Tonight as I was walking home from the grocery store, with a backpack full of movies, canned goods and stupid things like sponges, tape and toothpicks that a new household needs, and a grocery bag with bread and zucchini, I had a really strange experience. I heard a sound like falling pebbles, and looked down. There were pebbles on the ground and it was like they were jumping around at my feet or something. It died down a little as I looked.
I thought maybe I had been kicking them as I had been walking, and I started walking again, kicking the ground a little extra, but no noise. It was like someone had dropped the pebbles, or thrown them softly at me. I looked all around and didn't see anyone. I couldn't think of any explanation and it was a little disturbing and I felt kind of stupid. A few last pebbles clackered.
I walked on, trying to put it together, and then I heard a few more clacks, and finally the rest of my broken mala fell at my feet. I was a little sad, but I laughed. I haven't had such good luck with malas...with wearing anything really.
A mala is a string of 108 beads. It's sort of like a rosary, in fact rosary is one translation. I learned how to pray the rosary back in the day, and I knew my mom respected it a lot. I still know the Lord's Prayer, and the Hail Mary. I thought it was a little silly, but let me tell you, you feel different after you say 108 prayers, even if you don't think you're going to. Both a rosary and a mala have a larger bead on one end. On the mala it's called the lama bead, and when you reach it, you turn around and go the other way.
My lama gave me my first mala...made out of lotus seeds. They're these pitted white spheres, usually about a centimeter across. I like them. They're light, and when you say a lot of mantras, it picks up the oils in your fingers and gets kind of golden brown, like a white clay Meerschaum pipe.
But I'm hard on jewelry. I've never been able to wear a watch. I leave them about and drop them. Rings, bracelets, necklaces, I've never been able to wear them. But when I got that first mala I wore it. I wore it and I slept in it. I didn't think it was uncomfortable. I did a lot of mantras and it got a warm brown. But it also started to break down and the beads cracked under the rough treatment I tend to give to all inanimate objects in my care. Especially a tool like a mala.
First I replaced beads, but then finally I just had to give up and get a new mala, and only use a few beads from the old one. I went through several. Everyone else seemed to be able to keep theirs together.
Then I started getting stone ones...quartz crystal mostly I think. They were sturdier, but unfortunately harder on the string. They are heavy and have sharp edges that rub against strings and wear them out quick. I tried a lot of different kinds of nylon string, kite string, everything. Sooner or later they'd get a little tug and go, and I'd be hunting for beads, and usually buying a few new ones.
You can use the superthin plastic-encased stainless steel cord, which is much stronger, but it can't be tied as reliably as string. You can close it with crimps, but the weight of everyday wearing and use just seems to pull apart the knots and loosen the crimps.
When I met my friend Jesse at a Medicine Buddha retreat, he pulled out this Lapis mala and really blew me away. The iconic color of the Medicine Buddha is blue like Lapis Lazuli, so it seemed doubly cool. I drooled over it for awhile and a year later he gave it to me all spiffed up with purple tassles and counters and such for my birthday.
Lapis is particularly heavy, and it would weigh down at the bottom and pull my chest hairs. It was worth it, though, it was really beautiful. I ended up taking off the tassels and just using the lapis beads. It was already fancy enough that way. Whenever I had a girlfriend I would sleep naked and put it by the bedside, but when I'm alone I sleep in my clothes and leave the mala on.
That Lapis mala broke several times when I was with Roseanne, but always when we could recover most of the beads, and she, bless her heart, restrung my mala every time. It broke a month or two before I left, and I hadn't restrung it. It was missing a bead or two (lapis beads are are to get in singles, and expensive!) I had replaced them, and it had been sitting in a bowl for weeks.
When I left the house I fixed Roseanne's computer and she restrung my mala one last time. It was so appreciated.
This time I think I must have lost at least half the beads, and I think it's time to think of a lighter material. I've been thinking maybe I would try something like bone or polished wood. I had a bone one once before...I think wood would be nice. I hope I can find some nice smooth wooden beads.