When I was in college in the 80's I had been meditating for a while when someone introduced me to prayer beads or malas. Mala means garland in Sanskrit and they are used to count how many times you repeat a mantra. I was told that the more you used them the more "Japa" they would acquire, Japa being positive energy. Or at least that was what I thought my friend was telling me. Later I found out Japa means spiritual discipline in Sanskrit, but I suppose that the more you use them the more spiritual discipline you are using as well.
Most full malas have 108 beads to count and a guru bead that is larger to indicate that you have completed one round. Most wrist malas have 27 beads (4 x 27=108) and a guru bead. The number 108 has had a lot of varied meanings in math, history and religion through the ages. Like Stonehenge, other ancient places and many symbols we may never be able to pin down the exact meaning. I prefer the theory that it is not a number at all, but actually the symbol for a description of reality. (to get an overview of this interesting number go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/108_(number).
Hinduism and Buddhism are not the only spiritual practices that use prayer beads. Catholics have rosaries, Orthodox Christians have Chokti, Muslims have Tasbih and Wiccan's have prayer beads as well. Whatever type of prayer beads you choose to use is a personal and/or spiritual preference. My favorite mala is a homemade strand ( seen below) of 108 citrine and adventurine faceted beads. I don't actually count with them. I am not concerned about actual numbers of repetitions instead I use one round as a timer of sorts when I meditate with them.
One of the things I love about malas is that they are often made of natural beads, although I do have a plastic set. Fingering stones, seeds or wooden beads brings a bit of nature to me and helps me feel more grounded. This is especially nice in the winter when it is difficult for me to get outside due to cold weather. Mantras can be as simple as one word, a positive projection statement or simple counting: 1,2,3, 1-10, 1-108 etc. I choose based on my mood, my topic of concentration/inquiry or gratitude/celebratory tone.
Whether you use a mala, rosary or other type of prayer bead, the best advantage to using one is the mantra repetition which quiets the mind. I don't know if you are like me, but the near constant jabbering of the talking heads of my minds conversation with it's self ...can drive me crazy, cause me to lose sleep and make me feel overwhelmed. That is when a peaceful round with my favorite prayers beads is just what the doctor ordered. The timer function of one round gives me a breather/time out as well, which is useful for stress situations.
Prayer beads or malas are an indispensable tool in the medicine bag of inner peace. They are simple to make, or you can use a favorite necklace or bracelet. Easily located and purchased as well, they are portable, functional and can be used whenever the need or desire arises. I wouldn't leave home without one, especially one with lots of good vibes japa. ;-)
Monday, February 18, 2013
It is important to have a few coping strategies when times get rough. Besides mantras, my favorite go to's are taking a few deep breaths, clary sage aroma therapy, and Rescue Remedy ( I am a big fan of flower essences). Another effective way to curb errant thoughts that I learned in a psychology class years ago is what I call a interceptor...it is a word or simple phrase that you use to intercept the thought and end it's course of direction. It's kind of like a football interception. I use the word Stop, forcefully- aloud or more often, internally. If I am still feeling vulnerable I will follow up with a safety mantra such as- I think only positive thoughts or You're very safe.
Using the interceptor or safety mantra is not an ostrich coping mechanism. I know we can't grow if we don't face our problems, but that journey need not be cast in a negative light. When I am feeling a bit more neutral and not so overwhelmed or helpless, I name my stuck places. Naming the areas of my life that bring up resistance or struggle creates signposts that let me see where the mud is deepest and my boots are stuck. It's that stuck-ness feeling that causes the talking heads to grumble so much, but naming, examining and acting- when and where you can, tames the talking heads, so you can continue along your path.
Things are easing up a bit for me over the last week or so and I have been able to sit in emptiness meditation again. Maybe it is the change in the weather. Soon it will be warm enough to sit in my garden and Earth without freezing my toes and the rest of me. Over the years I have found several ways to commune with spirit that engage, enlighten, and encourage me, but I also have times where just keeping my head up is a victory. Luckily my journey has taught me a trick or two along the way. I can't say that I am always on top of things, but I can say even when it seems very dark I know there is light just around the corner if I just keep going. I hope you can find your lightness as well.