Whispers of the Spirit

Whispers of the Spirit
Lent 19

Yesterday we celebrated the harvest, the living of a good life. That begs the question….”What is a good life?” Most of us spend our entire lives running around searching for THE good life. Sadly, many of us would answer that “the good life” is very different from “a good life”. Ever wonder why that is? Peer pressure, trying to keep up with the neighbors, societal trends…All good answers except for one thing. They omit that little thing called personal accountability. Personal accountability, while a wonderful thing and something I am usually two hundred million gazillion per cent in favor of, can be something of a trap. Finding the sacred in our lives means being able to withstand our own accountability for and of that life. How do we find the sacred in our search for both “the good life” and “a good life”?

We have discussed the noise in living as well as the beautiful sounds and vibrations of living. Avoiding the trap of wallowing in our humanness is perhaps found in the connection between the noise of life and the sounds of the living. Using the vibrations of the very essence of being can help us connect with the world, our actions, and the core of our being.

Throughout this series I have employed the word living and I have done so knowing that people tend to define the word very differently. While technically the word “living” refers to the state of being alive, it has come to designate categories of being alive, a state of animation, a manner of lifestyle. Today we will discuss another word with multiple meanings. In fact, there is no one universally accept definition. Yet, it is a word that is used daily in a variety of different spiritualities and religions.

The use of sound to block out sound was something discovered somewhere around 1000 BCE. Metaphorically, it was using fire to fight fire. The sounds of living were distracting and so someone had the bright idea to drown them out with one sound, one repetitive sound. That sound might be an actual musical tone; it might simply be a repeated syllable. It is both the creation of the sound as well as the focus on it that prove beneficial in concentration. It is…. the mantra.

Mantra is an ancient Sanskrit word mead up of two words. The first is “man” and the second is “tra”. Man translates as meaning “to think” or “of the mind”. The suffix “tra” was used to signify tools or instruments. Mantras are sound patterns used in helping us think so they are, in fact, tools of thought. In calming a newly adopted puppy several years ago, I began stroking his face saying “calm” very slowly. Then I realized that the word had become two phonetic syllables: “kaa” and “ahlmmm.” We eventually progressed to where the puppy would hear the second syllable only and relax. Now five years old, the syllable is his cue that all will be well. “Ahlmmm” sounds a great deal like the typical “ohm” syllable used as a mantra in some meditations. Apparently it works on dogs as well as humans. [Side note: This post is a bit late today due to a localized power outage. The darkness startled and frightened the dog but once he heard his calming syllable, he went right back to sleep!]

Those wiser than I am have long disagreed on what a mantra is and whether they truly assist us in our thoughts. Some believe mantras are nothing more than meaningless utterances while others believe they have a deep connection relationship to the linguistics portions of our brain. Mantras usually contain some rhythmic pattern and the tones involved can have a mesmerizing effect on the listener. Some believe it is the meter of the mantra that is its secret rather than any actual words which might be uttered. For others, the words become a prayer and have deep meaning. In Hindu the mantras tend to have literal meaning but not all mantras do. Some compare them to the songs of birds, a beautiful melodious grouping of tones that actually communicate nothing to the listener.

Mantras may be actual prayers repeated, much like a rosary or adulatory prayer given to a deity. Most mantras have a meter, a rhythm that is established, and some feel it is this rhythm that allows the deep concentration mantras are credited with providing. Mantras create a feeling to the speaker and listener. Sometimes done communally and often in private, the mantra is an expression of the soul that directs the mind into a higher state of being.

Ancient Vedic tradition believed that everything in nature produced sound and the wisest were thought to be able to hear these sounds. The traditional “ohm” sound used by some to meditate as a mantra was thought to be the most elemental sound. Believing the sounds of nature to be the manifestation of the spirits into matter, the elemental “ohm” represented universal consciousness.

We have seen and will continue to see how we can discover the sacred in our everyday living. Sometimes, though, we carry that sacred within ourselves. A mantra can help one connect with that. Pablo Picasso once said; “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” The same might be true of the sacred in our lives. The sacred exists but it has to find us seeking it.

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