Meditating With Mantras
Come! Make a sacred word the portal
into your spiritual heart,
the self that is love.”
Before we rest effortlessly in silent awareness of God, most of us need a specific practice or technique to quiet the mind. A simple, universal method for stilling thoughts is to focus on a sacred word or phrase, sometimes called a mantra.
In private sessions, I meet with women who want to learn to pray or meditate in this way. These sessions, which last sixty to ninety minutes, are tailor-made for each person, depending on her spiritual path.
Christian Silent Prayer
With Christian women, I explore the ancient tradition of silent prayer (also called “Christian meditation,” “centering prayer,” or “contemplative prayer”). During this kind of spiritual practice, we temporarily suspend traditional prayer forms in order to focus internally on a single word or phrase from the Bible. Typical prayer words include: “Jesus,” “Holy Mary,” “Amen,” “Abba,” and “Maranatha.”
During this prayer process, we become open and receptive: We set aside talking to God in order to receive from God. As we limit mental activity by focusing on the sacred word, we enter the uncluttered silence of the spiritual heart. This self-emptying process allows the living waters of the Holy Spirit to flow within us, washing our wounds, revealing our hidden talents.
With sincere and regular practice, silent prayer also blesses us with vitality, clarity, and self-awareness. When we bring the prayer word with us into ordinary activities, we exhibit more patience, kindness and self-control.
Sometimes during silent prayer we touch a deep mystery, discovering that we live in Jesus, and He in us. This divine relationship, which is joined through authentic love, fosters selfless love in all our relationships.
A mantra is a sacred word (or series of words) that is often repeated without moving the lips. The supreme mantra is “Om,” the primal sound of the universe. Other common mantras are: “Om Namah Shivaya “(“I bow to the God within”) and “Om Ma,” an invocation to the Divine Mother.
For beginners, a mantra is simply a word that restricts mental activity by providing the mind with a single focus. Advanced practitioners discover that a mantra is much more: It’s syllables contain the subtle, silent energy of the Infinite. When these meditators penetrate the outer shell of the mantra and enter its deep, vibratory core, they are bathed in divine grace. During this bathing process, the mantra’s light-filled essence purifies the seeker, cleansing her of bodily and mental impurities.
Traditionally, mantras are passed from Guru to disciple during an initiation which connects the initiate to the spiritual lineage. Mantras can also be found in books; sometimes they come to seekers in dreams. When received in these informal ways, the mantra is made potent through repeated and devoted use.
From the Hindu point of view, our lives are already driven by the unconscious “mantras” of our personalities (thoughts like, “I can’t,” “Life’s unfair,” and “I’m stressed”), so why not take up a conscious mantra that throbs with the radiant stillness of divine love?
In Sufism, the interior repetition of a sacred word or phrase is called the “silent zikr.” In the Qur’an (2:152), God says, “Remember me and I shall remember you.” Put simply, the repetition of a sacred word is a method of remembrance. The repeated word may be one of the ninety-nine names of God, but ”Allah,” which contains all divine attributes, is the most common. The holy phrase, “La, ilaha illah llah” (“There is no God but God”), may also be invoked.
Usually, the zikr is given by a spiritual teacher, although sacred words are also found in books. Occasionally, the zikr is received through direct revelation. When given by a teacher, he or she imbues the word with spiritual energy so that the sound-form aligns the seeker with their religious tradition.
At first, the word is heard only with the ear and attention is given to its pronunciation. During this early stage, the name keeps seekers focused on God, making their minds one-pointed. In time, repetition also alters their mental habits and their physical bodies, aligning them with divine awareness.
But the sacred word is more than a series of letters, more than a tool to channel the mind or purify the body. Its vibrations convey the very essence of what it names. Through repetition of the holy word, individuals directly touch God. With devoted repetition, the veils separating seekers from the divine begin to lift: Waking up to their original state of oneness with God, they remember their eternal bond with Allah. In Sufism, forgetfulness leads to barrenness; it turns a flower to stone. Through remembrance, devotees burst open with life.
Although the use of mantras is less well known in Judaism and Buddhism, these traditions also use sacred words and phrases to support meditation. The practice of mantra repetition in Judaism is sometimes called hagah, which means “cooing like a dove.” Meditators in the Pure Land form of Buddhism focus on the name of their founder—a practice referred to as “Mindfulness of the Buddah.”
Spontaneity and the Sacred Word
In most of these traditions, the repetition of a sacred word begins as a mind-based technique, but eventually it takes root “below the neck,” in either the heart or the whole body of the practitioner. In this later stage, effortful repeating is replaced by effortless listening. Eventually, the sacred word may disappear altogether, dissolving in God’s ocean of love.
Whether the sacred sound transforms through “rooting” or “dissolving,” in time the spiritual practice ceases to be a technique and becomes a spontaneous experience.
Some advocates of this kind of practice go so far as to argue that saying the sacred word is never a method—not even during the beginning stage—for the call of a lover to the Beloved can not be a technique.
A Typical Session
When I guide women in the use of a sacred word or phrase, most sessions move through three phases. We begin with a quotation from spiritual literature that illumines mantra practice. Then, supported by our chosen word or phrase, we open to the stillness. After we have prayed or meditated for a while (usually twenty to forty minutes), we discuss what just happened during our time in the silence and how our spiritual practice is unfolding at home.
During the silent, mid-phase of a session—while my prayer or meditation partner is focusing on her sacred word—I allow divine love to direct my experience. The movement of spiritual energy within and from me helps the other person quiet her mind—a process that is sometimes called a “blessing.” I also benefit from the presence of my partner, for her spiritual devotion draws me more deeply into God’s presence.
To learn more about how I teach mantra meditation in the context of a blessing, please visit Spontaneous Blessings in the Services section of this website.
If you would like to meet privately to explore the power of a sacred word, go to the Forms section, click on Introductory Sessions and follow the simple instructions there.
In the spirit of ministry, I ask that you leave a free-will offering in any amount each time we meet to practice sacred-word repetition. Because communing with divine love is our birthright, no fees are charged.