Mantras Have Come and Gone. Meditation Remains
By Mimi Simmons
Sitting in meditation has been an almost daily part of my life since about 1975. I began with Transcendental Meditation, sat in silence twice daily for 20 minutes, repeating the mantra I was given. I attended a few lectures and occasionally, when one of the people in the TM community asked if someone was a meditator, if the person in question didn’t use the TM technique, they were not judged to be a true meditator. I was not comfortable with that limited definition but I continued to use the TM technique.
Do I always slip into or stay in meditation easily? No. When my mind is busy with other thoughts, I gently bring my attention back to Breathing In, Breathing Out.
A few years later, I attended a weekend long Siddha Yoga retreat. Their approach to meditation couldn’t have been more different. While the TM instruction was to never say my mantra aloud and never share it with anyone, the Siddha Yoga people welcomed us to speak their mantra, sing it, share it, write it on our walls. Use it however and as much we wanted. As I left the retreat, I wondered which mantra I would use in my daily meditation. I decided to let whichever one appeared in my mind, when I sat down and closed my eyes to meditate, to be my choice. The Siddha Yoga mantra stayed with me. I’m sure I was influenced by the contrast between styles – one freer, one more exclusive.
Years later, after much reading and exposure to various systems, I began using a simpler mantra. I repeat the words Breathing In, Breathing Out silently in my mind, coordinating them with each slow, relaxed breath. This one has had staying power.
Do I always slip into or stay in meditation easily? No. When my mind is busy with other thoughts, I gently bring my attention back to Breathing In, Breathing Out. Pretty soon I notice I’m thinking again and, again, I bring my attention back to the mantra. This zigzag pattern repeats, like a leaf riding back and forth on air until it reaches ground – thoughts, mantra, thoughts, mantra - until I’m sitting without thoughts in the ground of my being.
The key for me is to approach the busy brain like a patient, loving parent with a young child walking on a path. The child’s nature is to see something off the path and to want to wander. The parent’s job is to keep gently bringing the child back to the path.
If my mind is particularly busy, I visualize an infinity sign stretching out in front of my face horizontally. Breathing in, I watch my breath loop toward me and up, then loop away from me and down as I breathe out, following the shape of the infinity sign. This visual image seems to give my mind one more thing to focus on, distracting me from other thoughts, helping me transcend thought.
I look forward each day to this practice. To sit in silence and aim myself, over and over, toward simply resting in awareness. Timeless, restorative being.
I was born and raised in Colorado and moved to the Northwest in 1970. I was in private practice as a massage and movement therapist for over 40 years and began a movement therapy program at Fairfax Psychiatric Hospital. I also worked with PCC Community Markets from 1978 to 2017, helping to build a culture of respect and understanding. I am now retired and live in the beautiful Skagit Valley with my husband of more than 30 years. I still meditate to balance my mind and be able to live in greater patience and calm. May I be a loving witness to our lives and our world.