Healing With the Mantram

By Susan

Stories From Meditators

Susan, a passage meditator in Woodland, California, shares how her practice of the eight points helped her heal a difficult personal relationship and find peace at the time of her mother's passing. She also describes some creative ways to use the mantram.

My relationship with my mother has always been a challenge. As the only child born to an emotionally brittle mother, I was under persistent pressure to be, in many ways, a “mini me” who validated her life with my own. As I matured and began to express more and more of my individuality, she became increasingly critical and bitter. I gravitated further and further away geographically until finally we were on opposite coasts of the United States. Years of therapy and self-help books taught me to set boundaries and let go of guilt, but maintaining a connection with her was never easy. Our infrequent visits were too often fraught with me eventually losing my temper followed by her heaping tears of guilt upon her ‘uncaring’ and ‘unappreciative’ daughter.

As she became physically frail in her old age, my phone calls and visits became more frequent. By this time I had begun practicing the eight points but I struggled with following Easwaran's advice to draw closer. Her conversations consisted of hours of emotionally charged resentments dating back 70 or 80 years but, in her mind, as outrageous as if they had happened yesterday. She drove away her friends with her negativity and stubbornly refused any type of in home assistance; I was all she had. Somehow I had to find the inner strength to rise to the situation and meditation was not enough; it was going to take all eight points to do it.

Mantram walks were great for burning off my frustration, but due to physical limitations, I couldn't always take a walk. Then I was introduced to mantram art at a retreat. (Mantram art is creating shapes and colors that form a picture or pattern through repeated writing of the mantram. Mantram art can be created from scratch, or by working within a preexisting form, such as a mandala coloring book.)  This became a powerful practice for me. I did it before each phone call, and many hours of it before and during every visit. I tried to slow down and listen to her with one pointed attention, but when I could no longer keep it up, I pulled out a notebook and wrote the mantram while her words washed over me, looking up for occasional eye contact and making sympathetic noises. She never asked what I was writing; I suspect she thought I was recording all those complaints!

My husband was a powerful help as well. Although he doesn't practice the eight points, he is familiar with Easwaran's teachings and supports my practice. He wisely insisted that we rent our own place to stay during our visits. He could often see when I was at the end of my patience before I could, so he would invent a reason to go back to our place for a while, knowing I needed to practice my mantram or meditate or do some spiritual reading. He gave me encouragement to keep practicing when I was discouraged about my progress, and reminded me that tomorrow was another day. Meanwhile, my mother began to say that her daughter was 'back' which I think in some way meant that she saw me as being more patient and kind towards her.

Susan's mantram art.

Progress was not smooth. There were a lot of ups and downs, and once or twice I had a full practice day at the motel while my husband was with her because I just couldn't find the strength. But I began to see her as a very insecure, lonely, scared person beneath all her resentments, and was able to feel moments of compassion for her suffering, even if she did bring a lot of it on herself. Twin Verses became a passage I used frequently in meditation during those years: this passage has a powerful message that we are what we think, and that by changing our thoughts we can change ourselves. I fervently prayed that I would not follow in my mother’s footsteps in my own declining years, but instead gain the wisdom to remodel my own thoughts in a much more positive and loving direction.

At age 92, my mother's physical decline became very steep. As she became weaker and more dependent, feeling compassion for her was easier. She no longer had as much energy to fuel her resentments and she became more appreciative of our support. It was easier to be slowed down, one pointed, and patient with her. Eventually, her body failed to the point where she had no choice but to be placed in hospice care in a nursing home. At 63 pounds and unable to swallow, refusing a feeding tube, she wanted to die, but her body somehow could not stop clinging to that last ragged scrap of breath.

She could not speak. I remembered that she had sung to me as a baby, and to my daughter as a baby as well, so I sang to her. I sat by her bedside for that last week, singing my best guess as to what her mantram would have been, had she had one. I made up songs about letting go, flying up, any understanding I had gleaned from my spiritual reading and my passages that might ease her journey. I sang for hours every day. And in her dying, she gave me the gift of a tiny glimpse into that next world, and the chance to finally be fully with her, simply present and filled with love, all the heartache gone, like dust in the wind.

Now I hope that my practice of the eight points will purify me, removing my impatience and my judgements and my resentments, so that I can go into my declining years able to share love and appreciation with those around me. My mother was my mother for a reason; my deep unconscious patterns (samskaras) are a perfect fit with hers, and, I hope, a perfect chance to grow beyond them through the diligent use of these precious eight points.