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Sunday, April 13 2014

Mantra Re-Visited


       It’s not unusual for me to have a second thought about something I send out.  Often it’s a clarification or an additional point I wish I’d made – or an aesthetic turn of phrase I wish I’d used.  Typically, after some regret, I let go.


       This morning I awoke with three substantive points I’d like to add about mantra practice.  And I decided, in this case, to act.



       Mantra as first aid:  When I notice that I’m caught up in swirl of suffering stories that evoke fear, shame or resentment, I congratulate the awareness, breathe compassion to my suffering, and use a mantra to re-orient the mind.  I stay with the mantra as long as needed; then move on with my day. 


       Note: the mantra helps us disengage from negative thinking.  Generally, this is not the time to debate with our negative patterns.



       Mantra as formal practice:  When I use a mantra as an aid in formal meditation, I may begin by saying (or singing) it aloud or at a moderate-to-high internal volume, to match or slightly exceed the level of chatter in the mind.  I give myself a clear invitation to attend to the mantra. 


       As the practice unfolds, I allow the mantra to grow gradually quieter.  This helps me move toward the deeper quiet of inner spaciousness.  There are times when the mantra goes silent, mirroring a silence inside.  Inevitably, I pick up a distraction, and, when I notice the distraction, I begin with the mantra again at a level that slightly exceeds the level of the distraction.  Then, I move again toward the quiet.


       Please check out the Richard Moss videos, referenced yesterday, for an excellent tutorial on using mantra in formal practice.



       Mantra and engagement with life:  Mantras are tools – used as needed – to help us disengage from negative narratives that create suffering, so that we can re-engage with life with an open heart and a spacious, creative mind.  Mantras are not meant for permanent refuge or escape from life.  The goal, always, is to be fully present – right here, right now, embodied.



May we be happy.

May we be well.

May we be at peace.

May we be fully alive.






Posted by: AT 11:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, April 12 2014

Mantra Re-Wiring


       Every now and then, I experience a professional workshop that’s actually a healing experience.  A recent two-day training – integrating radical self-acceptance, mindfulness and yoga, led by author/teacher/therapist Mary NurrieStearns – was just such an experience.  I’d like to pass on some ideas and practices stimulated by the workshop. If you’d like to learn more about her work, please visit her website:



       Our brains are wired with a negative bias – a propensity to focus on what’s potentially dangerous and threatening.  We learn danger quickly and forget it slowly.  We learn shame quickly – and hang on to it.  We find it easy to orientate our inner narratives around negative judgments of ourselves and others or around regretful and fearful stories about the past and future.  After years of practice, these negative narratives become the “default setting” – internal habits of thought we automatically and routinely revisit – habits that harm us more than we realize.


       Fortunately, mindfulness practices provide opportunities to notice what’s automatic and to make conscious choices about what thoughts to encourage.  We can actually re-wire our brains.  Doing so, however, takes much repetition and practice, practice, practice.


       In the teachings of Richard Moss and Mary NurrieStearns, there is an emphasis on embodying deep truth, not just encoding it intellectually or conceptually, but integrating it into the body.  So, with the mantras (healing phrases) I will be sharing, it’s helpful to sing them, move or dance with them, and use touch, tapping or holding as you repeat them to yourself.


       Here is a menu of mantra meditations I’ve been practicing.  Perhaps, one or more of them will be meaningful for you.  Please feel free to experiment with your own healing affirmations and approaches.


       On my morning run, I’ve been singing in time with my footfalls:  


       I’m connected.  I am loved.  I am one.  I’m free.


       With this or any of the four-phrase mantra affirmations, you can touch thumb to index finger with the first phrase, thumb to middle finger with the second, thumb to ring finger with the third and thumb to little finger with the fourth.  I’ve been doing this thumb-to-finger touching practice in seated meditation, as I repeat four affirmations from the Buddhist practice of Metta (loving-kindness meditation):


       May I be happy.  May I be healthy.  May I be peaceful.  May I be love.


       The other pronouns – you, we, he, she, and they – are also used in Metta to send loving-kindness blessings.  Feel free to create other affirmations to bless yourself and other folks.


       Here’s another self-healing practice I find especially powerful as an antidote to shame narratives.  With eyes closed, I lay my crossed hands on my chest over my heart – perhaps patting or tapping or gently rubbing or just holding – and say or sing, usually not out loud:


       I accept you.  I forgive you.  I trust you.  I love you.


       For me, this practice embodies a commitment to stay in compassion with myself – no matter what.  It weakens old habits of self-abandonment, self-rejection, and self-judgment.  It promotes what Mary NurrieStearns calls “profound self-acceptance.”


       Richard Moss teaches mantra practice as a wonderful way to reclaim ownership of our minds from the old conditioning that so often dominates our inner landscape.  His recent teaching videos on this subject, excellent resources, are accessible for viewing, at no cost, through his website:  From his home page click on Resources, then on Free Videos and Audios, and then on YouTube in the line “For more videos take a look at Richard’s YouTube channel.”  The videos are titled:  Introduction to Mantra Practice for Calming the Mind – Parts 1 & 2.


       I like the mantra he recommends.  It’s great to sing to, run to, hike to, dance to or sit with:


       Thank you. Thank you.  I’m so grateful.


       Lately, when I run or tap fingers with it, I’ve been breaking the mantra into four, two-syllable phrases:


       Thank you.  Thank you.  I’m so.  Grateful.



       The brain likes habits.  It likes to conserve energy by following old, familiar paths of least resistance.  Conscious effort and practice is required to re-wire these pathways.  With mantra work, we make conscious choices to interrupt habitual negative narratives that capture us in fear, shame and outrage.  We make conscious efforts to create a compassionate inner space – a nice place to live.


       We move toward friendship with ourselves and comfort inside our own skin.  We shift the emphasis from looking out there for healing and nurture to finding more of what we need in here


       We exercise our love-ability.  We partner with a wise and loving presence inside.  We meet ourselves, and discover ourselves, in an inner I-Thou connection.   We remember that we’re never alone.




       Note:  I am taking a break from this space for a few weeks to complete the mentorship program with Richard Moss.  Will return in May.


      Thank you.  Thank you.  I’m so grateful. 
















Posted by: AT 04:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 02 2014

       A piece of writing meant for this space has been resisting my efforts for nearly a week now.  I don’t think it’s being coy – shy, perhaps, not ready to show itself. 


       Last night, I chose early bedtime over another attempt at writing.  Just before lights out, I read these paragraphs at the beginning of a chapter, The Gift of Surprise, in Mark Nepo’s book, The Exquisite Risk  (pp. 114-115).


       Their discovery was a pleasant surprise for me – a reprieve – and an invitation to keep my heart open. 





The Gift of Surprise


       Our capacity for surprise is often an unused blessing.  Brother David Steindl-Rast has described surprise as another name for God.  With each appearance, it prods us to ask, Beneath our problem solving, what is life asking of us?  Beneath our ideas of happiness or suffering, what does it really mean to live?


       So often, we seek to change things, only to find that our honest engagement with experience often changes us.  In trying to make life fit our needs, our sense of need is often softened or broken until we fit life.  Humbly, this inversion of intent is, in itself, a subtle wind of miracle.  And surprise often announces that this miracle is near.


       Because of the very nature of surprise, our first challenge is to stay open to the unexpected, not to harden into the position of our initial reactions.  For this sort of stubbornness makes change a monster and makes learning next to impossible.  We can’t learn to see if we can’t keep our eyes open.  In just this way, staying open to the unexpected expands the openness of our heart.


Mark Nepo




Posted by: AT 09:50 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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