A friend, colleague, and fellow mental health nurse introduced me to Easwaran’s eight-point program in 1988. She knew I had been looking for a daily spiritual practice. One day, she handed me Easwaran’s book on meditation and said with such firm conviction, “Read this!” that I didn’t hesitate! Meditating on inspirational passages made so much sense. I started with the Prayer of St. Francis and found that every word resonated deeply with my desire to truly become an “instrument of peace.” As a result, I found myself becoming more patient, compassionate, and forgiving.
Jill, a mental health nurse, shares her own process of choosing and using a mantram, and describes how she has integrated this powerful tool into her work with her patients.
Experiencing the Benefits of the Mantram
The idea of repeating a mantram, however, wasn’t as appealing to me at first. It seemed a bit odd and foreign. I procrastinated in choosing one because I knew I would have it for the rest of my life. As I began repeating it, however, I found it to be simple and satisfying. Over time, I noticed that my mantram became like “an old friend.” It was comforting, soothing, and always there when I needed it! Slowly, over about a year, I began to notice that the low-grade, chronic anxiety that I had come to live with, had gradually disappeared. It was very subtle and liberating! I was amazed! I attributed this entirely to the eight-point program.
After attending a few retreats at BMCM, I became more aware of the profound elegance and brilliance of Easwaran’s eight-point program. I learned how all eight points are seamlessly integrated and enhance each other. For example, I realized I could strengthen my one-pointed attention every day whenever I repeated my mantram with gusto. This ability to focus attention on the mantram could then be transferred to everything else in my life! I noticed how I could more easily re-direct my attention to other things, like improving my communication, relationships, work, leisure time, etc. The eight points tremendously enhanced the quality of my life!
Integrating Easwaran’s Teachings Into My Work
Back in the early 1990s I was practicing the eight points as best I could. As a mental health nurse, I had the opportunity to teach some of the eight points to people living with HIV/AIDS. At that time, there were very few resources for these patients and an AIDS diagnosis was considered a death sentence. It was Easwaran’s idea to ask some volunteers to develop a short course which emphasized daily passage meditation and mantram repetition to manage symptoms. Over the course of just eight weeks, participants reported amazing stories about how helpful the tools were in helping them manage symptoms and distress. Ultimately, I had hoped that everyone who participated would become a life-long meditator.
To my surprise, however, that wasn’t the case. Most of the students later reported that although they could not sustain a daily passage meditation practice, they all said they were still using a mantram and loved it! They reported amazing stories of using mantram for insomnia, while waiting for lab tests, and to help them cope with fear and anxiety every day. Because of this feedback, I wanted to teach these tools to everybody. But I knew there would be skeptics in the scientific community who wouldn’t believe these stories without empirical evidence. So after I returned to graduate school and earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing, I began to study the effects of Easwaran’s teachings on health outcomes in veterans and employees. It started with small groups of veterans with HIV and chronic diseases. Then, one day, a veteran raised his hand and said, “Since using the mantram, I’m not having posttraumatic stress dreams anymore!” Wow! That caught my attention! After that, I started studying the effects of mantram, slowing down, and one-pointed attention in veterans with PTSD. The results are pretty remarkable and can now be found in the scientific literature.
After all these years, my mantram has become my “staff of life that carries me through every ordeal,” as Gandhi has described. My mantram is repeated almost effortlessly and is always in the back of my mind. Having a mantram is like having a close, dear friend, and I never feel alone. I am so grateful for Easwaran’s wisdom and how his portable, practical, and powerful tools have relieved suffering for so many, including me!