The importance of a really good mantra

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

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When I was little, one of my favorite books was The Little Engine that Could.

If you are unfamiliar, it is the heartwarming tale of a little blue engine who is smaller than all the rest, but who is called upon to help out when the other bigger, stronger, and let’s face it, more arrogant, engines refuse to help a long train go up a big mountain. It looks like the Little Engine isn’t well equipped for the job, but she does her very best and repeats over and over to herself the refrain, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Eventually, her hard work pays off and the Little Engine that Could does make it over the mountain that no one thought she could conquer.

I’m going to go out on a limb and hypothesize that, “I think I can,” was the first popular mantra of the Western Hemisphere (the story was originally published in 1906).

If you have ever gone to any kind of therapy or counseling, you know that one of the first things they tell you to do is create a personal mantra. A mantra is simply a short phrase that holds emotional meaning that is repeated over and over for the purpose of inspiration or bringing about calm.

It sounds pretty easy, but it can be really hard to think of something that works for you. However, once you find that special phrase, it can really help, especially when Chronic times are tough.

I was thinking about this because the other day, I read an article about a woman who was dealing with severe depression. This woman went to see the movie Frozen, and decided to make “Let it Go” her personal mantra. She identified with the character and the phrase so much that as part of her effort to treat her depression, she started a second career as an Elsa impersonator for children’s parties. Any time she starts to feel like she won’t make it through, she uses this mantra to remind herself that she is stronger than her affliction. I thought that was pretty amazing.

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The first mantra I tried to work with was the very simplistic, “It’s ok. I’m ok.”

This was not a good mantra.

Why?

Well first off, when you are a Chronic, no matter how severe or not severe your current situation, there is no end to the number of people who will tell you that you are ok. It loses it’s meaning. An overused word or phrase is not going to make your brain sit up and listen-instead you’ll probably tune out.

Second, it wasn’t always true. Sure, I could tell myself that, “It’s ok. I’m ok,” when I started to feel overwhelmed by symptoms, but when I was at my worst and slightly symptomatic became unconscious <ReallyFreakingQuickly> then it also lost it’s meaning. Mantras can be more positive than your current situation, sure, but if you won’t believe them, then it doesn’t matter how good it sounds.

So what are some good mantras?

Just Keep Swimming.

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(Dorey is always a crowd pleaser.)

Others I like:

I’m too blessed to be stressed.

I’m too glad to be sad.

I’m too cheerful to be fearful.

I am too grateful to be hateful.

Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile (courtesy of Dr. Wayne Dyer).

I’ve got this.

I accept myself.

My breaths are deep and my heart is open.

I release the things that are not under my control.

Keep Calm and ____ (fill in your own end to this!)

A lot of people like to have a religious/spiritual aspect to their mantra, which can be beneficial if that speaks to you:

The Serenity Prayer (Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.)

Let go and let God.

I am everything He created me to be.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Many wonderful Buddhist mantras can be found online, and are often longer than just one sentence.

Something that I have personally found to be helpful is to have a mantra in your mantra arsenal that is in another language. For many, this will mean something in Sanskrit, as this beautiful ancient language is used often in yoga and meditation practices.

For me, my personal mantra is in German.

German probably isn’t the first language that pops into people’s minds when choosing a phrase to help them get through the day. For me, though, it means something personal and that’s why it works. It also happens to be a language I don’t hear every day, so it works in that it is 1) something special and 2) something unique to my inner hearing.

Mantras can be used whenever, wherever. Sure, they can be a great point of focus in a traditional meditation setting. But what about when you are in line at the grocery store and the person in front of you is digging in her purse for coupons, then once she finds them decides to pay in quarters (#TrueStory)? How about when you are going on your second hour of waiting for that super specialist who promises to rock your Chronic world if only you could actually get into a room and have your appointment already (#AgainTrueStory)?

Getting upset during these times will only make you feel worse.

What time is it?

Mantra time.

Or how about when you are exercising and you feel like awfulness, but you know if you can just hang on for one more minute, you’ll hit your stride and feel the endorphins kick in (#SoManyTrueStories)? That’s when you need something short and sweet to hold onto.

I think I can becomes I know I can, just like it did for that little blue engine.

 

I would love to know if you have a mantra, or a collection of mantras that you use to help you through the day, Chronic readers! Sometimes it feels too personal to share your specific words- no worries! I’d just love to hear about how this concept has helped you out.

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