|Original image property of Jocelyn Wardle|
The word 'mantra' holds it's etymological roots in the Sanskrit prefix 'man' (i.e. To think) and suffix 'tra' which is thought to mean something akin to 'tool' or 'instrument'. Therefore mantra, as a word and activity, could be looked at as a thought which also works as a tool, a kind of mental technology which can either help or hinder the spiritual and psychological growth of a persons mind.
I've written before about how I never really used to believe in the idea of 'mantra', which was silly because I certainly believed in ideas like, 'if you call a person crazy everyday they'll begin to believe it' but I don't think I've written about how to use it in your everyday life.
If you're like me you're probably not particularly into the idea of meditating while chanting 'om' for fifteen minutes to an hour everyday. I don't have the time, plus I don't want to calm my brain down (insert massive ego here) I just want to learn to use my incessant internal chattering for a better purpose. So I thought, why not write about using mantra as an everyday thing.
First, let's get into some armchair psychology:
In my (very personal, very unqualified) opinion what we think influences our beliefs. In a way they are our beliefs and these thoughts/beliefs form our surrounding reality. We can learn to replace negative, stunted and unhelpful thoughts with new, positive ideas that will help us grow and change as people. It's almost impossible to rid yourself of a belief without some grounding idea that will form the roots of your new belief. You have to recycle and replace, it's really hard to just throw a belief away because well, that's just not how people work. Remember those etymological roots of 'mantra', where 'man' means 'to think'? Yeah, we wouldn't be people without our thoughts, ideas and beliefs.
So we need an experience with which to grow our mantra from.
Finding that Experience:
Things like depression, anxiety and trauma can cut us off from past strong emotions and experiences. It's a coping mechanism our brains use automatically, but it can sometimes make it harder for us to remember the happy memories as well as the painful ones. Experiences that empowered us, or made us grateful, hopeful or happy, are key to finding grounding beliefs or ideas that we can then form our day-to-day mantra/s with. So we kinda need to brave the deep, dark and tangled depths of our heads in order to find those moments of light. We need to remove the protective drudgery of negativity or blankness from our minds and unlock the memories that are OK. It's kind of like using a Patronus in Harry Potter...kind of.
There have been times in my life when I've found it really, really difficult to remember anything 'happy', but as my depression and anxiety have begun to dull I've begun to remember my successes just as often as my failures - if not more! I find it easier these days to remember my happy childhood, which involved horses and swimming in the local river, rather than the parts which involved thing like being bullied or hurt, or avoided, etc.
My happiness, I realised as I looked back at these things, is something that is highly precious to me - it makes me a better person. It makes me easier to be around and in turn puts me at ease with myself. I stop punishing myself for mistakes and learn to accept them. I used the memories which made me happiest, and those which reminded me of my self-worth (i.e. having stories or articles published, having people enjoy my work) as the grounding place for my new idea of 'mantra'.
Making it Stick:
When you've found your new mantra (new, because I believe mantra works just as well positively as negatively) you have to find a way to enforce them in yourself. We must not forget the positives that we have been blessed with in life. It's often easy to fall back into negative patterns, and not remember what we need to be grateful for (if for no other reason than keeping our sanity). I think Chuck Palahniuk said it best when he wrote;
"It's so hard to forget pain, but it's even harder to
remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for
happiness. We learn so little from peace.”
- Chuck Palaniuk
We need to learn to make our new mantra repetitive. We need to surround ourselves with people, things and media which will reinforce our positive affirmations. It's much better (for the mind) to expose ourselves to media which informs and inspires, rather than media which simply reinforces the mass-production of the soul the mainstream lifestyle sells so consistently. We must assure ourselves of our place in the world with deep, centering breaths and remember to ground ourselves.
Really, to enforce our beliefs we have to believe them. Our beliefs do form us, and we in turn form ourselves in reference to them. However, if our personal beliefs are not something that wider society has discovered they can often become harder to maintain. If our beliefs are based on more recent discoveries or things which are less dramatic, but have no less impacted upon us they will also be harder to maintain .
We really need to begin to treat our happiness as something as precious as it is.
Although that's not to say that we ought to punish ourselves when we fail at this. That would only serve to bring our old harmful and fearful patterns back.
One example I can think of which recently occurred was when I was struck with anxiety while walking to school. For some reason I felt a panic attack coming on. I felt that if I continued to walk towards uni I would have a panic attack and I just did not want to go through it. Luckily I have developed mental tools, through mantra, positive affirmations, deep breaths and other tactics I've spent the last few years working on, which I can use in these situations. One of these, as simple as it sounds, is just to take things slowly and be kind to myself.
Rather than tell myself something triggering like, 'You have to go to school or you'll be a failure, you'll ruin everything, you'll have no education, you'll do poorly on assignments', I told myself this: 'Take it slow, breath deeply, you know what to expect, you've done this a million times before, do your best, etc.'
I also visualized (that's another way to use mantra! Positive visualisation!) a positive situation if I were to walk in late. In my fantasy I would walk into class five minutes late, but I would walk in quietly, find my seat and nobody would pay any attention to me because they would all be either;
a) too busy with their own work, or;
b) be too busy inside their own heads to worry about me.
That's another point I like to remember to calm myself down: To know that everyone has their own lives with issues and ideas just as, if not more, complex than those inhabiting my head.
There are many, many mental tools I use to help with my anxiety and panic attacks. I've often thought of making a video talking about those tools and explaining how to use them. If you would like to see that (and an accompanying blog post, of course) please leave a comment below letting me know.
So far this post about mantra has turned out much longer than I expected, but stay tuned because I'm also drafting one about 'recognising your triggers' - another tool I've found invaluable in dealing with my anxieties.