“I would say that what you’re feeling is presence,” Allen told me. “You set aside the distractions and mental fragmentations that come from living in the modern world.”
“When you have the TV on while you’re swiping through your phone while you’re trying to eat dinner, that leaves the mind fragmented and unfocused, and ultimately it leaves you unrooted in your conscious experience,” Allen said. “Your awareness begins to dim because of this pull in many different directions. One of the great benefits of meditation is creating and cultivating an amount of internal space. It gives you a sense of being aware of the arising thoughts and feelings that are coming into your mind and body.”
“And so, in the process of writing those thank you notes,” he continued, “you were tapping into a positive emotion, and you were narrowing down your focus. In addition, you were doing one thing repetitively, and that’s sort of like a mantra.”
“In meditation, the idea is that a mantra—repeating a phrase or even a sound—acts like a windshield wiper for the brain to keep it from becoming entangled in thoughts and narratives and stories,” Allen explained. “It’s almost self-hypnotism. By repeating the same act of writing those cards over and over, it’s acting like a physical mantra—which are very common in Buddhism. One example is when monks get together and make giant mandalas out of colored straws.”
“Like rosaries,” I pointed out, thinking of my (aptly named) great-aunt Rosie, who carried a rosary wherever she went. Allen agreed.
By templating my thank you notes to make them easier to write, I had inadvertently created a mantra. This month, the batch to my dad’s healers each started with the sentence: It’s been nearly 10 years since… According to Allen, that simple windshield wiper of a phrase would clear my mind and allow the memories and more meaningful messages to flow.