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The Five-Year Experiment Has Reached the Critical Phase

In the beginning, there was no experiment. I just had a self-defeating habit.

The background noise in my head tended to be negative. If I wanted to do something, I could only think of reasons I couldn’t or ways it would turn out to be a disaster. If I embarked on a project I could only think of reasons I would fail. If I was expecting a friend who was late, I’d convince myself they’d been in a car accident. There was very little I couldn’t turn into a dark, obsessive thought pattern.

I tried affirmations, but didn’t, couldn’t, keep them up. I had trouble believing they were anything but silly and ineffectual.

There was no plan to experiment when I attended a short mantra workshop put on at Nokomis Yoga in Minneapolis. I only wanted to be able to explain mantras to my yoga students better.

I learned much I didn’t know about mantras, very little of which I can tell you now (because I don’t remember). The thing that flicked a switch for me was the instructor’s statement, “When I’ve been practicing a mantra long enough, I find myself reciting it almost unconsciously.”

After that casual comment, I committed to mantras. Maybe mantras could help me break the negative thinking habit.

Part of the attraction was the structure and rules: First, the mantra must be repeated 108 times a day. This meant that I’d be able to tell when I was finished which was very helpful at the start. Second, the mantra must be repeated those 108 times every day until you’ve repeated it 100,000 times. That comes to slightly more than two and a half years—though the teacher had said it would take three. Of course if you do 108 repetitions three times a day the 100,000 mark becomes significantly closer—and also embeds the mantra in the brain much sooner. The idea that I had to start over if I missed a day triggered rebellious impulses, but it acted as the stick to keep me at it.

I started with the Ganesh mantra, “Om gam Ganapatayei namaha.” Not too far in, I had to restart which strengthened my resolve exponentially. Also, after a few weeks I started the three times a day regimen. When I was sick, I cut back to once a day, but I didn’t miss another day. And at the end of the year…hmmm. I could feel the darker thoughts at the edges of my consciousness, waiting to creep in, and I realized I needed to keep going.

I switched to the Lakshmi mantra, “Om shreem MahaLakshmiyei namaha.” I liked that one a bit better and repeated three cycles of 108 every day for another year. I found that the times between the official repetitions were also filled with that mantra before too long. At the end of that year, it just felt somehow wrong to…stop. I felt emptiness yawning before me at the thought of stopping, though the nibbling darkness didn’t seem so close at hand.

Then I remembered an affirmation quatrain I’d invented a few years before. It doesn’t matter what it was. What made me happy about it was that it had a catchy little tune and it was four times as long as the mantras I’d been repeating. I cheerfully began singing my little ditty to myself, well aware that it would take me the full three years (as I thought it was before I did the math for this article) to complete my 100,000 repetitions.

An additional benefit of the quatrain is that I had to concentrate more to get through it, focus more of my consciousness in order to get the job done each day, because it was far too easy to forget which line I’d just sung (to myself). This meant I definitely felt relief when my three years came to an end.

That was in June (2017).

Whoooo-boy. It wasn’t hard to give up the quatrain. It was hard to give up the chanting. I found myself repeating the Lakshmi mantra unconsciously. I took a moment to pay attention to that phenomenon and I realized that my next challenge was to learn to give up filling my internal space with…anything.

Fear. Oh yeah! That’s it. Paradoxically, that is what all the negative thoughts at the start of this journey were covering up. Fear of being totally present in every moment of my life. I think I thought I was working toward having all positive thoughts going on during down times. But that’s not where I ended up.

In reaction I drummed up a couple of physical issues to focus on: I banged up my knee falling off my bike and contracted a persistent cough that turned out to be asthma (which I’ve never had before). Both arose from not paying attention to what I was doing and what could arise from that inattention. Sigh…

Between the two of them, they gave me an excuse to keep on with the mantra to avoid being present with the pain and discomfort. Every time I thought about being present and conscious of the difficulty breathing, the fear of ending the mantra intensified. I found that the pain of walking to work with my injured knee was mitigated by repeating the mantra. I also realized that my awareness of the world around me (gardens, birds, and butterflies) was essentially blocked out. Hmmm.

The knee pretty much cleared up on its own, but the asthma—not so much. So last week I grudgingly began to be a little bit present with my lungs. I gave them fennel seed to cut down on the coughing and I found some herbal products to work on the health of my lungs. Better now.

I realize that I really do need to face the challenge of silence. This is the moment when my unrealized experiment reveals its results. What will the world be like without the background noise?

When I’m writing, that’s all I’m doing. When I’m doing design work, that’s all I’m doing. But when I’m doing something mundane like washing dishes or my hands, my mind likes to be doing something else. It’s happy to grab the mantra if I won’t let it have the candy of negative envisioning.

That’s why the experiment has reached its critical phase. Everything else has been preparation for this next part. I’ll try to see it as finding out whether the Mars Rover can actually navigate Mars or whether Cern can create the god particle. Wish me luck.

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