This 30-day challenge was inspired by a dear friend. 30 Days to reconnect with your meditation practice! Time to get your butt on your cushion! Mantra is a Sanskrit word that means “manas” or “mind” and “tra” or “train” or “harness”. By repeating a mantra over and over during meditation, you are using it as a tool to clear out the racing thoughts and train the mind to focus on one thought. One could conclude then you must choose your thoughts wisely, so mantra is not meant to be something that we want or are looking to acquire or attain, but rather a thought that welcomes kindness, compassion, or a sense of peace. One mantra a day comin’ your way peeps.
Day 6: Breathe in space, breathe out space.
Much of our time in meditation is spent “doing nothing”. The idea being to create more space between our thoughts, giving us more space from the suffering that they inflict. With more space in my mind and less repetitive or negative thinking, I give myself the opportunity to focus on and create moments of joy.
Day 7: Let Go.(Seems simple enough, but have you actually done it lately?) The true nature of love is not based on advantageous response, but on the sheer openness of one heart to another. Until we let go of our past hurts, we cannot be fully open to the present moment or to the love that awaits us from ourselves or from another human being. Letting go of old hurts is what frees you from your negative thinking and from withholding your love from yourself or another.
Day 8: May I be clear in all thoughts, words and actions. When we want something (or someone) so badly that we attach our self-worth to getting that something (or someone), then we insert an obstacle to gaining freedom, happiness and contentment. The more obstacles (attachments) we put in our way, the harder this freedom is to come by. Obstacles are known as samskaras in the yoga tradition – they are “grooves” of habitual thinking and habitual action (karma) that become deeply embedded in our cognitive behavior and guide us to making the choices we do. If I am to be happy and free, then I must first work to clear these obstacles and habits that have prevented me from being content with what is.
Day 9:You have no power over me
. Some of you may recognize this line from the movie, Labyrinth
. The line is spoken by Jennifer Connelly’s character, Sarah, at the exact moment when she finally realizes that David Bowie’s character, King Jareth, cannot rule over her without her consent. Through the entire movie, she believes that she must do as he wishes because he is “king”. What she comes to realize is that she must first give him that power, without her consent he can do nothing. The same holds true of our thoughts. They come and go through our mind, asking for us to pay attention. Some even go so far as to have us believe that they are in charge, and we have “no choice” but think or believe what they say. By giving those thoughts our attention, we create a chemical chain reaction in the body that can sometimes result in a rather unpleasant physical and/or emotional experience – we feel ourselves spiraling out of control and usually react by trying to numb the thinking through alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, etc. Through meditation we learn to confront those thoughts, ask if they are indeed true, and make a choice to not react to the thought. When my mind is spinning out of control, I have found this simple mantra can immediately bring me down off the ledge and to tell the thought (which is usually something fear-based) that it no longer has power. At that moment, the spinning stops, my breath evens out, and then mind returns to a steadier, balanced state.
Day 10: This moment is precious. Each moment passes so quickly and we rarely notice the unique quality of each one. Being aware that each one will soon end helps gives us the ability to pay closer attention to the one that we are in, right NOW. As Pema Chodron says, in her book “Start Where You Are”, treat each one like it will be a memory and watch how many more moments you begin to notice in your life!
Day 11: This, too, shall pass.
Piggy-backing on yesterday’s mantra, is the notion that even though every moment is precious, every moment will pass. Sometimes, we think that the pain we may be enduring in the present moment will last for a lifetime (and it will, if you decide to cling to it), but when I find that I am giving up hope, I remember this ancient proverb. It is a reminder that all things good or bad, are impermanent. No matter what awful thing is happening right now, the storm will break, it will pass, and the sun will rise. Instead of looking for ways to numb out the pain (with alcohol, drugs, TV, etc.), we just need to remember that the pain will not last and, even though right now is not as great as we want it to be, the moment will pass and we will make it to the other side.
Day 12: Lokah Samistha Sukino Bhavantu. (low-kaw som-iss-staw soo-key-no baw-vawn-to) May all beings be happy and free, and may I in some way contribute to the happiness and freedom of others.
Day 13: It’s good to see you, old friend. I have a tendency to berate myself when I can’t do everything perfectly. I found myself falling into that thought pattern this morning during my yoga practice and decided to choose a different thought. Normally, in half pigeon I instantly have the reaction of being upset with my left hip for being “too tight”. Instead this morning, I found this mantra and observed, as I repeated it, a different physical reaction from my body. Our bodies will respond to the stories we tell it and what stories we hold onto. This is the mind-body connection – if you tell yourself you are suffering, then indeed you will experience a physical state of suffering mirroring the mental state. If you want to feel better, you must treat yourself better.
Day 14: Promote Life. I learned this early on from one of my first yoga teachers….always ask yourself if your intentions, your thoughts, or your actions are promoting life or taking away from it. Judging others takes away from your own life, being angry at yourself takes away from your own life, resentment takes away from your own life. Equanimity, however, promotes life. Joy promotes life. Love promotes life. It’s time we upgraded our choices.
Day 15: Breathe In. Breathe Out. Watching your breath is probably the most common way to begin a meditation practice. It sounds simple, yet it is incredibly challenging to really focus in on one whole breath in and out without thinking about anything else. Yet, that is exactly what it means to be present for each moment. You are to focus in on that moment and not think about anything else other than that. So, we start training the brain with simple tasks like focusing on breath before we jump into more challenging tasks like not ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future. As Jon Kabat Zinn says, when you forget, just stop, stop where you are, and simply start again. Now, Breathe In. Breathe Out.
Day 16: May I be non-harming in all thoughts, words and actions. Once you have mastered the ability to focus entirely on the breath during meditation, challenge yourself to be non-harming in your thoughts during meditation. It is the concept in yoga known as ahimsa. It is what Gandhi has devoted his entire life’s work to. It is so far from where I am, but it is what I keep practicing every day.
Day 17: There is beauty in the world. If you have ever suffered through depression, then it can be a challenge to see where there is beauty left in the world. We get overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness, dismay, sadness, and emptiness. When your world is filled with so much darkness it is hard to remember that there is an equal balance of light and the news we read on a constant basis reaffirms our general state of negativity towards the world. After travelling much of last year, it helped to pull me out of my state of depression and helped me to see that there is indeed beauty left in this world. I found it in the places I went, the people I met, the food I ate, and the time I spent getting to know myself again. Meditation is an opportunity to get to know yourself and reconnect with the beauty within, so that you can see the beauty that awaits you out here as well.
Day 18: Santosha(san-toe-shuh). What I love about Sanskrit is that name=form, so when you speak the word, the vibrational quality of that word immediately invokes a feeling. Santosha means contentment, but if you chant it aloud a few times, you don’t need me to tell you what it means, because your body, your mind resonate in a more calm state by doing so. Santosha is probably my most favorite of all of the yogic precepts. When we are content with what is, rather than hoping for what might be or wishing for what was, we are freer to enjoy every facet of our present reality. The interesting thing is that contentment is most certainly not the same as complacency and while we may be okay with the present moment, it does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the suffering of ourselves or others. It means standing in the center of the storm and having faith that you will traverse safely through because who you are in the right now is just fine.
Day 19: May I have Sweetness of Mind. In the yoga sutras, this is described as chitta prasadanam, or rather a “blessed mind”. The full sutra translates roughly to this: “To preserve your blessed mind, toward those who are happy, be happy. To those who are virtuous, be delighted. Toward those who are wicked, be indifferent.” I prefer “sweetness of mind”. It reminds me that no matter what is going on in someone else’s life, I don’t have to let that disrupt my own state of being and it also reminds me that I don’t have to live in a state of delusion that life is always rainbows and unicorns. What it does tell me is that a non-judgmental state of being is best achieved when I work on cleaning up my own backyard of thoughts, rather than worrying or comparing my “stuff” to someone else’s.
Day 20: Life reflects back what the thinker thinks into it. On a smaller scale, your physical body generally reflects the state of your mental health. Through all of our various thoughts, perceptions, causes and conditions, we create our own world. When your thoughts and perceptions are negative, you tend to create causes and conditions in your life that are equally dark. Generally, when we can focus on the more positive attributes of life with our thoughts and perceptions, then the world seems a little brighter. Think of Eeyore and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore is quite a melancholy fellow who struggles with pointing out anything good about life and his character is visually portrayed to his outlook. He is can be found with his head down, walking around with sullen posture. Tigger, on the other hand, is ridiculously positive. He is generally excited about whatever he is doing and he bounces (literally) around with glee most of the day. If I approach the day like Eeyore, then I struggle with my posture and my breath – they are heavier and my actions tend to be slower and lack zeal. If I approach the day more like Tigger, then I find I can breathe a little easier, I have more energy to complete tasks and I sit/stand a little taller. We all have a little bit of Eeyore and Tigger in each of us, so it takes practice to generate a more balanced state of mind. This is what meditation does for us, gives us the opportunity to create thoughts and perceptions that allow us to form causes and conditions that are focused more on joy and gratitude and less on suffering and disparagement.
Day 21: May I be kind in all thoughts, words and actions. I am an honest person – sometimes it is best for me to remember that even though what I say is truthful, it may not always be kind. It isn’t always necessary to say what is on your mind when you know that it will not uplift the vibration of the room. Some things are just better left unsaid, and certainly challenge me to think of how to speak the truth in ways that are more compassionate towards those around me.
Day 22: Do NOTHING. About a year or so ago, I had the honor of meeting Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He is a gentle soul with a bit of a rambunctious sense of humor – childlike in his ways. His approach to meditation is simple. All he asked was that for __ number of minutes each day, you set aside time to do nothing, want nothing, and be nothing. When my mind starts to ponder through the various tasks I need to accomplish for the day, this mantra is an excellent reminder that, at least for now, I am doing nothing and the tasks, the worries, the judgments can all wait.
Day 23: Count to Ten. While this isn’t an actual mantra that you repeat, you can repeatedly count to 10, or 100 if you like, but count out your number of breaths. It is an old tried and true way to calm your sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight response), but taking a “time-out” and counting to 10. If I forget where I am in my meditation practice and my mind starts to race uncontrollably, then counting to 10 usually helps me calm the worry and return to my practice at hand.
Day 24: The Ocean refuses no River. This is the beginning of an ancient Sufi chant that has always served as a reminder to me that no matter how “good”, or how “bad”, we are, or our day was, that the ocean of life does not refuse any of us. We are all given the chance to live, in many different ways, places and under a variety of circumstances. In the end, we all return to the same place no matter how well we did, or did not, live our lives. The same holds true for everyone else. No matter your race, your sex, your economic status your religious beliefs, your political views, or who you love, you are valuable. We are all valuable in some way, but judgments sometimes get in the way of seeing that in ourselves and in others. I see so many people lately are so venomous, angry and frustrated, especially during this political season – we all want people to agree with us, to validate our beliefs –we might be more tolerant of the differences between us if we all were to remember that, no matter what, the ocean refuses no river.
Day 25: Thoughts move in, thoughts move out. A lot of people are mistaken that meditation is designed to cease all thinking. Really the purpose is to give you more focused thinking. If you try to focus on each thought, as it arises, you end up feeling scattered or anxious. The more you can allow thoughts to pass in and out of your mind, as the breath passes in and out of your body, the less reaction you will have to them. It gives you some time, then, to choose which thoughts you will react upon and which thoughts are really unnecessary clutter. Once you are able to find that space in your thoughts, you begin to realize how few of them you actually need to identify with because they just cause drama. But, they will continue to move into your mind. Whether you decide to give them attention or not will determine how quickly they move out.
Day 26: Ishvara Pranidana (ish-varuh prawn-ee-dawn-uh). One of my yoga teachers once said that if you can master this concept, there will be nothing else you need in order to attain sweetness of mind. The problem is that our own egos often get in the way of achieving the goal of complete surrender. The translation is often seen as “complete surrender (or total devotion) to God”. This means that every action, and the fruits of every action, are done with devotion for the Divine. This is how Mother Teresa lived her life. Every act was done for the greater purpose and with a sense of faith. Whether or not you believe in some sort of Divine Higher Power (like God), we all understand the concept of faith. Faith means acceptance that we don’t have control over the outcome, but that the outcome will be okay, however things turn out. Or rather that we will choose to be okay with the outcome. We trust that the universe will provide for us all that we need, and we trust in others that they will take care of us when we need them to.
Day 27: May I express loving-kindness through all thoughts, words and actions.
Day 28: Ride the wave. Anyone who has ever surfed understands why it is important to “ride the wave”. If you aren’t on top of it, then you’re probably underneath it. When you are under a wave, you get pummeled to the bottom of the ocean floor. The harder you fight against the current, the more tired you will become. If you are to survive, you must focus on the direction of the current and move with it, rather than against it. It is human nature to fight back when our lives are threatened. Unfortunately, the mind cannot distinguish between an actual threat and a perceived threat. It reacts in the same manner and sends out the same hormonal response for a perceived threat as an actual threat. For many of us, our fears are perceived threats and not actual threats. We struggle with our fears and fight to maintain control, much the way that we struggle to get back on top of the wave. We end of feeling exhausted. Instead, try to become the observer as fears arise, notice how your body reacts, how your mind reacts, not as the judge jury and executioner, but as the surfer – you are looking for the movement of the current and you will ride it out, rather than letting it wash over you.
Day 29: May I be wise with all thoughts, words and actions.
Day 30: Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Watching the koi fish move about the pond at the zoo this week made me think how much this mirrors the way that thoughts move through the mind. Some are bright in color, some dark and obscure, but all are fish. At times, they dart about quickly, other times they swim slowly along, or pause for a moment to float just below the surface. I observed them for quite some time, moving as a group, as a few, or alone. I didn’t fixate on any in particular, but allowed each one to swim freely into my vision and out as it pleased. The 20 minutes I sat there passed with great ease and I felt centered and calm as I left to go home. It occurred to me that this is much the way we are to observe the mind during meditation. We are to allow the thoughts to rise and fall from consciousness without fixating, or attaching to any one, and without trying to avoid others. They are all free to move about in the mind, light and dark. None are better or more important than another, but all are thoughts. It is the attachment, or the aversion, that we have to those thoughts that give them power to rule over our emotional and physical state of being. Although the work is tenuous, when I let go of my attachments, and I acknowledge my aversions, I feel better, calmer and less anxious or fearful. I am at peace, peace, perfect peace.