Do Mantras Really Work?
- Written by by Ed & Deb Shapiro, Huffington Post
Huffington Post: October 20, 2009 10:55 AM
Listen to CNN or any news channel or read the newspapers and you will find the word mantra used to mean any oft-recited saying, whether positive or not. For instance, James Arthur Ray, well-known from 'The Secret' and the latest 'guru' to hit the headlines, uses motivational mantras promising endless spiritual and financial wealth, while the tea-baggers believe their mantra that 'socialism is bad.' President Obama's mantra, “Yes we can!" is an inspiring and affirmative one.
This use of the word mantra has arisen from the traditional custom of chanting sacred sounds or names, as done in many religious practices. Such repetition has also been put to music that reaches across religious boundaries.
The room was filled with melodious voices. We were at a concert with the fabulous Deva Premal and Miten. They are masters at chanting, and at getting the audience to participate. Spending a few hours singing a foreign language (many chants are in Sanskrit) may not sound like a lot of fun, yet it has a remarkable effect. It really does uplift the spirit.
Sounding in this way is not only a means of worshipping the sacred but also creates harmony by unifying voices into a synchronized whole. This is particularly effective if the sound does not require thought, such as chanting in Latin, as it is the sound that is important and not the meaning. However, the unity can easily be lost if the thinking mind intrudes.
Deepesh Faucheux, who was a Catholic monk, told us in our latest book (see below) about the effect of the Gregorian chanting in his monastery: "Gregorian frequency works on the brain in a particular way to elevate us to a spiritually altered state. It was always a collective chant—what is called ecclesia. A group of people with a single purpose of worship attuned together, their behavior, sensibilities, and moods all harmonized. The frequency of the sound deeply affected us, it smoothed out the rough edges, anger or fear. It was like Prozac, I would get very high, even transported. It made many of the petty things that happened seem totally unimportant and made life in the monastery bearable, even blissful. It was the only therapy the monastery needed! But when we stopped chanting in Latin and tried to do it in the local dialect, many of the monasteries and convents fell apart because the people started fighting with each other. They had lost that shared integrative quality.”
Apart from calming the mind and reducing friction, chanting can also be powerfully healing. Miten shared the moving story of a woman who had been deeply depressed for two years, sleeping on the couch as she could not climb the stairs, waking up each morning hoping she would die, and gaining a lot of weight. A friend played her Deva and Miten's chanting and she began to sob, followed by a huge release. She played their music constantly and one morning, when she woke up, for the first time she was able to appreciate the sun filling her room. She had thoughts of how she could share love, instead of longing to die.
Deva and Miten hear such stories constantly, especially from people who know nothing of the meaning of the chant but who are feeling a lack of shared spirituality in their lives and who experience a deep and joyful resonance with the sound.
Ed learnt chanting when he lived in India. While on a teaching tour a man came to him and asked for Ed to come to his home to see his ailing wife. When Ed entered their simple mud hut, he chanted a healing mantra—Om Namah Shivaya—over the woman's bed. She immediately lit up with a big smile and grasped his hand.
In this context, a mantra is a word or phrase that has special meaning, such as shalom, peace or shanti. It may be the name of a spiritual being, such as Mother Mary, Hare Krishna, or Namo Buddha. In the east Om or Aum is a favorite sound as it means the sound of the universe. Or, as the western spiritual teacher Ram Dass, says: “Each person can use the mantra ‘I am loving awareness.’ Just repeat this and become loving awareness. Then share that loving awareness with all others.”
Mantra meditation is like spiritual food; it awakens your creative process and nourishes your spirit, while habitual or agitated thinking patterns are released. In the process you discover the silence behind the sound. It is like a broom that sweeps your mind free of clutter. What more could you want?
To practice mantra meditation, sit comfortably with your back straight. Take a few deep breaths and relax and settle your body. Then begin to repeat the mantra, either silently or intoning it out loud if you are alone. Repeat it in rhythm with your breathing. If you get distracted or drift off into thinking, just bring your mind back to the sound.
Comments From Readers
"Good article! May it reach many people and turn them on to Deva & Miten's and other's beautiful, powerful chants.:
"Chanting with Deva Premal and Miten was a wonderful experience! Both at Grace Cathedral in SF and at Rudramandir in Berkeley. A great stress antidote!"
-Daughter of Guitar Barry
"Thank you for a great article. I have known Deva Premal and Miten for years and I LOVE their beautiful music. I find it inspiring, healing and uplifting. I love knowing that they are on the planet, spreading love, joy and beauty. I love knowing that we can lift ourselves by something so simple as listening to sacred chants, and even more so by participating. I love knowing that we all have the capacity to be Love, Joy, Peace and that the more we allow those states in ourselves, the greater our gift to all."
Read the full blog here.
Ed & Deb Shapiro are the authors of 16 books on personal development, including Be the Change - How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, which features introductions by H.H. The Dalai Lama & Robert Thurman, and talks with meditation practitioners from all walks of life, including Marianne Williamson, Michael Beckwith, Ellen Burstyn, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Byron Katie, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jane Fonda, Jack Kornfield, Ram Dass, Dean Ornish, Krishna Das and Deva Premal & Miten.