Meditation. The idea of clearing the mind long enough to regain focus and reinvigorate the senses. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Absolutely, but for me, it used to feel like I was entering the land of "Ommmm, Did I turn the coffee pot off? Ommm, maybe takeout will suffice for tonight's sustenance. Ommmmmm, What in the FUCK is that tapping sound?". For years I desperately wanted to meditate and achieve what seemed so easy for everyone else. At least it looked easy for those super fit women sitting on a yoga mat by the ocean waves while the wind blew their sun-bleached hair. I can do this! I mean, sure I don't have an ocean nearby, nor do I have the lovely smell of sea salt air to sweep me into a mind-clearing meditation, but I do have some pretty fucking amazing yoga pants and a halfway decent ability to not listen to my children when they repeat "Mom! We're hungry!". How hard can it be? As it turns out, pretty darn hard for someone like me who has a complete inability to tune anything out. Not only am I prone to work myself into a fit of anxiety before I even realize it has been done, but I am super sensitive to sounds. Tapping, chewing, barking dogs that won't stop. I don't know why I am this way, but I'm convinced that when I gave birth to each and every one of my roots, my hearing got better and better. It's as if the "powers that be" saw fit to equip me with supersonic hearing that allowed me to hear the under the breath grumblings pertaining to meals they didn't prefer or bedtimes they weren't ready for. If you ask any of them, I'm certain they will say that I'm the queen of "I HEARD THAT!".
Nevertheless, I can hear very well and am easily sidetracked by noise in the home. Now, I'm no genius here, but after countless years, yes you read correctly, it took me years to figure this thing out. I finally decided that it isn't normal to grit your teeth while trying to clear your mind during meditation. Something had to give here, and I was determined to figure out what I was doing wrong and how to fix it. To the library I go.
Countless hours of combing through books on how to meditate over the years left me feeling even more frustrated. There are countless methods in which to meditate, but no matter how I tried, it just wasn't working. Despite my efforts, not only could I not drown out the noise, it seemed that my goal was even further from my grasp. Maybe instead of meditating, I could find a more suitable way to disconnect. I gave up for a while and decided that maybe I should join all my other friends in their quest to find relaxation in something a bit more common like a mani/pedi day. I mean, sure I am cheap, and a pedicure is relatively pointless for someone who loves to squish dirt beneath her feet, but for the time being, I would at least put the idea of meditating on the back burner. Fast forward a few years, a few pounds, and another root to the bunch. One afternoon I decided to pick up a book that my sister had so graciously mailed to me. Nothing to do with meditation, but instead something of the dark and twisty variety that we both enjoy. The tiny root is down for a nap, the middle root is outside playing with the neighbor boys. What better time to relax and read. I can't say for sure just how long I was reading, but before I knew it, the tiny root was standing in front of me in the living room, screaming "Mommy!" I was startled, to say the least. I was so wrapped up in the book I was reading, that I somehow missed the fact that she had woken from her nap and for some period of time had been standing in front of me yelling my given name. I had lost all sense of space and time. Perhaps reading is my form of meditation. It has always been the one thing that allowed me to completely disconnect from my surroundings. I could read in silence, I could read during dinner, I could even read while the gentleman (I use that term loosely) beside me coughed uncontrollably without covering his mouth. Stay with me here, I'm getting to my point. Everything I had been trying to achieve over the years, I could accomplish while reading a book. It was then that I realized that I was capable of tuning everything out, I just needed something to aid me in concentration. Maybe I was going about this thing all wrong. In the beginning, I was under the impression that being able to meditate was exactly the opposite of concentration. I didn't want to concentrate. In fact, I wanted to turn my brain completely off. It was time to let go of everything I had envisioned about meditation and dig a little deeper to find something that worked for me. Upon the realization that I can tune everything out while reading, a light came on in my mind and I realized that in order for me to clear my mind, I had to fill it, and the first step was drowning out the noise.
Enter the Mantra......
You often hear people refer to a specific phrase as "their mantra". What exactly is a Mantra anyway? As with most things, over time, our modernized and Westernized spiritual practices have transformed a Mantra into something quite different than what it originated as. That's okay. Time changes things, and for me, it's one of those things that can be what you want it to be. Take a chocolate chip cookie for instance. For some, it's just something to satisfy the urge of a sweet tooth, but for others (Certainly not myself, of course) it can often be the reason that our loved ones are allowed to survive in the house with us 5-7 days out of each month. Either way, it serves the desire to achieve something and gets the job done. Think about that. A Mantra can be words of affirmation that are repeated during meditation either silently or aloud. It sets the intention for the meditation either through specific words or a sound. Most everyone has heard the classic "Om" or "Aum" sound being chanted softly during meditation. This is probably one of the most widely used mantras. It creates a peaceful vibration that begins in the lower abdomen and radiates through the lips. This happens to be the mantra I use most often. The best way I can describe it's benefit for me is to compare it to tightening all of your muscles and completely relaxing afterward. It's very calming. I must admit, when I first began to chant during meditation, I had a hard time relaxing into it. Self-conscious maybe, but none the less, I didn't want anyone to hear me. Over time I realized that the more fucks I gave away to this fact, the harder it was to set and achieve my intention. So, my advice when using a mantra during meditation is to let go and Ommmmmmm away. You'll be happy you did.
Over time my meditation grew stronger, as did my ability to counter any outside noises with chanting. Everything was flowing well. Until it wasn't. Unfortunately what began to happen is that while the mantras were effective in drowning out the noise in my environment, it became less effective at drowning out the thoughts racing through my head during times in increased anxiety. I've never been one of those people who could pinpoint the root of their anxiety and avoided those situations. I have talked in previous blog posts about panic attacks and bouts with anxiety that creeped in out of nowhere just after the birth of my third root. The last one I experienced was two Summers ago after having spent a beautiful June day walking around one of my favorite little cities meandering in and out of amazing little artsy shops. My family and I had a delicious lunch and after returning home and lying down for a bit I began to sweat profusely and became light headed. Before I knew it, I was unable to function and for several days and became completely detached from everyone and everything. I still to this day have no idea what happened. I can only surmise that it was a culmination of things that ended in a volcanic eruption of anxiety that had gone too far for me to rein in on my own, and there wasn't a mantra on the planet that would bring me back. It was then that I learned of a way to meditate that allowed me to manage my thoughts and prevent anxiety from becoming unmanageable.
Mantra Meets Mala
One afternoon I was became entranced by a new magazine that was delivered by my trusty mailman. Just when I think it will be a fruitless day where Amazon Prime has nothing coming my way, my rural mail carrier shows up with a magazine from a subscription that I managed to get as a freebie. That day, it was the newest issue of Yoga Journal. I absolutely love this magazine not only because it has so much useful information on how to improve on your practice, but also because no matter the size or shape, age or gender, there is something inspiring to read. I wish I could say that I stumbled upon this new miracle to my meditation by reading something really deep and intriguing. Nope! I was actually coveting a pair of Yoga pants. The kind that covers the bottom of your foot but has a cutout for the heel. Ahhh yes, really intellectual of me. Perhaps these magic yoga leggings meet legwarmers come in my size. It then came to my attention that in the next photo, the model was wearing a beautiful strand of beads. Is that Moonstone? I Looooove Moonstone. I was curious as to how she practiced Yoga while wearing the long beads with a tassel at the end. I mean, as for me, I was pretty certain that if I wore them during yoga, I would become so tangled up, someone may find me hogtied and suspect foul play. Oh well, maybe I will look online and see what I can come up with, and that's exactly what I did. As it turns out, they are called Mala Beads or Prayer Beads. They can be used as a quick and easy way to spruce up a cute outfit, but the meaning is much more significant, and I am certain they wouldn't pair well with my t-shirts and running shorts that I never run in. Malas are a very useful tool in meditation. Usually a strand of 108 beads plus a "guru" bead, Malas are made of a variety of semi-precious stones, the significance of which are quite important, as they possess certain energies best suited for an individual's needs. While not all Malas contain the 108 beads, the number is something that has long been considered sacred in Hinduism, representing (1) the source or universe, (0)humility and willingness to learn, and (8) timelessness or infinity. It encompasses the wearer's needs and becomes part of you.
So, how are they used in meditation? Well, you count them. Were you hoping for something really deep? Surely you know better than that by now. I read a lot, I research things, I know a little bit about a lot of shit, but for this, counting is as deep as it gets. If you don't believe that counting is an effective way to meditate, just try it. If you are counting, it is exponentially harder to think about anything else. So why Mala beads? For me its part beauty part texture, and all about the energy. During meditation, place the mala between your hands and beginning with the "guru" bead which is your largest bead just above the tassel, you work your way around the necklace, counting each and every bead and reciting your mantra. When you reach the end of your beads, reverse your direction. I can't tell you how many times to go back and forth around your strand, because for me, it's something that I do until. I chant and count until my anxiety clears, until my reconnect with what is real and what is beyond my power to change or predict, or until I feel at peace. It has absolutely been a game changer for how I experience worry in my life. When I feel unsettled and I know that something bigger than I can handle is creeping into my brain, I stop, and I count. I found my Mala Beads on Etsy. Natasha with Alchemist Treasures was an absolute pleasure to work with. She makes each and every strand by hand and the love of what she does shows in the quality of her work. Mala beads can come in all lengths and some people even use bracelets for their practice, depending on what that means for them. I was thrilled to find Alchemist Treasures because when combining semi-precious stones with something as labor intensive as creating Malas, the cost can be great. Natasha truly values the importance of what she is providing for others whether its a path to a successful meditation or a lovely accessory.