Mindfulness: What 'mala beads' taught me

I have recently taken up a particular sitting meditation practice using ‘mala beads’ and a silent mantra. Mala beads are small wooden cedar beads, interspersed with a few glass beads, strung together and finished with a bead cluster and tassel. There are 108 beads on each string. With the eyes closed, the beads are held between two fingers and the thumb of one hand. The start is the first bead after the tassel. The fingers and thumb move along the string and a new bead is encountered. This focuses the mind on a specific small physical and tactile activity, along with the mental activity of mantra repetition. It is considered an active concentration technique.

In my practice this morning I decided I would chant the manta once for each bead I came across. My mind was busy with day to day thoughts and concerns when I started and it took some beads before I was fully aware of what I was doing. I noticed I hadn’t finished the short mantra yet I had the next bead in my fingers. I decided I would slow it down and breathe in/out with the mantra and the bead. Then I noticed that I had the next bead before I had finished a complete breath. Then I decided to breathe in with one mantra and bread and breathe out with another mantra and bead. This I could do but then I wanted to get to the end of the string!

This meditation has taught me a lot about my anxious mind and its energy. It is never with what is. It is constantly jumping ahead, finding new options. Energy has to go somewhere after all. Yet despite this, I felt myself gathered together, more peaceful or integrated on some level, whilst aware that I had moved around. These different parts of the self-are there all the time. The part of me that managed to observe the process is the ‘observing mind’. This is what meditation or mindfulness really encourages us to connect with, or find. It does not mean that the other parts of us cease to exist. The observing mind can see that there is anxiety, some emotional turbulence; it can see and feel the body at the same time, ‘witness’ thoughts as well. That we can see these parts, know they are there, is significant. This is the complexity of human experience. With consistent practice and deeper concentration, some insight may come about what to do with it.

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