An Introduction to Mantra Meditation.
Fully immersed in the decor at the Thai restaurant, and imagining how I may incorporate some elements in my home, I barely noticed the server drop the menus on the table. “Oh no,” my mom says under her breath, “we have to go.” I look down and realize why she’s become unnerved. The menu has five pages, and anyone that has ever eaten with me knows that it will take me at least thirty to forty minutes to fully digest its contents and even longer to try to figure out what I want to eat. It’s just too many choices- a phenomenon that writer Alvin Toffler first described in his 1970s work Future Shock as overchoice. It’s when the presence of many possible options becomes more of a burden than a benefit. Luckily, since my mom ate with me last, I’d devised a lifehack for this scenario. After suppling the server with my list of dietary restriction (vegetarian, lactose-intolerant), I ask him to choose for me. Okay, not the most elegant lifehack, but it works, as proven by the fact that people are still willing to share a meal with me.
Recently, this same feeling of overchoice or ‘asphyxiation-by-decision-making’, was affecting my morning meditations. And nothing is ever really a big deal to me until it affects my morning meditation. By all measures it’s been a wild, wonderful, couple of months- a time of growth both professionally and spiritually. And with exponential growth comes a lot of decisions and options. My meditations suffered under the pressure to decide ‘correctly’. I couldn’t steady my focus long enough to really enjoy any peace.
“When the student is ready the teacher appears” – Zen Proverb
By divine intervention, I attended an Ashtanga workshop around the same time led by Greg Nardi. The entire event reenergized my practice, but what really changed my life at that point was the mantra to Lord Ganesha. Now, let me backtrack- I have minimal knowledge of Hindu deities and never really connected to mantras previously, beyond a couple months of chanting a Hindu ‘love spell’ in hopes I wouldn’t die alone. You can then imagine my surprise when I really connected with the chant, “Aum Gahm Ganapataye Namah” repeated one hundred and eight times. It gave my mind direction, a track to stay on. While my mind begged to have me make a decision on various life-stuff, I had a way to call it back to the track. When given just one choice, my mind accepted, focused, and finally relaxed.
The whole ‘point’ of meditation for me is to give my mind a space to rest, so that I can really listen to my inner guru. That becomes absolutely impossible when there’s a lot of noise.
I continued the mantra practice every morning for a couple months until I felt I was honestly ready to let it go. It was one less thing I had to think about in the morning. And the image of Ganesha was comforting- Ganesha remover of obstacles, and master of wisdom and knowledge. I could see the elephant-god removing my obstacles one-by-one as I sang his praises.
Allow me to clarify, I don’t practice Hinduism or any other religion, although I respect the truths inherent in them all, so I assure you a mantra practice can be just as effective for anyone. If you’d like to include a religious deity in your practice, I encourage you to do so. In fact, what is praying the rosary, if not mantra practice? I practice using a mala with the auspicious hundred and eight beads. My current mala is made of rose quartz because I hope to always embody unconditional love and keep my heart open. I chant at the same time every morning, usually 5:30am, because I feel there’s a certain magic in the air that just can’t be replicated when the sun is fully in the sky. Before I begin, I decide how many times around the mantra I’ll chant and the volume of my syllables. It is said that silently chanting is most effective, but I find that my mind is really loud, so I choose to chant at the level of my speaking voice. And that’s pretty much it. I chant, I take a moment to sit in gratitude, and go about my day. In perhaps twenty minutes, I’ve given myself space to wake up properly without having to make any immediate decisions, and allowed my mind to tap into the inner teacher, so that future decisions will be made with the consideration of my heart.
I hope you will give mantra practice a try. There are plenty of versions of this mantra chanted online, but perfect pronunciation is not necessary. Focus more on what your mind is doing as you chant. Please let me know how it works for you by contributing below.