Mantra Strength: Omer 13

Mantra Strength: Omer 13
Lines of coloured light swirling around a woman, illustrating a post about how a mantra can teach you respond to a swirl of feelings.

Yesod. Foundation. Gevurah. Judgment. Yesod she’b’Gevurah. Foundation of Judgment

What are the foundations of judgment? Are they feelings? Beliefs? Can we free ourselves from old foundations? See the world anew? And then learn to make kinder, gentler judgments?

Apparently, this is a big question right now. There’s a hot academic debate about “affect theory.” Here’s a summary, quick and oversimplified.

Emotions aren’t really raw. They are bodily feelings, interpreted. Social context, recent thoughts, future hopes shape them. But—maybe—there’s a split second before the interpretation happens. And the raw affect exists. For a moment. At least, that’s what the biological researchers say. But the philosophers disagree. Raw affect cannot exist.

Well, I don’t know the ultimate answer. But I do hope that we can be more free. Learn to notice what arises in our experience, before we interpret it.

So that we can choose not carry it down an old path lined with negativity. But down a new path instead.

Recently, I had a great conversation about this with a colleague. He is a spiritual teacher in a Hindu tradition. One mentor taught him a powerful mantra. “If you chant these words,” the mentor said, “you will never again erupt in anger.”

So, we talked about what it means to “chant a mantra.”  We identified four levels of “chanting.” 

First: Chant it out loud. Learn it. Sing it out. Memorize it. Feel its rhythm in your body.

Second: Chant it in a whisper. Watch your behavior. If you find yourself expressing anger, remember the mantra. Whisper the words and calm yourself.

Third level: Chant it in your thoughts. Observe them. For example, when you feel irritated, where do your thoughts go? Do you leap to blame others? If so, think of the mantra. Use it as a counter-thought.

Fourth level: Chant it in your feelings. Before your anger even arises. But you can’t make this one happen. It comes after you’ve used the mantra well. Eventually, the mantra chants itself.

But the Omer’s not about theory. It’s a practice of cheshbon hanefesh, self-accounting. Or, if you wish, inner accountability. So, how have I lived into this teaching?

Here is one example. Professional jealousy. Especially in the age of social media! Everyone looks so successful. Their posts and bios are so impressive. And here I am, four decades into my career. I’ve worked so hard! So, how can others outrun me just using fancy pics and videos?

I could spend hours a day worrying about this. But the worries change nothing. They just keep diminishing me in my own eyes. Leaving me sad and anxious. Run down and hopeless.

So, I’ve adopted a mantra. It’s not an original one. I learned it from some Buddhist writers. Here it is: May you be happy. I practiced at the first level, repeating it a few minutes a day. Then, at the second level, whispering it when I felt jealous. Next, at the third level, I saw it pop up as a counter-thought whenever I felt jealous. As if my mind itself were now patterned to say, “Don’t think that, Laura. Think this!” And now—not always, but often—I hear of a colleague’s success and I feel happy. And my first thought is: how nice for them!

Look, it didn’t come easy. But somehow, I slipped under the foundation of my judgment. And I built a new foundation.

Today is day 13 of the Omer, one week and six days.

New to the Omer count? Here’s a primer.

  1. For thoughts of true worth… The Eternal One created the universe and everything in with one of His thoughts and described it in a few sentences. How do we know it was one thought? He doesn’t do iterations, He “declares the end from the beginning”. And He said ” I have loved you with an ever lasting love”… “I know my thoughts toward you, they are for good”. And it was recorded as an eternal truth “how precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” Ps 139:17, One thought a universe, and He is thinking about you.

    1. Beautiful! A reminder that it is all there, waiting for us to discover—or maybe have it revealed to us, as we remove layers that block it from our view.

  2. One Thought ….
    … and 10 utterances (Pirkei Avot, chapter 5) !

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