Mantras for meditation 

I recently went for a meditation retreat, and rediscovered the effectiveness of mantras.

A mantra is basically a phrase or combination of sounds, which one repeats mentally. It’s very useful for walking or breath meditation, and is especially useful when one is mentally distracted, say, due to emotional turmoil or the usual daily frazzledness. I understand that Transcendental Meditation focuses on using the mantra “Om”, and some Tibetan traditions use “Om Mani Padme Hum”. But personally, I find that such mantras don’t really work for me, because I don’t really speak Sanskrit.

For me, what works are short phrases in English with a clear meaning which help still the mind. A few that seem to work for me are below:

  1. “Let. Go.”
  2. “Good. Enough.”
  3. “I will die. That’s for sure.” (This is taken from my teacher Ajahn Brahm)

You can try and experiment to find what works for you. Notice that each mantra has two halves: this is intentional, so that one can synchronize the first half of the mantra with the in-breath, and the second part with the out-breath. Or you could synchronize the first half with the left foot when walking, and the second half with the right foot.

Let….go…..let….go….

One might feel a bit silly at the start, but as it progresses, it is interesting how the mantra actually serves as an instruction to the mind, and plants the seeds for eventual stillness. Possibly because it’s even true.

I will die…. That’s for sure… I will die…. That’s for sure….”

When the mind gets to a level of stillness, feel free to let the mantra go and just focus on the meditation object. A good indicator is that you feel that there are too many things going on, and that you are getting distracted between the mantra and the meditation object: then gently just shift your attention to the meditation object.

Good…..enough…… Good ….. Enough…..

And no matter what you’re experiencing at that point in time, it’s good enough. Enjoy! 🙂

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The Age of Distraction

I’m attending a corporate training course for managers for these two weeks. One interesting fact that I learned was about just how distracted we really are these days.

A lecturer (for our communications module) shared with us that, when she first came to Singapore ten years ago, she was informed by a colleague at the National Institute of Education that the average college student’s attention span was a mere 20 minutes. Now, it’s apparently as short as 5 minutes.

When I heard that, my mind was blown: that’s a drop of 75%!

I’m sure this is possibly not helped by all the extra distractions, especially now that we’re in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, and other apps demanding our time. From my personal experience during the course, when the lecture gets boring, suddenly my emails become interesting. And I switch my attention to that. Before switching my attention back to the lecture again. And that’s not counting for the times when my Whatsapp notifications got my interest.Don’t we all do this? Yes: we switch our attentions from our Whatsapps to our wives, from our memos to our colleagues.

The cost of all this switching, though, is that our minds are increasingly “trained” to have shorter attention spans, and this is impeding our ability to focus and get deep work (a new concept I’m reading about from Cal Newport’s book) done. The Stanford psychologist Clifford Nass spoke about it here.

And let’s be honest: our corporate cultures aren’t helping. Most companies and knowledge workers these days have an unspoken expectation that (a) knowledge workers should be constantly connected via Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp etc., and (b) that they should quickly respond. The end result, though, is a churn of never-ending emails and messages, which often impede rather than enhance quality work. So it was with some interest that I read about Leslie Perlow’s research with BCG, about how forcing BCG consultants to disconnect seemed to have a beneficial impact on their work.

I’ve two thoughts from my readings thus far (still finishing Newport’s book):

  1. In the wider context of the Age of Distraction, it’s even more important to be able to consistently unplug (from all the noise) and to train one’s attention to be in the present. The ability to meditate thus could become an even more important skill in this day and age.
  2. It takes some time for the mind to settle into any task (hence, the major cost of multitasking is that some of the “residue” from the previous task interferes with your current task; Newport’s book reports that it takes around 10 mins to settle into a new task). I think this applies to meditation, and it means that one should ideally train to be able to sit for at least 10 mins (in order to experience one’s mind settling on the meditation object).

I’ll update further after I’ve finished the book.

Focused

Focus!

Seeing Things in a Different Way

Seeing Things in a Different Way

Quite recently at work, there was an interesting incident that, to my mind, betrays how desire and emotions bend our perception.

  • A colleague went up to our senior management with a proposal.
  • Our senior management gave a whole bunch of comments and input, requested for the colleague to make changes to their plan, AND requested for my colleague to return with the revised plans.
  • My teammates who sat in that meeting were quite amazed when, after the meeting, our colleague commented, “OK now that we have gotten senior management endorsement, we can proceed with the plan.” My teammates took a bit of time to convince them that it WASN’T senior management endorsement, and that they needed to rework the plan.

I admit that I laughed out loud when I heard the story. But after that, when I paused to think about it, who hasn’t been guilty of exactly the same thing i.e. hearing what you want to hear? Who hasn’t read more into a sentence or email than it merited, or heard more into a bosses’ criticism/praise than it originally meant?

Our emotions are the lens which distort how we see the world. That’s why it’s so important to first get still and calm before making any decision. And that’s why certain spiritual traditions focus so much on meditation and prayer, in order to see things as they truly are rather than what we want them to be. As my teacher once pointed out, people who are angry are often searching for an excuse to justify their anger. They are hearing for provocations, rather than truly listening.

As work becomes increasingly white-collar, it’s ever more important to be able to double-check our perceptions, and to validate our perceptions by asking questions (of ourselves, via reflecting and meditation) and polling people. This is especially the case as we work our way up the hierarchies, because the higher you go, the less you get to hear what really happens but more you hear what people want you to hear. Also, the higher you go, the more damaging your wrong perceptions can be. 

So I’ll leave you with a question: which recent conversation you’ve had, could you possibly have heard what you wanted to hear (or seen what you wanted to see) instead of what truly happened?

Resistance 

I’m currently reading “The War of Art”, which is about the challenges of overcoming one’s internal challenges i.e. Resistance. 


This was the paragraph that caught my eye, as something completely representative of most people’s attitude towards meditation: 

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalise. We don’t tell ourselves “I’m never going to write my symphony”. Instead we say “I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

Substitute “write” for meditate!  
Also, 

Rule of thumb: the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. 

Word. 

Ten is better than One, One is better than None

I meditate whenever I come into the office, usually for 25-30 mins. 

But there wasn’t time today, due to a last min urgent meeting, which was happening 15 mins after I came in. 

Initially I thought of skipping my meditation. But then I reminded myself, even if it’s just one breath today, that’s also okay.

After all, ten is better than one, and one is better than none. This is the case for number of breaths or minutes.  

And so I sat, with my noise cancellation ear buds and eye shades, for a nice 10 mins. It wasn’t super deep, but nonetheless was pleasant enough to enjoy moments and breaths where the thoughts disappeared. 

Then the alarm rang. Back to work, but refreshed and mentally clearer than 10 mins before. 

[Thanks for reading and wishing you well. :)]

On letting be

When I meditated today, my mind was not settled. After setting the mental “guardkeeper”, my mind went on a journey of fantasies, jumping from the present into the past and leaping into the future. Over time, it gradually settled on the meditation object of the breath.

Out of the blue, it went from settled, to a thought about work. And it stayed there for a good few minutes, as it also went along, generating even more thoughts.

My mind then abruptly came to a halt, noted “those were thoughts, and not the object to focus on”, and the mind very naturally came back to the breath.

The interesting thing is that this was done automatically, without any force. How did that happen?

As my teacher often says, if one acts like a dictator to one’s own mind, the mind will tend to rebel. But if one is kind and gentle to one’s own mind, and lets the mind naturally experience the gentle pleasure of meditation, over time it is very easy to gently re-direct the mind back to the meditation object.

Why? Because the mind has tasted the pleasure of stillness and letting go. Then there’s no need to force, just like there’s no need to force a hungry cat to eat cat food. 🙂

On really being here

On really being here

I’ve started a mindfulness course at work (which I’ve titled “Mindfulness@Work”), which I’ve used to download what I’ve learnt over the years as a meditator, and to share best practices.

An interesting thing happened on Wednesday, when we did the “mindful listening exercise” (which I took from Chade Meng’s Search Inside Yourself, which is incidentally a very good book which I highly recommend for beginners & working professionals). For those who’ve not done this, the mindful listening exercise involves 3 mins of just listening, with acknowledgement & nodding, without any interruptions whatsoever.

After the class, I asked if there were any comments/feedback. The first comment that came about was from a young man, who said, “It feels unnatural. It’s like, when you hear someone say something, you naturally want to ask a question but you’re not allowed to.”

Me: OK. So when you’re thinking of a question, are you listening?

Young Man: Yes, yes, I’m able to do both at the same time… but I can’t ask the question. Can I?

Me: No, you can’t. But let me ask, can you really do both things at the same time?

Young man: Yes!

Me: Actually, there are studies that show that you can’t really multitask, but instead your mind is just switching very quickly between tasks. (In fact, even just #2secondglance could make a huge difference when driving, as per the latest driving safety campaign video.)

So, when you say you’re both thinking the question and also listening, let me ask: are you listening to what’s being said, or listening to the question in your head?

I think that got through to him, because he then went “Hmm”.

So, are you really listening, or are you listening to the voice in your head?