The ancient practice of mantra repetition is, among other things, an exercise in what science calls neuroplasticity. Have you ever found yourself repeating the same thing over and over in your head? Have you noticed how it made you feel emotionally? Did that feeling seem to be confirmed by your experience of the world around you? This is because your brain has wired itself through this repetition to see the world through the tinted lense of those ingrained beliefs. We can use the practice of mantra to harness this effect for our benefit by persuading the brain to wire itself according to our intentions instead of our fears.
What’s a mantra?
Traditionally a mantra was an invocation of a name of some aspect of God. For example the Sanskrit mantra Om Namo Narayanaya translates effectively as, “I bow to Narayana (God in the unmanifest potential sense).” In many belief systems from around the world it is believed that repeating the “names of God” carries with it numerous benefits. In addition to anything that your personal faith may bring to the table, it is a reasonable conclusion that repeating the name of that which you hold sacred would have a positive neurological impact. Hinduism refers to this as “Bhakti Yoga” or the yoga of devotion, where the repeated practice of devotion fosters deeper devotion.
In Western traditions, the repetition of prayers can produce a similar effect if the intention is positively aligned. For example, a traditionally repeated prayer in almost all sects of Christianity is the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer”: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us, today, bread for today’s needs. Let us not enter into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The intention in these words is to entreat the Creator to be present and care for the creation.
Other prayers that are commonly repeated can become self-defeating if not understood and applied correctly. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the oft repeated “Sinner’s Prayer” is a foundational practice: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, intercede for me, a sinner.” Many western folks balk at the tone of this as being needlessly or even harmfully self-effacing. What’s important to note here is that, while Western ideology traditionally treats “sin” in legal terms as a crime against God, the Eastern church traditionally regards sin in medical terms as a condition to be healed. Seen this way, the “Sinner’s Prayer” is, in actuality, a prayer for healing. Holding this intention in mind can make all the difference in how the repetition of this prayer can impact one’s life.
What if I’m not religious?
Regardless of your personal beliefs, the practice of “mantra” repetition can help you to create the kind of life you want by shifting your experience of the world. Your mantra need not be a prayer or a string of Sanskrit syllables that you don’t understand. In fact, it need not even be in words. Repeating a piece of music, a poem, a scene from a film or other such thought that carries the right emotional tone can be a very effective mantra. And the process need not involve prostrations or beads or even any outwardly visible practice. Chances are you already practice mantra repetition in your head, though you might not recognize it as such. Just by shifting the intention or emotional tone of these echoing thoughts, we can harness all of that self-talk to generate the experience you want from life.
So if I say, “I want a million dollars” enough times, I’ll get it?
No. As you probably already know, that doesn’t work. First of all, the statement “I want a million dollars” is actually a statement of lack, so the emotional undertone is going to foster a continued feeling of wanting. Secondly, I’m willing to bet that you don’t believe you’re going to get a million dollars under even the most outlandish of circumstances. I refer to this as “cognitive shear.” The gap between what you long for and your own deeply held beliefs and assumptions is too great for your thinking mind to make a leap of faith. Thirdly, it isn’t the conscious holding of the words or thoughts that manifests the shift in your experience of the world, but the seeding of the emotional experience into the subconscious like planting and cultivating a crop to be harvested.
If you want to have the experience of wealth, one way to begin is by creating the emotional “flavor” of having wealth in your everyday awareness. I’m not suggesting that you spend money you don’t have in order to create this experience. You can begin by simply looking at what you DO have as a blessing. As you shift from “my water heater is dying” to “my water heater got through another day,” you begin to feel a greater sense of security (and perhaps even wealth). Any situation can be an opportunity to practice embracing the positive perspective, and it will eventually become second nature.
When the shift in perspective begins to happen without thinking about it, it has become part of your subconscious programming (like the background processes on your computer). By continuing to stretch this feeling you can work your way up to an experience of success that your conscious mind can find completely believable. Before you realize it, synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) may begin to nudge you out of your comfort zone and prompt you to try some new things. With a little courage and willingness, you can begin to step into that new experience of life that you’ve created for yourself.
How do I do it?
As I said before, you’re probably already doing it unintentionally. Begin to notice what things you hear yourself saying over and over again either to yourself or when commiserating with friends. Ask yourself if what you’re saying reflects what you want to create in your life in a positive way, and if not, consider shifting it as slowly as you need to for it to be believable to you. If what you can accept is the shift from “I’m tired of being fat” to “I’ve got a great ‘before’ picture”, then go with it. Each day stretch yourself toward affirming what you have and how it can bring you closer to what you long for.
Another technique is to take an object, symbol, or image that carries the desired intention for you and place it where you will see it often out of the corner of your eye. You may not notice it, but your subconscious will be aware of it and the “program” will be prompted to run more often. You could create a vision board and hang it somewhere in your living space (or, like me, make it the background on your computer desktop), create a sigil from the letters in the name of what you want and leave it where you’ll stumble on it periodically, or even meditate on something already in your surroundings (e.g., mountains, trees, permanent fixtures in your home) while you cultivate the emotional experience. As you continually encounter these reminders they will help you to maintain the momentum of your shift.
If you’d like to start a more formal mantra practice, you can select a mantra (maybe the same one each time, or change it up) or use one given to you by a spiritual teacher, and decide how many times you’re going to commit to repeating it. The number of repetitions isn’t as important as the significance to you. Hindu/Buddhist malas traditionally have 108 beads, Eastern Orthodox prayer ropes have 100, Catholic rosaries have 59, Islamic misbaha have either 33 or 99, or you can simply count the knuckles on your hand. The details of the practice are less critical than the commitment to carry it through when the resistance kicks in (and it will).
How long will it take to see results?
The best advice I can give you is to forget about the results. I know, that sounds ridiculous, but focusing on the results exactly as you envision them will keep you locked in a cycle of expectation and disappointment. Instead hold the positive perspective of gratitude in the now, and the exhilaration of having the object of your longing without focusing on the details or the “how.” About the time you forget that you were trying to acquire a particular experience, you might just wake up one morning to find that you already have everything you desire. That being said, it is generally believed that shifts in subconscious beliefs can take 30 to 40 days of continuous daily practice to cement firmly (like holding the super glue joint together while it cures).
The best thing you can do to supercharge your efforts is to let go of any belief that you are a victim. You will not change other people by using this method, but you may find, curiously, that your experience of them changes as you begin to take full responsibility for the life that you create for yourself. Others may help or hinder, but the reins are firmly in your hands and where you’re going is entirely up to you! Enjoy the journey!
Feel free to follow us on Facebook where we will be posting mantras from all over the world, both traditional and innovative, each Monday. To ask questions or find some more help getting started, you are always invited to contact us.