If you’ve tried meditation, you know the monkey mind well. Just when you think it’s quiet and focused, it’s off in another direction making plans for the next day, or ruminating over the argument with your husband. Our monkey mind revolts when we ask it to be still. It may even dig up uncomfortable scenarios to make us squirm.
If you’ve been seeking a way to calm anxiety and stress, the last thing you want is for meditation to bring on more anxiety. It's understandable to give up just when we are just getting started.
What’s a person to do?
First, it’s crucial to remember that we all have monkey minds. No human is exempt, not even the monk in the Himalayas. Meditation is a practice and, just like you have to practice if you want to get good at playing the bass, competing in tennis, or running triathalons, you have to practice wrangling the monkey mind. It takes time. Give it another chance.
Second, try using some ancient, proven meditation tools. They have been used for centuries, for good reason. There is true magic that happens when repeating a mantra like “So Hum,” which means “I am” or “I am that.” Mantra can bring a richness to meditation, and to your life. It is not so much a prayer but a sacred syllable, whereby recitation and reflection can help you connect to your spiritual self.
The word mantra means mind-vehicle, and I like the way Leah described it to me: “It’s like calling a taxi cab, and it pulls up in front of your building to take you where you want to go.”
Mantra can repeated in any language to be effective; though there is a powerful vibration in the ancient sounds of Sanskrit, such as “sat chit ananda” (existence, consciousness, bliss), or “om bhavam namah” (I am absolute existence. I am a field of all possibilities). Some folks are understandably more comfortable with English mantras such as “I am love,” or “I choose peace.” Try both, and see which resonates for you.
When you sit to meditate, you’ll be silently repeating the mantra, feeling the breath moving in and out at the navel, and sending your awareness up and down the spine as this draws you into your senses, bringing you to the present moment. This practice was taught to me by Dr. Mahesh Mangalick, adapted from traditional meditation practices of Indian Masters.
Find a comfortable posture for meditation (seated on a cushion or blanket, in a chair or against a wall). Place your palms in gian mudra (forefinger and thumb touching) with your palms facing down to calm the mind. Scan your body and relax any tension. Let your sits bones release downward and your spine rise from the ground of the pelvis. Draw your chin slightly down and let the back of your neck lengthen.
Bring your attention to the tidal rhythm of your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your inhalation and exhalation. As your focus settles on your breath, begin to employ the simple mantra “so hum” or any other mantra you have chosen. As you inhale, silently say “so” to yourself and as you exhale, say “hum.” Once the “so hum” rhythm has been established, begin to take your awareness up to the crown as you silently say “so” and down to the base of the spine as you say “hum.”
After 15 breaths from the base of the spine to the crown, shift your awareness from the navel to the throat as you inhale “so” and back to your navel exhaling “hum” for about 15 breath cycles. Then shift your awareness directly to your heart center and focus there with the mantra “So hum” for at least 15 breaths or until your meditation bell rings. If a thought arises, gently bring your mind back to the mantra. When you are ready, release the mantra and slowly open your eyes.
As you practice, the mantra will begin to help your higher mind remain focused while the lower mind continues its chatter. You’ll begin to develop a witnessing awareness, like a reporter who observes what is happening all around him or her without judging what arises.
If you realize that your thoughts are taking off like a freight train in a different direction, gently come back to witnessing the mantra and the breath. Witness the types of thoughts that come up. Gently let them go.
Practice, practice, practice.
As you develop this practice, you can begin to notice what types of thoughts you’re having and whether or not you have an aversion to something or an attraction to something. You will learn to understand yourself and your motivations more clearly, from this witnessing awareness. This meditation begins to create a positive relationship with your mind and getting to know how you think and why you think. If you master the mind, you master the world.
As Dr. Mahesh says, a calm tranquil mind enjoys happiness, approaching the unlimited joy of the totally calm SELF. Meditation is a natural pain reliever, blood pressure moderator, and stress reliever.
Use this simple breath and mantra-based meditation every day. The practice will take you to new depths, and you may find that you naturally begin to carry your mantra meditation into your everyday activities.