Oftentimes we have fear, in a new city, in bed at night; we feel disturbed, our heart pounding under its own volition; we see images, or think we might have seen images. And we say are we are disturbed by spirits; or we say we have an episode of irrational fear. No matter, a possible solution is to pray (even if we're not at all religious during other times), and we recite mantras, and we have a good night sleep, hopefully!
This is the power of prayers and mantras. Both purport to invite supreme help, or assistance from the metaphysical (or psychological, if one so inclined to postulate); afterall we are being disturbed without a physical reason, it has to come from metaphysical source (or psychological source).
For those who are familiar with Buddhism or meditation in general, they will likely to have encountered the six syllable mantra (in Chinese, it is called 六字真言或六字大明咒 - 唵嘛呢叭咪吽）: om mani padme hum. And the mantra works! But why?
Firstly from an linguistic perspective, each syllable consists of a vowel and a bilabial consonant (p or m)[For those who are well-versed in phonetics can notice that 'd' and 'h' are noticeably appear as elision in spoken sounds]. The phonetic effect is a humming sound that is soothing, inducing sleep, with the head, thorax, and abdomen cavities easily caught up as resonating cavities.
One important point to be noted is that a linguistic analysis does not refute the metaphysical nature of the syllables of the mantra. On the contrary, it only shows that without a metaphysical (or psychological) underpinning, a simple linguistic reason is unable to generate the results that people are getting.
What is then the metaphysical or psychological underpinning of the mantra? And afterall why does it work?
When we are seeing spirits or having irrational fear, by definition, they cannot be placated by rational means! One has to go beyond the "scientific" or other tools of rationality. One has to get help from the Divine, however one defines IT. In situation of such fear, it is quite natural, and easy, for a human to become mythical, or more able to evoke his "suspension of disbelief".
My experience is that it works. Not only in situations of irrational fear, but can positively help us during normal meditation. Needless to say, a "suspension of disbelief" is an essential element of success. Try meditating with the following 6 syllable mantra chanting as background, if you're so inclined to test its effect....