John Main describes the first task of the mantra as “to bring those surface areas of the mind into harmony with the deeper peacefulness within.” (Awakening 1)*. There is always a deep peace within us. The more we live with our attention at the surface of consciousness (our self-consciousness) the more out of touch we can be with this deep peace. How long this first task of the mantra takes is not important. What is important is that we meditate with a growing faithfulness, steadily growing in our attendance to the mantra. The fruits of our attending grow in us and in our lives as we journey into this harmony between the surface and the deep.
As this harmony grows, what John Main describes as “the second task of the mantra” begins to take place: the mantra can begin to stir what lies in our psyches’ shadow. The energy we have used for years to repress fears, guilt, and painful memories begins to shift. What was in the dark of us begins to move into the light of our awareness. It is not uncommon for meditators to feel in these times feelings that they have not felt for some time (years, perhaps going back into childhood), or perhaps to feel more intensely feelings that they have been feeling for some time (anxiety, for example).
For many, this shadow experience is part of the meditation pilgrimage into a conscious awareness of the union we all share with the Divine. If we are to consciously experience in the ordinary of our lives this union, then what is in the shadows must come to light, be named, and in this way be integrated. The ‘oneing’ of our psyche with the Divine life cannot happen without this integration of consciousness. In fact, in a very real way, the oneing is this integration.
As this integration happens awareness of the Divinity within us becomes a conscious experience. The words of St. Paul come alive: ‘It is not I who lives, it is Christ who lives in me.’ We experience the mystery of who we most deeply are as we lose self-consciousness more and more in the light of Christ consciousness as it rises though our shadow’s fading dark. Our consciousness, in time, becomes Christ consciousness. This becoming is a work of God that in no way compromises our uniqueness.
As this process happens energy is released from the project of repression that is the cause of the shadow in us. This energy then becomes available for life and for loving. It becomes easier to be and participate in love. We discover a new normal, that is, we encounter our original normal.
This second task of the mantra can take decades. It can never end.
As this integration is happening we continue to say the mantra. It is the mantra that facilitates the integration. It helps us to experience and name what is coming up for us. Sometimes this is done in and with peace, sometimes not.
Attending to the mantra may be a challenge at times, especially if we are encountering strong feelings and painful memories. Compassion for ourselves may require that we stop meditating as these feelings and memories come up. It may even mean that we seek psycho-therapeutic help and/or assistance from a wise spiritual companion. What is important for the meditator is that we ultimately remain faithful to what grace is doing in us through a gentle re-giving of attention to the mantra sooner rather than later.
In the words of Fr. John
Just say the mantra and keep saying the mantra. This is what will free you from the bondage that prevents the majority of people from praying with absolute freedom. It will free you from the chains of your own repressed fears and anxieties that are the principal cause of those surface distractions. That is why this form of prayer is of such immense importance, because it frees you from those compulsions and the chains of guilt and fear. (John Main, Awakening 1).
This is an important point: the “principle cause” of our surface distractions are our own “repressed fears and anxieties”.
What is happening during this second task of the mantra is the eradication of the deep inner roots of our distractions. As this happens the noise, bustle, and hyperactivity of the external world loses its hold on us. The external world’s ‘points of purchase’ in us fade because our repressed fears and anxieties are fading in the light of Christ and our growing integration. We are experiencing Jesus as the ‘divine therapist’ (to use the description used by Thomas Keating).
What is happening here is nothing less than the transformation (or salvation) of the whole of our psyche. For this transformation to be ongoing what is required from us is a growth in the giving of the whole of us to this ongoing transformation. Divinity has given everything, God’s whole life, to this transformation of us and all creation. To be a full flowering of this divinely inspired transformation we too must give our all to it. In this giving is our greatest happiness because we are made to be conscious manifestations of Divine Love in creation. Our attending to the mantra is the giving of ourselves to this process of transformation.
However, as we attempt to give ourselves to this process of transformation, we soon discover that we cannot do it ourselves. We need God to help us give ourselves to God. We come to experience our own inner poverty in the form of ego fear, stubbornness, and pride. In time though attending to the mantra becomes not only our practice of giving ourselves to God, it also becomes our practice of dependency on God.
As this giving and dependency grows we discover a God of unconditional love restoring to us our birthright: a life of free, loving, and creative adventure. The trust we grow in enables God to restore us to ourselves.
This is the inner pilgrimage of meditation that happens as a stable practice grows. The community at Meditatio House is committed to assisting the establishment of this stability in every meditator who meditates with us. We know and are coming to know these stages of the mantra from and in our own experience.
* The full transcript of Awakening 1 is available here from the WCCM website (2014).