What is a mantra? The mind is tricky. Thought is tricky. We become trapped, wrapped up, and stuck in the continuous thought chain. One thought leads to another thought which leads to another, and another, and so on. Fifteen minutes later we suddenly wake up and realize we spent that whole time stuck in a daydream or worrying about our bills. It's like getting on the internet and clicking to the next window, then the next, and before you know it, there went an hour of your time.
The practice of meditation is the gradual cultivation of mindful awareness. We think we're doing this already, but it's really an illusion. It comes from the very fact that we are paying so little attention to our ongoing life experiences that we might as well be asleep. We're simply not paying enough attention to begin to notice that we're not paying attention. It is another Catch-22. This is where the mantra comes in.
I teach silent, mantra-based meditation. The word "mantra' in Sanskrit broken out loosely means "vehicle of the mind." A mantra is typically a phrase or a few words that sometimes have no particular meaning. At Satang House, we use a mantra as a vehicle for the mind to give our mind a place to land. The mantra serves as a vital reference point. Our minds will wander or become distracted by noises in the environment or thoughts that run through our head.
The mantra serves as a reminder for us to draw our attention back out of thought and meaning and return to the stillness. The mantra then becomes our place to land. This is the practice of mantra-based meditation. Distraction can't be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from! What I think we fail to realize is that silence is always there. We are the ones who leave the silence.
There are many forms of meditation that you can explore beyond mantra-based meditation. There's Vipassana, the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices which comes from a discourse attributed to Buddha himself. It as well, is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindful awareness and proceeds piece by piece over a period of years. There is pranayama (breathing) meditations, walking meditations, visualizations, and singing bowl meditations. Chanting is a form of meditation as well and is used in many cultures around the world as a means to still the mind.
I can't tell you how many new meditation practitioners I meet who tell me they just "can't meditate" because they can't seem to quiet their internal dialog long enough to focus on settling down. It's a bit of a Catch-22. One of the biggest reasons people come to me to learn meditation is to learn how to reduce their stress and to quiet their internal dialog but the very thing that keeps them for being able to settle in to meditation IS their internal dialog. You might be asking yourself why we use any focus of attention at all while meditating since after all, we're trying to develop awareness. Why can't we just sit down and be aware of whatever happens to be present in the mind? In fact, there are meditations of that nature. They're sometimes referred to as unstructured meditation and they are quite difficult.
If you're new to meditation, my recommendation is that you start by joining us for our class in Introduction to Meditation offered several times a week at Satsang House. Click Here to explore and register. This course introduces you to the basics and benefits of the ancient practice of meditation. We’ll settle in over tea and snacks and enjoy a guided silent 20-minute mantra-based meditation. I'll teach you many tools and practices to get off on the right foot and begin to strengthen and deepen your practice. Afterward, you’ll have a chance to walk the beautiful garden surroundings and reflexology path of Satsang House.
Join us at Satsang House, San Diego’s premier meditation center, to learn how to set a solid foundation of mindfulness into your daily life. Or consider coming to one of our classes or signing up for an online course!