Wednesday 20th March 2024,
Bird On The Wire



IMG_6274In this series, “Four Tools for Managing Your Fear,”  I have discussed the usefulness of  Breathing and Visualization techniques. In this post, I will present the third tool, Mantras.

When I was a college student, I took a class in Transcendental Meditation and continued studying it the following year. I still meditate today using this technique because it quiets my mind and gives me a deep sense of peace.  Mantra Memorization is third tool to use in dealing with fear.

There are many schools of meditation. Transcendental Meditation, while based on a thousand year-old ancient Indian Vedic tradition of enlightenment, is not a religious practice. It is, instead, a meditative practice, the goal of which is to reach a state of pure awareness, a silent and peaceful level of consciousness where the practitioner experiences a place of deep rest and even a lowered heart rate. And, while it can take many years to reach a state of pure awareness, a sense of peace and calm come to you almost immediately after you begin to meditate.

When you study TM, a specific mantra is given to you by the instructor. The mantra, which has no literal meaning, is repeated over and over while sitting quietly, eyes closed, focusing on the phrase rather than on the thoughts that might be wandering through your mind. The idea is to free your mind from thought so that you are eventually thinking about nothing, and your mind is going inward, farther and farther away from your surface thoughts. Ideally, this is practiced twice a day for 15-20 minutes at a time.

However, there are many other schools of meditation. You just need to find the one that works for you. Another version involves contemplation — thinking about something such as a famous quote, a Bible verse, or words of encouragement — that one wishes to focus on. People contemplate on such writings as the Twenty Third Psalm or the prayer of Saint Francis or the words of a favorite inspirational teacher –whatever speaks to the individual. In another form of meditation, the practitioner simply stares into a burning candle, focusing on its light, letting his mind roam freely.

Dr. Oz, the cardiologist that Oprah made famous, says that it is difficult for him to sit still and meditate, so he practices what is called a “walking meditation,” where, while walking, he focuses his mind on his own relaxing mantra. I would only caution that when practicing this form of meditation, you also have to pay attention to where you are walking!

I’ve continued to meditate and to use my TM mantra throughout my life, and it’s been a wonderful practice for me, but I’ve also developed other mantras, made up of meaningful thoughts, that I’ve used in situations other than meditation. For instance, when my son was traveling through the jungles of Peru and we hadn’t heard from him for several weeks, I created the mantra, “Jake is fine. He just can’t communicate with us right now, but he’ll do so when he can.” I repeated this to myself whenever I worried about him. Another mantra I used then as well as in many other troubling situations comes from an unknown author who said, “Dispute all catastrophic thinking.” I love this mantra because it keeps me from letting my mind run wild and imagining all kinds of horrible outcomes.

The point here isn’t to get you to sign up for a formal school of meditation. I’m not even pushing meditation per se, although it’s been a great help to me. The point is that when you are going through a troubling time in your life, it’s good to have a mantra, your own comforting words that you can repeat over and over again in your mind to get you through the situation. To accomplish this, you need to develop mantras that are specific to your situation, ones that you can repeat whenever the Fear Monster rears his ugly head. The point also is to be prepared for these moments. The Boy Scout motto really applies here. Your mantra and the four other tools I’m going to give you are your armor, and you need to put on your armor before going into battle if you want to be victorious, if you want to take care of yourself.

When I was preparing mantras for my cancer surgery, I came to realize that I needed to use two distinct types: factual and spiritual.

Facts can be used to quell your fear. I made the following facts into mantras:

1. “Dr. Jenkins has performed this procedure for over thirty years, so he knows exactly what he is doing.”

2. “At eight tonight I’ll be home in my own bed.”

Before surgery, I repeated these two mantras over and over in my head, right up until the time the anesthesia hit.

The other kind of mantra is spiritual or inspirational. For this you would repeat the Twenty-Third Psalm or the prayer of St. Francis –anything that is comforting to you. One of my favorites, comes from the psychologist Louise Ha. It, goes like this:

All is well.

Everything is going as it should.

Out of this situation only good will come.

I am safe.

Louise Hay says to repeat this to yourself, even when you don’t believe it. What’s amazing is that if you repeat it enough times, you do start to believe what you are saying.

Here are some other spiritual mantras either I or other people have used:

1. The light of God surrounds me. The love of God enfolds me. The power of God protects me. the presence of God watches over me.

2. A Buddhist Prayer: May all be loved. May all be healed. May all be sheltered. May all be free from fear. May I be loved. May I be healed. May I be sheltered. May I be free from fear.

3. This too shall pass.

4. I can beat this.

5. This is doable.

6. God’s love quiets me.

7. I’m tough. I can do this.

8. He who can see through all fear will always be safe.

I’m sure you have some of your own favorite reassuring words that you can use, as well. But, whatever words you do use, practice them before the experience you’ll be going through. You prepare yourself psychologically for other events in your life, like giving a speech, asking for a raise, or getting ready to meet your mother-in-law for the first time, so isn’t it even more important to get yourself ready for an event that frightens you? Preparation is the key!

I have a friend who was afraid of flying. She had taken the right steps to deal with this fear, by going to the airport several times, pretending she was going to fly. She even packed a suitcase and took it with her. Once in the airport, she would sit down, as if she were waiting to board the plane, close her eyes, and envision each step of the flight, imagining that she was fine, from take-off to touch-down. Her next step, of course, was to take a short flight. I’m happy to say that she has successfully conquered this fear.

But before she took that first flight, she called me. “I need something to carry with me, some words of comfort.” I asked her, as I would ask you, if there were any religious or spiritual words that had comforted her in the past. As it turned out, she couldn’t think of any phrases she could use, so I gave her some of the suggestions I listed above. Luckily, one of them worked for her, and she repeated it to herself throughout the flight.

We also discussed factual mantras she could intersperse with the spiritual one. I suggested statements like “This pilot has been flying planes for a long time and knows what he is doing,” or “This is a very short flight, so I’ll be back on the ground in no time.” She then came up with her own factual mantras to repeat.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be prepared. Practice your mantras before you enter the scary situation. Going into battle with your armor on will give you peace of mind.

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