Archive for the ‘mantra’ Category

During my past couple of meditation sessions, I’ve been focusing on “a more natural breath.” As I shifted from a mantra-based practice to one that focuses only on the breath, I found that I was breathing with what is known in yoga as “ojai” breath. When I think of focusing on the breath, I default to this style of breathing. I found that the “loud,” ocean sound of the breath helped me to focus in a way similar to having a mantra. However, I once had a yoga teacher who told us (what a yoga teacher of his had once told him, as it goes in yoga…), “If the ojai breath is an ocean, it is your ocean.” Meaning, you shouldn’t be overpowering your neighbor with the powerful sound of your ojai breath. This was interesting to me because I’ve been in many yoga classes where the sound of ojai breathing fills the room. Still, I’ve kept this in mind since then and figured this should also apply to my meditation practice. In addition to that is the fact I’ve also been told that the breath during meditation should be a “natural” breath. This is why, lately, I’ve been trying to soften my breathing during meditation — silencing the ocean, but probably ingratiating myself to my neighbor during group meditation practice.


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About a month ago, I did a retreat at Kripalu. It was a yoga and meditation retreat, and the meditation portion was on metta meditation with Sylvia Boorstein who was a student of Sharon Salzberg. Metta means “loving kindness,” and for an explanation of the basic concept of metta meditation follow the previous link. Sylvia’s version is a mantra based meditation that uses the phrase(s):

May you feel protected and safe
May you feel contented and pleased
May your body support you with strength
May your life unfold smoothly and with ease

While I thoroughly enjoyed the retreat and felt like I understood metta meditation (it felt a little like tonglen to me), I also thought it would not be a form of meditation I would practice in my “regular” life. I practice a mantra form of meditation
; however this series of blessings that Sylvia presented to us seemed very busy in my brain. My mind did not feel quieted or even like it was moving toward being quieted. Instead, I decided to integrate these ideas into my regular practice my reciting them as little prayers/blessings at the beginning and end of my meditation. That is, until lately….

One of the quotes that Sylvia opened our retreat with was from the Buddha:

“What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his mind will bend and incline.”

I think that though I have strongly felt meditation has the power to change my life/our lives, I really didn’t buy into this idea that if we focus on compassion, on loving kindness for very very very long and intensive periods of time, then eventually our minds will that way bend — naturally, automatically, instinctively. And for me, that is very important, as my mind currently does not tend to bend that way, or at least not in certain situations.

And so today, I thought maybe I should really give a meditation of loving kindness a try. So this morning, I gave up my mantra for the series of phrases that Sylvia recommended. I blessed myself with these first and worked my way toward folks that are not so easy to bestow loving kindness upon.

But interestingly enough, it is the person I love the most in this world (I’m sure that I’m not alone in this) who is most difficult, at times, for me to act kindly towards. But,

Since this meditation is concerned with the welfare of the living, one should not choose people who have died; one should also avoid choosing people towards whom one may have feelings of sexual attraction.

this means that I can’t exactly direct these blessings toward that person. Ultimately though, the idea is that when I have spent enough time (hopefully in this lifetime) reflecting in this metta-way, then the person whom I love the most will be the recipient of my loving kindness.

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The type of mantra-based meditation I’ve been practicing is taken from yoga science, which has its roots in the teachings of Swami Rama. I’ve been struggling to choose a meditation practice and have been flip-flopping between this y.s./mantra meditation and Buddhist/Tibetan forms of meditation. Last week at group meditation (mantra-based), I asked about deciding on a form and was encouraged to try some out but to really settle down with “the one”–that is, I was told, one would just feel right for me and be the right fit.

I feel as though the mantra-based meditation works for me, but have often thought that this is only because it was the first kind of meditation I really tried and the one I’ve had the most experience with. I know very little about the philosophy of yoga science and tend to read more buddhist philosophy books. And yet, it is not the buddhist forms of meditation the feel so “right” to me. Then, I tell myself, I should continue on the path of buddhist meditation because that one is more difficult for me and that meditation should not be easy.

But, since Wednesday, I’ve really given myself over to a mantra-based meditation. As one of the leaders of the group meditation would say, all that flip-flopping between forms is ultimately my ego getting in the way. And that comment got me thinking about how much we have to meet our ego head on during meditation (if we notice it, that is. But the more I meditate, the more I notice it.). I actually wrote a bit about this in my last post. Today also I kept butting heads with my ego during practice.

But I suppose that ultimately what little I know about yoga science makes sense for who I am and how I live. It is an integrative approach, a whole body approach. With its attention to the principles of Ayurveda and its roots in the teachings of The Bhagavad Gita, it certainly appeals to my interests. It’s just a slightly different path than the one I thought I was on.

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Today I tried something new (for me) when I meditated. I put a lit candle a few feet in front of me upon which to fix my gaze. This is something I had read about when looking for insight into my eyes open or closed dilemma. I wear glasses and my lack of vision without them is extreme — the blurry, dancing candlelight did help me to focus my attention but ultimately it felt like it was really messing with my eyes.

As I’ve written in the previous post, I really get the idea of meditation as an AWAKE practice, and I also get that is a discipline in many ways, so that the easiest way to meditate or the most comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way. The mantra-based meditation group that I attend, is much more lax in their approach to meditation than more traditional (and even contemporary) Buddhist forms of meditation.

The other night the conversation turned to falling asleep during meditation. One of the group leaders said that if you fall asleep it’s okay, not to beat yourself up. If you fall asleep, he argued, this is what your body needs. When you wake back up, simply return to your meditation. I get the idea of not beating yourself up, as meditation is a practice of compassion and self-love and care. On the other hand, I don’t think falling asleep during meditation is something we should be totally okay with and permissive of. The thing is, I am never even close to falling asleep.

I used to meditate with my fountain running and with my eyes closed. I found that the combination of these (along with a mantra) kept me the most present, and I’m tempted to return to that. Now, eyes open or closed turns to ears opened or closed. My shiatsu practitioner recommends earplugs when meditating (especially if you have kids…, which I don’t, but also for anyone else who wants to hear his/her inner voice(s) more clearly). I haven’t tried this yet, though I’m not opposed. Then there are also people who listen to relaxing music, or maybe, like myself, might listen to the soothing sounds of running water.

Lastly, I’ll just comment quickly on how handy a mantra can be (this was also part of the conversation that was had at meditation group recently): A mantra is handy in traffic jams, while shopping, while doing dishes, etc. It is handy in situations that annoy you terribly. One woman told the story of shopping at Price Chopper and being overcharged for her items. She kept calm though. The group leader asked if she used her mantra, and she said no, but this certainly might have been additionally helpful to her in that situation (she just kept telling herself to stay calm).

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When I learned to meditate, which was a mantra-based meditation style, I was instructed to close my eyes. As I became a bit more familiar with Buddhist meditation, I learned that it is more common for one to keep their eyes half open/closed than having them closed all the way. This soon became an obsession of mine that took away (and continues to) from my meditation practice. Silly, I know. I know that gentleness and not getting so hooked the the precise nature of meditation is important, but I couldn’t stop getting caught up on the state of my eyes.

I tried to do Shambhala style meditation with my eyes gently open part-way, my gaze slightly out in front of me, and with a focus on my breath — letting go of the mantra. I found having my eyes open distracting, yet I told myself that this is part of the “training” that is meditation — exercising the ability to stay present despite distractions. I also completely understand the reasoning for keeping one’s eyes open — to stay awake. Meditation is a practice of being completely and most fully awake and present, so keeping one’s eyes open certainly seems key to doing that; however, I never come anywhere close to falling asleep when I have my eyes closed during meditation. I feel more comfortable with my eyes closed, as I am not worrying about gaze flitting here and there or about straining my eyes from being cross-eyed for so long. I am able to relax more deeply into the meditation when my eyes are closed, but I’m not relaxed to the point of a dream-like state at all. I recognize my thoughts more clearly with my eyes closed, and I’m able to then release them more readily. I’m more aware of my inner-self with my eyes closed, as I feel that is where the gaze is directed.

There are many different takes out there on the web regarding this question of eyes open or closed, but here are just a few:
The Shambhala.org site — “Technique of Meditation

Should I meditate with my eyes open or my eyes closed?

Meditation workshop

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Welcome to my meditation journal.

I began meditating regularly a little more than a month ago, after meeting a wondeful shiatsu practitioner who reminded me that “meditation is the best medicine.” Her intensity toward my own commitment to meditation just triggered something in me, and it stuck. I’ve been sitting daily ever since.

I knew (and know for that matter) very little about meditation. I had attended some free local meditation classes, which introduced me to a mantra based meditation. The class’ leader would begin by reading us a list of mantras, which she repeated three times each. She told us to just to choose whichever one we were drawn to, whatever resonated. At my first class I immediately chose “om namah shivaya,” having no idea that it is one of the most well-known, commonly chanted — an initiation mantra of sorts. Whatever the case, it worked for me.

Since then I have experimented with a few different mantras, in addition to trying out a shambhala approach to meditation as explained by Pema Chodron in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa.

The idea for this blog simply came out of the fact that often when I’m meditating and my mind does its wandering, I find myself reflecting on the act of meditation itself and almost composing blog-like entries in my head. Language is my living, so “writing” in my head is common for me. Still, as I let those thoughts go and return to my breath, the feeling of wanting to write them down remains. I figure that if I maybe start recording them, I’ll let them go more easily. Also, I am just easily entertained by some of the things the mind does while meditating, and thought the mind’s antics would make for good blog material. Here is today’s example:
I’m in the middle of “om namah shivaya-ing” when suddenly I am thinking how important it is to carve out the time to do this. “Carve” is the exact word that my mind uses to describe the act of making time for myself and my practice. This leads my mind to think of the billboard on the side of the highway with a Dunkin’ Donuts advertisement that reads, “Carve out some time for a pumpkin muffin.” I always read that ad, and with the accompanying picture of the latte and robust pumpkin muffin, it works on some level. Yes, I think, that looks inviting (though I LOVE pumpkin muffins, I hate Dunkin’ Donuts, but that, after all, is the magic of advertising). Anyhow, I NEVER made the connection between the word choice “carve” and “pumpkin.” (Did I say I do language for a living??). In fact, I often marveled at the simplicity of the ad and wondered why that statement exactly? Suddenly, today during my meditation, the wonder of Dunkin’ Donuts’ billboard advertising became remarkably clear. And I felt silly. And I had to just laugh at myself.

In addition to serving the purpose of recording the wildly diverse wanderings of a meditating mind, this blog is also an attempt to find out if I am alone in these random (and sometimes confusing and sometimes wonderful) meditation sessions. It’s to get me reading other material out there and interacting with others who are starting on this path and hopefully some who are futher along it and can share advice and insight. It’s also to help me keep track of the resources that are out there — linking to valuable site, retreat information, classes, and so on.

Please share your own experiences, leave a link to your own writings or resources on meditation, or comment on my various entries.

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