The Building Blocks of Calm
Illustration Credit: Three Bowls by Geri Larkin
I remember my mother saying, “It’s a sin to worry.” When pressed to explain what she meant, she would often respond, “It’s all in God’s hands.” I think my mother used these sayings not only to help us deal with confusing or stressful situations, but as tools to help her maintain a sense of calm and equanimity in her own life.
Today, I use my own sayings—or mantras—to guide my thinking and to deepen my spirituality. I base my practice on something Swami Vivekananda once said: “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.” I find that if I want to grow spiritually, I need to nourish my soul. One way I do this is through the mantras I’ve chosen to guide my way.
A mantra is generally defined as a sacred utterance that is repeated frequently, but its etymology describes it as an instrument of thought that may be used in either a religious or nonreligious context. Mantras are a form of self-talk—usually in very short utterances—which can have a powerful influence over our thinking. For many of us, self-talk often takes the form of self-criticism that can lead to depression, anxiety, and inaction. Mantras are positive and affirming, nurturing us in body, mind, and spirit.
Some people have a favorite mantra that they like to use many times throughout the day, such as “In God, I live and move and have my Being.” Other people may rely on a whole repertoire of mantras. For me, I like to match mantras to what I’m experiencing or dealing with at the moment. For example, in times of financial stress or when faced with difficult financial decisions, I’ve used the mantra “Focus on beauty rather than profit.” This particular mantra helped me get through a period of financial setbacks in my life. It also helped me choose a lower-paying job doing what I really enjoy instead of a job with higher pay but with more stress and less satisfaction.
Some of the mantras I use are quotes I found along the way. Others are sayings I thought of on my own or quotes I modified to fit my needs. A mantra in this latter category is “Be serious about not taking things too seriously.” I like to use this mantra when I’m stressed out over something that doesn’t warrant the attention and energy I’m putting into it. It’s my version of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
I have a tool kit of mantras I use on a regular basis. I’m not committed to keeping these particular mantras forever and will likely add something new as needed, but if you look in my tool kit today, these are among the mantras you’ll find:
- Focus on beauty rather than profit.
- Be serious about not taking things too seriously.
- Travel light; leave all the junk behind.
- Like the lizard, be willing to sacrifice a tail for the sake of freedom.
- Cut the ropes that tie you down.
- Hang out the welcome sign for new realities.
- Savor the joy, but don’t spoil it by clinging.
- Say “Amen, Alleluia” to all that comes your way.
Over time, these mantras have taken on deeper meanings for me and now serve as guides for how I want to live.