What’s Your Mantra?


In in-between moments on 42nd Street, I used to play a silly game with myself. Nothing to do. No place to go for a while, I would linger. Busy New Yorkers dashed and darted by in serious shades of gray and blue as I sat on the bench, my legs moving idly back and forth, back and forth. The whole world would rush by in front of me and entertain me with their harried faces. Out of the stream I would pick one face from the crowd. Following gesture and gait, I would guess, “What’s her mantra?” Then another, “What’s his mantra?” Playfully amusing myself for some time before I, too, had to leave the oasis of bench and slide myself into the jostling flow.

We are always reciting our mantras. We are always praying.

Truly every time we express joy, we are praying. Every time we judge another, we are declaring that judgment to the universe. Each time we act with an intention of cruelty or kindness, we are communicating our intention to the divine. One great prophet said that the Father always knows what is in the hearts and minds of His children, even before we ask. The mystery knows even before we speak. She knows even if we do not know—We are always praying.

While Saint Paul bids the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing,” he forgets to add the word consciously. Ordinary unconscious thinking has density to it and causes us to remain within the weight of ignorance and suffering. But sacred conscious thinking infuses loving vibration into our lives. Spiritual masters from all religious traditions use sacred communication in the form of prayer as a way to purify the heart and mind. Far from mechanical and perfunctory, however, what we seek in our prayers is a spontaneous and invigorated conversation with the divine, whatever that may be for each person. Prayer is—as Thomas Merton puts it—a conscious realization of the union that is already truly present between our souls and the divine.

If, indeed, this gracious union with the mystery already exists, if this divinity truly permeates my cells, lives in my heart, dwells in my mind, then I must ask myself—What am I consciously and unconsciously communicating to the divine with my thoughts? What is the prayer of my heart? What are the words that are spoken on my lips? How do I voice this in the way I hold my body? And interact with others?

What is my mantra?

And if, just maybe, I can wake up to the thoughts in my own heart and in my own mind, I may be able to raise my ordinary and habitual language to the heights of sacred poetry.