One day I woke up and felt a compulsion to have a mala. Weird? Yes. However, I have learned to trust those kind of compulsions, they almost always lead somewhere wonderful.
I started googling, and found myself on Buddha Groove. Where I purchased my first mala. This gorgeous Rudraksha mala.
With my mala in my hand I did some research, some googling, some trying to figure out how to use this gorgeous thing. Here’s what I found.
What is a mala?
A mala is a spiritual necklace, a tool, to support and deepen your meditation practice. There are 108 beads on the mala, plus one known as the guru bead. 108 is an auspicious number. Each bead on your mala represents one repetition of your mantra.
How do you use a mala?
A mala is used in conjunction with a mantra. A mantra is simply a word or phrase you repeat. What’s fun about a mantra is it can truly be anything you want it to be, based on what you want for your practice. You can choose a sacred mantra that’s been around for thousands of years, such as Om Mani Padme Hum. I chose the sacred mantra Sat Chit Ananda (truth consciousness bliss) for my rudraksha mala after reading the book The Practice. Choosing a sacred mantra is really interesting because you end up connecting with not only your mantra, but all the people who have used it through the centuries before you. It is a very powerful option. Your mantra can also be an affirmation, I am patient. I am calm. Your mantra can be a single word. Love. Joy. Abundance. You choose your mantra, it is what feels good to you.
Because malas and mantras have been around forever and are so sacred it’s easy to get wrapped up in doing it “right”… but, really, the only “right” is the one that moves you and your practice forward.
I do suggest you use only one mantra per mala. Your mala will become infused with the energy of your mantra. It is wise not to confuse matters by using multiple mantras on the same mala.
When it comes to actually handling your mala the ugly head of “doing it right” can easily show up again. There are many long standing traditions when it comes to how to hold your mala, what hand to hold it with, what fingers to never touch it with, most of them are contradictory. So again, unless you are practicing a specific form of Buddhism, I’d say do what feels good, and moves your practice forward.
How to Choose a Mala:
Malas can be made from many different materials, including precious stones, sandlewood, wooden beads, and of course Rudraksha. It may seem like too many options to choose from, but I highly recommend you turn inward, listen to your inner guidance, it will not steer you wrong. What you need to deepen your practice will come through if you listen.
I’ve found I love having multiple malas. Each one has a different purpose. My rudraksha mala is used with my sacred mantra. My mala is very precious to me, and is used only for meditation. However, my second mala was purchased with a different intention. I am intentionally deepening my patience practice. I wanted not only a mala to use for meditation around patience, but also wanted a constant reminder of my practice throughout the day. I did a little research to find a stone that would support my practice, and had a mala made out of that stone. It is not only wonderful to meditate with, but it is also exquisite to wear during the day. When I begin losing patience I find my fingers lightly playing with the beads, running them through my fingers. As I touch the beads, the mantra for this mala appears in my head. I am patient, filled with love. I am pulled back into the feelings I have during meditation, calm and peaceful. It helps diffuse my impatience, and support my patience practice. The longer you meditate with your mala the more deeply you will be connected with it.
Will my mind still wander?
Yes. Absolutely. You’d think if you’re silently repeating a mantra your mind would be able to stay put, but it simply isn’t true. It’s really no different than if you’re counting or focusing on your breath… your mind will wander. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s to be expected. That’s what your mala is for, to help remind you to come back. Come back to the mala, come back to your mantra. No matter what kind of meditation you’re doing, that really is the “work”… to keep coming back, gently without judgment. I am sometimes stunned that I find my fingers still moving, and yet, I’ve managed to plant my entire garden in my head.
There really is something wonderful about connecting with a mantra and a physical representation of your practice. Holding something in your hand, feeling the smoothness or the roughness of the beads, letting yourself go, falling into the repetition and knowing you won’t get lost because your mala is keeping track for you… it’s really quite magical.
Are you using a mala? Have questions? Share your thoughts below.