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Anatomy of a Mala: Why Each Part Matters May 02, 2017 11:41

I recently had a friend of mine ask if she should include a tassel on a mala that she had created.  I explained to her that the tassel is an incredibly important component of a mala, and that I have never designed a mala without one.

Each aspect of a mala has a specific, significant role. Together, these parts create a holistic system and tool for generating awareness, bliss, and peace. Understanding the role that each part plays can add more meaning to your personal japa, chanting, or meditation practice.

A mala is much more than beads on a string. It’s a garland that doubles as a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention.  Just as we infuse each bead with our intentions with each recitation, we create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

The Thread:  "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds everything together.  The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Cosmic Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.

The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends. These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.

The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger. They prevent the beads from rubbing together and cracking over time; however, they also represent life's challenges—a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life.  They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.

The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit.  The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness or awareness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way. These blessings and challenges lead us to find our ultimate teacher and climb that intimidating peak of awareness one step, one bead at a time.

The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together.  It represents our connection to the Divine (whatever that means to you) and the interconnectedness of all beings.  It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.

 Consequently, a mala is much more than a collection of beads strung together. It represents the compass on your journey as a meditator or practitioner, and it connects you to all other beings who are finding their path, in their own way, one moment, one circumstance, one bead at a time.  

 


One Breath, One Bead at a Time. July 04, 2016 16:04

The Zombie Apocalypse is real. For 25 years, I taught high school English. For many of those years, I felt trapped in a perpetual cycle of planning lessons, creating tests and essay assignments, grading papers, and attempting to manage and meet the academic needs of students crammed in over-crowded classrooms.  I often felt confined by the clock and by the ever-present and perpetually-increasing demands that a data-driven system thrives on—the almighty standardized test scores.

I felt stressed—all the time—and I spent very little time in the present moment.  This constant striving, doing, rushing, pushing, and grasping for the future or ruminating and worrying about the past kept me from meeting the needs of my students and taking care of myself. It also kept me out of the present moment, and it prevented me from enjoying my life. My students never really knew who I was—and neither did I.

For a quarter of a century, I was caught up in a trance, and yoga and meditation gradually helped me break the spell and encouraged me to find balance and purpose in my life.

My first experience with yoga and meditation occurred when I was a freshman at Butler. A guest speaker came to our Physical Education/Health class.  My fellow classmates and I were crammed into a small classroom/storage room, and many of us giggled our way through the guided meditation followed by a brief asana practice in the gym.  This was not an ideal environment to explore the benefits of meditation and yoga, and it certainly didn’t leave a lasting or accurate impression on me.  

I revisited meditation when I was pregnant with my daughter in 1994, and in 2000, started regularly attending a yoga class at a local gym. Progress was glacially slow—but gradually, very gradually, I started to find a respite from the 10,000 distractions and thoughts that blocked my path, and I started to connect and reconnect with myself.

Stilling the constant mental chatter in meditation was a big challenge in the beginning—and still can be at times, even now. But with consistent practice, and, ideally, after an hour of asana practice, it’s much easier to climb inside the present moment.  Memories, thoughts, and feelings still rise to the surface, but it’s easier now to briefly acknowledge them, allow them to drift away in order to make room for the spaces between thoughts.

Yoga, too, has helped. It has helped me focus on my breathing—and to bring my awareness out of the mind and into the body—even for just a little while. Yoga also allows me to sit more comfortably when I’m meditating—and to sit for longer periods of time.

In recent years, I have added a mantra practice with malas to enhance my meditation and yoga practice. Using a mala gives me a tactile anchor that keeps me rooted and grounded in the here and now.  Each bead becomes a fresh focal point, a new beginning, ushering in a new moment. Each inhalation, each exhalation, each repetition of the mantra welcomes now, and now, and now.

 Ultimately, my yoga and meditation practice has saved my life—it has helped me find balance and perspective, and it has prevented me from falling off the precipice of perpetual busyness and disappearing into the abyss of the living dead.

I’ve since retired from teaching full-time. I still tutor part-time, and working with students one-on-one allows me to give them my undivided attention—to be fully present.  I also teach and practice yoga, and along with running a small business, I still remain very busy, but I am no longer a slave to busyness.  I am living my life on my own terms, and I am living my life one moment at a time—one bead at a time.