Day 2 What is a mantra?
I wrote yesterday that a mantra is a prayer word or sentence that we repeat over and over until it takes root in our lives. But a mantra is not necessarily associated with prayer. Many businesses and organisations have a mantra; a message that they want to ingrain into people’s consciousness. Advertising uses a mantra as a slogan to make their product memorable. Others use a mantra to think positively, and as a word of encouragement; for example, “I can do this, I will do this”; or “My life has value, I am of worth.”
A mantra used as a prayer is different to this. It may well encourage us, or even ingrain a message, but its main purpose is to open us to God’s presence and love, and to connect us to God’s presence in our lives. It is a way of prayer used in many different spiritual traditions and is often associated with the Hindu or Buddhist tradition, but it has been a part of the Christian tradition from a very early stage. The Desert Fathers and Mothers from the 4th Century and other Christian monks from that period encouraged people to pray by using one word, or one short sentence, which is repeated over and over. They encouraged the use of a word such as “God”, “Jesus”, “Mercy” or “Love”; or short sentences from scripture such as: “Be still and know that I am God” from the Psalms, or “Come to me, do not hunger” from the Gospels. Most religious traditions recommend calling upon the name of God in prayer and many mantras contain a name for God. The Orthodox Jesus Prayer grew from this teaching.
We can, of course write our own mantra: “Mercy, Grace and Love”, “O God, be with me” for example. The important thing is to have a mantra that feels right for you, has a gentle rhythm, and is meaningful for you. What is important is that we choose a mantra and stay faithful to it. Swapping from one mantra to another will defeat the object, it will not take root in our lives and we will not experience the full benefit of the prayer. I will write more of the benefits and value of the prayer later.
The advantage of using an established mantra like the Jesus Prayer, or a form of it, is that it links you with many others who pray this Prayer regularly and you are part of a prayer community.
Consider today: What might my mantra be?
Be faithful to your mantra
And your mantra will be faithful to you.
The prayer that envelops the whole of the day,
A sacred backdrop to your daily life.
A holy rhythm, pulse and heartbeat
Resonating gently in the depths of your soul.
A constant companion sharing each moment,
Present in good times and troubled alike.
An open receptor receiving the flow
Of God’s loving presence, mercy and grace.
Along with the reflections on praying a mantra in daily life,
there will also be some reflections on using a mantra in meditation.
The praying of a mantra is ideal for meditation. I find that meditation is a natural way for me to pray and is an invaluable part of my daily routine. I realise it is not a way of praying that everyone is attracted to, so my reflections on mediation and the mantra have been included as an add on to the main reflections. I hope some may find them useful and may be encouraged to give meditation a try, because it can have a powerful effect on our daily living.
One of the problems many find when it comes to meditation, is finding the time to become regularly committed to it; and for meditation to be effective it does need to be a regular part of our routine. The effects of meditation will not take root in our lives if we only do it every now and again. It needs to be done more or less daily.
The problem is, when we read some books on meditation we are told that we need to meditate for 30 minutes a day; or some suggest 20 minutes twice a day. Straight away we are put off by the commitment of it, and by the sheer length of time. Thomas Merton said that we should build a prayer life slowly, bit by bit, and I believe that is absolutely true. Very few people will be able to get into meditation by trying to meditate for 20 or 30 minutes each day. Both finding the time and finding the capacity to be able to meditate that long is difficult, and so we become despondent, begin to meditate less and less, and finally give up all together thinking we are useless at it.
If you want to give meditation a try, I would suggest you begin with 5 minutes a day. It is then far less daunting and more easily fitted into a daily routine. You may find after a while you want to extend the time you meditate, or you may be happy continuing with your 5 minutes a day. It is better to stick with our 5 minutes a day than for it to become a burden we cannot keep up. Again, as I have said before, it is not about quantity. God is not timing us! 5 minutes we enjoy is far better than 20 minutes we continually find a struggle.
5 minutes meditation can have a profound effect on our lives, and the value of those 5 minutes flow into the course of the day; especially if they are topped up by praying our mantra at various moments as the day unfolds.
Tomorrows reflection on meditation will be an introduction to the method I use.