A spiritual practice that can be very helpful during times of workplace stress and uncertainty is that of repeating a personal mantra. Mantras can reduce stress whether the issue is a minor hassle or a crisis large enough to generate outright fear. There is something about the right mantra that:
- Puts a crisis into proper perspective
- Connects us to a deeper reality
- Helps us to refocus and act with greater effectiveness
What is a Mantra?
For our purposes, a mantra is defined as a short phrase or series of words used in prayer or meditation or in other spiritual practices. Sometimes we hear the term used more generally as a phrase that reminds one of an oft-repeated principle or goal (e.g., “our mantra is that the customer always comes first “), but in this discussion, we restrict its use to its originally and more spiritual meaning.
People sometimes think of mantras as Hindu or Vedic, and in fact the word itself originates in Sanskrit; nevertheless, all of the major religious traditions –including Christianity– have their own variations of mantras.
The Psychology of the Mantra
In some cultures the sound of an adopted mantra is highly important. Rhythm, alliteration, and rhyme can all contribute to the effect. For some, it is exclusively the sound that is important, not the meaning of the words. This sound can have a magical connotation in the mind of some people with the sound itself believed to affect the spiritual world (and hence pseudo-magical incantations such as hocus-pocus or abracadabra), but in other cases, the sound is seen not so much as magical but as having a psychological effect on the hearer.
There are eastern spiritual teachers who even recommend mantras in a foreign language that the meditator does not understand so that the meditator does not become distracted by the meaning of the words. In the West, and within Christianity, the meaning and devotional aspect of the words usually take precedence. The sound can make a contribution, but the meaning of the words is primary.
Most mantras have three to eight syllables, though they can be longer. As an example of a longer version, some people use the words of the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) as a mantra.
Selecting a Mantra & Reducing Stress
A short, memorized passage of scripture can also be used, as can any other phrase that has meaning to the individual (e.g., “praise God,” “thank you Jesus”). It helps to have a mantra that has been used frequently and has become a habit, but as a practical matter the first use of the mantra will often be during the crisis itself.
Within the Christian tradition, mantras are usually directed toward God as a form of prayer. Consequently, one’s concept of and attitude towards God plays a key role; maintaining a benevolent God image is important for the psychological effectiveness of tools such as mantras.
One example is, “Thy will be done.” Its power arises from the way it addresses and turns one’s attention towards God and then reminds us of eternity and of a greater, more powerful reality. The rhythm or cadence of the syllables also seems to contribute to its calming and refocusing effect.
Whether or not you are going through a time of stress at this moment, I recommend that you take a few minutes and select a mantra for your own use as a way to relieve stress. Considering a favorite passage or expression might lead to some possibilities.