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

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!!