Prayer and meditation beads have been part of many cultures and religions around the globe for millennia dating back as far as 10.000 (ostrich egg beads found in Africa). The oldest depiction of a string of beads in a religious context dates back to the 17th century BC and can be seen in the famous fresco of “The Worshippers” in Thera/Santorini.
In Hinduism traditional malas have 108 beads with one “guru” bead in the middle, the number 108 refers to spiritual completion. Christianity uses 59 bead rosary beads (meaning chain of roses) for prayer of the 20 mysteries, with the cross as central part. Other types of beaded devotion are chotki in Eastern Orthodoxy, the dhikr in Islam and the Jaap Sahib in Sikhism to name a few.
Traditionally most prayer beads are used for cyclical and repetitive practices such as prayers, mantras or chants for example.
Many mindfulness practitioners don’t associate with any particular religion/belief system or they are simply looking for a non-religious alternative to the aforementioned “practice” beads. They want a secular version of a tactile mindfulness tool to deepen practice and add another sensory dimension. Another reason why practitioners might not feel comfortable using (and making) religious meditation beads such as Malas, is the aspect around cultural appropriation:
Definition Oxford Dictionary:
noun: cultural appropriation; plural noun: cultural appropriations
“The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”
I myself found it difficult to find an equivalent or alternative except using a simple tool such as a pebble or other small tactile item, which of course is perfectly good too.
I still really liked the idea of meditation beads though and “played around” for a long time to find a helpful and supportive design. Finally, after a few prototypes, I came up with the final version suitable for secular mindfulness meditation practice: Our Secular Mindfulness Beads
Our Secular Mindfulness Beads consists of 96 main beads interchanging between large and small to support attention, excluding two larger beads marking the half and full cycle. The 96 beads are a multiple of 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 12 making them a useful aid for repetitive or cyclical practices such as extended exhalation (counting the duration of inhalation and exhalation), gratitude practice, loving kindness meditation (may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free from suffering, may I live with ease), mantras or simply focusing on the physical sensation of using it.
The beads are 0.6 mm and 0.8 mm in diameter, the two halfway markers are of unusual shape, size and polish and are available in various crystal types. They are hand-knotted to create your own unique piece, which is a wonderful tool to direct awareness and support practice, but also a very personal and beautiful piece of jewellery.
If you would like to create your individual Secular Mindfulness Beads, you can order here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.