Italian Living: A Buddhist Mantra for Breakfast

FLORENCE, ITALY–Last night we didn’t kill any of the mice in the garden… Dona is getting sticky paper to fix the situation but for now we aren’t talking about it because it freaks her out too much. What we did talk about though was Buddhism. After dinner, Enzo took out the dogs and Dona made coffee as usual. About once a week she has her Buddhist friends over and they sit in a circle in the living room in front of their prayer scroll and chant the nighttime mantra for about an hour. So I asked her about it.

It’s pretty embarrassing but I have to admit I know little about Buddhism…shameful. We sat and talked about why she became a Buddhist 25 years ago. Before she became Buddhist, she said, she didn’t believe in anything. She found out about it and when she heard a mantra. When she started chanting it, it made her feel better. “Potty, whenever you feel in a bad way, you say these mantra words for more than three seconds and it will make you better.” Mantras, she said, are words, phrases or sounds that are chanted internally or out loud to achieve a state of meditation.

So I asked her to show me.

She weaves together a beautiful string of rich sounding syllables together in a fluid sentence and tells me to repeat. I try, and fail miserably of course. So she breaks it down for me in her Italian accent—syllable by syllable—and I repeat and repeat until the words coming out of my mouth sound like some resemblance of the Buddhist mantra. And she is totally right, I get this uplifting sense of peace and focus as I concentrate on letting the syllables roll off my tongue.

Equating meditation with yoga in my mind, I asked Dona if she practices yoga. “You think I can bend like that Potty? I think no, not really.” Guess not. But after I (sort of) master the mantra, she takes me to the living room to show me her prayer scroll, mantra prayer book, and mini symbols (that she tings together after her prayer). Her dogs, Arturo and Trucalino, are Buddhists, she tells me. They curl up at her feet when she prays.

Dona, a generally relaxed person, tells me that she is lazy about her prayers. She’ll pray five minutes in the morning when she can and thirty minutes at night, unlike some of her other friends who pray for at least two hours a day. “I fall asleep at night when I pray like this.”

***

This morning I overslept my alarm and was running late for class. Dona offered me a ride to school on the motorscooter (heck yes!) so I jammed the little white helmet on my head and sat at the kitchen table sipping my coffee and waiting for her to straighten her hair and slick on her maroon lip liner.

“Five minutes Potty, I pray and we go.” Delighted for the delay, I poured another cup of coffee. She leaves the door of the living room open because she knows I love listening to her pray, and soon I hear her deep, bass voice in a steady, monotone rhythm of muffled words and syllables. Drumda da da da dum dum dum namh nahm nahm. I can’t hear which mantra she is chanting but her words relax me and erase my anxiety about being late for class. Steady. Even. Collected.

“Ok Potty, we go, I am done praying now,” she says as she sticks her bob haircut and tan face around the door. “When I take five minutes to do this I can tell I start my day out the good way. You go home to your American parents a tanned, blond, Italian Buddhist and they say ‘who this girl is?’!” She laughs and floats out the door. “Come on Potty, mantras don’t make traffic go faster, we be late”.

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