N.B. As part of my 'slowing down' on the blog writing there are two posts today!
See below for 1st one 'to be or not to be.......'
I am coming around to the view that repeating the thought 'I,...I,...I,' is best reserved for self-inquiry rather than for general meditation upon an object (body/energy/breath). The reason being is that meditation upon an object is still a focusing upon an object, whereas self-inquiry is a turning of the attention around 180 degrees to focus on the subject (the 'I' focusing on the 'I'). By saying 'I' we are invoking the feeling sense of 'I' which invites this 180 degree turn. Therefore mixing the two up creates the possibility of trying to look in two directions at once which will only lead to frustration.
The 'a meditation upon 'I' posting though is fine as it is not focusing on any other object than the thought of 'I' itself which may lead to awareness of the feeling-sense of 'I' or directly into pure awareness itself.
As for what mantra (mind-tool) would be suitable for general meditation purposes, then.......?
Mantra seems to be a precise and sophisticated science and I don't pretend to understand or be qualified in this field. Each mantra seems to invoke a particular quality of energy and therefore it would be important to use one which is in harmony with the individuals own energy patterns or constituition.
Having said that however there are mantra's which are generally considered to be universal and safe for everyone to use. For example, one sanskrit mantra of this category is 'Soham' (usually pronounced 'So-hum'). Soham is said to be the natural mantra of the breath; 'So' on the inhale and 'Ham' on the exhale. It is said to mean 'I am That' affirming our essential unity with the Higher Self - however you concieve that to be.
This mantra can be very well combined with the breath and an awareness, for example at the navel (cultivating the energy of 'embodied beingness'). Allow the breath to become deep and smooth and feel the rising and falling of the belly with the inflowing and outflowing breaths. Some meditators and martial artists focus on a point called the 'Hara' which is said to be two finger widths below the navel and two in. This is said to be the energetic centre of the body and is very much connected to the same energy as the navel. Find which one suits you best and stick with that.
This meditation can be enough by itself (for the time being) and will help to cultivate a very grounded, stable, centered and solid energy in your being. And, as previously mentioned, it can act as an excellent starting point for self-inquiry if one is so inclined - simply do the first for a period until you feel very well established in the experience and then proceed to the next stage. I don't feel there is a need to hurry to the self-inquiry stage and I know from my own experience that if one is going off in more abstract practices without a solid grounded foundation within oneself then it can lead to all kinds of difficulties in normal life (i.e. exasperating ungroundedness and uncentredness etc.).
A mantra in this context is a simple sound or word which acts like a support for the mind to help us to step out of the circular patterns of thought and into deeper aspects of our being. By giving the mind a relaxed focus, which we keep on easily returning to when attention wanders, awareness will naturally begin to sink towards it's own centre like a pebble in a lake. Don't throw the pebble in making a noisy splash! Allow it to be more as if the pebble is gently sliding off your hand at the level of the water and easily slipping into the lake hardly making any ripple.
Another 'mantra' I feel you could very well use is the word 'peace'. Simply don't think about the meaning of peace (contemplation), don't imagine peace (visualisation) and don't use the word 'peace' as an intense mental focus to keep off other thoughts (concentration). No, none of that, simply allow the word 'peace' to be a gentle focus which helps you to relax and settle into your own subtle depths where upon you will begin to experience real peace. And naturally the meaning association of the word itself will help to invoke the experience which will become stronger as you cultivate a regular practice.
One word of caution. Don't go on chopping and changing your mantra as this just creates conflict in the deeper levels of the mind and leads nowhere. By all means try a few out and once you've found one that suits you then stick with it. Don't be seduced by what special quality this mantra or that one might invoke. The central purpose of this meditation, and use of the mantra is as an aid, is to help us to become consciously conscious in the moment and centred in our own being. Once that is done then all of the good qualities and energies of Consciousness will begin to manifest by themselves. Therefore, there are several good mantras and each one would be as good as the other. Just choose a simple one that resonates with you and stick with it.
When I say resonates with you, that has as much to do with the meaning of the mantra as anything else. For example, someone with a Christian upbringing would probably feel uncomfortable using a mantra which is coming from or connected to the Hindu tradition. And for good reason as it will automatically create confict with all of the religious conditioning and beliefs of that person. Far better to use something which is in harmony with the existing orientation such as 'Amen' which would be an excellent choice. Don't even call it a mantra, call it a prayer or a word of peace which invokes the blessings and protection of the Divine.
On the other hand obviously 'Amen' may cause a conflict with an agnostic or athiest person! Taking a good look at at transcending the limitations of ones conditioning is a whole other topic but for now, if you want to engage with this form of meditation, choose a word or a sound which you feel comfortable with, both in terms of it's feel and it's meaning.
Shalom could be good for a Jewish person and Allah for a Muslim. Soham is pretty neutral, as is peace. Some people meditate without even using a mantra at all, perhaps just focusing on the sensations of the body/energy and/or the breath. The important thing is not the form of the meditation but the substance of it in helping us return to the centre. Try a few things out and see what suits you.
Happy meditating! It's good, you'll like it.................