“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 58: The Chew Toy Mantra for Dog Lady Meditators

I'm two weeks into a wonderful meditation class taught by Rebecca Rivers, who began her professional life as an ecology professor at St. Lawrence University, where I teach English.  She is a full-time yoga and meditation teacher now, but her years as a professor taught her how to find the precise language to reach every kind of student.

For the Type A student in meditation class, the witty, overloaded-with-responsibility publicity writer with four kids, she knows how to make her understand that she is still accomplishing something major, and life-transforming, whenever she meditates, even when she feels frustrated by the perambulations of her very busy mind.

For the widow going through grief (my dear friend taking the class with me) she offers complete acceptance.  When she talks to my friend she has a way of looking and being, in her expression and her posture and her voice, that allows my friend to simultaneously witness and experience her emotions without being inundated by them, and meanwhile still get all the calming benefits of meditation.

For the brainy and physically active man with the sports injuries from his earlier life as a rower and avid bicyclist, she helps him move through the pain as he settles into his posture, and she can speak in a way that addresses him both as a cerebral person and a doer.

And for the dog lady in this corner, she knows how to speak dog.

"The average person has 600,000 thoughts a day," she said.  "And I'm talking about an average person without a higher education.  Everyone in this room has far more thoughts than this.  And we only need about 600 of them."

We all smiled.  We knew.  We had each had 300 thoughts in between the beginning of the sentence and the end.

"But that over-active mind is like a puppy," she said.  "You don't want to punish the puppy for being so hyper-active.  You just need to give it a chew toy."

Then she told us we were going to meditate this week using a mantra, which is the best chew-toy for the mind she knows.

I have never been attracted to the mantra form of meditation.  It has always seemed so seventies.  I picture George Harrison doing TM in India, and even though George was my favorite Beatle, he was the next-older generation, and in the seventies my two mantras were a) I have too much homework and I'll never get into college if I don't get it done and  b) pass the joint.

My other reluctance to using a mantra was that it seemed so hard-core-eastern, like the thing you can't do correctly until you find a guru.  I came to meditation first as a way to quiet my mind and help me focus better on my writing and tame my anxiety and cure my insomnia.  In other words, I came to meditation as a westerner.  So it's taking a plunge to say that I'm on a spiritual journey.  I know that in my heart, but I don't often say that out loud.

My other resistance to the mantra form of meditation is that I thought it would tire me out.  I overtax my throat muscles daily as someone who lives in the realm of words.  It's not just that I talk a lot, but that I read my work out loud when I write, at least silently in my head.  So it's like I give myself mantras all day, just in life.  To balance things out, I've always gone the other way with meditation and chosen images, color moving up my spine, pictures in my mind of flowers and trees, to rest my voice and the verbal center of my brain.

But last night, Rebecca gave us a three-syllable mantra, Shiva-ham, (the ham is pronounced more like "home") and I had only said it a few times in my mind when I felt a sensation wash over me of complete relaxation.  It was like taking a warm bath.  And then I felt sensations of pure good energy--waves, then smaller pulses--move through me.  I didn't want it to end.

Rebecca had said that the mantra would be like a chew-toy is to a hyper-active puppy.  She was so right.  But the best part of it was that my jaw went completely slack.  I just floated for a while, and I think I drooled on my sweater.

I rode home on that wave of relaxation where my dog was waiting for me.  She sat beside me as I wrote this, waiting for me to empty my mind of the last of the day's quota of thoughts so that we could go upstairs to sleep.

Namaste, gentle readers.  Namaste.


  1. a relaxed jaw? Getting rid of facial tension? excellent.
    Eee-Eeew- the sound a squeaky chew toy makes

  2. actually, at night lately my heart stays ramped up and my body way more active than I'm used to- so I put my energy with my heart and chew on "I love you." All other thoughts fall away, I relax more, and then I am asleep.

  3. oh, and the "you" is everyone, all the people I love or all the people whose hearts are beating or all the people I love whose hearts are no longer beating. It feels like a good night kiss to the world.