Mantras are repeated words or phrases used for focus, especially in meditation. However, the word has become cliche and over-used to some extent to simply mean a statement that is oft repeated say by a politician or some other public figure/organization.
The real purpose of a mantra is to create focus and intention. In Transcendental Meditation (TM), the mantra used for meditation was chosen specific to the needs, energies, and ways of being of the individual. Common mantras are Ommm, Shanti, Hail Mary...., Our Father, etc. The focus is on the wording, exclusive of other thoughts and the intention is to create comfort or peace or connection to God, the Universe or higher powers.
Mantras do not need to be used in order to meditate. Many other methods for focusing can be used, such as focusing on the breath, staring at a candle, creating a visual in the mind....etc. mantras are really handy, however. They can be silent - no one has to know. They can join groups in a feeling of one-ness. They can be sung which is a comfort in and of itself. And, they can be your very own. Mantras, however, can be useful beyond meditation.
Here's how I recommend mantras be used. Sit in meditation just for a short while. If you can't manage longer, just sit long enough to create a wonderful feeling in your body and mind - perhaps you want to feel peace, or love, or joy. Use whatever you need to create this feeling - a memory, a visual of a loved one, a place, a color, or practice yoga, laugh, smile and afterward sit with that feeling strong in the mind and body. Now, with your body and mind flooded with this desired feeling, create a mantra. Take any of the above - Ommm is a Universal connecting mantra, Shanti a mantra of peace, all is well, life is good, release fear, surrender, one day at a time, and many, many others. Create your own, make it short and memorable.
Throughout the day, either create the feeling or every time you have the feeling, say the mantra out loud or in your head or both. This pairs the mantra and the feeling in the brain's wiring which triggers the brain to create the response we desire. Soon, maybe after a week or so, you can then use the mantra to create the feeling in response to situations you want to NOT feel. For example, when feeling anxious over bills, "all is well, all is well, all is well..." takes over the anxiety and you can cope. Or perhaps you have a repetitive pattern of thinking about food, every time that pattern starts up in the mind, you counter with your mantra, "shanti, shanti, shanti..." and peace rather than worthlessness and dread take over. When frustration and irritation take over due to constant stress with parenting, your job, or others, "I let this go, I let this go...." and the feeling of release and peace you connected to the mantra takes over.
We are using the mantra to counteract the brain's current wiring! Every time I have a negative thought, creating a negative feeling in the body, I know that it is my brain's wiring that is creating the thought, the feeling, and the pattern or cycle that then ensues. I also know I can challenge it, change it, and finally completely rewire the brain. This takes time and repetition. For some feelings and associations more time and more repetition than others. Stick with it, practice and don't give up on your brain!
What mantras will you try?