Thursday, August 7, 2008

Monkeys & Mantras

In my last two posts I likened the ever fluctuating nature of Mind to the ever changing movements of ocean waves. "Monkey Mind" is another widely used metaphor for the frantic, sometimes seemingly haphazard trajectories of our thoughts. I like this one because, well, my mind at times really does feel like there is a wild monkey loose in it, and because I get a really awesome mental picture of a wild-eyed, bright orange monkey swinging from limb to limb inside the limitless spaces of my mind, and that in turn makes me laugh, and usually lighten up a bit. Lightening up, I think, is always a great thing.

So, if you imagine this wild little monkey, what would you do to quiet her down, to give her a bit of focus? One answer the sadhus (ancient yogis) discovered, was to give the "monkey" something to play with. Give it something to keep it focused and occupied, so that other states of awareness are allowed to unfold. If we give a real monkey a pile of blocks to put back in a basket she will stay quiet, and focused on the task. If we give Monkey Mind a singular and repetitive task, it too will settle down and create some space for our awareness to expand into.

One of the most effective techniques for doing this is repeating a mantra. A mantra is a word, sound, or phrase that is repeated over and over. The most well known of these is the Hindu syllable Om (sometimes spelled Aum, and also used widely in Buddhism). This syllable is said to be one of the great sounds of the Universe, echoing throughout all eternity. It is easy to remember, to say, and produces a deeply resonant feeling in the body.

Give the Mantra Om a Try...
Lie down on your back, or come to a comfortable seated position with the hands palms up, on top of your knees. Inhale, close your eyes, and begin repeating the sound of Om on each exhale. Begin the sound with your mouth wide in the shape of an "O", feel the sound filling your belly and your chest, then close in around the sound, finally completing it by pressing your lips together and allowing the final "Mmmm" sound to resonate in your sinus cavities. Start by repeating this mantra at least 7 times, and gradually increase until you can sit and chant mantra for many minutes. Let each breath and repetition be as long as possible. Let the mantra linger and savor the delicious vibrations.

Don't worry if you feel silly a first. You may even laugh out loud. Don't resist this! Have fun with it! Laughing is mightily good for your soul.

Om shanti, shanti, shanti (Om, peace, peace, peace),


1 comment:

Kate said...

Joseph Campbell talkes a lot obout the meaning and use of Om. Very interesting stuff.