The third characteristic of a mantra is that it is rhythmic. What this means on the practical level is that it has to be able to align itself with our breathing and hence all mantras for meditation consist of two syllables.
Our breathing exerts a great influence over our thinking. The more rapid and irregular our breathing is, the more difficult it becomes to concentrate or to think deeply. When our breathing slows, our capacity to think deeply increases. For example, take a person who has just finished some hard physical exercise and is breathing very heavily. If you ask them a question that requires some concentration you are bound to get an answer like: Hang on a minute while I catch my breath. Conversely, whenever you are deeply concentrated on any subject you will notice that your breathing has become very slow and regular.
The alignment of the mantra with our breathing has two principle benefits. First of all, it helps to naturally regulate and slow our breathing, which in turn deepens our concentration. Secondly, we develop an association between our breathing and the repetition of mantra which helps us to remember the mantra. When a meditator becomes accomplished in the practice of mantra they start finding the mantra going on with their breath even when they are not formally meditating. Their mind remains in a meditative state even while performing its daily activities. When they sit for meditation they find it easy to remain concentrated because the mantra is rising and falling with the breath. Almost no effort is required.
Now that we have some theoretical understanding of why mantras are so effective as an object for meditation let us look at how the daily practice of mantra affects our day-to-day thinking.
Your Mental Object.
Thinking, as we normally understand it, is an activity which involves a subject and an object. We can take it one step further, however, and distinguish between one’s mental object, the image you have in your mind of something external to you, and the object itself (bear in mind that concepts, such as fame or good health, are also mental objects). The thing your mental object refers to (that new car, your name in all the fashionable magazines) may not exist yet in reality. It may never exist. But the thought exists. Your mental object is quite real. This is indicative of what we talked about earlier, that thoughts are real, significant events involving movements of powerful energy. When the human mind, the mind which has invented and which controls nuclear weapons and space shuttles, thinks something, it is a tangible expression of the most powerful machine in the universe.
Mental Objects tend to become a reality.
According to yoga psychology, mental objects tend to become expressed in the external world. What we think about tends to happen.
If you think you’ll succeed, you’ll succeed. If you think you will fail, you will fail. Either way, you are right. — Yogananda
Indeed, nowadays there are few people who will deny the significant effects on our lives of a positive Self-image and a positive mental attitude, or the crippling effects of negative thinking. By thinking we are happy, healthy and successful, we tend to become happy, healthy and successful, and the reverse is just as true.
Coincidence? Or incidence?
You were thinking of someone when the phone rang and guess who was on the other end. You want to go to a concert but can’t get a place; suddenly a friend tells you he or she has an extra ticket to the show and wonders if you would like it. Has anything like this ever happened to you? Were these coincidences or were they rather small examples of the powerful connection between thought and physical reality? Meditators everywhere notice a startling increase in the number of such ‘coincidences’ in their lives after they start meditating. Whether it so happens that meditation speeds up the process by which thoughts are translated into physical reality, or whether it just makes us more aware of our thoughts and how they shape our lives, this phenomena points directly to tendency of our mental objects to find expression in the external world.
Let us examine more closely the pathways a thought takes to find expression in the external world. Suppose a desire arises in your mind. That desire activates your imagination. Your mind paints a picture for you of the desired object and, consciously or unconsciously, you visualise yourself achieving it. Spurred on by that power of that thought-wave, you apply your will power and determination towards the materialisation of your desire. This is the driving force — desire, imagination and will — which enables you to translate a thought into reality, though often most or all of this process is unconscious to you and you are only aware of your sense of surprise when you find your desire materialised.
Our desires can fail to find material expression for many reasons, but perhaps the most common is that the negative side of our imagination gets in the way, sabotaging our fondest desires. Our imagination has tremendous power and when this power combines with fear, or its counterparts — doubt, anxiety, worry, insecurity, anger, resentment — it can quash all positive expressions of the will. It is somewhat like driving with the handbrake on. Part of you pushes you forward while another part restrains you, and the result is a trip to the mechanic.
Meditation teaches us a style of thinking which is conducive to the synchronisation of our imagination and our will. We raise a positive wave (or mental object) in our mind and then exercise our will to move towards it. Whenever negative thought-patterns arise and threaten to pull us in a different direction we redirect our mind back to that positive wave, thereby training it to overcome the distracting or inhibiting influence of such thought-patterns. Through regular practice this style of thinking becomes habituated and starts reflecting in other areas of our lives, hence the common experience of regular meditators that they start finding their desires quickly and easily materialised in the external world. Of course, this is not always a positive experience, as everyone soon discovers. Often what we desire is not what is best for our growth, and meditators soon learn that they must exercise control over their desires for the simple reason that they so often come true.
This aspect of meditative practice has much in common with traditional and more modern schools of positive thinking, but with several critical exceptions. Rather than utilising numerous mental objects (for example, different affirmations) and thereby diffusing the mind, we meditate on one object and one object alone, which enables us to develop the full power of the mind. And that object is the subtlest object available, consciousness itself, which leads us to the greatest possible growth and expansion of mind. By a dedicated program of positive thinking we may develop a strong, positive self-image and a sense of well-being. We may even become rich or influential, if that is what we tell ourselves we will be, but we may not realise our inner Self.