Do you have a mantra? Maybe you’re afraid to have a mantra. I wouldn’t blame you. I am painfully aware that even the word “mantra” can seem disturbing, with its connotations of chanting and mindfulness. But what if mantras are just sensible and calming words to live by? What if a mantra could help you have an easier day? That is the kind of mantra I am looking for.
“Mantra” is a Sanskrit concept used in Hinduism and Buddhism to mean a word or words that you repeat in meditation to help with concentration. “Om” is the simplest and best-known one. And also the one that's caused me on more than one occasion to run screaming from yoga sessions when they’ve gone too far into advanced nostril-breathing territory. But a mantra does not have to be for meditation or as part of a prayer circle. (Although, goodness knows, we could all possibly do with a prayer circle at this particular point in history.) A mantra can be something that you simply hold at the back of your mind while you’re going through a tough time.
I became convinced of the usefulness of this thanks to the work of Amy Morin, a psychotherapist widowed at the age of 26, whose writing on resilience and inner strength is incredibly powerful. Her book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, is a must-read. Her mantras for strength? “I have what I need to get through this.” “All I can do is my best.” “I’m stronger than I think.” “I’ve been knocked down before and I can get up again.” Simple, impossible to deny and powerful. Inspired by her words, here are my top three mantras:
We can’t get what we want all the time. And we can’t always get it at the moment when we want it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not coming at all
“What’s for you won’t pass by you”
This is something I repeat to myself whenever I face disappointment. A job that was dangled in front of me doesn’t materialise. Something I wrote gets held over, mangled or rejected. A sum of money I was hoping was imminent turns out to be a mirage. These things feel like rejection, but they aren’t really. They’re just life. We can’t get what we want all the time. And we can’t always get it at the moment when we want it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not coming at all. Be patient. Wait. This may not be the moment. Or it may not be the right thing and you need to let it go to make space for something that is really meant for you.
“KISS. Keep it simple, stupid”
My dad used to remind me of this whenever I was taking an exam. It’s a bit mean (thanks, Dad), but it’s insanely practical. I would always write it at the top of the exam paper in pencil (“KISS”) and it really worked. We don’t need to make things any harder than they already are. If something seems difficult, think about a way round. Is there an easy fix? How would a stupid person approach this? Is there a shortcut? How can you keep it simple, stupid? At the end of the exam, I would rub out the letters “KISS” and hand my paper in. I’m not sure I always remembered to do this, so I hope the examiners enjoyed my unintentional romantic message.
“This won’t feel this way five years from now”
Always a good thing to repeat to yourself. And a helpful question to pose: “What will I think about this in five minutes? In five days? In five years? In 50 years?” Very often, we get panicked in the moment because we think something will have a negative consequence in the future (ie we fear that this is not a momentary rejection, that it’s a sign that we will never get what we want). We project the future into the present moment and live out imaginary catastrophes that we will never have to face. Sit with the feeling and recognise that, however bad it is, it will pass, and remind yourself that it’s unlikely to have much impact further down the line. Mind calmed. Order restored. And no goats harmed in the process.