For eons, meditation has been a central spiritual practice of most religions. The current widespread interest developed after the popularization of eastern practices like yoga in the 1970’s. In fact, meditation has long been referred to in India as raja yoga – the royal yoga of the mind.
For years it was difficult to learn meditation without adopting exotic cultural trappings, rituals or even religious dogma, but it is now accessible without having to join a religious group or adopt any special beliefs. In truth, meditation transcends religious beliefs and special rituals are not necessary.
Donald Altman, a psychotherapist and author of The Joy Compass, One-Minute Mindfulness, points out to those who claim they don’t have time to meditate that people spend hours ‘meditating’ online – focusing on shopping, social networks, celebrity gossip or pornography. Taking responsibility for what you pay attention to – and choosing mindful activities that support clarity and relaxation – will make you less stressed, happier, and more in touch with your intuition.
When I was a meditation teacher, students would complain that they were simply unable to meditate – and doubted that they ever could– because they couldn’t stop thinking. It is a common misconception that meditation lets you stop thoughts from arising. But thoughts are going to arise no matter what. The key is to train the mind not to follow whatever thoughts arise, not to think about them. You learn to let them come and go like clouds in the sky.
A mantra is a technique for concentrating the mind in order to let go of thinking about thoughts that arise. It works because the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. For instance, you can’t simultaneously write a poem and do math. You can’t remember your high school reunion and think about a dinner recipe at the same time. Similarly, when you’re focused on your mantra – which can consist of anything from a meaningless sound to a meaningful phrase – the static in your mind has no choice but to simmer down and fall away.
In the ancient yoga tradition, a guru would give you some sacred Sanskrit phrase to use as your mantra. By repeating this phrase over and over, the mind becomes concentrated in its focus on the mantra, until it is empty of anything else. (FYI, your focus of concentration could also be a flickering candle, a mandala or the sensation of one’s breathing.)
Years ago, I created a verbal mantra designed to both clear the mind and increase mindfulness (which I discovered had the wonderful side benefit of making me better at noticing synchronicities). It consists of only two words: Letting Go. Just take a refreshing breath while thinking of the word Letting on the in-breath, and then think the word Go as you exhale. Keep doing this until the mind calms down.
You can use the Letting Go mantra any time, even while driving or standing in line. It instills a feeling of peace and serves as a reminder that letting go of thinking is the key to a clear, open mind and tranquility. With the help of this little mantra, such letting go is a skill that can be practiced and improved throughout the day, increasing your joy and freedom from stress and anxiety.