While progressing only a half-mile in 30 minutes in downtown Boston the other day, I thought about a recent Wall Street Journal article on mantras. The article, by Elizabeth Bernstein, said research shows “thinking of a word or phrase that affirms our values—and repeating it over and over—produces powerful physiological changes.” Mantras are simple, short and repetitive – and therefore easy to make into a habit for reducing stress, boosting morale, etc.
I needed one immediately.
Think of mantras as prayers for what we wish to be, Bernstein wrote; she settled on “Fortune favors the brave” for hers.
As commuting pedestrians sped by my trapped car in all their varied footwear glory, I rolled up my mental sleeves and went mantra-hunting.
A DJ had just played “Get off my Cloud,” which I considered as mantra potential, then decided it was too defensive.
Anna used to say “BElax” instead of “relax” when she was five, which was so charming we all used it for years (just around the house). Could Be + Relax work? Alas, no: The mantra must resonate personally, and failure to relax is not something from which I usually suffer. Some say I relax too much, especially on weekends, when I read the paper and drink coffee in my pjs half the day.
“Lean In” is wonderful, but it’s taken. Gisele co-opted the warm and fuzzy “Love and light.” I don’t want someone else’s mantra. (Don’t let me stop you, though. If Just Do It or Think Different or America Runs on Dunkin’ is calling to you, go for it.)
“Climb every mountain,” from The Sound of Music, popped to mind with seemingly high metaphoric possibilities. But in the end it seemed too mountainy, despite my love of mountains.
“Laugh with the sinners and cry with the saints,” tweaking the original lyric genius of Billy Joel, sounded cool, but what exactly would I use that for? (I can think of a few things, actually, but the message is perhaps not quite holistic enough….)
The cornucopia of options in a few song lyrics overwhelmed, and didn’t even consider the wealth of material in literature, essays, poetry or political speeches. Choosing the right mantra could become one’s life’s work. Maybe that’s why people chant “Simplify.”
It seemed appropriate to decide what my mantra would be used for; that could set some parameters. Bravery, resilience, coping, patience, presence? (The article did say one might benefit from multiple mantras, as long as you don’t have too many to recall easily.)
While waiting for my perfect mantra to arrive by epiphany, I started working on other people’s.
After her husband’s death, Sheryl Sandberg’s rabbi told her to “lean in to the suck,” which sounded like it might work for my love-him-dearly-but-his-glass-tends-toward-half-empty husband. I suggested it. He’s considering.
Underscoring his opinion that I do not need to belax, he countered by suggesting I adopt James Brown’s “Get up offa that thing, then you feel betta” as my mantra. I am not considering.
The kids needed mantras. And why not Porter as well? He probably thinks his is “Good boy!” but maybe we can find something more resonant. Then again, maybe not.
Our family discussed it over dinner. With an 8-year-old’s certainty, Whit took .5 seconds to craft hers: Eatcha dinnah! (inexplicably pronounced with a thick Boston accent). Anna was characteristically more contemplative and is still working.
Pete toyed with “No readmission” – a concert buff’s riff on only going around once. Then a friend swung by our dinner table and in the course of the chat declared “The loop will never be closed.” The timing of him dropping that gem in our laps – coincidence?
We tried out contenders all week.
“Everything must go?” Sort of funny and adaptable, a post-consumer “This too shall pass.” But nihilistic.
“Leave traces” offered potential as an existential opposite to the widely embraced wilderness credo “Leave no trace.” It could mean leave your mark, leave the world a better place, stand up and be counted, get involved, you name it. That was the front-runner.
Then a recent obituary from the Globe came to mind – I always read obituaries and puzzle over people’s lives, deaths, families, choices, the photo someone selected to represent the departed. I look to see where people want remembrances sent. Obituaries are little universes.
This obituary caught my eye because it was entitled “Glad to have lived.” Most of the smaller obituaries use the person’s name as a headline, so it stood out.
The accompanying photo showed a woman who looked slightly off somehow. She wasn’t well-coiffed and her expression was odd. Her obituary said something to the effect of ‘those who knew her knew she did not have an easy life, but in the end she said she was glad to have lived.’
What a thing she accomplished, getting through her difficulties and being able to say that! And what a purely beautiful thought she shared to comfort those who knew her.
Glad to have lived.
Happy mantra-crafting, friends.