Meditation is the simplest thing in the world–nothing more than sitting quietly with yourself. So why is it so dang HARD?
Though in English the word mantra has come to mean something like a personal motto, the literal translation from Sanskrit is “mind-vehicle.” That it is; it can take your mind from crazy to calm in 10 minutes. Anchoring attention on a mantra during meditation is an effortless way to rein in the wild wandering of our thoughts.
There is an old tale from India about a wise elephant trainer who had to bring his elephant along to market in town. If you’ve ever brought your toddler to the grocery store, imagine instead a ten thousand pound beast—swinging its powerful trunk everywhere, sniffing at passersby, knocking things over, grabbing fruit off of tables…
This is what the mind is like. Your mind. My mind. Everyone’s mind. It’s just how the mind is. It wants to grab the fruit.
And that is just what elephants are like. Did the wise trainer punish the animal for wreaking havoc? That wouldn’t really be fair, and probably wouldn’t even help. Instead, he had the brilliant idea to give his elephant a bamboo stick to hold while at market. Glad to have a job, the elephant happily curled its trunk around the stick, calmed right down, and caused no more problems.
The mantra is the stick. Your unruly mind will very gladly fix upon it and give you some blessed peace for a time. All you have to do is sit in a comfortable position, with a straight spine, and focus on it.
“Whenever you find yourself distracted by thoughts, noise, or physical sensations, simply return your attention to silently repeating the mantra.” ~ Deepak Chopra
The mantra need not be in Sanskrit (although “om” is not a bad choice). It can be any word or short phrase that is neutral-to-positive in connotation for you. The benefit is not really in the meaning of the word(s), but it might as well be something reasonably life-affirming.
In TM (Transcendental Meditation), you are taught your own secret mantra by a trained teacher of the technique. TM is reputed to be very beneficial. It is also quite expensive. Deepak Chopra teaches a similar style, called Primordial Sound Meditation.
Right now Deepak and Oprah are running one of their 21-Day Meditation Experiences, which can be a great jumpstart to begin a daily meditation practice (or renew yours if it has faltered). It is free, and takes less than 30 minutes a day. They provide a different mantra every day; you can try them out and find one that resonates.
Or you could just choose a mantra and begin on your own. Ready? Set? Sit.