A Mantra To Believe In

In Herbert Benson's book, Beyond the Relaxation Response, he suggests using a mantra with some personal meaning — something that reflects your spiritual beliefs. Or some quote or phrase from your favorite holy book. He says research shows if you use a mantra you believe in, the positive effects of meditation are even greater: People find meditation more meaningful and they are more likely to stay with it. Seems logical. The only problem is, I don't have a holy book.

What word or phrase could I use? Well, I asked myself, "What thought would I like to practice?" Thinking is an action like anything else. When you practice a thought, it comes to mind more easily and naturally. So in other words, my question is: "What word or phrase would I like to occasionally and spontaneously come to mind more often?" Answers to that were easy to come up with. Here are a few of my favorites:

ananda (it means bliss)
om shanti (means peace)

I could use one of my favorites on any given day, or come up with a new one. Either way, I would be using the "faith factor" — that is, multiplying the positive impact of mantra meditation by using a mantra that means something to me.

Another good way to find a good mantra is to go to The Foundation For A Better Life and see their list of values. Choose the one you most believe in or the one you would most like to strengthen in yourself. Make that your mantra.

Another good source of values is the book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification by Seligman and Peterson. They have established the study of morals on a strong scientific footing, and their list of values is very good. Any one of those values would make an excellent mantra.

Anything you believe in would make a good mantra. Do you believe in friendship? Do you believe in honesty? Freedom? Communication? Forgiveness? A value you believe in makes an excellent mantra.

two more good tips from Herbert Benson

In Benson's instructions, he emphasizes a "passive attitude." When you find your mind wandering, he suggests you mentally shrug your shoulders, say to yourself, "Oh well," and go back to your mantra. I find this very effective.

In other words, don't be in any hurry. Don't try to do well. Don't be bothered when your mind wanders. Keep a gentle intention to pay attention to your mantra but don't be bothered when you find your mind has wandered.

I think his suggestion of saying the mantra (to yourself) on your out-breath is good too. First of all it feels more natural — when people speak, they only speak on the out-breath. But it also gives you a moment of silence on the in-breath. A moment of peace.

So we have three good guidelines for meditating:

1. Use a mantra you believe in
2. Be accepting of your mind wandering
3. Think your mantra on your outgoing breath

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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