Many of us seem to be living as if we are under siege. We exist in a matrix of anxiety, tension, pressure, unease and confusion. Our lives are marked more by doing than being. We attribute this state to the demands of modern life, but this reasoning carries the suggestion of a kind of helplessness. We can all do with an inner helpline these days.
You can develop your inner helpline with a mantra, devotion or a ritual. One pathway to this steadiness of mind is based on sound.
The chanting of the mantras, for example, can bring focus to the mind, and we can use that focus to foster reflection on their meaning. This dual practice of focusing the mind combined with reflection will lead to the desired transformation toward inner steadiness.
Why sound? The mind thinks in words; we use language to make sense of the world around us and our relation to it. The mind can be corralled and channelled by replacing that distracted inner chatter with a focused stream of sound, such as mantras.
Protect the mind
The word mantra consists of the Sanskrit syllables ‘man’ meaning “mind” and ‘tra’ meaning “protect.” A mantra can protect us from our mind. A mantra is a special sound that you cultivate — it carries a special meaning and therefore a positive emotional shift. This inner change associated with a mantra is called bhava in Sanskrit. That is the most important purpose of a mantra — to recall to the mind that positive inner change. That positive inner feeling or connection will not grow spontaneously. It has to be nurtured through study and practice and by guidance from a teacher. The attitude you have towards your mantra will determine the effect of using it. The feeling and inner relationship are the key to the mantra.
Reverence and devotion, trust and protection, peace and steadiness, inner strength and well-being — these are all good feelings to cultivate with a mantra. Devoid of this kernel of feeling and meaning, the sound of the mantra is incomplete, like the husk.
As we repeat our mantra, we reinforce the feeling associated with it. The connection between a mantra and its associated feelings becomes deeply internalised.
In yoga, we work with our mind to ensure that the internal results are in our hands.
Meditation cannot be forced by repressing the thoughts in the mind. A mantra interrupts our thinking process and leads us from sound to an inner silence. If we let go of unnecessary and unrealistic expectations internally, in our minds, the anxiety that often accompanies them recedes as well. This brings a sense of peace within.
If you manage to calm your mind once, you can be confident that you can calm it again. Each daily yoga practice leads you deeper into clarity and peace. Underpinning this transformation is the attitude of letting go of what we do not need, of what is negative and holding us back.
The fundamental point of yoga is that attaining and keeping a quiet mind is never a waste of time. Mental strength comes from an ongoing practice of unburdening the mind. Thus over time, in or out of meditation, the effect of a mantra can become an internal helpline through which you can unburden your mind at any moment during the day or night.
The writers are yoga teachers and practitioners