Oh Dear. As I wrote that I realize I have a lot more to say about this than I'm willing to type out at the moment.
So point form.
-it's better to have something good rather than something bad going on in your head
-ultimately you don't want to have anything going on in your head
-and then eventually you'll have all kinds of normal things going on in your head but you won't care either way because they'll just be there
-mantras can help this process happen, they can be placeholders for the space in your head while you're shifting the negative out
-they have more or less meaning depending on what you attribute to them
-they are vehicles to the space inside although they may have intrinsic value on their own, but this is less important than where they bring you
Did that make any sense?
Mantras are what's happening anyways - they're the things we repeat in words to ourselves. Some mantras are designed to clean things out. They're like helpers or tools that we can use to create an inner environment that's peaceful. It's like burning incense inside.
A conversation with a YTT student this evening was about whether or not it's cool to play mantras as background music. For some people this doesn't work because the mantras have so much value as sacred tools that to use them as ambience is to take away the value or drain the importance of them. For others, it's so nice to have that as input into the space whether or not full attention is paid to the mantra while it's happening.
Some mantras are like medicine. This mantra from Krishna Das makes me cry when I hear it just about everytime. So for me, it's not practical to have it playing while I'm driving or leading a class. It's not that I think it's wrong to hear it while I'm doing other things, it just calls to me and demands my full heart.