The Friday News Minute!
A weekly gem of information you will be using on Monday!
Published by Andrew Sanderbeck
Managing Partner of The People~Connect Institute
Success Begins when People~Connect!
This week in my Friday News Minute, I'm finishing the article "Making Each Day a Prayer. In the conclusion of this article by Helene Ciaravino she looks at mantras and chants, visualization and breathing exercises as a way to help us to relax and to connect with our inner spirit. Recently a new friend, Peter Bromberg, from the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative sent me a group of CD's including Kirtan (The art and practice of ecstatic chant) by Jai Uttal, and I am pleased to tell you listening to these chants is very emotionally healing and spiritually satisfying. Thanks Peter! Enjoy! - Andrew
by Helene Ciaravino
Mantras and Chants
The rhythmic repetition of sacred words or phrases allows for great concentration on God or the Absolute. This prayer method calls the mind home, away from passing distractions. The voiced or even mental repetition is calming, often bringing the body into unity with the spirit through the loop of sound and energy that is constructed.
In Eastern practices, the repeated phrase or sound is called a mantra. A mantra is selected for the trancing sound and vibrations it produces, such as “Om,” as well as the symbolism it might carry. In Western practices, the activity of repeating a word or phrase is often referred to as chanting. These words and phrases are chosen for the sacred concepts they encourage. Examples are various names for God; single words such as “peace” and “love”; and phrases like, “Lord, have mercy on me.”
If you find it appealing to use a mantra that involves a foreign language, such as the Buddhist Om Mani Padme Hung mantra, it is best to choose a pronunciation that you find comfortable. You may want to keep a copy of the mantra—its original text, its transliteration, and a good translation—in your personal prayer space for reference and inspiration. Likewise, it may be helpful to make a list of various mantras or chants that appeal to you. If you are drawn to a chanting session—in and of itself, or as a way to begin or end a prayer session—and don’t have a particular favorite, you can consult several choices and decide on one that feels best at the moment.
Visualizing, or mental imaging, is a form of nonvocal prayer. It brings the focus of prayer deeply inward, away from the world’s distractions and anxieties. This is generally a Western practice. During a visualization, the practitioner moves beyond articulation and dwells on a specific, sacred image.
If visualizing God is part of your religious preferences, you know that doing so helps you identify with Him. God is technically not just a being, yet imagining Him as one may help you cultivate a relationship more easily. Jewish and Christian traditions often explain God as a loving father. And mystics from the Jewish, Christian, and Sufi (Muslim) traditions often visualize God as a lover. A familial or loving image can aid you in developing intimacy with God.
Some types of visualizations move beyond pictorial images of, say, God’s face. In Judaism, this might involve mentally visualizing the letters of God’s holy name. In Christianity, it could mean imagining the entire scene of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. There are also many symbolic images that can be meditated upon.
It is extremely important to select an image with which you are comfortable. If you choose an image that is intimidating or disturbing, you are likely to reduce the confidence and receptivity that is so necessary in effective prayer. So if a masculine view of God doesn’t work for you, try a maternal image. If a parental image upsets you, try a brotherly or sisterly visualization. And if a human depiction seems to be holding you back, try various symbols. Many Christians, for example, imagine the Holy Spirit as a dove. And some Christians symbolize the Holy Trinity—their three-part God—as a triangle with an eye inside. Whatever you decide upon, you are likely to find that visualizations are a helpful way to dedicate time and energy to the exploration of God.
Many people also like to physically focus on an object, which in turn provides the stimulation to mentally fixate on an image or theme. Usually, this involves fixing your gaze upon a religious item and dwelling on its significance. For example, a Christian might gaze upon a cross, which is a symbol not only of the suffering that Jesus Christ endured, but also of a meeting of two realms—the heavenly and the earthly—as depicted in the intersecting lines. And a Buddhist meditator might fix his gaze upon a small statue of the Buddha, placing himself in a quiet state of mind during which the characteristics that the Buddha represents can develop. In such cases, the objects serve as prayer aids.
It seems that, universally, the breath is linked to the Divine, to the soul, to the most fundamental aspects of life. In Judeo-Christian Biblical text, God brought the first people to life by breathing into their bodies. It is therefore not surprising that so many religious approaches include breathing meditations.
Many people imagine the breath as God’s divine energy, filling the prayer practitioner with life and emptying him of impurities. Just dwelling on this interaction with God is a prayer in and of itself. The breath can also be understood as a bridge between the two realms—the outer world and the inner world. By focusing on the movement of the breath between these two spheres, the prayer practitioner can learn to move away from egocentrism and realize his place in the flux of God’s universe.
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