-confidence, compassion, and openness when I repeat it to myself.  I even bought a wrist band in gratitude for their excellent copywriters and designers.  

Experimentation

So, I decided to give the new method a try starting this afternoon.  After a walk, while I finally had the house to myself, I thought I could try repeating my new mantra aloud.  

With a sandalwood mala in hand, I started.

Oddly, I found myself sitting up straighter than usual.  I credit this to the mental image of “head up” to lift me up … and “heart open” which opens up the chest.  A surprising and healthy result immediately.

But secondly, I found that my voice seemed shockingly loud.  So, quickly I adjusted volume to just barely over a whisper.  I wonder if I will gradually get louder with practice and time to acclimate to something new??

Resources

Luenendonk, Martin (2019) These are the 10 Most Exciting Mantras for Meditation. Retrieved from https://www.cleverism.com/mantras-for-meditation/

Self-Discipline

At the beginning of the year, it is customary for us to sit down and create New Year’s Resolutions, even as we know that most people will have abandoned them before February 1st. In fact, a study from 2019 suggests that most Americans won’t last beyond January 19th … that’s only 10 days away!!!

Since, as Jedi and knights, we are often on a path of self-improvement, how do we beat the odds and maintain our momentum during the coming year?

As noted in the linked article, one of the most important factors is to make the resolution a specific, measurable goal. Rather than resolving to “meditate more”, be specific and frame the resolution as a goal such as “meditate for 20 minutes 5 times per week”. I would further add that intermediate milestones also help in keeping the big picture in mind while making smaller, achievable goals that are more easily reachable.

There are many good ideas in the article, and I would like to add to their suggestion that you engineer your environment to help you … enlist one or more people to join you in pursuing the goal and helping you remain accountable. While the Jedi community has not always been the most supportive group or safe space in which to admit your growth areas, see if there are people who you can trust to walk the path with you. Or check out a group such as Nerd Fitness, where you can always find supportive, friendly folks who are embracing changes as well as various fandoms in short, time-boxed challenges.

Finally, I encourage you to read this article On Self Discipline by Morken, from 2000. The advice doesn’t change much. And we know what to do. The challenge is … to do it!!

Make this a great year!!

Musings on Chivalry

Reading through the Lecture section of the old Jedi Temple discussion forums, I found a submission in 2001 by Ainar of the Chivalric Code, attributed to the author Arinaga Yoshiakira. I have not been able to trace this writing back to that author, but I did find mention of something similar at an English teacher’s website … along with homework questions: The Code of Chivalry.

Many years later, it has found its way into the doctrines of the Temple of the Jedi Order as part of the 21 Maxims there.

I find it particularly interesting that the teacher mentions in her lesson that the chivalric code would have no real bearing on modern society. As I read through the knightly virtues listed, I can see only one that might need some revision to be appropriate for people of good will today, since few of us owe fealty to a lord … although most have some obligations to other forms of authority.

Jedi Code: Emotions

There is no emotion, there is peace.

The Jedi Code

The first line of the Jedi Code is one of the most difficult for new students to understand and accept. Stated as it is here (there are other formulations), it seems to argue that a Jedi should not have emotions. But as many Jedi teachers have written, this is a misunderstanding.

Human beings have emotions. That’s simply a part of being a healthy person, and Jedi value being healthy in mind, body, and spirit very, very much. To deny emotion and try to remove it from our lives would be a mistake. So what is the point to this line … the first line …. of one of the most iconic facets of the Star Wars mythos, one that has its foundation in both Samurai maxims and Stoic philosophy?

This line calls for reframing the relationship between a Jedi and their emotions. For so many people, their emotions are considered things outside of their control that not only seem to have a life of their own but that also color and frame the interpretation of events … and that call for specific actions and responses to events.

If someone is running late for an event because of traffic on the freeway, for instance, they think it is inevitable that they will become angry and maybe even honk their car horn or shout at people around them. They may even carry that anger with them through the day, letting it affect their responses to unrelated situations and people, getting even more angry at minor frustrations and blaming the traffic for making them angry and ruining their day.

Yet a Jedi would point out that the emotion did not come from the traffic. It came from within the person. At its most fundamental level, the emotion is an ephemeral chemical reaction in the brain in response to a challenging situation. And, ideally, a Jedi would recognize that momentary anger or frustration, acknowledge it, and then decide what to do. The emotion is not in charge of deciding what happens next; the Jedi is. Ideally, the next steps might be to do some deep breathing, mitigate the effects of being late (informing someone of the late arrival), and letting the frustration evaporate so that it does not bleed over to cause misunderstandings during the rest of the day.

But it is a big step to go from our society conditioning (“the traffic made me angry”) to managing our emotional life. The advice I hear from too many Jedi to “just be emotionally disciplined” comes from good intentions, I hope, but is not useful at the beginning of training. So, I have included an idea from Naya’s shamanic background (The Path to Anger) that I recommend you add to your training program, especially if you are already keeping a journal.

Recording your emotional responses and analyzing what might have evoked them is a good way to beginning to change your relationship with emotions and grow as a Jedi.

Environment for Life

It was inevitable, given the past few years, that I would read Morken’s lecture on the narrow band of conditions that support higher-order life on Earth on a day when we have so many natural disasters in the news.

The scope of the problem is mind-boggling. The challenge of reversing environmental damage is substantial. Much does need to be done at decision-making levels that are far above our scope of influence (although, if you live in a democracy, please make sure you vote!!). Yet, ultimately, much of the impact – and the lifestyle changes necessary – will be at the individual level.

Today, consider what you could do to reduce the number of natural resources you use or the waste that you contribute. Do one thing.

The Narrow Threshold by Morken

From the NOAA disaster events website:  https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/ showing increasing costs of disasters in the USA

An Exercise in Mindfulness

I hesitated to include the lecture Pick a Question because I do not know who contributed it. With the changes from Ezboard to Yuku to Tapatalk, many accounts became orphaned and user names did not remain visible … hence authorship information sometimes has been misplaced. All I know is that the author identified themselves as the Chair of the Sine Nomine (which ends up being rather ironic).

As it may be, I decided that this lecture introduces a useful exercise, one that is similar to those used by consultants aiding people or organizations in creating mission and vision statements.

While the initial question posed may seem trivial (the author asks “What did you have for breakfast?”) a series of “why” questions following can begin to remove the trivial, layer by layer, until the values and principles behind the, seemingly innocuous, everyday decisions and actions of daily life begin to be exposed.

For instance, my answer to the breakfast question today would be: eggs with microgreens and cinnamon swirl bread with margarine.

Why did I choose this breakfast?

At one level, because it is a combination of protein and carbs with some microgreens.

So, why these things? You already can see a hint at my response in how I framed the answer: because I think it offers valuable nutrients: protein, carbs, and phytochemicals.

Why did I go for “valuable nutrients”?

Because I am working at improving my health and think that this combination of nutrients will aid me in developing strength and have enough carbs that I can get through my 9 am personal training session without fainting.

Why am I improving my health?

  1. I am of the “move it or lose it” philosophy and think that if you don’t work at improving, entropy will increase. In this case, I’ll get weaker and possibly injured or ill.
  2. I think that I need to be physically fit* in order to have the necessary energy to teach (my real life job) and also to be of service to the community (my Jedi vocation).

…. Naturally, we could keep going here. These events are usually timed, and you do need to be in the right frame of mind to continue with introspection for very long. And if this is done with someone else, you need to feel a sense of trust … and expect that there are no wrong answers.

BUT, I hope you can see how I already am uncovering my personal values:

  • Physical health
  • Continuous improvement
  • Teaching others
  • Community service

I would like to suggest this sort of question period (do keep it short!!) might be valuable as part of either a student initiation OR as part of Jedi Trials as a way to think about values …. but also how we can enact them every day.

It’s not what you say that’s important to you, it’s what you DO that’s important to you.  

Steven Kamb (NerdFitness.com)

* Which is not to say that I think everyone needs to follow my example in this, but it is important to me to be as physically capable as possible under the circumstances.

More Lectures from the Past

I am working on filtering through the guest lectures from the Jedi Temple and publishing items that – to the best of my knowledge – were not picked up in any collections or books.

The first lecture today is a serious question from Naya: “So you wanna be a Jedi?” that takes a less-romantic look at the downsides of being a Jedi in the modern world by comparing living as a Jedi to being a shaman. While I don’t suggest that you should live like Kevin Cottam, you should consider what living as a Jedi will really entail.

Continuing in the theme is a lecture from one of our founders on The Jedi Way.