Years, no make that decades ago, I learned how to meditate. Officially even. I was provided with a mantra, taught to breathe in and out, to let the mind relax and clear of thought, and so on. It works too. Meditation has significant benefits. There are many forms of meditation and a good many of them do not require a mantra.
The mantra is basically a focal point for the mind, a way of more or less anchoring it in one place as a means of reducing it's tendency to wander off and play in the clover. As the mind starts to wander off the mantra calls it back. That's not exactly the way they taught it to us, but that is pretty much what a mantra is and does.
When I fish with a bobber - what we called a cork when I was growing up because back then they were actually made of cork - I find that the bobber holds a fascination that is superior to a mantra. My eyes rest on the bobber continuously, with only very brief moments of looking elsewhere. Very brief moments. The bobber draws the eye back, quickly, every time. There is not one other thing in this entire world that I have ever stared at so assiduously for so long. I have tried, on occasion, to stare at a spot on the wall and without fail I can't do it for more than about a minute. But a bobber I can stare at for hours on end.
Sitting still, watching the bobber, my mind centers on the bobber, my mind empties of thought. My breathing slows. I enter a trance like state. This is a form of meditation as sure as there is a sun.
The differences are that while meditating with a mantra my eyes are closed and I'm not in anticipation of a fish taking my bait. When meditating with a bobber there is that relaxed but constant state of hopefulness that the bobber will move. A constant optimistic waiting that does not exist in mantra meditation.
Another difference is that when meditating with a mantra the meditation is ended gradually, bringing the meditator back to full consciousness gently and slowly. When the bobber disappears under water the meditation is ended with a sudden heart slamming shot of adrenaline, catapulting the meditator into a fury of immediate physical activity.
The bobber watching meditation's ending sounds like a rather poor way to come out of meditation - however, as everyone reading this no doubt already knows - it is a far far superior way of ending that meditation.
Maybe next time I meditate by mantra I'll try using the word "bobber" as my new mantra, maybe I'll visualize a bobber gently floating in a calm, clear pool of water, see the dark form of a fish slowly glide out of the depths as it moves towards the bait, see the bobber jiggle a bit and then...
I'm looking forward to spring when I can resume my meditations by the water.