I recently had one of my meditation students ask: “How does a mantra meditation work if it’s not in the language you speak? Deepak (in the 21- day meditation experience) is using mantras such as Shanti Hum (I am peace). Does it make any difference to repeat the mantra in English or what’s your approach to this”?
Mantras are used in many meditations and spiritual traditions for different purposes. In the SEED (Simple, Easy, Every Day) meditation method that I teach and practice, a mantra is used as an instrument of the mind. My teacher, Sarah McLean founder of The McLean Meditation Institute says that the word mantra can be broken down into two parts: man meaning “mind” or “awareness” and tra meaning “tool for” or “agent of”.
So if a mantra is an instrument of the mind, what does that mean?
I like to use the analogy of an elephant’s trunk. Elephants have been known to be very destructive with their trunks. What people have found, however, is that when you give an elephant’s trunk something to hold on to like a stick, it settles down and isn’t as destructive.
This is the same idea as our minds, meaning when we give it something to hold on to like a mantra it enables it to gradually become more settled. In other words, a mantra is an instrument of the mind that enables it to settle much the same way an elephant will become settled when given a stick. It is used for its vibrational quality, rather than it’s meaning.
Why then is it helpful to have a mantra in a language that you don’t speak when you’re using it to help settle your mind? The best way to explain this is with the opposite. If you used Hawaii as your mantra, your mind is going on a trip and you’ll be thinking about sand, snorkeling, tropical flowers, perhaps memories, feelings. You get the picture!
Another client that was a devout Christian wasn’t comfortable using a Sanskrit mantra and found a different mantra that resonated with them, didn’t stir up thoughts and was used for its vibrational quality rather than the meaning.
And yet another client had just come from a confrontational meeting with someone whose last name happened to be the mantra and that stirred up all sorts of things for her.
Using a mantra, therefore, that doesn’t stir up your thoughts and that will give your mind an anchor or stick in order for it to settle is the point, regardless of the one you use.
Have you ever tried calming your mind by telling your mind to settle or be quiet? Although we often try and use this approach, it doesn’t work very well. It actually does the opposite and stirs up more thoughts.
As Sarah McLean explains, “This sound is a point on which to focus your mind, eventually interrupting the constant flow of thoughts. Over time, this practice trains the mind to settle down to deeper and deeper levels of thought, allowing you to transcend, or go beyond, your world of form and phenomenon and into the world of silence”.
The world of silence…. doesn’t that sound beautiful and nourishing?? The use of a mantra in your meditation practice can help get you there.