Wednesday, February 10, 2010

‘Man’ means “to think”

"The feeble seekers are those who lack enthusiasm, criticize their teachers, are rapacious, inclined to bad action, eat much, are in the power of women, unstable, cowardly, ill, dependent, speak harshly, have weak characters and lack virility. The Guru (Teacher or Master) guides such seekers in the path of Mantra Yoga only. With much effort, the sadhaka can reach enlightenment in twelve years. (The word mantra is derived from the word 'man', meaning to think. Mantra thus means a sacred thought or prayer to be repeated with full understanding of its meaning. It takes a long time, perhaps years, for a mantra to take firm root in the mind of a feeble sadhaka and still longer for it to bear fruit.)"
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 51st paragraph of the Introduction.

Even though Mantra Yoga is advised for “feeble seekers” I don’t think that there is anything easy about it. So there is nothing “feeble” about Mantra Yoga itself, or about any human beings I know either. So I’m not going to talk about “feeble seekers” because I don’t think about people that way, except maybe myself on a bad day…

I think that we are all using mantras or thoughts to direct our experience whether we acknowledge it or not. Since Mantra Yoga is advised here for someone who is experiencing difficulty in life, I look at it as a first line of defense against the pains of life, and the fragmentation of mind.

What is your Mantra?

I think of a ‘mantra’ as thoughts I tell myself repeatedly. On a bad day my mantra might be, “I wish I was dead,” and on a good day it might be, “I love this!” What gives?? These are just thoughts that bubble up inside of me.

Repeated thoughts are powerful

It’s a good idea to watch your thoughts, because they make a real difference in how you move throughout the world. If I have evaluated myself as unlovable, or ‘nobody likes me’ it is going to affect my body language. I might make less eye contact, and avoid interactions with others who might like me, so I am likely to miss opportunities. And if someone is nice to me I might react inappropriately friendly, wordlessly saying ‘wow, it’s so amazing that you like me.’ When maybe I’m just likeable and so it’s really not such a big deal that SOMEBODY LIKES ME. Aren’t we all essentially likeable beings? I shouldn’t be so especially horrible that nobody likes me, right? Well, the mechanisms of thought are not rational in the scientific sense. Our thoughts spring up from how we feel and what we’ve been told—all that touchy-feely stuff.

So it could be time to tell yourself something good

If you listen to your daily brew of thoughts and hear some nasty stuff, it could be helpful to take action to interrupt the toxic thought-stream. You could try positive affirmations.

I have a teacher who’s really into this affirmation stuff. So I tried it for a while, and I found it helpful in a particular way. When I started to purposefully say positive things to myself over and over, I had a heightened awareness of how poor my inner messages were. It was as if my gentle messages of blessing to myself elicited an attack from my inner status quo of low self-esteem.

An example would be if I were to tell myself that ‘I am competent, loveable and wise’, and if what I believed about myself was that I was inadequate, unlovable and stupid. Well, bullshit! Total rejection and inner turmoil could result.

Prayerful thoughts can be helpful

I have found repeated messages of prayer to be more authentically helpful for me. In prayer I am opening up my inner world to something larger than my old thoughts, so there is more space for a fresh breeze of inspiration to enter my experience.

“Mantra thus means a sacred thought or prayer to be repeated with full understanding of its meaning.”

This is very personal. Finding words that are helpful at any given time could be as individual as you.

These have worked for me:

“You are not only you, you are also me. I am not only myself, I am also you. I should care to live for you, and you should be able to care for me.”
-Guru Nitya

“My work is to carry this love
as comfort for those who long for you,
to go everywhere you’ve walked
and gaze at the pressed-down dirt.”
-Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks

Poetry can offer this kind of healing opening in the mindspace. I also like Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman and others.


YogaforCynics said...

The idea of "prayer" has never really sat well with me, though I'm a little more open to "mantra"...and have mixed feelings about "affirmations"...maybe because I associate them with people telling themselves a lot of pretty new age lies...and most likely just setting themselves up for disappointment when "I'm going to succeed at whatever I set out to do" or "everybody will love me if I have a positive attitude" don't actually work out that way...though that can be a fine line...

But, then, you make a really good point here. I do, informally and unconsciously, tell myself things about myself all the time, and they're often not good--along the lines of I'm feeble and there's no point in trying and nobody really likes me all kind of other negative bullshit that's no more true than the most bogus affirmation. So, as you point out, whether we believe in the power of mantras or whatever, we may be using them anyway, but letting our weakest, most wounded, frightened, and self-hating selves dictate what they are....

You've given me much to ponder once again, Brooks...thank you.

Svasti said...

Actually, what Iyengar wrote was to offer "only" mantra to those seekers who are feeble. But feeble here I think, refers to the ability to control the mind and thoughts. Before one can still the mind, one must learn to control the thoughts, and so it is a stepping stone.

Regardless, every serious seeker on the sadhaka path uses mantra.

I have several in fact. One that was given to me when I was first initiated. Others relate to various meditation practices I've been given.

Mantra to me is a reminder, and a way of learning to turn the mind into a 'single pointed diamond'.

But telling yourself positive statements works, too.

I have a rule for cooking these days - which is that when I cook, I must be attentive and only think thoughts of love and happiness. Because if I'm putting energy into what I eat, I want it to be helpful for my digestion!

The more meditation and mantra I do, the less intrusive outside thoughts are.

And I've often said that poetry is closer to the truth than prose because it's open to individual interpretation.

It all works for me. Lovely post, Brooks.

Namaste_Heather said...

Lovely post, Brooks. I, too, use Mantra daily, sometimes my own, sometimes others. Change your thoughts, change the world. Thank you for this.

Ilovemusic said...

Hey Brooks! I like this! Not like I'm surprised or anything... but it occurred to me while reading this, that more than a few years ago I had a revealation that me being as you say "so especially horrible..." meant that I was doing the reverse of an ego trip with myself. Like I was the best at being the worst person there could be! How funny that sounds to me now!! Either way I think, balance is required. I am not the best most well adjusted person, and I am not the worst least well
adjusted person. I am just a person, end of story. And that is good! It takes so much responsibility off of me trying to figure out what percentile I'm in.
Thanks again! And I love the sense of humor in here too! A good reminder of concious thinking. x0