Mindfulness Amidst The Madness
If your typical week involves deadlines at work, pressure to pay bills, driving in traffic, or studying for tests, then you are probably well acquainted with the word “stress”. Stress can be felt in the body – tightness of chest, tense neck and shoulders, furrowed eyebrows, and stomach aches, but stress can also be experienced in the mind. Much stress originates in the mind, in our thought patterns. Mental stress includes racing thoughts about things we have to get done, worries about relationships, anxiety over the future, and negative, self-critical thoughts. The mind and body are intimately connected, with one affecting the other. When our bodies hold stress, our mental energy is negatively affected, and similarly, when we think negative thoughts, we experience stress in our bodies. Do an experiment: think about a stressful event, and observe the immediate reaction in your body. Even though this event is only occurring in your mind, the body reacts. Keeping our thoughts positive can help reduce stress, and meditation can teach us to control our thoughts. When we decrease stressful thoughts, we subsequently decrease stress in the body, and improve in overall health and well-being.
Much stress and negative thought patterns involve the past (what went wrong last month) or the future (worries of the unknown). The past cannot be changed, and predictions of the future are often just predictions, with no solid basis in reality, and such thoughts distance us from experiencing the joy of the present moment. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and bring your attention to the present moment, pushing aside thoughts of the past or future. Observe the result in your body, mind, and stress level. When watching a beautiful sunset, the mind turns to the present moment, and stress subsides. When doing a challenging yoga pose, dance routine, or other activity that requires full concentration, the mind focuses on the present moment, and stress decreases. Meditation is another technique that brings the mind to the present, or to “be here now”, also decreasing stress.
There are different types of meditation. In all the practices, it helps to sit tall with an erect spine, relaxed shoulders, and open heart, with eyes halfway closed. Try to practice every day to make it a routine. Morning time is ideal when the mind is fresh, or practice before bedtime. Almost anytime is a good time for meditation (but if you meditate while driving, please keep your eyes open!) You can simply breathe slowly and deeply, counting to four on the inhale, holding the breath for four, and counting to four on the exhale. Mentally follow the path your breath is taking in your body. Notice where it is smooth and flowing and where it is staggered, and listen to its soothing sound. Every time your mind wanders to thoughts of the past or future, bring it back to the sound of your breath. Sit and breathe for at least five minutes.
Alternatively, you can practice mindfulness meditation. Take a simple activity like walking or eating, and without talking, perform this activity with full concentration. If eating, engage all your senses in feeling the food, tasting it, and smelling it, so that you stay in the present moment. If walking, walk slowly, feeling your feet connect to the earth, and observing the sights and sounds around you. When thoughts wander, bring them back to the present moment of the activity in which you are engaged.
Some people recite mantras as a form of meditation. In Sanksrit, man means mind, and tra means freedom. A mantra is a spiritual sound vibration chanted repeatedly, that brings the mind to the present moment, while simultaneously freeing the mind from materialistic thoughts and conceptions by the power of its sound. Whereas many other forms of meditation result in temporary, material stress relief (calmer mind, lower blood pressure, more positive thinking), mantra meditation brings spiritual stress relief and everlasting benefits. The root cause of all stress is that we identify our bodies as ourselves. We think we are a body (a man, woman, white, Asian, Indian, American, etc.) and thus experience great stress when we lose anything or anyone related to our body, when we feel pain in the body, when we lose bodily beauty, or when things don’t go our way. However, there is a constant, inner sense of self that remains from birth through old age despite our outward physical changes. That self, or sense of “I” that we all feel is beyond the body, and is our eternal and spiritual self. When we neglect to feed our spirits, and identify instead with a physical and temporary body, we feel great stress on a spiritual level. Imagine if you had a bird, but only cared for its cage while neglecting to feed the bird inside. The bird would experience great stress and even die. Similarly, if we only feed our outward bodies, but fail to nourish our souls, we experience stress and dissatisfaction. Chanting proper spiritual mantras is one method to feed the soul, connecting us to the spiritual realm through the powerful sound vibration, and giving us the satisfaction we are longing for on a deep, spiritual level. In this day and age, when there are distractions all around us (cell phones, sirens, computers, loud music, to-do lists a mile long, family and obligations, etc.) that make quiet meditation difficult to perform, the Vedic scriptures tell us:
harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
“‘In this Age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means for self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.’ Adi 17.22
Mantras you can chant
Govinda Jaya Jaya Gopala Jaya Jaya
Sita Rama Sita Rama
And the maha mantra –
You can repeat these mantras quietly to yourself, or sing them with a group of people accompanied by musical instruments. These mantras are free, come with a lifetime warrantee, and have been known to produce side effects of joy, satisfaction, and spontaneous dancing in people around the world of all races, religions, and cultures. There is no risk in trying. If a hungry man eats, no one has to tell him to believe he is full, as he will feel it for himself. Chanting mantras produces a result such that if you simply try it, you will know for yourself what benefits it can bring to your life. Chant at home, while driving, or at your local Hare Krishna Temple with others. Chant and be happy.