Filling the Wild
With Mantrams

By Jamie

Stories From Meditators

Jamie is a longtime meditator and outdoor enthusiast, living in Yellowknife, Canada. He eagerly applies his mantram to his wilderness excursions and shares how this application consistently deepens his connection to the natural beauty around him.

On one of my first BMCM retreats over twenty years ago, while studying a map showing satsang groups around the world, I spotted a bright silver pin, all by its lonesome, stuck in my home town of Yellowknife, Canada’s northernmost city. That truly was a thrill. Then I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of wild country to fill with mantrams!’

Om mani padme hum… Om mani padme hum…

As an avid naturalist, paddler, biker, hiker and skier, I spend a lot of time in the bush, as we call it, and have indeed done my best to sprinkle a few mantrams wherever I go across the northern boreal forest and arctic tundra.

I find that the mantram is a wonderful outdoor traveling companion for many reasons.

There are its wonderful calming effects that Easwaran so often pointed to. “The rhythm of your footsteps, the rhythm of the mantram, and the rhythm of your breathing,” he writes, “all harmonize to soothe and invigorate the body and mind.”

Through many adventures on the land, I’ve learned that my body was built for long, steady, rhythmic motion – as I believe all human bodies are – and that swinging my feet over a trail, pumping my legs on a bike, or thrusting my paddle into the water thousands of times a day is one of the greatest and cheapest and safest medicines around. It’s just so good for the body, mind and spirit.

I find that inviting the mantram into such naturally resonant experiences makes them all the sweeter. When my mind is quietly engaged with the mantram, I tend to see and appreciate more detail in nature – the unique serrations of a leaf, the graceful curve of a raven’s wing.

The same goes for all my other senses which are somehow enlivened in the company of the mantram – the tang of a wild cranberry, the flutelike song of a thrush.

Occasionally, when assaulted by an undiluted blast of nature’s beauty – the ghostly swirl of the aurora borealis, the blinding radiance of sunlight dancing on the sea, the stillness of a snow-filled woods – when I am almost overcome by feelings of wonder and joy sparked by such experiences, I again lean on the mantram. Somehow it helps me appreciate such experiences more fully, more clearly, while adding what I can only describe as a glimmer of grace.

Om mani padme hum… Om mani padme hum…

Beyond helping me to deeply connect with the natural environment, whether paddling down an arctic river or strolling through an urban park, I find the mantram is also a great tool to pack along for dealing with the many challenges and distractions that arise from my inner environment.

With the wind at my back and the sun upon my face, as the old Irish blessing goes, I find that the mantram is usually close at hand, often kicking in by itself, as it buoys me along through the wilds. But bring on a howling headwind, an unexpected dump of rain, or a bruising stumble, and my mind can easily forget the mantram as it takes off down trails of its own, dwelling instead on frustration, worry, pain, anger or fear.

If I can find the wits and willpower to inject even just a couple of mantrams into such challenging situations, I can usually reel my mind back in enough to find some measure of calm, or at least a little more focus, so it doesn’t “tumble out of the driver’s seat” as Easwaran would say, and make a bad situation worse.

The incident happened while our party of four was inching down a scree slope covered in jagged boulders. A friend suddenly lost his footing and suffered a nasty spill, slashing a deep cut in his leg.

It was late in the day, with a snow squall stirring up from the valley below. We had only meager first aid supplies as the hike had been billed as just a casual afternoon jaunt. We still had a two-hour hike ahead of us back to the car – and that was with all of us on two legs! We were well beyond cell phone range to call for help, and even if we could, we knew a helicopter rescue would be impossible on the steep slope on which we crouched. Meanwhile our injured friend appeared to be slipping in and out of consciousness.

After doing our best to stabilize our friend on the precipitous trail, the question for me was, could I stabilize my mind against the tide of anxious agitation I felt rising within me? Then I remembered how, in any first aid situation, the caregiver’s composure is critically important to the patient’s wellbeing – and I reached for my mantram.

Om mani padme hum… Om mani padme hum…

After just a few silent repetitions, I was able to calm down enough to keep our friend talking while my ever-steady wife rifled through her pack, looking for anything to treat his gaping wound: a few butterfly bandages, some adhesive athletic tape, an extra pair of long underwear to wrap around the wound.

I kept the mantram going – or should I say it kept me going! – as we carefully patched up our friend, propped him up with trekking poles, and got him hobbling down the trail to safety. Later my wife told me that she too drew heavily on the mantram throughout much of this incident. Mantram to the rescue!

After decades of taking the mantram to the bush, in both the good times and not so good, I still don’t know how it works. Whether helping me to connect deeply with Mother nature, or to keep a level head when she throws a curve ball at me, all I know is that it works. As Easwaran so often said, “Try it yourself.”

The outdoors is a wonderful place to engage the mantram, a practice I took to like a duck to water during my first BMCM retreat in Tomales so many years ago.

Silently repeating my mantram with a group of fellow meditators, I strode barefoot along Dillon Beach, dodging the surf and secretly looking for Easwaran’s footsteps in the sand. He too relished taking this practice outside, walking swiftly down this very beach, offering countless mantrams to the wind and the waves and the gulls wheeling overhead in the fathomless sky.