On the worst day of my life, the day I found out that my Mom had stage four colon cancer and went in to emergency surgery to remove a baseball size tumor, I roamed the halls of the hospital aimlessly with my brothers for hours on end. It seemed like forever, and it also seemed like a sliver of a second. Nothing made sense; things like this just didn’t happen to us. Not my mom. Please, God; not my Mom. I was shell-shocked, gripping tightly the entire day to the rosary beads that my Grandmother left me the week before when she passed away.
This particular set of rosary beads consists of beautiful, iridescent beads, chained together with silver. My Grandfather gave them to her as an anniversary gift. They were the second set of rosary beads that my Grandparents had given to me. The first traveled every where with me, always within reach. My Grandparents, Mom-Mom and Mucka, were devout Catholics, and would say the rosary together daily. If you wanted a certain job or a house, or if anyone was sick, they committed to getting in God’s ear with a Novena. Seeing them carry out this ritual was intensely sacred. The would sit near one another, set their eye glasses next to them, close their eyes, and begin to chant Our Father’s, Hail Mary, and Glory Be’s as they moved their fingers over the small beads. One would start the prayer, and the other would finish. I would sometimes join them, finding myself in a realm of sweet surrender; as though the petitions of prayer were giving me a direct line to the Divine. It was meditative and holy. It is also an act that I identify as faith, and one that connects me to my Grandparents.
My Catholic upbringing still plays an important role in my spiritual life; after all, as the Dalai Llama says, if you are brought up Catholic, you will always be Catholic. However, in my personal spiritual evolution, I have adopted additional philosophies and ideas. The two that are most prominent in my spiritual practices are Buddhism and Yoga.
Mala beads have become a sacred object for me. I loved the idea of combining my meditation practice with running my fingers over beads to count out a sacred number, just like Mom-Mom and Mucka. When I read in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love that malas are the predecessor of Rosary beads, I was sold.
Malas have 108 beads, and shorter versions have 54 or 27. 108 is a mystical number, with numerous meanings related to both the spiritual and the cosmic. The extra bead on the end is called the Guru bead, which indicates the end and the beginning.
A mantra is repeated for each bead. In Hindu tradition, the necklace is draped over the middle finger with the pointer finger (which represents ego) out of the way. The thumb swipes the bead clockwise while chanting the mantra, and then presses the bead away. If the mantra is to be repeated more than one round around the mala, it is traditional to turn around at the guru bead, and go back from where you came .
Materials vary; Gemstones, bodhi seeds, and tulasi wood all fit the bill. It is beneficial to use a mala of consistent bead size and texture to ensure a less-distracted practice.
Mantras are up to the practitioner. One may use an affirmation, a prayer, or even a sound. Using the beads helps to keep count, offering a deeper mediation. As you proceed through the beads, you may find that the mantra goes to the background. If you are saying the mantra out loud, the sensation of vibrations may become more prominent. Filling your mind with the mantra creates a singular focus, which helps to discourage the mind from its incessant movement from one subject to another.
An example of this may be to simply say, “I am loving awareness,” or “I am grateful.” For more complexity, you may enjoy Metta Meditation in conjunction with your beads. For each bead send love to yourself, send love to a good friend, send love to a “neutral” person, and then send love to a difficult person. Then move to the next bead and do the same. Create benevolence 108 beads at a time! For more traditional mantras, call upon Ganesh with “Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha.” Use what works for you.
My mala beads and my rosary beads are certainly a sacred tool in my mediation practice. Give it a try if you haven’t already!
Also by Jessica: 5 Steps to More Mindful Parenting
In Meditation: My Vipassana Meditation Experience
How to Use Crystals for Daily Inspiration
Photo: Jessica Riley-Norton