Release Your Inner Critics

How to Use Mindfulness Slogans in Meditation

The ancient Tibetan practice called mind-training (lojong), is built upon the foundation of mindfulness meditation. I first learned of this practice while in Nepal at the Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery. The most celebrated of all the lojong texts, The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind, is a collection of practices to transform negative or critical thought patterns into loving-kindness and compassion for self and others. The teaching is based on a list of ancient slogans.

Yes, slogans. In mind-training, pithy ditties—“humorous aphorisms”—inform our spiritual practice and become the object of our contemplation. Over the years, I have returned time and time again to these provocative, memorable slogans. Few other meditations have as deeply touched the shadowy corners of my psyche. I find them uncanny in their power to transform the heart-mind. Mind-training with slogans can rewire your mental habits over time and soften the harsh, strident, and seemingly intractable voices of your inner critics.

To put mind-training with slogans in context, remember that almost all spiritual traditions work with phrases and offer practices in contemplation and mental recitation: saying the rosary, repeating a psalm aloud, reciting a mantra time and again, praying five times a day, or chanting a holy text while on one’s knees. The venerable Norman Fischer-roshi, one of the leading experts in bringing lojong practice to the West, says, “Working with phrases is an ancient technique for mind training in almost all literature cultures. In serious Jewish, Muslim, and Christian practice, as well as many versions of Buddhism, texts are chanted daily. They are also studied, memorized, and used as sacred instruction to shape and illuminate conduct and thought.”

Mind-Training with Slogans—The Twelve Step Tradition

As the heart of mind-training, slogan practice is also present in our Western culture. Slogans have been a mainstay for people in recovery, who are often surprised by how these pithy sayings can transform a thought or inform a choice.

Ask anyone active in a Twelve Step recovery program: Having a bad day? Up comes “Easy does it.”

Worrying about the future? “One day at a time” presents itself. “Live and let live”—a slogan that even found its way into popular song—can help us refrain from judging other people or demanding that they agree with us.

When faced with a dilemma, members of Al-Anon can say, “Responsible for the effort, not the outcome.”

The Serenity Prayer is relevant here, too.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer is recited aloud at the end of nearly every Twelve Step meeting, held in the mind by people in recovery in their morning prayers and meditation, and used as a guiding philosophy in the midst of a dilemma. As a result, the prayer becomes rooted in the inner mind, spontaneously popping up in the middle of a stressful situation or sleepless night.

Refrains such as these can take root in our unconscious and arise to elucidate the present moment with a kernel of wisdom. In addition to inspiring us, these persistent and sometimes pesky slogans can even redirect a habituated reaction.

With slogan practice, then, we participate in a wisdom tradition going back many generations in the Twelve Step tradition and more than 2,500 years in the Buddhist lineage. The teachings on mind-training that have been practiced by Tibetan Buddhists for centuries are now available to you and me as well. Together we can practice them to release our critic-demons and make kinder mental habits our new default setting.

How to Work with Slogans

When we practice with slogans, repetition is the key. It takes repetition to develop new neural pathways in the brain. New ways of working with our self-critical thoughts through meditation must be practiced consistently over time. We contemplate, ponder on, and hold slogans in our mind time and again so that they stick, allowing the brain to change in a permanent way.

Research shows that repetition calms the mind by reducing neural activity in the area of the brain that’s involved in self-critical thinking. Repetition enhances learning and creates memory traces in our gray matter. This is why the ancients recommended repetition, repetition, repetition. It works. The road to change is that simple and that fundamental, and we have to practice with our whole heart.

As you repeat a slogan, recite it slowly and contemplate one word at a time. Time and again, roll the slogan in your mind. Reflect on its meaning. Hold its wisdom as freedom from your inner critics and contemplate its application in your life.

If you study and memorize slogans, you will find that they “arise effortlessly in your mind at the oddest times. They have a haunting quality, and in their recurrence, they can lead you gradually to a more and more subtle understanding of the nature of kindness and compassion.” They are the basis for developing a kinder voice.

How to Meditate with a Mindfulness Slogan

  1. Fix the slogan in your mind
  2. Contemplate the slogan
  3. Discuss the meaning of the slogan with others
  4. Carry the slogan in your awareness as you go

Try this short slogan to start with…

Rest in the openness of mind.
Openness of mind…
Opening the mind…

As you work with slogans, return to the places that speak to you, either because you are drawn to a particular slogan or even because a slogan annoys you. In spiritual-direction-speak, we call this “noticing what’s juicy.” The advice is to stay with a juicy concept, slogan, or meditation. Don’t run. Turn toward your reaction. Be curious and explore. Without some juice, meditation is going to sit on the surface and stay purely intellectual. Don’t stop there! Dare to reflect deeply and let these ancient slogans unleash their mystical, unbounded power to transform.

Author photo of Therese Jacobs StewartThérèse Jacobs Stewart, M.A., L.P., has been a practicing psychotherapist, meditation teacher, and international consultant for more than 25 years. In 2004, she founded Mind Roads Meditation Center, a neighborhood practice center integrating contemplative practices from both East and West and home of the Saint Paul, Minnesota, chapter of 12-Steps and Mindfulness meetings. She is the author of A Kinder Voice: Releasing Your Inner Critics with Mindfulness Slogans and Mindfulness and the Twelve Steps.
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