In response to my post Can Christians Use a (Non-Christian) Mantra?, a reader posted this comment on social media:
As opposed to being an instrument of thought, when I use a mantra, which now being a Centering Prayer practitioner is rare, what it creates for me is a vibrational, harmonic integration with all that is. It is a heart symphony.
There’s a lot here to reflect on.
The practice of Centering Prayer invites us to use a “prayer word” to help us center into the silence at the heart of prayer. It is a gesture of willingness, of openness, and of presence. Part of what is lovely about Centering Prayer is that we are invited to let the prayer word simply fall away into the silence — if we then get snarled in the web of our distracted thinking, we can always resume prayer the prayer word.
But for someone with a measure of experience, Centering Prayer can easily take us to a place where we rest our attention on something as simple as the body, the breath, or even the silence itself.
Yet that is not the only treasure here. My reader invites us to think of mantras or prayer words as something other than “an instrument of thought.” That’s very instructive.
The challenge of resting our awareness on a prayer word — even a short, one-syllable word like “God” or “Love” — is that it’s still all too easy to get caught up in the word’s meaning, or what we associate it with, making it a short leap to all sorts of interior chatter that leads us away from the open silence that we are seeking to remain attentive to.
So just as the heart of any contemplative prayer practice is learning to set aside whatever thoughts may arise, we also are invited to set aside the “meaning” of the prayer word itself. It’s a beautiful thing to pray “Love” — but if we are meditating on what love is, what it means, how we encounter love through God, and so forth, we are engaging in a lovely spiritual exercise (what was classically known as “mental prayer”) but we remain distracted from the silence where we are invited to simply be love.
When we simply set aside the “content” of our prayer word, we are left with the simple vibration of the the sounds themselves — like “l”, “u” and “v.” Remembering that everything is, in essence, vibration, we can allow the prayer word to simply be a vibrational presence in our hearts, directing us not toward more mental chatter but rather toward the resonance of our mortal hearts with the One Heart.
Vibration is sound, and sound is music. So each recitation of the prayer word is a note in the melody of the symphony of our lives — what my friend calls “the heart symphony.”
Even silence is a note in this symphony. And of course, silence is the stage on which the orchestra performs; the hall in which the concert occurs, the air which carries the music to all who hear.