A mantra is a sacred word or phrase which is repeated continually often given to you by your teacher.
I learned this form of meditation from John Main via his book ‘Silence and Stillness in Every Season’ many years ago. I built a ‘temenos’ – a sacred space – at the bottom of my garden in the style of César Manrique’s curved seat in the white bubble of his home on Lanzarote, La Fundàcion. I would take my brass bell from The Plaxa in Athens, a candle, incense, journal and Bible and sit and repeat my mantra.
John Main describes the practice. It is so simple you could tweet it (almost):
“Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase maranatha. Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything – spiritual or otherwise. If thoughts or images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so keep returning to simply saying the word. Meditate each morning and evening for between twenty and thirty minutes.”
After years of experimentation with this and other forms of meditation I can recommend the use of a mantra to give the wandering mind a bone to chew on – and the stillness that results has a benign effect which permeates your soul simply through practice – trust me and try it.
To be honest … the mantra can be anything you find helpful – ‘spiritual’ or not. “The Lord is my Shepherd” is a favourite. Not mine – too old school. I do like Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I Am God”. For me over time this morphs into “Being Stillness, knowing the I Amness of God.” More recently, sitting with John Butler I have also learned ‘the Jesus Prayer’:
“Lord Jesus Christ
Son of God
Have mercy on me
It is not in the meaning but in the maintenance of a focus for the mind where the effectiveness lies.
My meditations break all the rules. As John Main says “If thoughts or images come, these are distractions.” So why am I sharing with you a blog of distractions? A series of images that came to me spontaneously and which, after a while, I started to write down. Because I trust the process. I have a visual imagination. Dina Glouberman on Skyros said I have “a healing imagination”. Sounds good to me – so I trust it. These images help keep the mind occupied with the mantra … and in so doing create the stillness which is the objective of meditation.
I asked John Butler how he deals with thoughts. “I just got bored with them.”
If you want to know how to still the mind AND keep it entirely free of thoughts or images … ask someone else and then let me know.