"We become the stories we tell ourselves”
I want to tell you a story.
Handed down from another teacher life has handed me - a sweet snippet of a gift that has lingered with me since he left it.
IT was a lesson on the question of Mantra - in the yogic tradition, believed to be the sacred sound(s) or combination of sounds and verse that contain the seeds of immense spiritual or psychological power.
I grew up in the church-goin', Bible-toutin', Conservative-leaning pocket of California. On Sunday we offered up our hymns and sang His praises. We opened the Good Book and read the words aloud. We were taught specific language to conjure the presence of the Lord. Passages of scripture toelucidate the mind and set our paths right back upon the Straight & Narrow Way.
When I was older, my Mother would continue this tradition of holy verbagethroughout the discourse of our workaday rhythm. Were I to request an afternoon playdate with another girl from my (also Christian, private) school, my dear Ma would extoll the virtues of "gathering in fellowship" or express joy at the "communion of saints" displayed in miniature, attending to the sacred task of positioning Barbies just so inside their bright pink dreamhouse.
She would greet us with Jesus songs in the morning. Rousing us from our slumber with strains of "This is the Day that the Lord Hath MAde" tumbling from her open mouth, putting her second cup of coffee into the full service of her Creator.
Some people rely upon parenting books to inform the words and ways they impart to their children. Mine took it straight from the Gospel Source. Were I to let loose with a little youthful vitriole, my Mother, God's servant, would vehemently remind me from high atop her perch at the top of the staircase, "Thou shalt honor thy mother and father!" Catapulting the gravity of the KingJames language down to where I stood. In my teenage years, she would root her feet into that same, righteous ground and remind me that in the ancient times before our Savior's birth, children were brought out into the square and stoned to death were they deemed too disobedient or strong-of-will.
When I fumbled into the auspices of the yoga world - with its hushed voices and hands folded sedately in a posture of repose - or lifted up in the form of a prayer - a throng of expectant faces turned questioningly - welcoming the outpouring of wisdom from the lycra-clad human at the front of the room.... Well. So much of this foreign topography felt oddly just like home.
And yet... not. The sweetness and reverence for the human body - a notion totally at odds to my spartan upbringing, which tended toward a spirituality which moritifed the flesh. The secular appeal of it - drawing in everyone from the practiced Buddhist looking to deepen their contemplative toolkit, to the brawny football player who just wanted to stretch his hamstrings and nurse an old shoulder injury. A place for all.
And mostly, one finds, you can happily float away on that wave. Carried by the rhythm of sweat and breath and camraderie and athleticism and funky-little-monkey tricks that keep you coming back for more.
And then one day, without you asking, your beloved teacher drops the bomb of Mantra in your lap.
HEre, she says.
HeRe are these Sacred Syllables which you cannot pronounce of nebulous origin, which awaken the latent Kundalini-serpent energy coiled at the base of your spine and are said to invoke the energies of the goddess Lakshmi and unleash the attritubes of Wealth and Beauty into your Life.
And as the Sacred Syllables were put forth, there were only two which my head offered in reply:::
If EsTablished Anything can manage to leave an imprint on a soul, it is to engender a distinct disliking and mistrust for anything handed down, "As the Word of God".
HEre. Take this.
Don't question it.
Don't ask me what it means or where it comes from or what's intended by it or why we do it all this way.
Put it in your mouth, swallow it down and spit it back out.
Just like that.
I spent years seated politely upon my mat, doing the little "mouth Wa-ter-mel-on silently until it's over" schpiel.
There was enough good to be found here, I reasoned, I could patiently wade through this little puddle of nonsense for a spell.
It wasn't until a kindly teacher, by the name of Don, broke it down for me, that something suddenly clicked inside my heart::
"What are the words you have to spell in front of your dog?"
"Think about those words that are so powerful, you have to choose just when to use them in the presence of your doggy pal."
"Think about the word 'walk' or 'beach'. If you have a canine, you know how much you have to use those words with care. How you can change the entire energy inside their bodies - inside the room - by uttering those sacred sounds.
Their breath starts to deepen. Their pupils dilate. Suddenly, they've gone from forlornly seated on the floor, inching toward sleep into -Bam! Ready for action. Alert and spry. In eager anticipation of what's to come!"
And I had to admit, he got me there.
Don went on to explain that Mantra, shrouded in all its Eastern-origin mystique, boils down to little more than this.
Simple words or Phrases repeated over and over again - to awaken something deep inside the heart.
Something as simple or exotic as you choose.
Something all your own or a treasure you've borrowed.
"Yes. No. Hello. Goodbye.
Om Namah Shivayah. Me Ke Aloha. Hallelujah. Amen.
Thank you. F*#k you.
I can. I can't."
Our words have power. Regardless of the language in which they are spoken.
What matters perhaps is not even the words themselves. It's the frequency. The repetition and the rhythm that you build inside the thing.
Just as you can summon visions of gleeful saltwater skirmishes and sweeping vistas of sand on which to run and bray - inside the swirling canine confines of your four-legged friend's mind... you can summon powerful energies inside your own heart and mind - and inside those around you.
"I love you." "I hate you."
"We can do this."
"I just... can't."
Our language doesn't have to be ancient or borrowed from a holy text.
But it does wield power.
And perhaps the greatest gift that Don unleashed for me that day was theability to acknowledge my own Strength. The nuggets and tools I carried inside. No matter what tongue I chose to utter them in.
If I repeat a thing often enough.... I am slowly uttering - ushering it - into Life.
May these words land in the soft spaces inside you where they can bloom and take flight.
May they carry healing.
May your own words rise up from the wisdom you carry - and may the stories we tell - draw us to the Light.