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/