Mantras can be something that we adopt in order to teach ourselves, or they can be something we use in shared practice together.
A mantra cannot contain the truth – it is something that connects with you in this moment, and is helpful or revealing in some way. It should feel like it’s revealing your own psyche to you or some aspect of what is meaningful in life.
The best mantras and quotes are like an invitation to arrive in your experience.
Mantras can be used in meditation, either as a concentration object or an enquiry exercise, but the best ones can also be used in your wider life.
In my experience there are lots of different types of mantras. Just off the top of my head there are:
- Ones that help you concentrate or get into a certain state of being
- Ones that resonate deeply for a brief moment and then you let go
- Ones that get you through the worse times
- Ones that inspire you
- Ones that you spend your life living
- Ones that feel like they represent something intrinsic to the deepest part of your being.
Reality is a mix of light and dark, so things that are true will contain at least a drop of each. Anything too saccharine is more likely to be papering over the cracks and ultimately making you feel bad about yourself, rather than allowing yourself to be present in experience.
A lot of the power of mantras comes from the instilled sense of importance in them. If someone we perceive as important says something we are more likely to receive it as profound. Cultivating the capacity to cut through this bullshit and see things for what they mean to you in this moment is incredibly useful and vital for waking up.
Equally, making space for things that do resonate to deeply impact you is important. If you have come across something that resonates, take time to look thoroughly at it, to let it sink in and to appreciate the effect it has on you, rather than assuming you already know what it’s saying.
It is this willingness to let a mantra into your experience and to reflect on how it makes you feel that will allow it to change you.
Having a mantra is a bit like having a shared practice with yourself. It is using the mantra as a way to reflect something important back to you, to remind yourself of it.
It can also be really beautiful to explore them in a group or shared setting.
Either asking people to share whether they have mantras that they use and why they use them. Or choosing one mantra and asking people to reflect on what it means to them. Both of these can be an amazing insight into our own and other people’s inner worlds and a way of deepening our relationship with meaning.
I tend to choose very modern quotes and mantras, but you can also do this with more traditional ones. It is interesting with both to understand how they might land differently with different people.
Here are two mantras I have created that have been helpful for other people and seem to provide a doorway into arriving in our experience and being present with what matters.
I have used them in a meditative setting, a group conversation setting and just as a phrase to drop in to remind people to be present.
“What feels important?”
Focusing on what matters can allow us to be less involved in our inner script and to help us open up and see the bigger picture.
Asking ourselves what feels important can cut through fear, judgement, intellectualism and the need to be right and can allow us to focus on the things that matter most.
The more open your heart is the more naturally this will come; it is easier in situations where we already feel aligned with life. In more difficult situations, the more you ask this, the more you will be able to open your heart and move from that place.
It’s important that the answer is coming from a place of sincerity and from validating what we want and need – rather than what we believe others think we should do, or from some desire to be perfect beings.
This mantra can open up a way of connecting with the world where we are more able to act in service to others – as we can see that this is a lot of what matters in life.
But it can also open up a deep sense of care and respect for ourselves. A busy, modern life can often require us to put our own needs aside and the answer to what’s important is often things like rest, self-care or recognising our most difficult emotions.
We need to able to include our darkness and challenges in the answers as well as the more beautiful aspects of life.
We have to be free to answer with what feels most honest, and sometimes what feels most important is to recognise how hard life is or how sad you are, for example.
Getting good at answering this question honestly can gives us the courage to do the things we need to do and go after the things we really want.
There are a few ways you can use this mantra:
- As an explorative question – to help you identify some of your values in life, which can then become like guiding forces
- As a self-enquiry – repeatedly asking it of yourself in meditation and allowing it to resonate through your being and see what effect it has on your heart, mind and body
- As a reminder in daily life – throughout the day, taking time to pause and come back to the question ‘what feels important in this moment?’. Both out of curiosity and as a way to reorient ourselves towards it
Ultimately, the more you can make space to honestly recognise what feels most important to you and use this to focus on what matters, the more clarity you will have and the more meaningful that life will become.
“Here we are”
This is my version of ‘this is it’, or ‘be here now’.
One of the reasons I prefer it, is because it is inherently non-hierarchical. It avoids creating a split inside of us where one part is directing another part (be here now) or where one part is claiming spiritual authority and telling another part (this is it). It’s more like an open invitation to arrive in our experience.
Same with if we are using it with other people. It acknowledges that we’re all in this together, rather than one person assuming an authoritative role.
It also allows for people to have multiple parts of themselves. Humans are complex and have multiple conflicting desires, emotions and thoughts, as well as past and future versions of themselves present at any time. Using ‘we’ to refer to ourselves in this context can create space for every part of us to be welcome.
Adopting this attitude cuts through right and wrong and opens up a sense of compassionate presence. We can arrive with what is happening, even if it is weird, ugly, painful or stressful in some ways. It doesn’t ask for experience to be any different to what it is for us right now.
‘Here we are’ also cuts through the model of awakening where things are supposed to get better all the time. A lot of the time they get harder before they get better because we stop running away from the things that are hard in life and choose to meet them with courage.
The mantra can bring us into a deep state of presence while simultaneously making space for imperfections in ourselves, others and the world. Kind of like ‘despite all the fuck ups and complications and difficulty, we’ve made it this far… Here we are, despite it all’. And I love that.