Beginners in meditation often find it difficult to concentrate. They quickly become aware that the mind is a busy place, with thoughts of all kinds coming and going. Concentrating on the breath is a challenge.
Concentration is even more difficult for people who have a problem such as anxiety or depression. Anxiety does not have to be clinically certified in order to make concentration difficult. Even a mild tendency to be anxious can make it harder to concentrate. Now consider the double challenge of being an anxious beginner. Cards are stacked against you, even though you need the benefits of mindfulness meditation as much as, or more than the next person.
Songs are helpful in this regard. Many of the songs I use have short texts that are repeated like a mantra.
By “Mantra” I do not mean syllables uttered in an ancient language in order to develop esoteric powers.
For me, mantra means using the power of music to stick to the ear as an ear worm in order to remind me of practice basics or essential truths—in in our own language. Thich Nhat Hanh sometimes speaks of mindfulness as a guardian angel sitting on his shoulder. Imagine for a moment that the guardian angel has become a songbird. For me, a mantra is what the guardian-angel-turned-songbird sings in my ear. If the melody is of the kind that I can’t get out of my ear, then, such a mantra mimics concentration, and lets me practice for long periods on end with little effort and much pleasure.
BE HERE NOW is an example of a mindfulness mantra in this sense. However, without a melody, it does not stick to my ear. I need to use concentration in order to keep it in mind. Concentration has always been considered as the twin sister of meditation—if BE HERE NOW is just a fleeting thought, it does not make much difference in the focus of my attention. I have to keep it in mind, or be mindful of it with each breath for it to make a difference. This takes concentration.
Using songs is a unique and powerful way to move your meditation practice forward.
Music is used in all spiritual traditions. “There are heavenly palaces whose gates are only opened by song,” said the Baal Shem Tov. It is the core of Music Therapy, a discipline taught in many universities. In Mindfulness songs I have brought streams coming from different sources together to create a new support for effective meditation.
Another powerful reason for using songs as an aid to meditation practice is the fact that they address both sides of the mind—they address the emotional mind as well as the cognitive mind. As the words keep the cognitive mind engaged, the melody works its magic, and reaches deeper layers of our consciousness.
Sing these songs while you walk or while you work. Having a practice song continuously in mind goes a long way towards keeping our mental state positive. It is a reminder.
There are a number of practice songs on the BOOKS tab under Finding the Blue Sky, and Buddha’s Book of Meditation that you can use in this way. Download them to your portable device, and take short 3-minute meditation breaks during the day, in the bus or train, in the coffeeshop, or as you take a walk outside. This will prevent you from being overwhelmed with stress. It will help keep you connected to a meditative space as you go about your day.