In our results-driven society, meditation can be something of a conundrum. Taking place entirely in the personal space of our own mind, this practice should be quiet, non-judgemental and non-competitive – yet somehow we can often find ourselves framing it in an unhelpful way.
While meditation is inherently rewarding, we won’t get a medal for practicing it every day for a year. No one’s judging our meditation technique and today – in a world where we are placed under immense pressure to perform brilliantly in every aspect of our lives, and are encouraged to expect instant results for any action or effort – this can be difficult to understand.
Barriers to meditation
One issue can be that our experience can be hampered by a lack of guidance. The first wave of mindfulness apps did a wonderful thing by taking meditation into the mainstream and helping people who needed a bit of support, but we can be easily deterred from making meditation a part of our lives if we feel like we aren’t doing it ‘right’.
It might be that intrusive thoughts pop up, or that exterior sounds like traffic rumbling and people chatting are just too distracting. For some, the idea of non-judgemental awareness is simply confusing – what are we meant to be feeling? Is it OK to scroll mentally through the shopping list? Why don’t we feel more relaxed yet?
All these issues are compounded by the fact we can’t peer into the head of another meditator in order to compare our experiences. In the end, many people will just give up, concluding that meditation is too hard – but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Meditation can be effortless, and while the true scope of its impact can take time to discover, the immediate benefits of improved sleep and a sense of calm can be found surprisingly quickly. By using personalised mantras in meditation (as is the tradition in Vedic meditation), many people find their experience of meditation becomes simultaneously lighter, and yet more profound.
There are a variety of different ways to meditate, including open monitoring (the mindful exercise of observing your thoughts arise and pass without judgement) movement meditation (such as mindful walking) and spiritual meditation, which can include prayer. Mantra meditation is both a meditation form within itself and something that can be used as part of other meditation methods.
The kinds of mantras most people are probably familiar with are traditional phrases which often, but not always, use Sanskrit hymns and chants that are thousands of years old. Unlike personalised mantras, these may be vocalised rather than repeated internally (although this varies), and are generic and well known. Some examples include:
- “Aum” (which is sometimes found as “om”) Widely known as the universal mantra.
- “So hum” – this is often popular within yoga circles, and means ‘I am that’.
- “Loka samastah sukhino bhavantu”: Asking for peace and contentment for all living entities.
- “Aum Namah Shivaya” : Perhaps one of the popular mantras used in India, repeated by the followers of Shiva.
- “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease”: A mantra used in Loving Kindness meditation.
The power of personalized mantras
The use of personalised mantras in meditation is an ancient practice that has its roots in India, and was widely practiced in the ancient Vedic culture of Northern India as part of the Shankaracharya lineage. These personalised mantras, when repeated silently in the mind of the recipient, act as a vehicle that allows us to achieve “turiya” – a state of transcendence which is incredibly nourishing to both mind and body.
These mantras are chosen by a highly trained meditation teacher in order to work with your nervous system to create a bodily state that is both profoundly restful and neurologically powerful. With something tangible to focus on that’s carefully assigned to you personally, many people find that meditating with a personalised mantra is near-effortless, helping them to find the calm that was so elusive before.
For many people, the fact these mantras are provided by a teacher, who can then help and guide them both in the initial stages in learning to meditate and later on if they hit any roadblocks is hugely helpful. We are encouraged to be self-reliant in so many aspects of life but having someone on hand to offer the benefit of their own experience and knowledge can make a big difference in ensuring a meditation habit sticks.
The most important thing to bear in mind, whatever meditation method you decide works best for you, is to be easy on yourself. By allowing yourself to be imperfect and taking meditation as it comes, you will soon find that the practice becomes both more enjoyable and more rewarding. As with many things in life, a little self-compassion goes a long way.
This post was written by Will Williams, who teaches meditation in London to students around the world from his meditation center, Beeja meditation.