The tool of the mind
Posted on Monday, 1 January, 2007 | 26 comments
Columnist: Ken Korczak
This is the story of an ordinary young man from a small Minnesota town who used an ancient mystical tool to induce extraordinary, magical experiences. The tool he used is called a “mantra.” The word mantra is actually the combination of two Sanskrit words: “mind” and “tool.” So mantra means, “tool of the mind.”A mantra is simply a word or phrase which one repeats over and over again while thinking of nothing else. For example, you could choose the word “good” and then keep saying it over and over again for hours at a time. “Good… good… good… good.” It does not matter which word you choose, and some say a nonsense word is probably best. For example, you might use “La-Dee,” and say it over and over again: “La-Dee… La-Dee… La-Dee…”What happens when you do this? Well, if you can keep it up for many hours, even days, ancient spiritual masters of several traditions say it can induce a higher level of consciousness. It can also make your inner delusions, pain and psychological scar tissue drop away from you, leaving you feeling purified, fresh and clear. Just about all major religions employ mantras in one form or another to achieve spiritual experiences. For example, Catholics pray with rosaries, reciting the same prayers repetitiously in a rhythmic fashion. Buddhists also pray with beads, as do Muslims. Even Native American spiritual traditions involve the rhythmic repetition of words and phrases as a pathway to spiritual experience.
Well, our young man, a college student -- and that young man happened to be me -- had been reading about mantras one day and decided to give this simple, yet ancient and powerful technique a try. Here was my plan: Spring break was upon me, and I was planning to drive the 500 miles from my college town to my home town in northern Minnesota for a week’s visit with my family. The long lonely drive would be an excellent opportunity to repeat a mantra as the hours and the miles rolled by.
To give myself a head start, I decided to start my mantra the night before I left for the trip home. I was pondering what I would use for my mantra and I settled upon this phrase: “Cows eat grass!” Why this? Well, I had a little three-year-old nephew who, for some reason, like to call out loudly, “Cows eat grass!” just about any time he wanted to, and for no particular reason. As I said, it matter little what the mantra is, so “Cows eat grass!” was good enough for me. After getting home from my part-time job as an obituary writer at the local newspaper, I cleared my mind and began to repeat “Cows eat grass!” in a whisper to myself over and over again, while trying to think of nothing else. I did not watch TV or listen to the radio. I avoided talking, or seeing people. For the next 30 hours until I arrived home I wanted to do nothing with my mind but “ride the mantra.”
I packed my bags and then went to bed early so that I could lie in bed and repeat my mantra phrase until I fell asleep. I was planning to get up at 6 a.m. and start the long 14-hour drive home. So I drifted off to sleep thinking nothing but, “Cows eat grass!” again and again.
In the morning I awoke and captured my mind instantly with, “Cows eat grass!” I got out of bed, showered, ate a light breakfast, all the while, not allowing myself to think or say anything but, “Cows eat grass!” It’s both easier, and more difficult than you might think to do this. For example, taking a shower or cooking breakfast is something you usually do while thinking other thoughts anyway, so it’s easy to keep your mind on a mantra while doing other things. It’s difficult, though, because your other ordinary and more interesting thoughts fight for control of your mind. There’s so many things you want to think of, such as ‘I wonder if the Twins won last night,’ or ‘I wonder how I can earn some extra money?’ and on and on. Some thought or another always wants front and center of your attention, but you have to just ignore it all and let only the mantra have the floor, so to speak.
That very morning I had already began to feel different. I had experienced several extraordinarily vivid dreams the night before. In one of them, I dreamed that millions of moon moths had magically transformed into solid gold, yet remained alive, and then flew up to the moon, which had turned into an orb of pure silver. I can still remember that exciting image of millions of fluttering wings glinting gold against a midnight blue sky full of exquisite stars — it was like a flowing, golden river rising into the sky, all traveling to a liquid-silver moon, which looked like it might be a portal to heaven.
Apparently, the mantra was already at work! I also felt exquisitely light hearted as I awoke, and it seemed to to me that the long road ahead portended not a long boring drive, but a magical journey redolent with mystery. Despite the mantra I kept hammering away at, a poem from Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” suddenly burst into my mind and took over for a moment:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
I would have one special companion on my mantra-soaked journey -- “The Killing Machine.” The Killing Machine was the name I had given to my beloved blue 1969 2-door Chevy Chevelle. I had bought The Killing Machine from a “gear head” acquaintance of mine for just $400 a couple of months earlier. I dubbed it The Killing Machine because the seller told me the car had been involved in an accident which had killed three people. This is partly why I had gotten car so cheap.
Despite it’s gruesome history, I had always felt that The Killing Machine was good in some way, and not only good, but actually “alive,” and that it even had a consciousness of its own. If that seems strange, well, many top biologists today agree that cars fit all the criteria for what it means to be a “living being. Think about it: Cars reproduce, they compete, their bodies are are molded by natural selection in their environment. They have different “races,” such as Japanese, American and European. They consume their own special diet of “food,” they evolve, and so on. And even though cars cannot reproduce on their own, neither can many other living species, such as flowers, which cannot reproduce without the help of bees. Instead of a womb, cars are gestated in a factory—and so on.
And, indeed, on this particular day as I drummed my mantra, the consciousness of The Killing Machine seemed to emerge as more real than ever before. I sensed The Killing Machine was eager to feel its rubber bite the road and its radiator drink in the onrushing wind -- it was revved up to get the journey started! So I tossed my bags into the back seat of The Killing Machine, started its 454 engine with 4-barrell carburetor and felt the thrill of its mighty engine roar to life. I jammed the “four-on-the-floor” shift lever into first, let out the clutch, and The Killing Machine and I were off! The journey had begun!
In just a few minutes, The Killing Machine and I would be speeding north along none other than Highway 61, the very same highway made famous by Bob Dylan in his classic 1965 album "Highway 61 Revisited."Part II
U.S. Highway 61 hugs the magnificent Mississippi River which divides Minnesota from Wisconsin. On either side of the river, steep craggy bluffs rise up with radical abruptness -- the effect is one of stunning natural beauty. The bluffs are striated with alternating streaks of pink, tan and brown limestone. These are about 80% covered with deciduous trees and other foliage -- and even if a certain young man had not been working a mantra, the shear loveliness of the area would have been enough to transport any traveling soul into a subtle state of joy.
As The Killing Machine and I cruised up and down the rising and falling slopes of Highway 61, I was so absorbed into my mantra that I had failed to realize the radio was playing. But like the Tolkien poem, it took a special “message” to penetrate my mental regime because it carried urgent meaning at the moment. The song was “Spirit of the Radio” by the Canadian rock band “Rush,” and the lyrics from that song that smashed into my consciousness were these:
Off on your way
Hit the open road
There’s magic at your fingers
For the spirit ever lingers
In your happy solitude
I immediately understood why these lyrics were able to fly under the radar of my mantra -- they were resonating a message that was in absolute synchronization with what I was doing in the moment, this very “present” moment! As if also in synchronization, the dual exhaust manifold of The Killing Machine cackled happily and reverberated off the canyon walls. Concurrently, I felt an electric shiver work a vibration through my body, mind and soul!
After “Spirit of the Radio” ended, I clicked off the radio, and also noticed that The Killing Machine was in need of food. Up ahead, I spied a gas station/convenience store and pulled in. It was a remarkable warm spring day and the morning sun felt amazingly soft on my face as I stood outisde pumping fuel into The Killing Machine’s belly -- keeping my mantra going the whole time. Cows eat grass! ... Cows eat grass! ... Cows eat grass! ... I felt incredibly light on my feet as I walked across the convenience store parking lot -- I mean, it was an ordinary black-paved, oil-stained parking lot, but to me, it seemed in that moment that I a bestrode nothing less than a hallowed swath on the fields of Eylesium!
When I entered the store, something strange happened. There was a rather chubby, unattractive women with a lumpy face working behind the counter. When she saw me, her face immediately brightened. She raised her hand and started wagging her finger at me, as she said: “I know you! I KNOW you! I know you!” Of course, I had never seen the woman before in my life. I noticed the name-tag pinned to her uniform read, “Minerva.” Because I was so intently repeating my mantra silently in my mind, I did not say a word to Minerva, and she seemed not to care one bit. She came out from around the counter and started chattering to me like a giant squirrel -- little of what she was saying registered in my mind -- but she did not seemed not to notice, and neither did I. We were communicating somehow.
Then, the station manager came out from a back room, and stopped abruptly when he saw me. I noticed that his name-tag read “Brent.” After looking at me for a few seconds, Brent turned, walked swiftly to the back of the store and fetched a piping-hot pizza from a verticle glass cabinet that was rotating on the inside. He came back and placed the pizza in my hands and said: “Here, I want you to have this pizza, no charge!” I was about to open my mouth and say something, when he said: “No! No! No! You don’t pay for this! Just have it! I insist!”
I accepted the gift of food while Brent and Minerva beamed at me in a most peculiar way. Shifting the pizza to one hand, I handed Minerva a $20 bill for the gas, turned and walked out. She shouted at my back: “Come again, now!” I climbed back into The Killing Machine and I was again streaking north under blue skies on Highway 61 again, chomping on pizza -- and the first bite of that pizza was one of the most fantastic things I had ever eaten! It was an ordinary pepperoni pizza, but to me, at that moment, it was as if I was eating some kind of divine manna baked in the ovens of heaven! The crust was toasty hot, lightly brown on the outside and fluffy white on the inside. The pepperoni was savory, and the tomato sauce was just slightly sweet and tangy. Crispy onions and green peppers complemented the softness of the melted cheese with just the right combination of crunchy-munchy and mellow smoothness. Apparently, the mantra was starting to enhance and sharpen all of my senses, including my sense of taste! I mean, I probably could have eaten a boiled tarantula at that moment, and it would have tasted like a sweet, juicy mango!
Despite the intense joy of my impromptu pizza feast, I was determined now to step back even further from earthly pleasures and really start working my mantra with increased vigor. The next two hours melted by in timeless fashion, and presently, I was leaving the blissful Mississippi River valley and heading toward the metropolitan miasma of the Twin Cities. I was raised in a small farming town of 700 people, so driving in the manic traffic of large urban areas was always frought with anxiety for me -- but on this day as I drove into the outskirts of the Twin Cities and plunged into the “Freeway of Death” -- the dreaded I-494 -- I was getting so incredibly into synchronization with the machinaries of existence, I navigated the high-speed maze of traffic as effortlessly as water runs down hill. I “let go” and The Killing Machine became as one with the river-like flow of cars and trucks. I was carried along like a leaf riding a foamy white water rapids, which surged to a destination that would ultimately end in the boreal forests of the north.
Before I knew it, The Killing Machine was hurling out of the northern suburbs of Minneapolis like a cannon shell, and my heart began to flutter with anticipated joy -- that’s because I would soon be traversing the heartland of Minnesota -- a magical place of evergreen trees, sparkling lakes, enchanting small resort villages, deer and moose, black bears and wolverines. As soon as I could, I turned off the major route to the north, U.S. Highway 10. I veered onto U.S. 169, and presently ditched that route for an even more obscure county road. The mantra thrummed in my mind like the thumping beat of ruffed grouse beating is feathered breasts. It was as if I had ceased powering the mantra with conscious volition -- the mantra now sang across the neurons of brain with a life of its own. "Cows eat grass!"
My next strange encounter was not far away. Driving along in a rural landscape now, up ahead on the west side of the road I noticed a small, lonely graveyard. As I approached closer, I spied a human figure slumped among the gravestones -- I slowed The Killing Machine as I passed by. A rather large man was sitting cross-legged atop one of the graves. His shoulders were hunched over, his elbows rested on his knees and his face was buried in his hands. Obviously, here was a man experiencing intense grief at the grave of a loved one. Of course, if I had been a normal state, I would have simply kept driving and left this poor soul alone with his personal agony. But I was anything in a normal state, and really, to my own amazement, I felt myself slowing the The Killing Machine, pulling a “uwee” on the highway and heading back to the graveyard.
I parked The Killing Machine a respectful distance from the graveyard entrance, walked toward the graveyard, and soon I was ambling among the headstones, making my way toward the grieving figure of the man on the grave. In just a couple of minutes --again, against my total best judgment -- I found myself standing over the man as he sat their, hands still buried in his face. He sensed my presence and looked up. His eyes were burning and red-rimmed, the flesh of his face was weathered and lined, and tears streaked down his cheeks to his chin. I notice that although he was a large, burly man, he was also quite elderly, perhaps at least 75 or 80 years old. For an instant which seemed like an eternity we looked into each others eyes -- I was expecting him to jump up and punch me in the face for my crass intrusion on this obviously very private moment -- but instead, he reached up his hand to me to I could give him a boost up.
I helped the gentleman to his feet. I said nothing, not even hello. I was experiencing all this through the shimmering curtain of my mantra. “Cows wat grass!” "cows eat grass!" At this point, merely the thought of pushing verbal utterances through my throat seemed a crude and vulgar proposition. The man did not greet me either, but immediately began to speak. He told me that the one for whom he grieved in the grave below had been his wife of 57 years, the woman he had married when they were both teenagers, and who had died suddenly and unexpectedly of pancreatic cancer. The time from diagnosis to her death was just three cruel weeks. With her death, he felt that most of himself had died with her, that he was now merely a shattered empty shell of flesh who didn’t have the guts to kill himself so that he could join his beloved in eternity. There was also his children and grandchildren to think about .... and his whole story rolled out of him in a steady stream that flowed into the stream of my consciousness in such a way that communication was achieved. I felt I had understood his story despite a persistent fantasy that his words were illusory wave/particle packets of vibration propagated through the ethereal air of that early afternoon moment.
When he had finished, he fell silent again and looked into my face, expecting me to say something, I guess. I paused for an undetermined instant. I looked away from him back to where I had left The Killing Machine parked on the side of the road. A sparkle of sunlight glinted off of its chrome trim, winking at me like a conspiring friend, daring me to make a statement. I turned back to the man, and a voice that did not seem to be my own, but using my vocal cords, said this to him: “In this vast, and infinitely endless Universe filled with so much darkness, the two of you somehow found each other, clung to each other, and in that way, gave the Universe meaning.”
The man’s ancient eyes widened ever so slightly, staring hard into mine. His rough, blocky face, which looked it had been chipped out of a chunk of granite with a crude iron tool softened ever so infinitesimally, or perhaps so it seemed. Without another word, I turned away, and walked back to The Killing Machine. I keyed its mighty engine to life and we roared away. I looked in the rear view mirror, saw that man standing there, looking after The Killing Machine and I, and his bulky form was soon lost in the distance.
At this point, I was a little more than half-way through my 500-mile journey. Many of the most magical vistas and locales of Mysterious Minnesota still lie ahead of me. As The Killing Machine guided me ever deeper into wonder -- I wondered what more would be revealed to me before I arrived at last in the tiny village that was my childhood home.Read about the remainder of Ken's mantra adventure at his blog: www.ironghost.wordpress.com
Article Copyright© Ken Korczak - reproduced with permission.
Ken Korczak is the author of Minnesota Paranormala: