One of the reasons I enjoy living where I do is that I am surrounded by nature. From my window, I overlook the garden’s shrubs and flowers, the lawn sweeping down to majestic trees, and the gently rolling hills of woodland beyond. Birds congregate in the trees and at the bird feeder, deer and foxes are frequent visitors, and on occasion hedgehogs can be seen. I truly relish this tranquil environment.
Well, I did relish it until earlier this year, when a reconfiguration of flight paths for one of the UK’s main airports changed my experience of tranquility. Planes began flying at low altitude straight over my home in their final approach before landing.
After the initial shock, I felt disbelief that this could happen, and then I was angry. My mind then became completely locked onto the issue. I listened as my mind relayed constant and detailed commentary on the level of noise, the altitude of the planes, and even the time between flights. I’m not sure if there was more noise resounding within or without!
After a day or so, I realized two things: my reaction to this change in my environment was consuming nearly every thought, and the situation was not going away. It was clear that in order to reorient the focus of my mind, I needed to take action. I recalled that in Sweet Surprise 2019, Gurumayi taught that connecting the mantra with the movement of the breath would support the mind in returning to its true nature. I had been meditating with the So’ham mantra, following Gurumayi’s instructions from her Message talk, but at that moment I perceived I could also apply this teaching to support my mind in this situation.
Inspired by this insight, I immediately made my way to my favorite chair and gently said to my mind, “This constant agitation is just too uncomfortable. We have to change focus. Why don’t you join me as I repeat the mantra?”
I began by focusing on my breath, coordinating ham with the in-breath and sa on the out-breath. Almost immediately I felt the breath become slower, more even. Gradually I felt a gentle release. I closed my eyes and saw an image of a dense cluster of threads made up of strands of energy hooked onto one another. I understood this was my mind in that moment.
As I continued to focus on the breath and repeat the mantra, strand after strand released itself. The cluster became less opaque as strands of energy dissolved into the light of the mantra. As this was happening, my body, which I hadn’t realized was tense, also relaxed. I continued to focus on my breath while repeating the mantra for some time, and my inner state changed from turmoil to stillness. As I gradually moved out of this meditative state, I was once again aware of the intermittent noise of aircraft. However the noise was now on the periphery of my awareness as my mind remained quietly focused on the mantra.
This experience vividly demonstrated to me the mind’s ability to hold tenaciously to its object of focus, whether it is negative or positive, and in this way define the quality of my experience. Just as I had become anxious and restless by constantly thinking about an unpleasant situation, I brought my mind to a space of profound quietude by repeating the mantra with focused awareness. As I reflected on how calm and still I felt when the mind rested in the mantra, I understood that I was having an experience of my mind’s true nature, which is pure Consciousness, the Self. So, in order to support the mind in returning to this space, I decided to consciously bring the mantra into my daily activities.
The first activity I chose was my daily hour-long walk with my enthusiastic dog, a border collie called Maggie. To begin, I invited my mind to join me in repeating the mantra with the breath as we walked through the nearby countryside. I brought to my mind’s focus the meaning of the syllables of the mantra—I am That, I am the Self. If I found my mind wandering, I just returned to focusing on the breath and repeating the mantra.
Over time, through these daily japa walks, I have been cultivating an experience of inner stillness. Out of that stillness often come inspirations or insights—sometimes an answer to a lingering problem or a question for contemplation. At a suggestion from a friend, I now take a small notebook with me for jotting down a word or drawing so that I don’t forget these insights as I return home.
I have also noticed, as I continue with this practice, that I am more in tune with the natural world around me, more aware of the life-affirming beauty of the trees and the ever-changing surroundings as the seasons move along. Sometimes I just stop to be with the moment and relish my connection with nature as it generously shares her blessings. On one such occasion, as I looked up I found that just above me, on the lower branches of an ancient oak tree, a charm of goldfinches were flitting silently from branch to branch, the dappled sunlight catching their gold and red feathers. Sweet joy fluttered in my heart, and I could feel the mind sink even deeper into the mantra.
Very naturally, mantra repetition has spilled out into the rest of my daily activities and practices. When situations occur that could take me out of balance, I find that my mind is becoming lighter and more flexible: it notes the circumstances, identifies what requires my attention, and then returns to the mantra. It is no longer interested in wrapping itself around an emotion or thought. It is happy in its repose.
Planes continue on their flight path. My mind continues to follow the path of the mantra to the heart, and I experience expanding levels of tranquility as I continue studying and exploring Gurumayi’s Message for 2019.