Stress-related illnesses, insomnia, anxiety—our bodies are constantly on alert. Confronted by demands, distress, and endless distractions, we rush through our days, longing for peace of mind. Yet a surprising solution is as close as our next thought—the power of the mantram.
The mantram (or mantra), is a holy word or phrase. Mantram repetition is common to many spiritual traditions and part of Eknath Easwaran’s eight-point program of passage meditation (Bormann, 2010; Easwaran, 2008). Some traditional mantrams are “Jesus,” “Ave Maria,” “Rama,” “Barukh attah Adonai,” “Allah,” and “Om manipadme hum.”
Studies have shown that mantram repetition can relieve stress, restore peace of mind, and promote greater health and effectiveness. Research with health care providers, family caregivers, women during childbirth, hospital patients, and combat veterans with PTSD showed that mantram practice reduced anger, anxiety, depression, and rumination, while promoting greater peace of mind, spiritual well-being, and quality of life (Bormann, 2010; Bormann, Thorp, Wetherell, Golshan, & Lang, 2012).
I find this amazing—that simply repeating a sacred word or phrase is powerful enough to heal the violent reactions of PTSD. But with the mantram, we draw upon another kind of power. What we know about neuroplasticity suggests that mantram repetition creates new neural pathways in our brains. Like the power of water that, over time, can cut through solid rock, the subtle power of mantram repetition cuts through apparently overwhelming obstacles, within and around us. As the Tao Te Ching
Nothing on earth is more gentle and yielding than water.
Yet nothing is stronger.
When it confronts a wall of stone,
Gentleness overcomes hardness.
The power of water prevails.
(Tao 78 from Dreher, 2000, p. 227)
How can you begin transforming your life with this powerful practice?
- First, choose a mantram, a sacred word or phrase meaningful to you. It can be from your own spiritual tradition, or, if these terms bring up negative associations, choose a mantram from another tradition. Many people who admire Gandhi have adopted his mantram, “Rama,” which means “joy.” You can find a selection of mantrams at http://www.easwaran.org/mantrams-recommended-by-easwaran.html.
- Next, begin connecting with your mantram by repeating it silently to yourself during the day—while walking, washing dishes, waiting in line, and falling asleep at night. As exercise builds muscles, mantram repetition helps you build strength in this new practice.
- Then, whenever you find yourself stressing out--stuck in traffic, frustrated by a boring meeting, worried, irritated, or frantic—say your mantram silently to yourself.
The mantram is always with you--a subtle, powerful, and ever present antidote to the stress in your life. As researcher Jill Bormann says, “mantram repetition is completely portable, invisible, inexpensive, readily available, nontoxic, and nonpharmacological” (Bormann, 2010, p. 80). It has no adverse side effects and can be used to deal with any number of stressors, to relieve anxiety, irritation, rumination, unhealthy habits, and negative thought patterns.
This silent, invisible spiritual tool could transform your life.
Bormann, J. E. (2010). Mantram repetition: A “portable contemplative practice” for modern times. In T. G. Plante (Ed.). Contemplative practices in action (pp. 78-99).Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger
Bormann, J. E., Thorpe, S. M., Wetherell, J. L., Golshan, J. L, & Lang, A. J. (2012). Meditation-based mantram intervention for veterans with posttramatic stress disorder: A randomized trial. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027522
Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of inner peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.
Easwaran, E. (2008). Passage meditation. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University.
Her latest book, about living with greater power and purpose, is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.
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