One of the things that came up in our first conversation was the use of a mantra. Let me take a moment to summarize my thoughts on this and lay out the “homework” associated with it.
For me, using a mantra a simple, effective, and straightforward way to shift from narrow mind to spacious mind (mochin d’katnut to mochin d’gadlut in Hebrew). Both minds or dimensions of consciousness are operating all the time, so it isn’t about getting something you lack at the moment. Rather it is about allowing narrow mind—the defended and often defensive ego—to be surrendered into the greater reality of spacious mind. When this happens, the fear, anger, arrogance, and ignorance in which narrow mind often becomes trapped, simply drops away. And when it does, forgiveness happens.
Remember at the heart of my approach to forgiveness is that forgiveness isn’t a willed act, but a gift of grace that arises of its own accord when we shift from narrow to spacious mind. The exercises associated with the Challenge are about exploring narrow and spacious mind rather than a self–help check list for forgiving self and others.
The conscious repetition of a mantrum (mantra is the plural) slows our breathing, unclenches the body from its reactive stance of fight or flight, and allows us to see what is rather than be caught up in thinking about what is. When we see what is, we see that we are all, as Randy mentions, caught in our own traps. These traps cause us to act in ways that are hurtful and often harmful. Seeing the trap is the first step (and maybe the only step) to freeing ourselves from the trap.
When I was initiated into the Ramakrishna Order of Advaita Vedanta by Swami Swahananda, Swami gave me a mantrum. When I learned Centering Prayer from Father Thomas Keating, I was encouraged to find my own mantrum. When I learned mantrum practice from Eknath Easwaran, I was again taught to find my own sacred word or phrase. Judaism, too, suggests you find your own mantrum. I use the one taught by the 18th century Hasidic rabbi, Reb Nachman of Breslov: harachaman.
Harachaman means “The Compassionate One,” and its root is rechem, “womb.” Compassion arises naturally (along with forgiveness) when we recognize we are all sisters and brothers arising from the Womb of God or Reality. I repeat harachaman throughout the day. The chant I taught you added the word hareh, “to see or behold,” but harachaman works perfectly well all by itself.
Harachaman may sound too alien to you, and you might want to find your own mantrum. Please do so. According to the rabbis you should recite your chosen mantrum daily for forty days. If you make it through all forty days, the mantrum is ingrained in you and begins to recite itself even when you aren’t aware of it. Of course there is no way to know if that is true, but the idea is that the mantrum is always readily at hand for you recite consciously and slip out of the trap whenever you find yourself ensnared.
If you don’t stick with the mantrum for forty days, the rabbis say this is your clue that you are using the wrong word; find another.
What I love about mantrum repetition is that it is an experiment whose results are visible. Whenever you find yourself tightening up, resisting what is rather than opening to it and learning to navigate it with grace, humor, courage, and love, recite the mantra and see if the shift happens or not.